Harvest time

As Harvest Festival rolled round again, things felt almost normal – our theme was “look back with thanks and forward with joy”

As if to emphasise that we should take nothing for granted, Natasha was taken ill last week so Simon McDowell led our Sunday service and in the evening, a whole team was required to stand in at the Harvest Supper.

The flower team once again came up with some stunning arrangements at St Giles’ and the tenacious gardeners among the congregation brought beautiful produce, including for the first time, veg from our Ecogarden. We broadened our harvest offerings this year from the usual tins of beans and chocolate biscuits to provide the specific things that our partner charity, Slough Homeless Our Concern (SHOC) requested. These were all gratefully received on Monday morning when we delivered direct to their centre in Ragstone Road, Slough.

We were delighted to welcome the Brownies and their families to Harvest Festival who did a great job of processing forward with their flag and collecting it at the end.

The Ecogarden marrows were not left naked – they were transformed by our junior church crew into furry, glittery creatures ready for their big moment at the auction.

The evening proceedings were led by Nigel Lowe, aided and abetted by Jon Homan auctioning the produce and the catering team. As well as the marrows and lots of other produce, the auction included a beautiful pumpkin from the Ecogarden and “four candles”, raising £434 in total. The monetary offering both in the plate and via the app this Sunday also went to SHOC. In addition to this, the church gives a proportion of its annual income to SHOC (and NLT) as explained at the APCM. As you can imagine, they have had many extra challenges over the last two years and our help has never been more essential.

Thank you all for your contributions.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Summer Round Up in Pictures

As we emerged, blinking, from our social hibernation, a few events and activities and the occasional sunny day have helped coax us back to life. Thank you to all the organisations and individuals who have provided these happy occasions. Here’s our church summer in pictures…

Outdoor church services and lots of activity in the Ecogarden (for more Ecogarden photos, visit the webpage www.stokepogeschurch.org/garden

Ladies Lifegroup end of term social

Mowers on parade – there’s been a lot of grass this year!

250th Anniversary of the death of Thomas Gray – we shared events with the Stoke Poges Society, who presented a cheque to the church towards the upkeep of Thomas Gray’s tomb, and with Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens

The Horticultural Society’s Annual Show, where the church ran the barbecue

Our first Baby Steps baptism: Maeve – more to come this term!

Senior Citizens’ day trip to Worthing

The wedding of Charlotte Wells & Rory Wood – we love a church family wedding 🙂

Our annual barbecue at St Giles’ on the first Sunday in September – the warmest weather for years

Knit and Natter secretly decorated the village postbox but when the first installation was stolen, they came back strong! More seasonal variations to follow.

Lots more events coming this term: Harvest on 3rd October, Remembrance on Thursday 11th & Sunday 14th November, more Ecogarden activities and a Rake off at St Giles’.

We would love to share more photos of church events. If you would like to send in your photos for a future blog post, please send them to heather@stokepogeschurch.org

Annual Report for activities in 2020

Welcome to our Annual Report which is coming you in one hit this year via the blog ready for our APCM. We report on activities between Jan-Dec 2020, some of which feels like a lifetime ago!

The meeting will follow a 10.30am Joint Family Service at St Andrew’s (no 9am at St Giles’ that day) and we will serve elevensies to tables and start the meeting at approx 11.30am.

Children & Young People

Tots’ Praise – Revd Natasha

This group met every Monday in term time and began the year with the usual buzzy atmosphere about it.  The format of the session had not changed, but the layout did in 2019 as we sectioned up the hall into ‘rooms’.  This enabled our youngest visitors a bit more safety from the older ones who loved to whizz around on trikes and ride on toys. Parents, carers and grandparents were welcomed and offered refreshments, as were the children. Near the end, ‘tidy up time’ is shouted and toys are put away and there is a time for nursery rhymes and musical instruments. Our team of volunteers remained constant and fabulous … and then, as we know March 16th 2020 arrived and this activity had to pause.

We managed to keep in touch with a couple of parents via WhatsApp but to be honest the rest just disappeared.  This was of great concern to us, as a church, as we’d formed some lovely friendships and begun some faith related conversations.

Baby Steps – Revd Natasha

By the end of the summer holidays the government guidance had changed so that we could look at offering a ‘support group’ for new parents and their babies.  So Baby Steps was born.

As numbers were limited and use of toys too we decided to make the main focus stories and songs.  The format worked well.  Mums and Babes arrived.  Natasha welcomed everyone, Jane Wall & Barbara Botcher supported her. Then using one simple Bible story as the theme for each week’s more stories and songs were sung . using lots of actions and instruments …  and at the end time was given to share news and chat.

It started small and grew quickly, so that by the end of the year it was at capacity.  Parents were happy with this new Christian support group and hopefully in 2021 it can expand.

Your prayers of last year – to enable us to be more confident in sharing the good news of Jesus has been answered, alleluia!  Although  we are working with a reduced team for now we are optimistic that by the autumn of 2021 we will be able to open this group to all pre- school ages and their carers.

So may I take this opportunity to give a heartfelt  –  THANK YOU  … to you all.  Keep praying, and if you want to help out from September 2021 … get in touch with me.  There is lots you can do!

Natasha x

KiC – Kids in Christ – Janet Cottrell

Holding KiC sessions in person has not been possible during the past year due to COVID restrictions.

Natasha started preparing “KiC bags” after Easter 2020, delivering them to the doorstep of KiC families so that the children had their own activities to complete during the online Podcasts.  Additional material for the upcoming week was provided through an activity sheet attached to the weekly service sheet.  An online “Virtual Sunday School” series was also trialled which included a simple craft to make from household materials.

When restrictions eased during the summer months and in-person Sunday services resumed for those who felt comfortable attending church, children were provided with “KiC in a box”; activities to complete whist sitting with their families.

In the autumn churches were forced to shut their doors again and KiC then merged into the family Zoom services where we could see each other face to face, albeit on a screen from home.  On Sunday 29th November we were all encouraged to build a real or virtual fire for Fire Sunday and toast marshmallows (as demonstrated by Natasha from her front garden) whilst learning about Moses and the Burning Bush.  The Wetherall family created a particularly impressive fire!

At Christmas the KiC children prepared nativity-themed artwork which was condensed to form a sleeve around a CD of Christmas carols to be included in each Afternoon Tea hamper that was delivered to the Senior Citizens who would normally have been guests at the Christmas lunch.  Several children also took part in a “reverse advent calendar” organised by the Nickson family.  KiC children donated an item of food for each day of advent and encouraged their friends to do so too.  The food was then donated to a local food bank in time for distribution at Christmas.

In January 2021 when the country went back into lockdown, “KiC in a box” continued with crafts being delivered directly to families.  It was fun watching the children complete the activities during our Family Zoom services.  Hopefully we will be back to in-person sessions soon.

7Up – Simon Edwards

In 7Up we provide a safe space for teenagers to connect and build relationships with each other and with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  For most of 2020 it was via a virtual safe space, using Zoom on 2nd and 4th Sundays.  In one word, 2020 was INTENSE!

Although meeting online was not ideal for most, there have been a number of positives too.  Meeting virtually enabled us to include young people outside our village.  We also had lots of fun with virtual games and quizzes, and we used the online space to engage in listening and visualisation exercises as part of our delving deeper into some of our young people’s concerns and big questions: – ‘How can I believe in God?’, ‘Life after death – what’s that all about?’, ‘How Can I Shine God?’, among others.  At the heart of our sessions has been listening to each other and to God, exploring and applying God’s word, the Bible, to our daily lives and prayer for each other and for our concerns.

Last summer we held a bar bq and said ‘adios’ to Joni and Lizzie as they headed off to uni.  We also said farewell to the Purcell family who are now happily settled in their new church family.  Tara stepped up to co-lead 7Up when Hannah left 3 years ago to start her role as Head of Science at an international school in Portugal and Ryan and Lauren had been active participants in KiC and 7Up.  So it was sad to say ‘au revoir’ to them all.

However, yet again we were reminded that our God is with us and knows his plans for us, plans to give us hope and a future.   Even before Tara left, thanks to Zoom, Hannah re-joined as a helper and leader.  As a teacher and head of faculty, Hannah has lived through the same challenges faced by our young people; uncertainty, adapted learning and assessment methods, social isolation, regular COVID testing, you name it.  Hannah walked alongside our 7Up members through a very tough year and encouraged us all with her empathy, compassion and prayerful words of wisdom.  Please pray for our young people and their leaders to draw even closer to

God as we, and that we’ll continue this amazing journey of faith with some new 7Up members. 

Safeguarding – Revd Natasha

Stoke Poges Church continues to take safeguarding very seriously. Our safeguarding policy was reviewed and updated and approved by the PCC at the April PCC meeting. It is on display in the St Andrew’s Centre and on St Giles’ noticeboard.

This year there was a change to who should undertake the Basic safeguarding course which meant all our sides-people and the choir were required to undertake the training.  Both ministries embraced this wholeheartedly and we had Rowena Griffiths come and deliver the training to us on behalf of the Oxford Diocese.  So we are fully compliant in all our ministries now, which is a wonderful achievement.

We, will continue with our safer recruitment policy, as stipulated by the Church of England and to ensure that we have capacity to do that two more people became accredited with the Leadership qualifications in safeguarding and recruitment to assist me when taking on new people wether they are paid or volunteers.  I hope as a church community you understand the vital nature of safeguarding. We must be a community that looks out for the vulnerable both children and adults, therefore if you are stepping into a new role within the life of the church, do not be surprised to learn that safeguarding training and checks are part of that recruitment process.

Our annual Safeguarding Audit showed a few holes but they are now plugged and all those who need to renew their training have been contacted.  For our certificates only last 3 years.

 Natasha will continue to monitor their progress as the Interim Safeguarding Officer. Anyone requiring a new DBS should continue to contact Margriet Wells, as she deals with this area of Safeguarding.

Our hope is that everyone will feel enabled and safe within our Church and when necessary confident to share any concerns that they have, knowing that we all have ears to hear and the heart of Jesus to act appropriately to all.

Key message from the Oxford Diocese:

  • The welfare of the child, young person and vulnerable adult is at all times paramount and takes precedence over all other considerations.
  • The Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser must be consulted whenever a safeguarding concern of any kind arises in your parish.
  • Safeguarding is part of our core faith and an integral feature of Christian life in our parish churches.

Natasha x

Getting Involved

St Andrew’s Worship Team – Heather McDowell

We had established a happy pattern of worship in early 2020 with a rota of live music from Lindsey Mackie, Heather, Tina, Janet and Matthew and using CD/MP3 tracks on other weeks.

We knew that we wanted to include music in our recorded services as we went into lockdown and we shared out “curating” each week’s music between, Janet, Heather, Tina and Natasha. However, it became apparent during the year that the music licencing rules were far more restrictive that we had realised and what had been a fun task for the first couple of months became frustrating and unsatisfying.

We are hugely grateful to Lindsey for sharing some videos and also St Nic’s Durham, who gave permission (via Debbie Langham’s daughter Chloe) to use their growing catalogue of Youtube videos. We purchased some videos which included permission to use in recordings and luckily a number of the audio tracks we already owned came with this permission. The Church of England also made an arrangement with St Martin in the Fields to release a set of Public Domain hymns for each week’s service and some seasonal ones, though these have only generally been suitable for Morning Prayer podcasts and also delivered quite late in the week.

For those wondering why we didn’t just produce our own worship videos, this would have required recording equipment, volunteer time and know-how that we just don’t have. We are lucky that we still have a few voices and a pianist, which we look forward to being able to use and hear again soon.

Stoke Poges Men’s Group – Nigel Lowe

The men’s group began the year with a Beer & Skittles Evening  at St. Andrew’s, but sadly, all the following events that we had planned for 2020 had to be postponed when the country went into lockdown.  Once we realised that the pandemic would continue throughout the year, we decided to start running virtual “Bring your own Bacon” Men’s Breakfasts. The first one was in July and we followed this with two more virtual breakfasts in September and November.  We had excellent speakers at each of these events and were delighted at how well the technology worked.

Unfortunately Lock-down has continued but at last there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel which means that our planned Brewery trip in September 2021 will be our first real live meeting!  Which seems like the ideal event to mark our return to normal service, as we can, raise a glass or two together in celebration!

Reapers – Simon McDowell

Reaping at St Giles in 2020 had additional challenges as most of our ‘normal’ reaping group had to shield or isolate for most of the summer.   It also meant that I took over leading the group from Mike Wright, who has done a sterling job over many years leading the team and indeed, has been part of the team for half a century!

An appeal went out to the younger members of our congregation and friends, who came out to help on a more infrequent basis than we’d normally achieve.   Sadly, the normal teas, coffees and doughnuts were not able to be offered, but we managed to bring our own flasks and have a brief, distanced, outside chat after we finished.  Our other big struggle was our elderly mower fleet breaking down a little too often and no repair shops being open.

Thanks to those temporary helpers, we managed to keep the churchyard looking ‘not too shabby’ and in good enough shape for us to return to reaping as a full team in 2021.  I’m delighted to say that just about all our temporary helpers have augmented the team on a permanent basis.

Thank you to all the Reapers, both those who were able to help out in 2020 and those who supported us in spirit.

We still welcome more members to join us – please see the website for details on when we meet or ask me to add you to our WhatsApp group.  We meet every 2-3 weeks between April and September with then one or two working parties later in the year to help with leaf clearing and autumn jobs. 

Flowers at St Giles’ – Jennifer Pickering

At the beginning of 2020, because of the Covid situation, the decision was made to suspend supplying floral displays in the church. We have a loyal group of flower arrangers whose talents are enjoyed by all who visit our church. However, the health and safety of the group was paramount.

I am sure I speak for all the members when I say how much I missed arranging the flowers during this time.

As Harvest Festival approached, it was decided that it was safe to decorate the church for this special time of the year. All the members of the group provided arrangements and the church looked beautiful.

We have continued to provide flowers on a regular basis and now also for the weddings restarting in 2021.

I would like to express my grateful thanks to everyone who helps with the flowers. We are always looking for new volunteers. If you are keen to help, please let the church office know.

Bell Ringers – Judith Mackay

The bells were rung for services and practices as usual up to March 15th 2020. As lockdown approached, we knew that it was no longer safe to meet in the bell tower and so we lowered the bells with heavy hearts, not knowing when we might ring again. From March 23rd, the first lockdown and its subsequent restrictions meant that we were unable to meet to ring at all. Anne Frank tolled a single, half muffled bell on Remembrance Sunday but the bells were otherwise silent from March through December 2020. Tower maintenance continued through this period to ensure that bells could be safely rung once the restrictions were lifted.

Behind the Scenes

Office & Communications  – Heather McDowell

Office life in 2020 was transferred to home working as far as possible for lockdown. Our Monday staff meetings moved to Zoom, the phone was redirected to Debbie’s mobile and just about everything except for printing and distribution of hard copies of service sheets was carried out from our home computers.

Knowing how much some people were going to miss the social contact through the church and word of mouth notices about events, we became part of the “ringing around” team and sent out regular updates to those without computers, either hand delivered or posted. Printed service sheets were sent out for special services to enable those without the technology to join in.

Signage, QR codes, track & trace sheets and constant updates of restrictions, arranging ticketing, social distancing and cancelling events (especially in late autumn) were all essential elements of getting back to church safely as lockdown ebbed and flowed.

Taking our services online was a big change in our weekly schedule. As well as Zoom services, which not everyone could access, and which provided challenges with audio and video quality for music, we asked everyone on the rota to send in recordings of them leading the service, readings, intercessions and sermons and used existing knowledge and tech to knit this together with the music choices into audio podcasts. These alternated between a St Andrew’s style Family Service and St Giles’ style Morning Prayer. Meanwhile, Natasha grasped the nettle of making videos to ensure we could receive Holy Communion in a visual form and that the All Age Services were accessible and interesting to as many people as possible. We have continued these as we returned to face to face church and hope to add live streaming later in 2021.

Having left our Facebook page fairly dormant for the last few years, Natasha and Heather went on a Social Media course in early March 2020 to make better use of this (plus Instagram) to reach current members of the church and the wider community with up to date notices, reminders and encouragement – an extra window into our world. We started using an app called Canva, free to charities, which has really brightened up all sorts of things from service sheets to our website.

Richard notes: My main contribution as part of the Office Team is to ensure that my diary is in accord with all services happening in the church (mainly St. Giles’) covering Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals and Interments. 

I liaise with Debbie regarding queries raised by the congregation and other parties world wide regarding the St. Giles’ graveyard.

Finances – John Wheatley

In 2020, it became apparent by March that we would have to manage our finances very carefully during the year. We decided however at that time to maintain as near as possible our budgeted commitments, which included:

  • Parish Share We increased our Parish Share by 3%.  Our contribution to the Diocese largely covers clergy stipends and pensions and the training of ordinands.
  • Mission Giving We maintained that a minimum of 10% of all planned giving during the year would be mission giving and we will be donating to SHOC and NLT in line with last year. We also committed additional funds to outreach for the village via the Village Store Cupboard scheme.
  • AV System We improved our AV systems.to meet new styles of Worship.
  • Governance We maintained a minimum of 3 months operating costs in our bank account, thanks to the generosity of our Church members, despite a massive shortfall in Hall Lettings.

Our restricted funds, e.g. for the upkeep of the buildings and churchyard, are in a healthy state and our ability to meet our improvement plans at both Churches remains viable.

The charts below show the income and expenditure for 2020 on the General Fund. 

By way of explanation on the income side, “Fees” include charges for weddings and funerals, “Sales” covers the coffee shop and “Tax” is what we recover from gift aid.

We are reliant on our income from rent and lettings, as expected Lettings for the year fell considerably, we expect this to continue for next year.

On the expenditure side, “Management costs” includes administration, office expenses, IT support, music licences, training and inspection fees, while “Buildings” includes minor maintenance, insurance, caretaking and utilities. “Church services” includes clergy expenses, junior church materials, organists, verger expenses, costs of candles and Holy Communion wine and wafers.

In addition, each year we write down the initial cost of The St Andrews Church centre, this is shown in our restricted fund operating costs, not on the chart above, but this year the cost was £23,977.

Our General Fund surplus was £17,746 (2019: £28,156) and our overall surplus for the general and restricted funds was £7,232 (2019: £325), largely as the pandemic stopped us from doing works that would normally be paid for by restricted funds (e.g. on buildings).

Whist the above is a general outline of our financial year, more details can be found in the “Report of the trustees and financial statements for the year ending 31 December 2020” available on our website here.

Churchwardens – Simon McDowell & John Wheatley

No church services, no building works, so surely 2020 was easy for the churchwardens?

Sadly, no.

We had to consider how to best support our congregation and the whole village through the pandemic, whilst being uncertain about when or whether we could open for services and sometimes having to cancel activities at very short notice – Easter and our Wassailing at Christmas being the two largest examples.  

Pastorally, Natasha has been a rock for the village as a whole and we are just the pebbles supporting her in place.   We have tried to get her great ideas to fruition and gently tell her to rest when she fell ill at the beginning of the pandemic. 

As churchwardens, we are responsible for the running of the church and we also have the roles as PCC Secretary (Simon) and acting Treasurer (John).   We are ably helped by the PCC, the church office and other church members to help us do this smoothly and we give thanks for the help and support that we have received from the congregation during 2020.

PCC Secretary – Simon McDowell

Our PCC moved to a virtual basis for part of 2020 as either precautions or restrictions kept us apart.  We held five PCC meetings during the year, of which two were virtual and three together.  Sadly, our informal, longer meeting was shelved for the year.   We consisted of five elected members, two elected representatives of the Deanery Synod, two churchwardens and our Vicar.  Average attendance at PCC meetings was 80%.

Our PCC has two active working committees:

  • the Property Committee, which is responsible to the PCC for the upkeep of the fabric of both church buildings.   It met twice and consists of PCC members plus church members who are experts in property matters and whose help is much appreciated; and
  • the Standing and Finance committee, comprising the Vicar, Churchwardens and Treasurer with other PCC members attending as needed.  It meets as required in between formal PCC meetings to address more urgent needs where a resolution is required.  Although the Vicar and Churchwardens meet regularly, the Standing and Finance committee only met once during the year.

Due to the restrictions and the lower number of services and hall hires, the PCC’s focus during 2020 was on supporting the needy and vulnerable in our parish as outreach, rather than expanding our Mission to come to church.  The PCC enthusiastically supported the Village Store Cupboard and members, along with other volunteers, helped to contact the lonely, deliver care packages and ensure that our church buildings were safe when they were allowed limited re-opening.

The reports of the other activities that took place during the year in our church community can be found elsewhere in this blog.  The PCC is very grateful to all the leaders and their helpers who give up their time to make these activities happen.

Also on the website, are a summary the annual accounts, which reflect the financial state of the Stoke Poges Church and there is a separate Treasurer’s report to describe what has happened financially.

Prayer Ministry

During 2020 our church ministry teams had little opportunity to pray for others face to face. Our solution was to share prayers for our church family by email and set up a team together with the office staff to ensure that all prayer requests were shared and prayed over during this critical time. Thank you to all who helped and responded during this time and we are happy to continue in this format for those in need.

Deanery Synod

We met as Synod four times during the year, three times by Zoom and once in person. Key projects discussed were: methods of moving church online, safeguarding, Social Hubs, creating a Deanery Mission Action Plan and covid compliance.

In addition, a large proportion of this year’s Synod meetings focused around replacing our Area Dean by creating a Deanery Profile and looking at new ways of financing our Deanery. This was led by Robin Grayson who sadly also retired at the end of the year.

The meaning of LIFE

Ladies’ Life Group

Despite moving to Zoom for most of the year and two of our members moving to another church in the summer, we managed to continue to support each other by hook or by crook. We had a few false starts at the beginning of the year with bible studies – sometimes we just can’t hit on one that speaks to us! And by the end of the homeschooling, family separation and bereavements of the first lockdown we could barely string a sentence together, let alone study anything.

However, two books that really stood out were “How to walk into church” by Tony Payne, which in God’s great timing asked us to be bold and not selfish as we redoubled our efforts to make life group on Zoom and gathered our confidence to return to the church buildings last autumn. We coined the phrase “the ministry of turning up” as, although many of us do make contributions or receive a great deal from worship services or the act of sharing our week in life group, some weeks we just so exhausted or down, that we don’t feel we have anything to offer; or that we are not getting anything out of coming. We need to remember that just by turning up, we are creating the opportunity to be fed, restored or perhaps be a source of encouragement to someone else.

The second study which we saw through to the end was “God is closer than you think” by John Ortberg, for which we extended an invitation to any other ladies in the church who wanted to be more connected, albeit via Zoom, to a church community they hadn’t seen face to face for a while. We had two extra participants to add their perspective and this was a welcome change.

JTS Life Group

Our frontlines have been tough places to inhabit for the last year, let alone be shining witnesses of Christ. So coming together weekly around God, albeit virtually, to share life and get refreshed in the Spirit has been essential for us.  We were all impacted by reading during the first lockdown, ‘How To Walk Into Church’ by Tony Payne.  In response, we have been more intentional in turning up and being present; finishing dinner having just got in from work and joining in, sitting in front of a crackling log fire in a comfy chair and joining in, feeling so shattered and stressed – having to lie down and still joining in.  And the rewards have been amazing; peace, positive mental health, boldness, and many other blessings.

In the autumn term we stepped out in faith and hosted an online Alpha course, over Zoom.  Although we had to change our planned Holy Spirit Away Day to a Holy Spirit evening, it didn’t matter, as the Holy Spirit gently led us through the whole course.  We were humbled and moved by the honesty and openness of participants in our 11 sessions together.  New friendships were formed and old ones re-ignited.  It was a special season.

Please pray for us to receive God’s healing, grace, inspiration and wisdom for continuing to support each other while making space for and welcoming new members, within the context of COVID and meeting in homes or virtually. 

Deborah and Matthew’s Life Group

Our hope as a Life Group is to deepen our faith and walk alongside each other in fellowship.

Throughout 2020 we continued meeting on a weekly basis for prayer, fellowship and bible study, transitioning to the new normal of Zoom meetings at the end of March 2020. With covid restrictions severely limiting opportunities to meet others physically at work, church or other settings, Life Group has proved an invaluable constant in retaining social contact and fellowship within the Group.

Moving to Zoom has also blessed the Life Group with having one of our previous members be able to re-join us from Portugal and another frequently home-bound member attend more regularly from Stoke Poges!

Over the year we completed Rosemary Green’s ‘Listening to God’ ten session adventure in purposefully setting out to listen to God; studied Acts; used the Going Deeper service sheet notes to explore the summer term’s Sunday morning service series in more depth; and worked through John Stott’s bible studies on Jesus Christ (Teacher, Servant & Saviour).

Although we were unable to physically attend the Wildfires festival as a church group over the May Bank holiday, one of the Group’s highlights of the year was watching Wildfires online from our own living rooms whilst in parallel sharing edifying comments live via our WhatsApp group.

Despite this being a turbulent year, we have been reminded more than ever of the blessings and benefits of meeting regularly as a Life Group in terms of fellowship and answered prayer.

Vicar’s Report

Stoke Poges Church is a place where we strive to know God, follow Jesus, love others and invite all.  Little did we realise as we joyously began 2020 how much we would be tested to do just that.  And do so in many untried and ingenious ways, but that is … as the saying goes … just how the cookie crumbles.

January 2020 saw us buoyant after a successful Christmas season, our congregations were beginning to grow and a second Alpha course was being discussed.  Community relationships were improving and after a positive response to our stewardship Sunday in the autumn of 2019 we had the funds to offer the workshops, family ministry and expand our outreach to the isolated and the lonely as planned. Then as we all know the news of Covid-19 began to spread fast and the number of cases across the globe was spiralling.  Nobody had a clue as to what was happening, how it would impact us locally, and when it would all end.

Sadly with the first lockdown announced on Monday 16th March 2020 Stoke Poges church had to close its doors and think fast.  With the support of the PCC, the office and the congregation we managed to quickly convert ‘in person services’ into podcasts.  I must give a massive thank you to both Heather and Debbie for stepping up and taking on many tasks that our shielded volunteers could not undertake.  They did so with no notice and without complaint.

We quickly became adept at risk assessments, podcasting, video editing and change management.  The first lockdown was brutal and very hard work for all of us.  And I want to say, you really did love one another and the village immensely.

As the year progressed our plans for mission and ministry still needed to happen and they did, but not in the ways that we had envisaged so eagerly the year before.  Easter had to be online, but the vicar shaped easter bunny managed to make it to many parishioners doorstep with a treat.  Mothering Sunday posies did not go to waste, they too were similarly deposited.

To cope with the sheer volume of pastoral concerns I instigated a team of Pastoral Callers, whose aim was to keep in touch and ensure no one was left alone and without a friendly voice to listen to.   Eleven of you helped and formed many new friendships … God bless you for that kind and prayer fuelled ministry, sustaining it for many months until those under our care needed you no longer.  I believe some are still benefitting from it, and that support, in a time of crisis enabled me to focus on the wider needs of the church, and maintain weekly services. 

Ann Sibley was concerned for those who could not get to the shops and those facing hardship in our community.  From that seed of an idea … the Stoke Poges Store Cupboard grew.  Each successive lockdown it opened and in partnership with the Good Neighbour Scheme, the Parish Council and our Pharmacy … many, many villagers benefitted.  As a church we organised, hosted and ran around shopping and cajoling folk into giving.  Our reward for these endeavours was the many Christ centric conversations that we were given the opportunity to have. Often with people we did not and may never have had the chance to get to know in normal times.  At a time when the nation was in despair we were on the frontline offering hope, conversation and food.  I pray we did Jesus proud. By the end of the year deep friendships and a warmer attitude towards the Christian faith and its proponents was evident.  The elderly, families and isolated people were served and served well.  Again thank you all. You pulled together, changed tack and focused on being God’s hands and feet in a time of great need.  Sharing the love of God with all.

Our hope had been to offer workshops and mini ‘Lighthouses’ to our young families, building on the marvellous summer club that we help at and support.  This was not possible, but what we did do was bring it to the families in their homes.  By late spring we were able to deliver to all our known and some ‘new to us’ children across the parish a weekly KiC pack.  Each week families had activities and bible stories/prayers and later on a quality Sunday School video to do.  These packs enabled me to visit all our church families and some fringe families every week.  Here I caught up with them, shared the the ups and downs of their week and took away prayer needs to share as needed. By the summer our families were exhausted by home schooling, and yet there was still more of it to come!

In person School ministry had to take a break, as Stoke Poges School, the Teikyo School and Caldicott school were either closed or not able to let me in.  We corresponded, and I was able to continue my Governor role within Stoke Poges School.  We offered support, car parking and lots of cake to our village school teachers to help them cope with the challenges they faced.  The store cupboard enabled some families to keep going as the financial implications of repeated lockdowns started to effect the children more. They knew the extended help came directly from the church and that even when the ‘Store Cupboard’ closed we did not, we still gave and helped through the summer holidays and between lock downs as needed. What a witness in generosity.

The Harvest Festival was stripped back and made Covid safe, but that did not stop us celebrating and giving what we could.  We have formed great connections with the new Deanery Hub, based in Britwell and we continue to support SHOC.  We were able to give all that was donated to them both. Which is good news in deed.  Through out the year, as we were able we gave to other charities as the needs arose and we had goods that they needed.  This included items for the Iver Scouts, and the Women’s refuge in Slough.

Our Remembrance Sunday service was tweaked to fit in with Covid-19 guidelines, but we were able to do it, which I was thankful for.  We managed – with the help of congregation families – to have representatives of most of the uniformed groups.  Wreaths were laid for all organisations and I did a solitary service on the green which was video’d and shared on our website and social media.

Christmas was different, that was for sure.  With increased health and safety concerns we had to cancel some of our activities and others were given that Covid twist … and reinvented. Services were ticketed and concerts postponed, but we managed to serve 130 Christmas Tea hampers to our Senior Citizens, with thanks to a plethora of volunteers who made, packed and distributed them all.  Our choir took on the role of readers for the Christmas Choir concert and we were blessed with music from St Martin in the Fields’ choir for our Carols and Lessons.  A recording of which went to all the seniors and is on the website.

As the year drew to a close, we were thankful that a remnant of us were able to gather and celebrate the birth of Christ.  Sadly the second wave of Covid was brewing, but we kept safe, went online and readied ourselves for the next chapter – 2021.

May I, at this point, take the opportunity to say thank you to everyone in the parish? During the mid part of 2020 I needed to compassionate leave … after a series of illnesses and family bereavements I needed three weeks to concentrate on my immediate family and their needs.  You were very gracious and kind to us all.  Your prayers and support at that time were felt and appreciated by us all. 

Thank you for striving to live out the love that God has shown to us in Christ Jesus.

Rev Natasha Brady …. June 2021.

To revisit more photos from 2020, look back through the blog posts which journal our church life.

Have photos to share? Email them to heather@stokepogeschurch.org

Images of Christ

This year for Holy Week, we asked you to share your favourite image of Christ and perhaps a little info on what the image means to you. These have been posted on Facebook and Instagram throughout the week but in case you missed any, here’s the full set.

In some cases, it has been tricky to credit the original artist but our aim is that, with or without their name, sharing their work is a continuation of their evangelism through art.

Pam Blewett chose Thomas Blackshear’s “Forgiven”  

“I have one of these cards now rather crumpled on my desk under my pc screen. There is a poster in the chapel of HMP The Mount where I help on the Alpha course and I was given the card in the early days of joining the team.  The description of the scene is very moving as you look closer. Jesus clutches the man and is not going to let go even though he still holds the mallet and nail.”

The artist has painted several versions of this with people of different genders and races in Christ’s embrace.

The Last Journey of Christ – a series of scenes in Agrigento, Sicily, photographed and nominated by Richard Beckingsale.

Both Alison & John Wheatley and Tina Edwards nominated the stained glass window at Buckfast Abbey. “The picture doesn’t do it justice – it’s REALLY big!” said Tina.

Photo from https://visitdartmoor.co.uk/attraction/buckfast-abbey

Heather Homan suggested two images:

Heather says “I don’t know whether this image of Christ by Charlie Mackesy had been given a title but I have called it “Such love”. To me there’s such a strong image of that love in Jesus’ embrace of a repentant or grieving believer. The cross in the background signifying His finished work.”

You may know Charlie Mackesy from his recent bestseller “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” and if you’ve read it, you’ll know that, without mentioning Him by name, he conveys the love of Christ so beautifully in words and sketches. What you may not know is that, until 2016, Charlie was an atheist! Since discovering Jesus, he has created many emotionally resonant Christian paintings and given talks for HTB (have a look on Youtube)!

About this second picture, Heather says: “I don’t know the artist but just love the joy that shines out of the picture. It makes me happy just to look at it.”

I couldn’t find the artist either but it seems to have a Spanish title “Jesus rie ninos”

Gaynor Houghton-Jones nominated Velazquez’s “Christ on the Cross”, which hangs in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. There’s a fascinating talk by one of the museum’s curators about the painting on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxtwKVBtIIM&t=3s

Ann Sibley has fond memories of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” from Sunday school

Simon Edwards and Pat Hegarty chose William Holman Hunt’s “Light of the World”. This very famous painting (of which there are also several different versions) almost needs no introduction, but if you would like to know more about it, visit the website of its home: https://www.keble.ox.ac.uk/about/chapel/light-of-the-world/

Janet Cottrell nominated this painting of Jesus at Mary and Martha’s house. It illustrates a theme we have revisited many times during our Lifegroup sessions and Janet says “Here is my image of Christ. I’m Martha in the background, too busy to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen!”

The artist is Simon Dewey b.1962 in London who had a career in commercial illustration until “breaking through” with his Christian paintings in 1997. He now lives in Alberta, Canada.

Lastly, my own choice “The Lamentation of Christ” by Andrea Mantegna, painted about 1480.

The first time I saw this painting, I was in an art history talk. I had been going to church for a few years but was still finding my feet with the whole “Jesus actually died and then came back to life” thing.

The room was dark, this image came up larger than life on the projector screen and I shivered. Jesus looks really dead and all I could think was “It’s all true!”

Thank you to everyone who shared these images and their thoughts about them. Also the artists who created these amazing works. As part of the Live Lent study, we have been exploring what counts as “evangelism”. The thing that all of these images have in common is that they are an act of worship and evangelism in themselves. Through these images and no doubt many others dear to you, something of the Good News has been passed on and they were created to glorify God.

What do you like to create that could be your evangelism?


Big apologies to Deb Whittaker for omitting her selection from the series in Holy Week. Her choice is Country Garden with Crucifix by Gustav Klimt. Deb says “I like this because He is present, although almost hidden, in all the tangle and beauty of life.”

Signs of Spring

As Easter draws near, the evenings get lighter and the vaccine rolls out, it feels like we can all breathe a little easier. Our traditional calendar might look a little different but there is still plenty of activity in the life of the church to share.

Firstly, thank you to the posy makers for preparing the flowers for Mothering Sunday and to Natasha for the delivery. Although a second lockdown Mothering Sunday was a sobering thought, it gave a little lift to everyone who received a posy to know that they are still being thought of.

At St Giles’ (as everywhere) the grass has started growing and that means it’s time for our annual lawnmower maintenance round. Five mowers and a chainsaw were ambulanced to Wexham Mowers, who did a sterling job. One mower, sadly, didn’t make it, however Wexham Mowers have very generously donated a refurbished replacement. Big thanks to them! If you have a petrol mower that you no longer need that is in working condition and would consider donating to the church, please get in touch via the office. Even better, if you can wield a petrol mower, or strimmer and would be able to give an hour or two on some Saturday mornings during the growing season, The Reapers are always looking for new members. A fortnightly stint is ideal but not essential and enthusiasm trumps experience!

The Store Cupboard, having helped so many people in all three lockdowns, is winding down this week. Ann and Julie were awarded the Jubilee Cup by the Parish Council for their services and accepted it on behalf of all the people who have donated homemade cakes, groceries, money and even clothing and books and made it such a success for the village.

Ann gave me some facts and figures to share about their activity in third lockdown.

Our Live Lent Lunchtimes are proving popular, getting 70-100 views apiece as time goes by. Natasha and Nigel are getting used to talking to themselves on Facebook Live (because they can’t see or hear the viewers as they can on Zoom!) and two of the Lifegroups are following through with the accompanying book “Living His Story” which has videos and discussion topics.

The videos by themselves are really interesting and accessible – two Archbishops, a Bishop, two Canons, an author of theology books and a really enthusiastic pastor of an inner city church all talk to the author of “Living His Story” about how they started to share their experience of faith with other people and how us “ordinary folk” can tell our ordinary stories too.

If you’d like to catch up or dip in to a couple of the sessions, Natasha and Nigel’s 20 minute services can be found here and the Living His Story interviews, which are each around 15 minutes, can be found here.

Lastly, although we are remaining online for all other services until further notice, our Easter Sunday service will be in person at St Giles’ at 10.30am on 4th April. We have to make a seating plan, so tickets are required and all the now familiar covid precautions will be in place. At the time of writing, there are only a few places left but you might get lucky – book at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/easter-sunday-service-at-st-giles-tickets-143993238653 or call the office.

There will even be an Easter Trail at St Giles’ (though no chocolate, sorry) which will be available from Easter Sunday throughout the school holidays with a “virtual” version you can play on our website too! Check the website, Friday email, facebook or instagram for updates.

We look forward to seeing as many people as possible!