Last Sunday, 1st November, in what turned out to be our last service in church for the next month or so, we rediscovered the story of Jonah, who disobeyed and finally submitted to God and and saved a city of thousands from a smiting. We pondered on what we might be ignoring that God is asking us to do (or not do!) and how we could listen to him with more courage and obedience. If you missed it, you can listen again here.
At the end of the service, we wished John a very Happy Birthday, including luring him out of the tech box with cake, for a covid-safe candle blowing.
We said goodbye at the end of the service, to arrive home to the News…
Now here we are in Lockdown 2
After so much angst and worry over the last couple of months about whether to have Remembrance outdoors or indoors, at the flagpole, in the church, all or none of the above, eventually the decision was taken for us. Our preparations and careful covid planning were put to one side, and we were left with the essence of the day – remembering in our thoughts and deeds those who have fallen so that we might live freely.
St Giles’ was still beautifully dressed and wreaths were laid on behalf of local organisations but without a congregation.
Did you hear our church bells at the end of the two minute silence? Many thanks to Anne and Ralph for ringing at St Giles’ on behalf of our whole community and Richard for manning the reply at St Andrew’s.
I’m sure you’ll agree that, whatever your circumstances and whatever you think of the rules, this lockdown is not like the first. As a church, we want to build on what we were able to offer before, so today (8th November) we embarked on a new Zoom adventure: Prayer and Peace, this week on the theme of Remembrance.
Instead of meeting in person, we gathered online at 4pm in little windows. It was so lovely to see people we haven’t seen for more than six months and, in addition to being fed via podcasts, actually talk to one another, share thoughts about the bible reading and join in with prayers. We even sang along with the worship music, though thankfully muted from each other to avoid sounding like daleks in a biscuit tin!
With a few minor tweaks, we’ll be back next week and hope to see even more people “there”.
We’d really appreciate your feedback. If you joined us, how did you find it? If you didn’t, let us know if you had difficulties joining or if you have questions about the format. Just email email@example.com
Join us next week using the link, which will be available on the Friday Email and podcast page. Remember, don’t try joining with the link until 4pm on Sunday or listening again later because it is a live service! There will be a service sheet to download in the same place as the link:
Like many churches, we love singing at The Belfrey in York! It’s basic and central to who we are and what we do when we gather for worship. In fact a recent survey of church members showed that it was the top reason people initially came to our church – they were drawn by the worship and singing. So this Covid-19 season of not being able to sing when we gather is especially hard for us.
But it’s not impossible. That’s why over the last few weeks, as we’ve met in church masked and in small, socially distanced gatherings, I’ve kept saying: ‘Please don’t sing, but please do worship.’
For many, that’s a real challenge, because they can no longer sing their heart out and praise God as they desire. But in the same way that lovers find ways to express devotion even when they’re separated, so the restrictions of this season stretch us to find fresh opportunities for adoration of our glorious God!
So, let’s get really practical. What can we do? How can we worship without singing? Here are ten top tips that I commend to you. They’re all good, biblical ways to worship that people have practiced over the centuries.
So here we go. Ten ways to worship without singing.
1. Use your mind & heart.
Instead of singing the words, in your head register, read and hear the words. Then let them go from your head to your heart, so we end up doing what is advocated in Ephesians 5:19: ‘make music in your heart to the Lord.’
2. Use your breath.
We can mouth the words, even whispering them very quietly under our breath in our masks. We can let our breath unite with the breath of God’s Spirit, and know his presence. If you’re able to pray in a God-given prayer language (sometimes known as ‘tongues’) then quietly pray in this way too. In doing this, we’re fulfilling the call of Psalm 150:6: ‘let everything that has breath praise the Lord!’
3. Use your legs.
When someone we respect enters the room, most people do one of two things with their legs. One is to use them to stand. We stand to honour them, like God’s people were urged to do in worship in Nehemiah 9:5. The other is to use them to kneel. We show humility by bowing the knee in reverence, like they did in 2 Chronicles 7:3. Of course there is a time and place to sit on our backsides, but most people in Scripture, unless they’re old or infirm, get off their posterior to worship. To do so, we need to use our legs.
4. Use your hands.
After our mouths, the next most commonly-used tool for communication is our hands. Just watch people talking in public, and you know this is true. That’s why it often surprises me that many followers of Jesus fail to use their hands very much in worship. And yet the Bible encourages us to do just this, speaking of ‘lifting hands’ (Ps. 141:2; 1 Tim. 2:8), ‘spreading out hands’ (Ps. 143:6) and ‘opening hands’ (Deut. 15:8) to God. If you’ve never used your hands in worship in this way, now is surely the time to explore this, lifting the name of Jesus higher and higher.
5. Use your feet.
Given that we’re meant to keep distanced from people, we can’t move around too much when we’re gathered for worship at present. But we can keep our feet on the floor and sway. Jewish worshippers often do this, imaging themselves swaying to and fro like a candle flame in the breeze of God’s Spirit, and we can do the same. And of course we can use our feet to dance. There is much in the Bible on dancing (eg. Ps 149:3), although very few churches seem to practice it these days. For many years I have felt that the Lord is calling the church in the UK to become more of a dancing church. However I often get embarrassed dancing, as I know many others do too! I suspect I just have to get over that, and let my feet express praise that in the past I’ve left to my mouth.
6. Use your fingers.
God gave us fingers to aid creativity: for making, building, writing, drawing and for all sorts of crafting. So why not use your fingers creatively in worship in these unusual days? That could mean bringing a notepad and pen, and drawing something, or writing something to express your praise. Or you could use your phone or ipad in a similar way. If you do this, to stay safe, don’t pass your creative offerings to others, and make sure you take home what you create.
7. Use your ears.
With less distractions from our own voices, and from others around us, we should be all the more aware of the sounds of worship which will mainly come from the front – from those leading. So let’s ensure we’re using our ears well for listening: listening to the words, the prayers and the praises, and as we do so let’s be attentive to the prophetic voice of the Holy Spirit who wants to ‘strengthen, encourage and comfort’ us (1 Cor. 14:3).
8. Use your eyes.
As well as using your ears to listen, open your eyes to see. Look at the signs and symbols in the building and let them enhance your worship. Most are there for a purpose. So be aware of space and shadows, of colour and candles, of pictures and people. If you’re in a building you know well, ask the Lord to help you look beyond the familiar and see things in a fresh way. Use what you see to cause you to be thankful and draw close to God.
9. Use your smile.
As well as not singing, we’re not meant to have much conversation inside church, and certainly not in groups of more than six. This doesn’t mean we stop being church family, but it does mean we will all need to work harder to welcome people, to create community and to show kindness to each other. An obvious way to do this, is simply to smile. Even though you’re wearing a mask, make an effort to smile at those around you, and supplement it with a wave. Smile and show those around you that you’re pleased they’re there! I suspect our smiley greetings will be key worship tools in this season.
10. Use your finances.
Finally, as well as giving our thanks, our praise, our prayers and our love to the Lord, we’re also called to give him our tithes and offerings (see, eg. 1 Cor. 16:2). Giving financially – either by direct debit, or at a contactless giving station – is another important way of worshipping, even though we can’t sing. God receives our finances as worship, when we give from a thankful and cheerful heart (2 Cor. 9:7). As we worship with our money, so we can expect the Lord will continue to look after us, so we can give again. Such is his overflowing love (Luke 6:38).
So there are all sorts of ways we can worship without singing in these extended coronavirus days. And if it’s a Holy Communion Service I would add Use your Taste – as we eat the bread and allow our sense of taste to help us be thankful for the Cross and draw close to God.
So seize the opportunities to worship differently. Let’s be courageous and creative. Brave and bold. Prayerful and playful.
If we can learn now to worship together in many of these ten ways and more, then our worship post-coronavirus, rather than being frailer, weaker and sicklier, will in fact be much deeper, stronger and healthier.
Brother Nigel, as he is affectionately known to many of us, celebrated his big birthday on Sunday by leading our Morning Prayer service both in person at St Giles’ and on the podcast. The cake didn’t stand a chance against the always-trustworthy builder’s hand.
Nigel’s extended family, unable to get together informally at home, attended church en (socially distanced) masse to help him celebrate – what a great idea!
We all wish Nigel a very happy birthday and many more of them!
In other news…
Sunday was also the day of our rather delayed APCM, at which we re-elected our Churchwardens, John Wheatley and Simon McDowell, our Deanery Synod Reps, John Wheatley and Mark Wells, and confirmed that we continued to support the rest of our PCC, namely, Richard Beckingsale, Jennifer Pickering, Nigel Lowe and Kate Holliday. We also re-appointed our sidesmen and thanked everyone for their service, past and future.
This is the last of four chapters of our Annual Report, in preparation for our APCM on Sunday 25th October 10.30am at St Giles’ Church.
LIFE Groups – KJTS Life Group
Through 2019 our life group was led by Karen Perez, Jeff Higgins and Tina and Simon Edwards. We meet every week on Thursday evenings in group members’ homes in Stoke Poges.
We take it in turns to prepare and lead sessions. As well as studying the books of James, Malachi and Colossians, we have explored the names of God and how to pray for each other. The 6 session titles of the Paraclesis course, which we followed in Lent, sum up our group dynamic; Caring, Loving, Journeying, Living, Healing, Connecting.
We have journeyed together through bereavement and blessings, headaches and happy times: the sudden death of a brother, buying a house in the village, physical injuries and the wedding of a daughter. The group feels very much like family, we don’t always agree on everything, but we make the effort to respect and embrace our differences. We love it when members’ children choose to join us for the odd session and bring their own, fresh honesty, eg the challenge to apply what we study more to our lives and today’s living!
We use WhatsApp to share prayer needs between Life Group meetings, and to encourage each other with good news, thanks, Bible verses, poems and songs.
The highlight of 2019’s much-looked-forward-to Caribbean-themed Christmas meal was definitely Laverne’s home-made Jamaican black cake – lots of fruit soaked in lots of rum!
Deborah and Matthew Wetherall’s Life Group
Our hope as Life Group is to deepen our faith and walk alongside each other in fellowship. Throughout 2019 there continued to be a sense of anticipation as we met with each other in the presence of God every Thursday night.
In parallel to the sermon series, the Life Group embraced delving into the Paraclesis course, with this helping us think deeper about ‘coming alongside each other’ and complimenting the ‘Frontline’ courses we have studied previously. (18 months on, one of our members still caries around a Paraclesis ‘kindness’ card in his wallet as a practical reminder to share God’s love with those we come into contact within our everyday lives!)
We explored Rosemary Green’s ‘Listening to God’ ten session adventure in purposefully setting out to listen to God, whether it be directly or through an inner voice, dreams, visions or even the quiet – this particularly gave one of our members an opportunity to share many of the words she had heard recently from God.
Other topics we covered included a Scottish Bible Society study on Jonah and a Methodist based study where we transported ourselves to experience what it was like for an early Christian living in Thessalonica.
We have continued to see many answers to prayer not only in our own lives but in the lives of family and friends some of whom do not yet have a relationship with God and have been touched by our faith in interceding on their behalf.
Ladies’ Life Group
The Ladies’ Life Group helped each other through all the usual ups and downs of life throughout 2019. We had a few hiccups with our studies, finding it difficult to follow the intensity of some of our previous courses. We started the year with Bob Goff’s “Love Does”, then studied the Paraclesis course alongside the other Life Groups. For the summer term, we supported Natasha and Nigel to run an Alpha course and ate a lot of cheese and cake, though sadly this did not bring any new people into our congregation.
We then embarked on a study of “Jonah – A Life Interrupted” by Priscilla Shirer, whose work we have really appreciated before but (ironically) in this study, we got pretty stuck half way through! Two of our group were confirmed by Bishop Alan at St Giles’ in May, which was a great milestone for them. We enjoyed a couple of socials – in the summer at a local restaurant and at Christmas at Heather’s house, where we had been meeting for most of the year.
From the Vicar – Revd Natasha Brady
Stoke Poges Church embraced the vision that was inspired by Jesus from the greatest commandment – to LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE during 2019. As the year progressed, we began the process of articulating what this might mean. Which is why many of my sermons contained this vision statement and why I often referred to the values we hold. For they enable the mission of the church to be an expression of what God has called us to be and to do in Stoke Poges and beyond.
What are these values you may ask? Well they are to be Christ-like, relational, trustworthy and prayerful. All of which we have striven to be as a worshipping community. It has been most heartening to see our congregations really catch hold of all of this, and come together as we have built on the relationships we have in the village. It has also seen us embrace new opportunities to share the Good News of the gospel in word and deed throughout this year. Thank you everyone, for being the body of Christ in this place.
As a church we were invited to man the BBQ at the Horticultural Society. A huge team of volunteers graciously stepped in and cooked, served and and chatted to hundreds of visitors to this historic event. Sporting our Church T-shirts we were a visible presence in the community shining out the love of Christ while flipping burgers and slicing bread. We have booked to return in 2020 to do the same again, so well done and thank you to all who helped with that project: your efforts were appreciated.
The village school has been a place of growing involvement – which is amazing. The relationship between school and church has grown warmer. We are now the ‘go to’ for all things faith related, even when it is not our particular area of expertise. This year saw a significant increase in invitations for St Giles’ to be used as a place of learning and exploration. We were able to offer workshops and lessons on Saints & Martyrs, and Places of Worship alongside hosting their annual Carol Concert. The collaborative History day with the Memorial Gardens and the Stoke Poges History Society happened in June this year. Caldicote school continues to extend a regular welcome, inviting me to lead and preach at their weekly Evensong a few times per term. Their Choir had great fun during the summer, visiting us too, as they came to sing at a Wedding for one of our local couples. A real treat for all concerned. We are continuing to foster good links with the Teikyo School and we were able to help them celebrate their 25th anniversary in the village. They would love to spend more time helping us with the autumn leaf clearing but the leaves this year refused to drop in time, before their winter holidays, so sadly that was missed this year. Thankfully, they are always happy to serve and be present at church services that have a more civic nature to them, like Remembrance Sunday, so we include them and encourage their participation as much as possible.
Building on the opportunities for evangelism that our seasonal services bring, we worked on making the Harvest Festival more inclusive to those enquiring about the Christian faith. I appreciate that it did cause a little bit of consternation for the more traditionally minded amongst you but, if we truly want to grow and be good news to all, we had to give it a go, and thank the Lord for it was a success. It encouraged non-regular churchgoers to come and hear about God, and creation, whilst allowing us to extend our giving further by collecting items to make up bags for DASH, a local charity that houses and helps women and children who are fleeing domestic violence situations. SHOC was also a thankful recipient of many of the food items. The marrows were beautifully decorated for the Harvest Supper, which was also well attended.
The Remembrance Service returned to St Giles’ this year, but was also developed. We hosted a 24 hour prayer vigil for peace and then marched from the flagpole to the church, weaving our way through the fields, changing muddy boots for clean shoes, as we entered the church for the service. The crowds that followed us along the mile-long walk and then joined us to worship as a community far exceeded my expectations. It was a glorious time and the coffee and chat after the service was vibrant and affirming. You were most generous in your hospitality to those known to you and unknown, so thank you. I felt we were truly encouraging inviting all to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’.
Christmas was its usual whirlwind of concerts, services and candles but this year we preceded it with our ‘Angel Landings’ initiative. Knit and Natter helped by creating over a 100 little woolly angels who all had a card attached, encouraging people to take them home, name and display them. They also carried an invitation to take a look at our new church website and see what great things they could get involved with. The local shops were very kind and let me distribute them amongst their shelves and the school hid some each day for the children to find and take home. I must say, all the angels disappeared and interesting conversations were had with quite a few people who were intrigued by them. A good starting point for building a sense of awe and wonder for the Advent season, an exercise we will continue with into 2020 and 2021 … so many more folk will have an angel land in their street or place of work, spreading the Christmas story.
Finally, we tried something completely new – we Wassailed. I know, it wasn’t the Pagan version, it was instead a “fresh expression” of it, incorporating lantern making, the Heritage walk, and carols on the Repton bridge. This outdoor service enabled us to use friendship, evangelism, song and hospitality to re-tell the story of Christmas in a creative way. The choir turned out in full force to support it, and we warmed ourselves with mulled cider and hot mince pies back in the church. Over 70 people came and quite a few of them had never be seen by any of us before, which was exciting to note. Interestingly, a significant number of them were in the 18-30 age bracket. Perhaps this is a new opportunity for us to reach out and form relationships with this demographic? Only time will tell but we will work with Franzi in the Memorial Gardens to do this again.
As 2019 drew to a close and 2020 began, there was much to ponder on. As a congregation, we have grown a little in number but more impressively we have grown in our discipleship. As I have spent time with life groups and individuals I have been warmed by the continued desire to actively live out your faith. The legacy of the Paracelsis course still features in what we are saying and doing as a church. It was a useful programme that gave us the means by which to develop the Mission Action Plan so it meets us where we are now as a church. I hope you agree that, as God’s people, we are journeying with Christ and serving all for the glory of God’s kingdom. Thank you so much for all that you have done, this year has been joyful and a blessing. And as we strive to live out the love that God has shown to us in Christ Jesus, may His grace sustain us in the year to come.
Rev Natasha Brady …. September 2020.
That’s all folks! Please join us for the APCM on Sunday.
This is the third of four chapters of our Annual Report, in preparation for our APCM on Sunday 25th October 10.30am at St Giles’ Church.
Behind the Scenes
Secretary’s Report – Simon McDowell, Churchwarden and Acting PCC Secretary
During 2019, the PCC consisted of four elected members, two elected representatives of the Deanery Synod, two churchwardens and one licenced minister. The Secretary and Treasurer are appointed by the PCC. Since the last APCM, the PCC has met five times in a formal setting and once where we focus on wider spiritual matters and developing our church community.
Our PCC has two active working committees:
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; and
the Property Committee, which is responsible to the PCC for the upkeep of the fabric of both church buildings. It consists of PCC members plus church members who are experts in property matters and whose help is much appreciated.
During 2019, the PCC were focused on community engagement, safeguarding, and maintenance of the church estate. We had a successful planning application for new flats above the main section of the St Andrew’s buildings and are now beginning to plan for tenders and work scheduling, hopefully to begin in late 2020. St Giles’ had its Quinquennial inspection, which showed that the significant restorations in 2015-17 had solved all the long term problems.
The reports of the other activities that take place in our church community, both at St Andrew’s and St Giles’, 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. The Treasurer’s report will describe what’s happened financially in a separate section.
Finances 2019 – John Wheatley, Churchwarden and Acting PCC Treasurer
At the start of 2019, the PCC put into action the financial review we undertook at the end of 2018:
We reduced our Parish share due to concerns regarding our ability to pay the increased amount. Our contribution to the diocese largely covers clergy stipends and pensions and the training of ordinands.
We agreed that a minimum of 10% of all planned giving during the year would be mission giving and we are pleased to announce that £1500 was given to both SHOC and NLT.
We agreed that we would carefully look at reducing our fixed costs relating to buildings whilst at the same time improving our AV systems.
We also agreed that we would maintain a minimum of 3 Months operating costs in our Bank Account. Thanks to the generosity of our Church members, healthy residential rental incomes and hall hire, I am pleased to announce that we were able to achieve this.
Our restricted funds, e.g. buildings and churchyard, are in a healthy state and our ability to meet our improvement plans at both Churches remain viable.
The above charts show income and expenditure 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 and I am pleased to advise that these have grown by over 10% this 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 not shown in our operating costs but is an annual cost of approximately £27,000.
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 2019”.
Burnham and Slough Deanery Synod – John Wheatley, Deanery Synod Representative
In 2019 Four meetings were held : in February June September and November.
Whilst, as in previous years, finance was discussed, it was a year in which other items were prioritised. Synod have four Committees which meet regularly to present reports. These are Education, Standing and Finance, Mission and Pastoral and Treasurers.
The Key items presented and debated at the four meetings held during the year were;
February A centre for outreach
Members of our Synod visited outreach centres in other areas similar to Slough and Burnham, they suggested that we try to create a centre which will incorporate some if not all of the following under a social Justice cafe. Christians against poverty, A food Bank, Computer Classes, and English as a second language.
June Putting out into deep water / plans for the future
In March a conference was held at St Pauls entitled “looking into the Future” key items from this as a synod development tool were
Social Hub (discussed at last Deanery Synod)
Lay Community – commit to one year praying together & doing work in community, designed for 20 to 30 year olds who are still working full time
Mission to Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities
Expansion of Lighthouse ministry to teenagers who come to help.
School Chaplaincy perhaps a Deanery Youth Chaplain with lay volunteers to offer chaplaincy and pastoral care in schools, creating prayer spaces in secular schools.
And during May members of our Synod attended a conference at High Leigh conference centre, chaired by Bishop Alan. Key items of this were discussed and planned around, these were
A common vision working group. Making a difference Parish Planning and a Synod Development Fund.
September Regeneration of Slough
During this meeting a presentation was given by Councillor Swindlehurst the Leader of Slough Council regarding the regeneration of Slough and how the Church could be involved, once again a key need identified was a social hub in the Town
November SHOC and Foodbank needs in Slough
A presentation was given by Leaders of the Foodbank and SHOC detailing their work, needs and how the Church can offer assistance. Some of the key needs were volunteers, finance and also locations as it was identified that it was very difficult for many people to get to local foodbanks due to a lack of travel resource.
Plans for next year will focus on many of these items.
Churchwardens – Simon McDowell & John Wheatley
As churchwardens, we are responsible for the running of the church, and we are grateful for all the help and support from the PCC, the church office and other church members to enable us to do this smoothly. During the year since the last APCM, we welcomed John Wheatley as a churchwarden, and he has been very helpful to both Natasha and Simon at finding the humour and God’s message in all we do.
After a couple of years’ of change, we embraced some stability in 2019, acting as a sounding board for Natasha’s many great ideas and offer her support in all that she does. Our roles also have allowed us to support the PCC in taking on the PCC Secretary (Simon) and acting Treasurer role (John), following the retirement of Gaynor from the PCC.
Although we both support both churches, it is sometimes simpler to be ‘responsible’ for one each – so John helps with the running of St Andrews, including the flat lettings and supporting Ann in her caretaker and hall lettings roles, whilst Simon has continued with the maintenance at St Giles, albeit at a much slower pace than in previous years’: thanks to the Mayer legacy, St Giles’ is in its best form for decades.
Many thanks for the help and support that we have received from the congregation and we hope to continue to spread God’s Word in 2020.
The Office – Debbie Langham, Parish Administrator, Heather McDowell, Communications Officer and Richard Beckingsale, Verger
2019 saw a few changes in the church office. In the autumn, Kate Holliday left the office, though not the congregation, after almost 20 years working for the church, to open a (very successful) gardening business. Debbie Langham, our organist of some years and experienced administrator at the Farnhams and Hedgerley churches, took up the reins. We acknowledged Kate’s cheery and faithful service at our Harvest Festival.
Heather spent much of the summer and autumn researching and building a new church website, migrating our church email provider and trying to make all of the different systems link up effectively and securely. A huge learning curve and time investment! The team (including Natasha, some of the PCC and ministry leads) are now able to share information, pictures, music and ideas in a number of ways and the congregation can view the result on any type of device. At the end of 2019 we had:
Richard writes: “When I became the Verger I obtained a booklet that said I must maintain a close working relationship with the Parish Administrator. I quickly realised how right that was and I am pleased to say the Office team have always welcomed me. Making sure that I have the correct details for weddings and funerals has been vital, as has details of services.
Each year we get several queries about our graveyard and I am able to help with those.”
As well as Honorary Verger and Sacristan, Richard is also our right hand man, font of knowledge and volunteer extraordinaire, for whom we are truly grateful!