Steve writes: Help FROG leap into action

There are some exciting changes taking place in our children’s and youth work at All Saints’. Our baby and toddler group, Little All Sorts, is now meeting weekly on a Monday morning in the Barber Rooms from 9.30 to 11.00am in school term time. Our primary school age children’s work formerly known as ‘Sunday Special’ is now beginning a new Sunday teaching programme as ‘Junior Saints’.

For pre-school age children, the Lower Asset Room can be used as a creche as there are toys to play with – and parents are welcome to take their children to that room at any point in the service – there is a speaker which can be turned on so you can hear what’s going on in church. It would be great if we had some volunteers to be on a rota to look after creche age children during worship, so that Mums or Dads could leave their child being looked after while they were able to benefit from being in the worship service.

But this month there is also a new group starting for secondary school age children on Sunday September 9th at 10.30am. This is called ‘FROG’ which stands for ‘Fully Rely On God’. Tim Vinall, Kate Crebbin, Deb Pickford and Laura Bond are heading up the new group which will meet at the same time as Junior Saints, i.e. on Sunday mornings at 10.30am starting in Church and then going to groups after the first part of the service – Junior Saints to the Barber Rooms, FROG to the Upper Asset room. On the first Sunday of the month we all meet together for worship in Church at our 10.30am Saints Alive service.

So how can we help FROG to leap into action this Autumn? Please could you think of and encourage any secondary age children you know to come along and give FROG a try. In addition to the Sunday meetings we are hoping that there will also be occasional socials and activities to be involved in at other times – all those of secondary school age are welcome. And if you don’t know any specific children to encourage to come, then please would you pray for FROG to get off to a good start this month – for its meetings to be both enjoyable and inspired by God’s Spirit, for its leaders to be good role models of what being an adult Christian is like and for the members to grow as followers of Jesus through their teenage years.

Yours in Christ,

 Steve

 

Steve writes: Name badges, football, a picnic and a total lunar eclipse!

I found it a great help when I first arrived at All Saints’ that for several weeks we all wore name badges. It didn’t mean that I instantly knew who everyone was but it certainly gave me a helpful head start. As Paul, Sheree, Charlotte, Harriet and Alice Walker join us at the start of Paul’s curacy here, we’re going to repeat having name badges during July- not only to help them but also ourselves to learn a few more names of our fellow congregation members.

Being something of an optimist (as well as a Welshman who doesn’t mind supporting England at any sport, except rugby), I wonder whether, in the rather wonderful if unlikely event of England reaching the final we’d be up for watching it together on our own ‘large screen’ in the Barber Rooms? Both Christians in Sport and Scripture Union have brought out material for churches to use in the World Cup, the latter naming its World Cup kit ‘Jumpers for Goalposts’.

Anyway, whether or not England are vying for the Cup itself, we’re all invited to do some celebrating earlier on World Cup Final day, Sunday 15th July , when, after church, we’ll have a bring your own lunch style Church Picnic to welcome the Walkers in the garden of Dave and Helen Wilson’s home (or the Barber Rooms if wet) see the notices for details.

Then to see out the month on a high note, the Churches Together In Faringdon United Service during Follyfest is at the Market Place Main Stage on Sunday 29th July at 10.30am and all are welcome. It’s my view that the weekend’s celebration this year should be called the ‘Eclipse Follyfest’ because just as the weekend’s entertainment gets under way on Friday 27th, the full moon will rise in total eclipse just before 9.00pm. It will remain totally eclipsed until 10.13pm. No reason why we shouldn’t pray for a clear sky on the Friday night so we can enjoy God’s handiwork in nature before praising him on the Sunday morning with other Christians in Faringdon for both his creation and his gracious love in Jesus Christ.

Yours in Christ,

 Steve

Steve writes: Welcoming the Walkers

We have the great privilege this month of having a curate for All Saints’ and St Mary’s ordained on the last day of June, Saturday 30th, at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. Paul Walker will be ordained deacon in a service beginning at 2.00pm and to which we are all invited. Indeed, please do come to support Paul and pray for him, his wife Sheree and their daughters Charlotte (aged 7), Harriet (5) and Alice (7 months).

Paul has been training for ordination at Trinity Theological College Bristol but, as for most curates, a lot of day-to-day learning is going to take place ‘on the job’ amongst us. I’ve certainly got a number of days now fixed in my diary on which I have to have my ‘training incumbent’ skills refreshed so that I can offer the best to Paul during the time he is with us, which we expect to be between 3 and 4 years.

How can we best welcome Paul, Sheree and family? A key way will be by getting to know them as people and fellow members of God’s church here. What I mean is that we should fight the urge within us to think that when Paul is ordained he stops being part of the ‘laos’ – the people of God. Paul will not have become a member of an exclusive dog-collared caste on whom we can load unrealistic expectations and hopes.

God’s church is hugely hindered in its mission and ministry by an unhealthy clericalism which assumes clergy are the ‘ministers’ when the New Testament knows of no such demarcation. God’s people throughout this country, and in Faringdon too, urgently need to recover a sense of ‘every member ministry’, for the church to be the church as God intends.

As we see Paul responding to the particular call of God on his life and his family coming with him in this sacrificial and servant-hearted new start, we should also be opening ourselves up to the particular call of God on our lives. And as we pray for the Holy Spirit to fill and equip Paul and Sheree and the girls for all that lies ahead for them, we must then ask God to fill us again with his Spirit, so we allow Him to develop and use our gifts.

As we rejoice to welcome the Walkers, let’s allow God’s call to them and His gift of them to us remind us of God’s call to us personally and His gift to us of the Spirit to enable us also to live for the glory of God as his ministers here.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve writes: Thy Kingdom Come . . .

‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is the title of a special time of prayer to which we and all  churches are invited by our Archbishop Justin Welby. He’s encouraging all Christians to pray specifically for people we know to become Christians and to especially do this between Ascension Day, 10th May and Pentecost, 20th May.

At All Saints’ we’ll have the chance to begin to pray for family members and friends whom we long to see becoming Christians by coming to our Church Prayer Meeting at 6.30pm on Sunday 6thMay . There are also great resources for individuals, churches and families at the website www.thykingdomcome.global.

Though it’s always great to see new people coming to church services, what we really need to pray is for people to enter the kingdom, that is that people will become Christians, making a heart commitment to follow Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. Many of us who did the Alpha course recently were encouraged and enthused by hearing again the good news of the gospel. Some of us recommitted our lives to Jesus while, wonderfully, others asked Jesus into their lives by his Holy Spirit for the first time.

Jesus asks us to be passionate about helping people of all ages to start following him and then to grow as his disciples, that’s why Archbishop Justin has begun this prayer season of ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. We need to take Jesus seriously when he says: ‘Don’t you say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are already ripe for harvest’.

Let’s lift our eyes from our own pre-occupations and look to Jesus and the harvest that he calls us to work for . . . and there’s no need to wait until the Church Prayer Meeting or the ten days of ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ to start praying for friends or family to come to know Jesus.

Here’s one of the Thy Kingdom Come prayers we can use to ask God to help us see the importance of working for his Kingdom and helping others to enter it too.

Oh God of the new day,
Your Son Jesus knew what it meant to watch and wait through the dark silence of the longest night.
Teach us how to wait with heaven’s indrawn breath on tiptoe with anticipation, until all of our being reaches towards you, all our desire is for you, and all our onward movement is for your Kingdom coming. Amen.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve writes: Jesus is alive today . . .

. . . I laughed as I said those words about 45 years ago, down the road from here in a student’s room at Jesus College. The reason I’d said them was in answer to the question “were there any Christians at your school?” – “yes”, I’d said “just some crazy fifth form girls who went around telling people that . . . Jesus is alive today”.

But as I was the only one laughing in that group, the penny dropped rather loudly that the supposedly intelligent undergraduates I was drinking coffee amongst all believed it to be true. I guess that ensured that I did make the effort to find out for myself the truth of the astonishing claim those girls at my school were sharing.

If Easter didn’t really happen and Jesus isn’t alive today in 2018, then there’s no Christian faith, but then there’d be no New Testament either- because it’s difficult to write a gospel when there’s no good news. The Sabbath-changing event which shifted worship for Christians from Saturday to Sunday is so revolutionary that it changes everything else as well. If no resurrection, then no All Saints’ Faringdon or any church at all for that matter ancient or modern, here or anywhere.

As a former Bishop of mine Tom Wright has said, ‘the only possible explanation for the rise of Christianity and for its taking the shape it did was that Jesus of Nazareth, three days after being very thoroughly dead (Roman executioners were professional killers) was found by his followers to be very thoroughly and very bodily alive again. His tomb was empty… and his followers really did see, touch and share food with Jesus as a real, bodily presence. Had they not, they would have concluded that an empty tomb meant that the grave had been robbed. The combination of empty tomb and definite, solid appearances is far and away the best explanation for everything that happened subsequently.

John Updike insists on this realness of Jesus’ resurrection in his Seven Stanzas at Easter – here are four of them:.

Make no mistake
if he rose at all
it was as his body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the
molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as his Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as his flesh: ours.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity
of earlier ages;
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slowgrinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

Just as Jesus’ resurrection is real, so is our cause for joy and celebration (however we’re actually feeling inside just now). The Easter season prompts us to let it run for all 365 days of any year.

So let’s not soft pedal the reality which urges us to fulfil our church’s aim to ‘connect people with (the living, risen and present with us) Jesus, sharing his love in our everyday lives’.

Wishing you joy for the Easter season, which never ends,

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve writes. . . The Divine Mend

We’re privileged this month to have a visit from Revd David Day and his wife Rosemary. They’ll be here from Durham as David preaches for us on the morning of Sunday 18th March  and the day before leads a morning in the Barber Rooms to encourage preachers (see notice elsewhere). David was a colleague of mine at my previous church, and Wendy and I have known David and Rosemary since we were in their Bible Study group as a young married couple in Nottingham!

Though David has written books on preaching and has spoken to many groups across this country and internationally about communicating God’s word, I want to refer to some comments he makes in his book ‘Pearl of great price – the attractive Jesus’ which was a previous Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book.

Looking at the remarkable ‘hymn’ about Christ in Colossians 1:15-20, David says “Jesus is God in visible form. He is the God you can see and handle, a God handing himself over to be prodded and pushed about. Jesus is God in human flesh, expressed in a human life, in a particular place at a particular time…. So God inserts himself into the creation that he has made, like a life-giving serum injected into the bloodstream of a dying man. Only by coming into the world and working from the inside can he mend what is broken”.

The Colossians passage goes on to say that, through Jesus, God reconciles all things to himself, by making peace through Christ’s blood, shed on the cross. David comments that ‘Christ has absorbed all the hatred of sinful human beings and so made peace ‘through the blood of his cross’. He is the head of a new community, a new race of human beings who will be like his body on earth, living in harmony and love’.

As we continue our journey through Lent into Holy Week and on to the glory and joy of Easter, the living Lord Jesus calls us again to receive what he has done for us – to be reconciled to God and to one another and to be his ambassadors bringing this message of reconciliation to those amongst whom we live.

Here’s a prayer from David’s book that we might like to use this Lent:

O Christ, you stretched out your arms on the cross to reconcile one to another and bring peace in place of strife. Make us men and women of peace. Give us your courage that we may answer the call to be reconcilers. Give us your love that we may be swift to hear and slow to judge. Give us your wisdom that we may know when to speak and when to be silent. Give us your patience to persist until the task is done. Amen.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve writes … Mind the Gap

At a morning service recently you may remember that I showed the graph of the ages of Faringdon’s residents. It shows a fairly even distribution of people in each of five different age groups, each of which span a fourteen-year period. This means the number of people in Faringdon aged between 0 and 14 yrs, then 15 to 29, 30 to 44, 45 to 59, 60 to 74 are surprisingly similar, with the age group 30 to 44 being more highly represented than any of others. There are not so many Faringdonians in the age bracket 75 to 89 and a smaller number still who are over 90 years of age.

The graph is one made available to us as a parish by Oxford diocese and the question that is posed to us under the graph by the diocese is ‘Does the age profile of your parish match that of your congregation?’. Well, the age profile of the parish shows that 75% of those who live in Faringdon are aged under 60. But the age profile of our congregations is almost opposite- about 75% of us are over 60.

It’s great to be together as God’s people at All Saints’ whatever age we are. There is so much Christian experience and wisdom from our older saints from which we benefit hugely. But these figures present us with a huge challenge if we are to work towards our congregational age-profile being more similar to that of the town we aim to reach with the good news of Jesus.

So it’s not that there’s any problem at all in having folk over 60 in church (far from it, I’m one of them!) – they’re absolutely essential and vital to the health of All Saints’. But what it does mean is that we’d love to see, in addition to our present congregation, a good many more folk from the age groups which are not currently well represented in church but are certainly here living in Faringdon.

The priority that the PCC unanimously supports is that we aim to be a church that is ‘connecting people with Jesus, sharing his love in our everyday lives’. In order to fulfil this for our town as a whole, we may have to start doing some things and stop doing others. We’ll be looking at using the opportunities we have to connect people right across the age groups with Jesus and that’s, as I said earlier, a huge challenge, so please pray for All Saints’ as we endeavour to fulfil this commission that God has given us.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve writes . . . It’s not rocket science, or is it?

I’m delighted to say that All Saints’ bid for a grant from ‘Scientists in Congregations’ has been successful! ‘Scientists in Congregations’ is a project funded by the John Templeton Trust to support local congregations in running schemes which show that Christians have nothing to fear from the results of modern science.

There are so many misunderstandings of the Christian view of science which have led people to dismiss our faith out of hand, assuming that you can’t be a Christian and a top-class scientist. Yet there are faithful, Bible-believing Christians at the highest level of academic and practical science in this country. For example, amongst the professors of astrophysics and theoretical physics at Oxford University are Katherine Blundell and Ard Louis, who both find no difficulty between their scientific work and discoveries and holding a robust Christian faith.

The planning group at All Saints’ working with me is Helen Wilson, Mark Ritchie and Keith Thrower. Having been awarded the grant, the project we now have to make happen involves bringing four high quality speakers on science and faith issues into the heart of our town. The talks, which will be free of charge, will be presented at the Corn Exchange and everyone in Faringdon and the surrounding area will be welcome.

There’ll be time in each evening to ask questions of the speaker and the idea is to make science and faith issues very accessible so that no special knowledge of science is required by anyone who comes.

Some of the subjects we hope to have talks on include: ‘Has science killed God?’; ‘God and the Big Bang’, ‘Creation or Evolution, do we have to choose?’ and ‘Designer Babies – should we play God?’.

I still recall my great annoyance at my daughter’s class being told by their physics teacher in GCSE year that it was a choice- either God or the Big Bang, but not both. This only reflected the physics teacher’s lack of understanding of the greatness of the living God.

If all truth (including scientific truth) is God’s truth, there’s no need to let Richard Dawkins and other scientists who deny God have the final word. So please get thinking and praying about who you might bring with you amongst your family and friends. Watch this space for further details and help us to achieve the goal of filling the Corn Exchange for these talks between September 2017 and February 2018.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

All Saints’ Church Wardens Write

The summer is traditionally the time when church life quietens down while everyone goes away to recharge their batteries. That might not happen this year at All Saints’ and St Mary’s!

June saw a very successful Queen’s birthday weekend at All Saints’. Hundreds came through the Church to admire the lovely flower displays and enjoy tea and cake. Very many thanks to all who organised, arranged flowers, baked and served teas, rang the bells and welcomed at the door. It was a sterling performance.

July will be a busy month. On the horizon and approaching rapidly is Stephen Bellamy’s service of institution and induction at All Saints’ at 7.30pm on 28th July. You are all most warmly welcomed to attend – if it is a squeeze, so much the better. It will be a big day requiring a lot of preparation, and marks the formal start of the next chapter in our church life together. (If you happen to bump into Steve and Wendy before then, do offer a warm personal welcome but remember he has not yet started work!)

The induction comes at the end of The Wave, a week long holiday club for children run by Churches Together. This very worthwhile event is held (almost) every year and is a huge opportunity to share our love for Jesus with these youngsters and their parents. Some of these families will go on to Messy Church, and only God knows where he will lead them from there. At least one warden is signed down to help!

Steve’s first Sunday coincides with the open air morning service in the Market Place which jointly celebrates The Wave week and the FollyFest. He is thrilled to have this unique opportunity to meet and speak to the wider community. Do try to be there if you can to support Steve and CTIF.

Our eyes are very much looking towards the future. In our parish profile (still available on the church website) we identified a number of key areas in which we believe we are being challenged as a church. As he gets to know us, Steve may want to add other areas to the list. Together we will need to identify and embrace the way forward in order to see growth in individual lives, our church community and God’s kingdom in Faringdon.

Andrew Sargent & Katie Foot

All Saints’ Churchwardens write

As we write it is chill and damp, but by the time you are reading this the summer should be well and truly here. Whatever the weather, the month will be dominated by two important national events, HM the Queen’s 90th birthday and the referendum on European membership.

At All Saints’ we will take our part in the royal celebrations. Over the birthday weekend of 11th-12th June the Church will be open and serving refreshments in the Barber Rooms. If you can contribute, either by baking or by helping to serve, please speak to Katie Foot. The All Saints’ Flower Guild is planning a flower display in the Church in honour of the occasion. We are also hoping to mount an exhibition of photographs of the Church and church events taken over the last 90 years. If you have any interesting photographs the Wardens would be delighted to hear from you. The Church bells will also ring out as part of the nationwide celebrations; this seems particularly appropriate as they were dedicated in 1926!

Regarding the referendum, it seems appropriate to urge all the members of All Saints’ to take this decision seriously. Try to understand the issues and pray about how you should vote. On a personal note, we would ask you to think of wider concerns of social justice rather than simply whether you will have more or less in your pocket. There will be a debate in the Corn Exchange on 3rd June at 7.00pm (speakers: Ed Vaizey MP and Baroness Royall of Blaisdon PC (For) and Jonathan Russell and Charles Crawford CMG (Against)). See also Think Pray Vote for more information.

On a very different note, June sees a change in our CMS Link Partners. This link with the mission of the worldwide church is important, helping us to look outside our small sphere. On 29th May we say goodbye to David and Liza Cooke who have been working in conflict resolution in Kenya. Then on 5th June we welcome Lynn Treneary at the morning service: do stay afterwards to chat with her over coffee. Lynn is beginning her service with the Chaima Christian Institute in Maridi, South Sudan.

Andrew Sargent & Katie Foot