Steve writes . . . We desperately need the truth of Easter

As I write, Faringdon is reeling at the awful news of the murder of a young boy. Nothing can make sense of this dreadful and tragic loss. Yet if Easter wasn’t true, then the bad would be far worse than we can imagine and there really would be no hope or justice or mercy or grace or redemption or future for anyone, ever. Absolutely all would be absolutely lost for ever.

In the face of death we are stunned, frightened, fearful – that’s exactly what Jesus’ disciples were feeling after the horror of Good Friday. On the evening of the first Easter Day, they were meeting together with ‘the doors locked for fear of the Jews’, fearing some heavy handed pounding on the door, dreading that they too would be arrested. Into this tense and anxious atmosphere, the Risen Jesus comes and says ‘Peace be with you’ – not surprisingly the disciples were overjoyed to see the Lord. And Jesus again says ‘Peace be with you’. A week later when Thomas is this time present with the others, though the doors are still locked, Jesus comes and stands among his disciples and says, ‘Peace be with you’.

Into the most distressing and painful situations, Jesus comes. For those first disciples, his peace and presence also brought relief from their grief, though many were to die standing up for the reality of Easter. When the living Jesus comes to speak his word of peace to us today, it may not mean the agony is over and all is instantly put right. But having the Risen Lord’s peace and presence in our less than perfect (and sometimes downright awful) everyday does bring a hope, a strength and a rescue that will finally end our fear.

A prayer we often use in a funeral service expresses something of this when it says ‘Heavenly Father, you have not made us for darkness and death, but for life with you for ever. Without you we have nothing to hope for, with you we have nothing to fear…’

Please use the Easter Cards, available in Church, to invite friends and family– especially to our Easter morning service as we celebrate the heart of our faith. Please also pray that those seeking peace and hope will find it in abundance in the Risen Lord

Yours in Christ,


Steve writes . . . The hope of the world?

The American church leader Bill Hybels has a memorable saying – that ‘the local church is the hope of the world’. The remarkable thing is that it’s true. At least it is when the local church is sharing the good news of Jesus and living it out in practical ways.

It’s always possible for us to lose our focus on Jesus and get bogged down on other issues, especially when we face large bills to just keep the building in good order (‘gutters’ is not my favourite word right now!). Add to that the fact that, over the last fifty years in the eyes of the general population, the church has moved from normative, to outdated, to marginalised, to irrelevant, and now among a small but significant sector – somewhat alien.

So it’s good to report that starting this month, I’ll be taking a small group from All Saints’ to the first two of a series of eight days (over the next year and a half) which are aimed reversing the negative sequence described above and leading us into fresh fruitfulness and growth. Our Area Bishop, Colin Fletcher, suggested we might like to do this course, which is aimed specifically at Market Town Churches. The diocese is so keen that we take part that it is paying some of the cost. We’re hopeful that Faringdon Baptists may also do the course.

A number of Market Town Churches, several from this diocese, will send a group of members to share in a ‘Learning Community’. This will enable us both to learn from others in similar situations as well as receiving input and coaching from leaders of the course, which is run by a group called ‘Lead Academy’. The sessions will look at Purpose and Vision, Culture, Discipleship and Mission. The aim is to help us develop a clear vision and strategy for God’s mission here and to enable barriers to growth to be removed.

Please pray for the first sessions on 22nd and 23rd March that our group may be inspired and enthused to share with the church the insights and possibilities we’ve been discovering. Perhaps the most direct answer to our prayers for the course would be that we see more evidence that our local church is proving to be the hope of this corner of the world in the new and life-changing ways that Jesus wants.

Yours in Christ,


Steve writes – “Justin Welby and the Duracell Bunny”

I’ve been to (and sometimes managed to avoid) some pretty dire Lent courses in my time. You probably know the kind of thing- when your commitment to ecumenism is tested to the limit by content and questions which are theologically obscure and spiritually dry.

But this year I want to encourage as many of us as possible to come along to the Churches Together in Faringdon Lent Course. Entitled ‘Faith Pictures – a fresh way to talk about things that matter’; it’s a course I was planning to ask us all to do anyway, but it will work equally well for us to do it with friends from the other churches, as long as we all do come along.

Most of us find it hard to know what to say to friends or family about our faith -or at least how to say something in a way that doesn’t seem forced, awkward or preachy. That leads to a constant danger that we can begin to resemble Canadian rivers in winter when it comes to faith-talk (frozen at the mouth). We can also convince ourselves that no-one amongst our friendship circle or family is interested in hearing about Jesus anyway.

But a recent survey entitled ‘Talking Jesus’ tells us otherwise – at least one in five of our friends are very ready to have a conversation with us about Jesus, and it’s often the case that if we pray for opportunities, God provides us with encounters in which friends raise questions about faith. The Lent course has been designed to appeal particularly to people who would normally run a mile from courses on faith-sharing. It has a special focus on helping a wide variety of folk to talk naturally about their faith.

The course starts in the week beginning 27th February and is available in groups meeting on various evenings in the week (as well as an afternoon group). Just ring one of the hosts’ numbers shown on the list in this magazine or available at Church and book your place at their home. If the groups fill up, we’ll make sure extra venues are available.

I was impressed when I attended Church Army’s launch of this course during General Synod, when Justin Welby spoke of his support for it. And his connection with the Duracell bunny? – all will be revealed on the course, so please do come along and enjoy it.

Yours in Christ,


Steve writes …. Ready for Christmas

I came across some helpful advice for Christians which beats the ‘101 Things to Do Before Christmas’ check-list that’s doing the rounds on social media. It began by asking if God really does care about every area of our lives, how does that shape what we think and do and feel over Christmas? How can we show those around us, who don’t know Jesus, that our preparations and celebrations are transformed by him?

First, we can remember what matters: many events of the past year have reminded us that we live in a broken, confused and hurting world. The coming of Jesus really is a bright beam of hope for a messy and lost planet. God loves us too much to give us anything less than himself. So perhaps during Advent this year we could make time for a book of daily readings and reflections – amongst many available examples are Tom Chester’s One True Light and Mark Greene’s Adventure.

Second, we can enjoy God’s gifts: as well as the greatest gift of Jesus, God has also poured out many other blessings on us which it’s good to recall at Christmas: family, both the church and biological varieties, the chance to rest and take a slower pace and be refreshed, the music of this season and the crisp star-filled winter nights, the chance to express appreciation to others or meet a need.

Third, we can share our story: we could pray that our thankfulness for God’s generosity to us will spill over into opportunities to share Jesus and something of how he is working in our lives. As family and friends enjoy time off at the end of a busy year, it can be the chance for them to reflect on what’s important and search for meaning. We can make sure we’re ready to answer someone’s questions, to say the right thing in a Christmas card or to invite someone to Carols by Candlelight, Messy Nativity, or the All Age Celebration on Christmas morning.

Fourth, we can ask what’s next: the opportunities mentioned above are just part of the big picture of what God is doing in us and the lives of those we know. As we head into 2017, are there ways we could commit afresh to seeking how God wants to work in and through us?

Wishing you a very Happy Christmas filled with the peace and joy of Jesus


Steve writes … time to remember

In November, we remember- and do so in a number of different ways. With All Saintstide beginning the month, we recall how God has encouraged and helped us through the loss of those friends and family members we have known and loved but are no longer with us. The biblical definition of ‘saint’ extends far beyond those commemorated on special days or in stained glass.

The saints of God are the faithful Christians of every church in every age. The New Testament makes that clear when we read in various letters to churches, ‘Greet all your leaders and all the saints’ (Hebrews 13:13); ‘All the saints greet you’ (2 Corinthians 13:12) and ‘All the saints greet you, especially those of the Emperor’s household’ (Philippians 4:21).

Later this month, we have Remembrance Sunday on November 13th when the nation pauses to give thanks, many of us during a time of worship, for our deliverance in wartime and the maintenance of our peace. We recall the millions of costly sacrifices in this and earlier generations which were made to win our security and freedom. Many of us will be remembering, with love, friends or family members who were lost or harmed in war.

Alongside these special annual moments for remembering others with gratitude, we regularly remember, at Holy Communion, what Jesus has done for us. But there’s an amazing difference when we obey Jesus’ command to ‘do this in remembrance of me’. Our times of thankfulness are important and thought-provoking when we remember Christians who have helped us through their loving examples and also when we celebrate our liberty won by members of our armed forces. But our remembering at the Lord’s Table is of a different kind. This is because the one who died on the cross for our eternal freedom is no longer dead but risen and alive and with us today. This remembrance is done in the living presence of the person we’re remembering.

All these kinds of remembering can inspire us to reflect on how our lives can be lived more thoughtfully and fruitfully. But remembering at Communion what the Living Lord has done opens us up to Jesus actually remaking us. He can change our opinions and attitudes, increase our ability to love and serve, forgive and renew us as he graciously fills us with his Spirit.

Yours in Christ


Steve Writes … urgent harvest(s)

The upside of being a family history nerd is that some of the things you find out are quite interesting (at least to you). Some years ago I discovered to my surprise that my great grandfather, William, was a Primitive Methodist lay preacher in Nottinghamshire in the 19th century. It was even more of a discovery to find him and his brother Charles mentioned in the minutes of the East Retford Circuit.

At one point they were being ‘admonished for missing Ranby’- meaning they’d got a telling off because they’d not fulfilled an open air preaching engagement one Sunday. Later in the minute book however, the next meeting exonerated them as it heard that their reason for missing the preachment was that they had to get the harvest in. The harvest of the land was urgent and it was necessary for everyone to get involved immediately when the crops were ready and the weather was right. So much so, that bringing in the harvest was even an acceptable reason to miss one Sunday’s preaching.

Of course on every other Sunday, they’d be engaged in bringing in another kind of harvest – the sort Jesus referred to when he said ‘the fields are white for harvest’ and ‘the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’. Normally this harvest of lives being transformed by Jesus was the one uppermost in their minds. It demanded all their skill and effort as they exhorted and preached and pleaded with people to turn to Jesus and follow him.

This month we celebrate the harvest of the earth which God graciously provides for us. And some of our harvest hymns have within them the dual meanings of harvest- thankfulness for the harvest of crops as ‘God our maker doth provide’ but also rejoicing at the harvest of people who are safely gathered in ‘free from sorrow, free from sin’.

Just as both harvests were vitally important to our ancestors, so they should be for us today. That’s because God is both the creator and saviour of the world. That means our discipleship includes both caring for our planet so it produces a harvest that feeds the hungry and also working and praying for the harvest of changed lives.

Yours in Christ,


Steve Writes

As we head into the autumn, it’s a time of new beginnings for many of us. Perhaps a new school or class, starting at university, beginning a new course or job. It’s the latter for me of course and, for Wendy and me, it’s a new home (very kindly prepared for our arrival by some superb decorating efforts of church members!) and a new church family to get to know in a new place to live and serve.

As is always the case when we start on a different phase of our life – as individuals and as a church – there will be unexpected and surprising things that we couldn’t have imagined a short time ago. One example is the way a stream of people from Faringdon who normally wouldn’t walk up the path to All Saints’ are doing so, mobile in hand, because of the Pokemon stop not far from the entrance!

One of the things the Parish Profile said was ‘We are looking for a new vicar who can help us grow further in our faith, prayer, love and care for each other, and for our neighbours who do not yet know the love of God in Jesus’. Aiming to grow under God’s good hand is an important starting point for the fresh vision that the Profile also looks for. Seeking God’s vision for his churches at All Saints’ and St Mary’s will include listening and praying. Listening to where we are at the moment in our following of Jesus and to what possibilities we long to explore to help others discover the love of Jesus for them.

I’m looking forward to listening to the stories of faith that we have and hearing what God has already been doing in the lives of his people at St Mary’s and All Saints’. And we can all join in with praying – asking God to help us see his way forward, but also praying very specifically for God to grow his church here – and that includes praying regularly by name for someone you long to become a Christian.

Just as having a Pokemon stop on the Church path couldn’t have been imagined a couple of months ago, so we’ll find that there are new ways in which God is wanting to grow his church and change us and those around us with his love.


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

A Parish Rep writes ….

So we have a name at last – Hooray!  Our new vicar will be the Revd Dr Stephen Bellamy. Steve is currently the vicar of St Nicholas’ church in Durham. The announcement heralds the birth of a new chapter in the lives of our two churches and we look forward to welcoming Steve and Wendy to Faringdon & Little Coxwell.

Throughout the search we were brilliantly guided by John Alderman, Rachel Gibson and Ann Brown of the Simeon Trust, our patrons. On the home front a lot of hard work was done by many people, not least the team who produced the Parish Profile.

From the start John had explained that this was about discerning who God had already chosen to be our next vicar. For this accountant, used to dealing with facts and figures, that was a daunting prospect!

Meanwhile a lot of people were doing a lot of praying and those prayers were being answered.

The morning of the day the candidates were due to arrive started rather unusually for me, as I found myself helping to deliver a calf in the barn beside my office. The calf was stuck and we needed to get her out. There is nothing like a birth to remind one of how miraculous life is but also sometimes how fragile it can be. We got the calf out but there was no sign of life. Then with a lot of encouragement she started breathing. There was a tiny spark of life.  On that particular morning the successful delivery of a calf in such unpromising circumstances was a timely reminder that God really does have everything in his hands and that we must trust in him.

When it came to the interviews the concern was that we would all agree.  The people with responsibility for making an appointment are the Patron, the Bishop and the Parish Reps.  If anyone of them disagrees with a suggested appointment they are entitled to say no and it is back to square one! Our prayer was that God should make the choice clear to all of us.

Sure enough our prayers were answered in emphatic style, as it was clear to everyone who we should invite to be our new vicar.

So we now look forward to a new era in the lives of our churches. With the development of the town we are undoubtedly on the threshold of a time of change and hopefully of growth in both parishes. As Parish Reps we are delighted that God has led Steve to us and that in him we have the right person to lead the benefice forward.

I walked across the farm a couple of days after the interviews and came across that cow & calf. The calf head-butted her mother’s udders to encourage the milk to flow and swished her tail as she took a drink. That tiny spark of life was now burning brightly…

Douglas Lines