In this newsletter:

2016: A Year of Prayer

Like most clergy, I frequently have people come to me to ask for help in their prayer life, or to ask whether we can have more opportunities to reflect on what we believe. The clergy answer in this parish will always be a confident “yes”. So I was delighted that, at the recent meetings to discuss the recruitment of a second priest for St John’s, there was a strong request for attention to be given to nurture faith in each of our three churches. I have agreed with the PCC that the job description for the second priest will explicitly name the nurture of faith (or its more technical name – discipleship) as a key task at St John’s, with the expectation that the congregation will be built up over 4 years so that they are more confident in their faith and able to engage with the opportunities for new work that come their way.

I would like to equally prioritise the nurture of faith in St Peter’s and St Margaret’s, and am proposing that we entitle 2016 in this parish as a Year of Prayer – not just a year when we will pray, but a year where we give attention to prayer, and the faith that lies behind it. I will hold discussions with the PCC and CLTs about how we prioritise and publicise this. Might you dedicate yourself to a Year of Prayer when you consciously seek out more time with God?

To get us going, the clergy have been in discussion to how we might focus all our minds on prayer and the nurture of our faith in the first couple on months of 2016. We have agreed to plan three new pieces of work:

Daily Prayer – at the heart of the life of each Christian needs to be a regular daily time of prayer with our Lord. For some this will be at various times of the day, for instance morning and evening. Each week we publish on the church pew sheets when Morning Prayer is said in our churches, and you are warmly invited to join the clergy for that. But beyond, I am conscious that some people have asked if there is a short form of prayer they could say in their own home, or at work, during the day. We will therefore issue such a form of prayer in early 2016, printed in a small format suitable for putting in a bible or jacket pocket.

Bible Study – John Dudley has already begun to advertise the just10 course, focussing on studying the 10 commandments. He will host this course twice each Monday from 11 January, at 13.45 (1.45pm) and 19.30 (7.30pm) in the Parish Rooms (at the side of the Rectory). John asks people to contact him by phone for further information (954 6664). We will monitor the success of this group and look to see if other house groups wish to use the material, and work with the house group leaders to see if there are other areas where these groups might be strengthened.

Gazing on God: the road to prayer – Marion will be hosting an opportunity to ‘Gaze on God’ in prayer on the Wednesdays of Lent. She writes in more length about this later in this edition of CTM News.

These activities will be supplemented in the months to come with other material. I hope our regular weekly worship will also keep prayer as a focus in this coming year.

Can I remind you that each church has someone who coordinates the supply of bible reading notes. This is an excellent way for the beginner and those more familiar with scripture to engage in its reading on a daily basis with some support and guidance. There are notes available for children, teenagers, and adults of all backgrounds and abilities. The Bible Reading Fellowship’s are particularly good. Do speak to clergy if you want some guidance on what would be best.

So as we embark on this new year, I pray that we might each find God stirring in us and encouraging new energy in our prayer life. Do speak to the clergy if you have specific requests of ideas for how we might support you in you prayer and spiritual life.

Mike Smith

The Good News at Christmas

Thank you to everyone who helped create, resource and attend our Advent and Christmas services this year.

All too often in church we only hear about the bad news, or when things go wrong, so I have invited colleagues to give some snapshots of good news from the Advent and Christmas season. On the whole it seems our attendance numbers were at least as good as last year, if not slightly better, which is something to rejoice at: people turning to their local church at this great festival.

There is an increasing mood in the popular press, and across the media, that religion is completely on the wane in our country. To the frustration of those who wish to portray the death of organised Christianity, Christmas attendance shows there is clearly a spiritual hunger in our nation, and certainly in Caversham. So this is our Good News – that God is firmly alive in Caversham, and born amongst us. We will need to continually review how our churches respond to this growing hunger for spiritual nourishment. This will require us, the existing congregations, to ‘set our compass towards God’ to quote Marion writing later in this edition of CTM News, and ensure our own faith is strong and well fed.

St Peter’s Christmas

St Peter’s had an increased attendance at its Advent carol service, attracted by the wonderful singing and refreshments afterwards. It also saw similarly high attendance for its Christmas carol service and two Christingle services. Between those three services over 1000 people attended and were presented with the Good News of Christmas. Christmas Day saw a particularly enlarged congregation, with plenty of children attending buzzing with excitement.

I will not forget this year the sight of a young child walking up to the manger and gazing in and audibly saying “Wow!”. I wonder how many of us adults had a ‘wow’ moment in church this Christmas, and whether we were able to provide that for those who came to our worship?

Mike Smith

Gaffa tape Gospel

Midnight for me at St Peter’s was uplifting – preaching a dubious sermon on the ‘Gaffa tape Gospel’ (The love of Jesus sticks to you for life and repairs everything!) was rewarded by so many people whose faces I didn’t recognise, thanking me profusely for something that they could understand! I took a roll of Gaffa tape into the pulpit and managed to get myself into a very ‘stuck up state’ proving my point!

The best bit was some chap clutching my hand and saying ‘I’m stuck and I’m coming back and I don’t mean next Christmas!’

Marion Pyke

Christ-Light at St John’s

“God so loved the world that he gave his only son …”, which is why many churches celebrate the run-up to Christmas by holding special services where we give Christingles, Christ-lights, to children (and adults, often); we also take up a special collection to give to The Children’s Society for their work helping children facing poverty, abuse and neglect – taking the light of Jesus into dark places.

I was thoroughly chuffed when we got a congregation of 94 at the St John’s Christingle service this year. Pretty much everyone seemed to be joining in with readings, music and prayers as we worshipped Jesus, the light of the world, together. It was really good to have a contingent there from the uniformed groups, not just joining us but helping out in all sorts of ways too. They really added to the occasion.

Obviously I was chuffed about that worship, but I was also pleased because St John’s has been through a rough time over the last year or so, and the good turnout – the second highest Christingle congregation of the past ten years – is a sign that we are moving on.

Our carol service, a very different style of service, also had a good turnout (although I don’t have last year’s figures for comparison, I suspect we were up here as well) and benefited from a choir which included a number of guests from groups we have worked with over the past year or two, including St Peter’s of course.

Similarly, Sunday morning congregations over the Autumn have held steady in the mid-forties – not enough for the long term survival of St John’s as a living church, it’s true, but still a sign of recovery and consolidation. It is also well above the congregations back in the 2008/9 interregnum (although a vacancy is, crucially, a very different proposition from an interregnum).

As the PMC process continues (see elsewhere in this newsletter), and as we look for a new priest to join the parish team with particular responsibility for enabling transformation at St John’s, it is, I believe, vital that St John’s continues to build and prepare, ready to join in whatever God is up to here in this community of Lower Caversham. The same applies, in truth, to the other congregations in the parish: we all need to look to the transforming power of the Christ-light as we step out in faith on our continuing journey.
Phil Blackburn

Gazing on God: the road to prayer

I invite you in Lent on the 7 Wednesdays to “Gaze on God” and allow him to gaze on you!

The first meeting is 10 February (Ash Wednesday) at St Peters at 8pm. Then the subsequent meetings on 17 and 24 February, 2, 9, 16 & 23 March will be held at 29 Ellesmere Close, RG4 5HG. Each Wednesday morning will begin with the 9.30am Eucharist at St Peter’s. Every Wednesday afternoon there will be a group from 2.30pm -3.30pm Every Wednesday evening there will be a group from 7.30pm-8.30pm.

Try the morning service plus an hour in the day; try an hour in the afternoon or evening. Or be VERY adventurous and come to all three and really gaze for a whole day- it’s only 7 weeks in your life but what a difference it could make! (All options will be followed with coffee /tea and biscuits)

By prayer we change our hearts and God points us in a different direction. We will discover on these Wednesdays new ways of praying; new ways of just being. In silence, music, prayer and inspirational readings we can learn to lean towards God, set our compass towards him, redirect our lives! I invite you to join me in Lent on these 7 Wednesdays to “Gaze on God” and allow him to gaze on you!

You might expect to be told to deny yourself during Lent but I’m inviting you to look after yourself and see what a difference it makes to your lives and those round you.

Marion Pyke

Vacancy of a second priest update

Thank you to everyone who attended the two consultation meetings we held in November. In total some 90 people attended the meetings, and provided valuable input and scrutiny to our proposals.

The first session focussed on a review of the Community Priest role, and we heard a good deal of positive support for the work Jeremy Tear had undertaken, especially in helping us become more outward looking and growing St John’s congregation. The meeting suggested however that the wider parish didn’t own the role of Community Priest as much as it could, and that led to a lack of understanding of its purpose, and the feeling that Jeremy Tear’s time was spread too thinly.

The second session focussed on scrutinising a proposal put forward by the small group planning the recruitment of new second priest for the parish. This role focuses on overseeing a period of change at St John’s, strengthening the congregation in a number of key ways, and ensuring their faith is built up so that they are more able to engage in the changes needed. The proposal from the group suggested that, in order to provide a clear focus for this period of change, the role ought to be time-limited to a maximum of 4 years. The meeting showed clear support for the focus on building up faith at St John’s, with members at St Peter’s and St Margaret’s also asking whether this could be made a priority for them. There was also clear support for the priest role to be focused on overseeing change at St John’s and an acceptance that St John’s needs to move forward and be strengthened in order to survive including growing the size of the congregation, creating sustainable finances and ensuring the building does not become an obstacle to mission. The meeting also agreed that the proposal to limit the post to 4 years was also desirable.

The PCC have subsequently agreed that the work of the recruitment group is broadly going in the right direction, and encouraged them to bring forward the detailed proposals for the role based on the suggestions brought to the second consultation evening. The group have now begun the detailed work to write a job description and person specification, parish profile and job advert. The Bishop has asked to attend a meeting with the PCC in early January to agree the details of this role. It is hoped we will be able to advertise the role in late January or early February, and to recruit in mid March, with a view to the person starting in late May or early June.

I am conscious that, for this role to be a success, we need to all engage with the appointed priest in an agenda that moves us forward. To that end I want to engage in discussion with each church, but especially St John’s, on how we might prepare the ground for the arrival of the new priest and ensure we are ready to move forward under their leadership.

I do understand that he nature of this type of recruitment means the majority of the congregations cannot be part of the detailed work and planning. You can however please pray for the process and the person who will be appointed, perhaps using the prayer we have written:

O God we thank you for the life of our churches in this parish.
Send us your Holy Spirit at this time of uncertainty and change,
and guide us and all those involved in seeking a new Priest in our parish;
may we, and the person you have chosen to be with us,
be ready to hear your call to worship and serve you here for the growth of your Kingdom.
We ask this through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Mike Smith

PMC Update

In March last year we ie the Parish of Caversham, Thameside and Mapledurham was asked by Bishop Andrew to become part of the Berkshire Pilot for Partnership for Missional Church or PMC along with about 10 other benefices across the county. PMC is not designed to provoke drastic and immediate changes in the way we do things but to allow us to listen more closely to what God is calling us to do in a gradual way, to nurture our faith and enhance our Christian community. It is not a 6 week wonder; it is programmed to run for 3 years. In line with our mission statement PMC is inclusive ie it embraces everyone and God willing it will also be generous and life-giving.

What is missional church? Here are 2 definitions from quite a list.

The missional church is one where people are exploring and rediscovering what it means to be Jesus’ sent people as their identity and vocation.

The missional church is faith communities willing and ready to be Christ’s people in their own situation and place.

I know that some people will be a little fearful that PMC like a new broom will sweep away everything that we hold dear. That is not what it is all about. It is about finding out the good things that work and the not-so-good that don’t so that we can better what we are doing, not throw it out.

PMC involves a steering team made up from the 3 churches. It consists of Catherine Radcliffe as chair, Sue Jenkins, Francis Serjeant , Mark Carpenter and Charlie Scola from St Peter’s, Phil and Linda Blackburn from St John’s and Peter Stratton and Sharon Durant from St Margaret’s. Rachel Ross Smith is the Archdeaconry PMC Adviser. Apart from Rachel we are all lay people and are working independently from our clergy although they are supporting us spiritually and practically as necessary.

So what has happened so far? Having assembled the steering team we attended a training weekend at St Laurence’s church in Reading where we learnt much about the start of the PMC process and met with members of the other churches. Our listening team also attended part of the training. So what are they? The first and very important part of the process of PMC was to find out where we are now and what makes each church ‘tick’. A team of listeners from each church carried out individual interviews of a representative sample of our congregations using the same set of questions for each person. The interviews were recorded anonymously and uploaded on to a database and before Christmas they were sent to a reading team to assess the ‘health’ of our church communities. We are awaiting a report to give us an informed starting point for the steering team for their work of exploration.

On Advent Sunday we created an ‘in-living memory’ history of all three churches at a timeline event in St Peter’s with people remembering good and bad things and their hopes for the future and putting them on post-it notes along a timeline for each church.

The compiled and printed timelines will be in each church, hopefully on Sunday 10 January and there will be printouts that you can take away with you. It is this collective remembered history (good, bad and hoped for) that will have a most profound effect on the PMC process. Before we start on a journey we need to know more about our roots.

So ‘The missional church is one where people are exploring and rediscovering what it means to be Jesus’ sent people as their identity and vocation.’ At the moment we in the exploring and rediscovering phase. If you want to know more about PMC please contact Catherine Radcliffe either directly or through the parish office.

Catherine Radcliffe

Other newsletters are in the newsletter archive