In this newsletter:

Highlights of the Christmas Season

Every now and then in ministry there is a moment that you know will stay etched in your mind forever. For me one of those was on Christmas Eve at St John’s, when I looked out from behind the altar and saw real donkeys, sheep and goats beside a baby in a manger, and a church packed to the rafters. Hours before I had been wondering what on earth I’d been thinking of when I’d suggested we bring the animals into the church, as I contemplated all the things that could go wrong! But in that moment, the reality of the Son of God lying in hay, surrounded by animals, while shepherds gazed in wonder, struck me in a new way.

I think I sensed God’s delight in the moment, too – his joy in the scene, in the atmosphere in the church, in the combined efforts of Baptists, Methodists and Anglicans, working together to proclaim the good news of a Saviour. I found myself longing – even believing – that one day St John’s would be this full every week. I told the gathered crowd that that was what I was praying for, and encouraged them not to leave Jesus in the manger, but to take him with them into the New Year, into all of life, because life is so much better with Jesus than it is without him.

There were other encouragements over the Christmas period: a hundred people (exactly) at St John’s Christingle, plenty of visitors at the Carol Services and at midnight, the packed Micklands School Carol Service in which children retold the biblical story and sang with gusto of the starry night when the bells of heaven rang for the boy born to be king of all the world. Numbers were good at St Peters and St Margarets, too, for Christingles and Carols, and other the main Christmas services, and a huge crowd gathered in Caversham Court to sing carols led by St Peters choir.

Why do people come? Is it just a good Christmas tradition, or something ‘for the children’? Or is there something deeper, a hunger for something more meaningful, more profound, than tinsel and turkey? If there is, how do we tap into that? How do we follow up these events, with services or activities or events that will draw similar numbers, because they scratch where people are itching, touch something deeper, and help people find meaning and purpose in life?

Years ago a friend of mine found an invitation to a church nativity service at the bottom of her son’s school bookbag. She thought it might be fun to go, ‘for the children’, but in the church she was powerfully struck by the words she heard – words of love, courage, humility. Her comment to me was, “You don’t hear that kind of thing at the office – we talk about profit, ambition, drive.” A few weeks later, on an Alpha course, she gave her life to Jesus. She’s still a successful businesswoman, but her life now has a different purpose. My prayer is that we’ll hear more testimonies like hers from people who come to us at Christmas – or perhaps to a baptism, or a wedding, or another service or event – and discover Jesus is real.


New parish fete chair

Thank you to all those who expressed concern about the need for a new parish fete chair. Wonderfully, Sonia Higgs from St John’s stepped forward. She is already a member of the committee and offered her skills and time to take on the chair role. I am delighted to confirm her appointment.


Another chance to do Alpha

If you could ask God any question and get an answer, what would you ask?

That’s a question I sometimes ask at the start of an Alpha course, and over the weeks that follow our conversations are steered by some of the answers people give to it. We wrestle together with some of the big questions in life: if God is good, why is there so much suffering? What happens when you die? What about other religions?

Two Alpha courses are running this term, at St Johns vicarage, Wednesdays 1-3pm starting with a light lunch, and Fridays 10am-noon starting with cooked breakfast (or toast if you’d rather, but I know what I’ll be having!) We eat together, then watch a short talk on an aspect of the Christian faith – e.g. Who is Jesus? Why did he die? Why and how pray? Why and how read the Bible? How does God guide us? An open discussion follows, in which anyone can ask any question, give an opinion, disagree (politely!), or just listen. It’s an ideal place to bring friends or relatives who are curious, or on the fringe of church, and who want a chance to explore issues of faith in a relaxed and informal way.

It’s not too late to join. You are welcome to come for a week or two to try it out, and there is no compulsion to do the whole course. Most people really enjoy it, make new friends and, very often, find faith is kindled or strengthened.

For more information or to join a course contact Penny. An evening course will run after Easter.


December PCC meeting report

The PCC met in December with a heavy agenda.

We had a briefing from one of the Governors of Kidmore End Primary School about their plans to apply for Academy status. As the PCC has the right to nominate school governors, the PCC needs to give their consent to these plans. This was given.

We received from the parish Safeguarding Officer a number of recommendations for improving our processes and policies. The PCC agreed some new policies and procedures.

The PCC heard about the latest in the plans to build an extension at Church House. It is hoped that this will begin this Spring. The PCC authorised the funds needed for this work.

The PCC received the proposed parish budget for 2017, the Parish Share allocation to each church, and the level of fees we charge for extras at weddings and funerals. The Parish Share for each church will be: St Peter 82,024, St Margaret 19,628, St John 22,913.

Penny briefed the PCC on the strategic plans for developing St Johns church during the lifetime of her appointment. These plans set some targets for things that must be achieved, and interim targets for stages on the way. The PCC welcomed these plans and approved them.

Penny also brought proposals for the 2017 parish stewardship campaign to be held in February (see separate article below).

Amongst other smaller items the PCC approved a pay rise for our parish employees; proposed plans for how the church might react in response to a senior royal death; plans to increase our work with the Mapledurham estate with regard to weddings; and to dispose of the old vestments from St Peter’s.


Our Generous God

The generosity of God is a theme that runs throughout the Bible.

If you read the creation stories in Genesis 1-2, you get a sense of God really enjoying himself as he speaks the world into being, flinging stars into space, creating animals and plants in all their diversity, creating mankind as the pinnacle of his creation, and declaring it all to be ‘very good.’ There is an abundance of fruit and veg in the Garden of Eden, and a wide-ranging permission for Adam and Eve to enjoy it. There’s also a command to take care of it, to be stewards of all they have been given.

The same is true for us. God has blessed us abundantly in terms of material wealth (compared to much of the world), and promises to provide everything we need when we put him first in our lives. In Luke 12 he tells us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you… Sell your possessions, give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth can destroy. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.”

Words like these challenge us to think hard about our attitude to money. Do we see it as ours – hard earned, and for us alone to enjoy or decide how to spend? Or do we see it as God’s – a blessing from him, a resource which he asks us to steward in a way that brings blessing not just to us, but to others? Do we think in terms of how much should we give back to God? Or do we ask him, “Lord, what do you want me to do with your money?”

In February our sermon series will help us ponder some of these questions, and as part of this year’s stewardship campaign everyone on our contacts list will receive a leaflet explaining the financial challenges we face as a parish. Could we ask you, please, to read it prayerfully, and to ask God what your response should be? We’ll be using the following prayer – could you pray it daily through February?

All generous God,
you poured yourself out in creation,
were totally spent in Christ’s death on the cross,
and continue to give yourself through the gift of your Holy Spirit to us.
Give us generous hearts;
that, in response to your love,
our lives may overflow in thanksgiving and generosity,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Contemplating Lent

How do I pray?

How do I find a space in a busy day/ life to talk to God?

Is God listening to me anyway?

These questions asked by so many people often accumulate in Lent- the season when we are “supposed” to be making a greater effort to get closer to God.

Last Lent I created a regular hour long space in people’s lives where they could just “be” with God. Nothing high powered or scary – sometimes the word contemplation frightens people and the word mindfulness sounds too trendy! We just SAT together every week for an hour- sometimes in silence, sometimes with music and sometimes we prayed together. After an hour we left- no social cup of tea no “chat” (having said this I was always ready to talk to anyone who needed to after the hour). Our commitment was with God- we’d made a date with HIM and no one else!

If this appeals to where you are in your spiritual journey- if your stuck or in full flow DO talk to me! We will meet in the Wesley room of the Methodist Church, Highmoor Rd. The sessions start on March 8th/15/22/29/April 5 at 7.30 prompt!


Sunday@4 – Community Prayer Meeting

St Johns’ CLT have felt strongly that we should start the new year praying – praying for God to bless our community, praying for God to guide us as we seek to develop the mission of St John’s, praying that he will put on our hearts the things that are on his.

We have decided to launch a community prayer meeting in St John’s from 4pm-5pm on 2nd and 4th Sundays, open to anyone who wants to join us. The format might change a little from week to week, but it will include a short time of sung worship, good news stories of what we sense God is doing, and times of open and/or led prayer. We next meet on 12 and 26th February. All welcome.

Dates for your diary

Events are also listed on the Forthcoming Events page and the Parish Calendarwebsite editor.

5 February6.30pmEvening Eucharist, St Peters
8 February7.30pmSt Johns CLT
12 February11amSt Peters Church Forum
12 February4pmSunday@4 – Community Prayer Meeting, St Johns
15 February7.30pmSt Peters CLT
18 February4pmOrgan recital, St Peters
26 February4pmSunday@4 – Community Prayer Meeting, St Johns
1 March10amAsh Wednesday, St Johns
1 March7.30pmAsh Wednesday, St Peters
5 March12.30pmSt Margarets Church Forum
8 March7.30pmSt Johns CLT
12 March4pmSunday@4 – Community Prayer Meeting, St Johns
12 March6.30pmChoral Evensong, St Peters
15 March7.30pmPCC
18 March2.30pmParish spring social at St Johns
22 March7.30pmSt Peters CLT
26 MarchMothering Sunday in all churches
26 March4pmSunday@4 – Community Prayer Meeting, St Johns
2 April9.30amParish-wide service and APCM, St Johns

Other newsletters are in the newsletter archive