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January 2019

In this newsletter:

Mike’s Sabbatical

The 20th of July last year seems a very long time ago now! But that was the day I temporarily laid down my parochial role as Rector and began a 3 month sabbatical. I am truly grateful to you as friends in this parish for your care and support to enable me to go on sabbatical, for your work whilst I was away, and support as I returned. I am particularly grateful to Penny and clergy colleagues for covering for me in my absence, and especially my Churchwarden colleagues who plugged gaps!

I wanted to take this opportunity, some two months after my return, to write down some of what I spent my sabbatical time doing.

First a health warning: This article won’t be a great thesis on the next few years in the life of our parish – it wasn’t that kind of sabbatical where I spent ages planning or thinking of what the parish needs to do next. That said, the chance to reflect on my first four and a half years with you, and to think where the parish has got to and what God might be calling us to, did occupy some of my time.

2019 01 CTM News giraffeTo start at the beginning, the sabbatical started with our family expedition to South Africa to visit Rachel’s mum, and to introduce the boys to the country she has called home for over 20 years. Over the course of five weeks we spent two weeks on safari: in Kruger National Park seeing all the major animals you might imagine, (and many you perhaps wouldn’t!) followed by a week on the coast above Durban doing wetland safari, including hippos and crocodiles.

We followed that with a week of urban living in Durban and Pietermaritzburg, catching up with family and allowing Rachel to revisit the community project she established (helping Grandparents look after children) in a Durban township thirty years ago. This involved some emotional reunions with people she worked with, and found the project had flourished into a new primary school. Our final week was spent in the Drakensburg mountains walking and enjoying fantastic views. All in all our holiday was fantastic, and allowed us to catch up with one another and with family.

On return from South Africa our focus as a family was to get three of us ready for returning to school. Rachel and Logan returned to their schools, whilst Aidan moved up to secondary school. Helping him make this transition was a key priority for my sabbatical, so I ensured I was at home for 2 weeks at that time.

The next activity for my sabbatical was the physical exercise one. Nigel Smith and I had committed to walking half of the Thames Path together, from the Thames Barrier at Woolwich back home to Caversham, some ninety plus miles. We had planned to do it in eight days, using a combination of hotels and family/friends houses to stay overnight. With the added deviations to the path, and daily walk to our accommodation, the total walk was about 110 miles, or a half marathon every day for eight days.

2019 01 CTM News thamesWalking through central London, past all of the famous sites, and through dock land and suburban London, gave us the opportunity to see bits of London you would not normally see. We also took delight as London turned to rural countryside, past Hampton Court Palace and into Buckinghamshire.

Walking under Maidenhead railway bridge allowed Nigel to give me a talk about why it is so important in railway architecture (ask him if you don’t know!). Walking the final stretch home was fantastic, especially the feeling that we had done it. Our bodies survived, and we coped with eight days accompanying each other.

After four days at home, I flew to the USA for a seventeen day trip of work and holiday. Three days were spent catching up with a friend I did theological training with who is now a priest in New Hampshire. My trip ended with a week in Florida visiting my brother-in-law and sister-in-law at home, and seeing that state for the first time.

2019 01 CTM News usaIn between, I took to the road to visit eight churches in four states, all of whom had done the PMC process in the last ten years. I wanted to learn how churches from different traditions (Anglican, Presbyterian, Mennonite) and in different contexts (rural, small town, suburban and urban) had been influenced by the missional journey we too have been on for the last three years. I met a bishop, clergy and lay people and undertook formal interviews in each setting. People were very honest in those things that PMC had helped with, and where they still struggled. Some examples follow …

None of these stories might seem that dramatic, but PMC is about grass roots culture change over a long period of time. All those churches I met were clear that they couldn’t conceive of the changes they had gone through with the PMC process.

This should be deeply encouraging to us, and urge us to keep going. The signs we see in our parish are nothing but encouraging, including:

Can we continue to seek God’s preferred and promised future for us as a parish as times and circumstances change?

Finally my sabbatical ended with a week’s retreat amongst the Society of Mary and Martha in Devon. They specialise in offering retreats to those in active ministry, and I loved being looked after for five days, and helped refocus as I contemplated returning to parish life.

So I came back to work refreshed, having had a great time away and having seen and experienced lots of different things. Thank you once again for encouraging me to go away, and for praying. There is no grand plan as I return, except to say that helping build God’s Kingdom here in this generation remains our calling. May God bless us in it!

Mike

Small Groups

We have seen growth in the number of small groups meeting around the parish, with more people wanting to get involved in nurturing their faith outside of Sundays. Many of us find meeting with a small group a really helpful way of examining what we believe, discussing issues from the Bible and more generally from our faith, and sharing fellowship and friendship with church members.

In the coming weeks groups at St John’s will be look at the A meal with Jesus course, whilst during Lent the Churches in Caversham will offer a selection of thematic groups, which anyone is invited to attend. Watch this space for more details of those soon.

Can I encourage us all to consider whether you would like to be part of a small group. If you want to know more, speak to one of the clergy or someone you know already in a small group.

Mike

Building God’s Kingdom

Reflections on a week volunteering with The Smiles Foundation in Romania

2019 01 CTM News smileWhen I come back from Romania I face that inevitable question: “how was it?”. A thousand things run through my mind, a reel of images, tears and laughter and everything in between – how can that be summed up? I know that whatever I say or write won’t convey the depth of the things that touched me but I hope the following provides a snapshot of my week serving with The Smiles Foundation in Romania.

On 20 October 2018, a group of 12 of us set off for the airport ready to embark on a weeklong mission experience with The Smiles Foundation. Smiles is a charity based in northwest Romania who work to relieve poverty, promote education and provide hope and opportunity to many in need. This is done through a wide variety of projects including elderly care, community work, family visits, evangelistic outreach, enterprise initiatives – the list goes on!

As I returned to England after our week’s work and as things started getting back to “normal”, I’ve been thinking about the privilege that it is that God actually wants us to take part in the work of his kingdom. He doesn’t simply want us as spectators, but, as children of God, He calls us to be active participants in sharing His love and building His kingdom. I recently read a beautiful description of this which said: “You have been called to be the look on his face, the tone of his voice, and the touch of his hand. You are to represent his presence and his love. You are placed where you are to make his mercy and faithfulness visible and concrete.”

Working with Smiles I feel a strong God-connectedness and a strong sense of purpose as God draws me to share his love with some of those most in need. One of the things I love most about being part of God’s family is how he burdens each one of us with different passions and causes and calls every single one of us to be Christ in those places. For some it may be overseas mission work, for others it may simply be a case of being Jesus to those around us – visiting an elderly neighbour, being a listening ear for someone who needs a friend… I’m coming to realise that being an ambassador for Christ doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in world-changing, radical action; rather, in a busy world where so many things demand our time and attention, it is the act of slowing down and making time for other people, as Jesus would have done, that is in fact the “radical” action – and that is something, whether young or old, we can all be part of.

Having volunteered with The Smiles Foundation on a number of different occasions, I would wholeheartedly recommend their Hands on Mission Experiences to both the young and the not so young(!), but my post-trip reflections also lead me to ask what part God is calling you to play in the building of his kingdom. How is God calling you to participate in your here and now? In what ways are you an ambassador for Christ in your day-to-day life? We may not be able to change the world for everyone, but we can change someone’s world. What might you do differently today as a result of reflecting on this?

Anna, Children & Families worker, St John’s

Vision & Hospitality 2019

I wrote last year about the renewal of our parish vision. The final stage of the PMC process asked us to revisit our vision and to form a mission plan from it. Our Diocesan Bishop has also challenged the whole diocese to pray through whether we are called together to become a Christ-like church that is contemplative, compassionate and courageous.

So for much of last year the PCC commissioned a process to help us look at our vision as a parish. This ended with us agreeing a new vision “Becoming a Christ-like Community”. From there the PMC team began looking at helping us understand what we might mean by this, and you will have perhaps seen literature, including bright yellow bookmarks, in church for the last few months.

Another change has been the migration of the PMC team into a new Mission Group, under the charge of the PCC. As the formal part of PMC came to a close for us last autumn, the PCC decided that to help keep our missionary focus they would establish a group who would have oversight of mission in the parish and challenge us to keep focused on God’s mission. Their first step was to help author a new mission plan for us, giving a framework for our parish life.

In December the PCC approved this mission plan, which lasts for three years. The detail for the first year has been approved, and challenges us to focus on our hospitality. So 2019 for CTM parish is a year of hospitality, prioritised around three activities:

To start off this year focusing on hospitality, the clergy will preach on the subject in January, and I hope house groups will give over some of their time to think through the understanding of this theme.

To help us start thinking about this subject, here are some of my initial thoughts about what hospitality might mean. Firstly, it is so much more than thinking about the quality of the tea and biscuits, or the smile we offer in church! It is a core issue in understanding who God is. We Christians believe God is the perfect host, who offers us himself without limit, to the point of being prepared to die for us despite our unworthiness. As followers of this hospitable God, we are therefore invited to offer the same welcome. St Benedict, when writing his rule for monks and nuns to follow, told them to welcome everyone into their community, because in doing so they would be welcoming Christ. This radical hospitality should lie at the heart of who we are as churches, and will invite us to ask ourselves in this parish who we are welcoming in our churches, and who is not present. I hope we can cover some challenging ground in the next year looking at how people who are different to us can be made to feel welcome, without us asking them to be different from the people God created them to be. We might want to think about whether our congregations are too monochrome in terms of class, race, gender and sexuality and whether, if we were more hospitable, this would change. Just a thought as we begin this year focusing on hospitality.

Mike

Dates for your diary

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

Wednesday 16 January PCC meets, 7.30pm at Church House
Sunday 20 January Clergy pulpit swaps for Christian Unity week.
Revd Dr James Mather (Methodist) at St John’s
Revd David Jenkins (Methodist) at St Peter’s
Tuesday 22 January St Margaret’s CLT, 7.30pm Parish Rooms
Wednesday 6 February St Peter’s CLT, 7.30pm Rectory
Sunday 10 February Church Forum, 11.00am St Peter’s
Choral Evensong, 6.30pm St Peter’s
Wednesday 13 February St John’s CLT, 7.30pm
Sunday 3 March Church Forum, St Margaret after 11.15 service
Monday 4 March St Peter’s CLT, 7.30pm Rectory
Tuesday 5 March St John’s Shrove Tuesday pancake party, time & venue tbc
Wednesday 6 March Ash Wednesday, 10.00am St John’s, 7.30pm St Peter’s
Sunday 10 March Journeying with Luke through Lent choral service, 6.30pm St Peter’s
Wednesday 13 March PCC meets, 7.30pm at Church House
Wednesday 20 March St John’s CLT, 7.30pm
Tuesday 26 March St Margaret’s CLT, 7.30pm Parish Rooms
Sunday 31 March Mothering Sunday in all churches
4-5pm Mothering Sunday Tea, St John’s
Sunday 7 April Parish-wide service and Annual Parochial Church Meeting
9.30am St John’s
Sunday 14 April Palm Sunday
Thursday 18 April Maundy Thursday services
7.30pm St Peter Eucharist & vigil
7.30pm St John’s agape meal and vigil
7.30pm St Margaret
Friday 19 April Good Friday services times tbc
Sunday 21 April Easter Day, service times tbc

 
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