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March 2019

In this newsletter:

When life throws you a curveball…

We were having such a good year! Simon and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in April, our eldest son, David, graduated in June and married Anna in July; Matthew got a good set of GCSE results in August, I was quite enjoying a spell as Acting Rector, and we were looking forward to Peter’s wedding on 13 October. We seemed to be having a year of parties!

Then on 10 October Simon came home from work feeling unwell, slightly short of breath and his heart racing. I phoned our GP, who told me to dial 999. Half an hour later Simon was in an ambulance heading for A&E. We were told his symptoms suggested a pulmonary embolism. Two days later scan results confirmed this – but they also revealed what looked like a rare cancer in Simon’s abdomen and pelvis. We decided to keep the news of the cancer to ourselves until it was confirmed by a biopsy. Simon missed Peter’s wedding, which by God’s grace was still a very happy day.

In November biopsy results confirmed Simon had pseudomyxoma peritonei (PMP), a one in a million cancer that starts in the appendix but spreads slowly and silently in the abdominal cavity. Our GP had never heard of it. Our consultant at the Royal Berks, who had treated me for thyroid cancer in 2005, referred us to a specialist centre in Basingstoke. There we were told that the best option would be for surgery to try to remove as much of the cancer as possible, which would also necessitate taking out several organs that Simon could manage without – appendix, spleen, gall bladder, colon, peritoneal lining, and a few other things we’d never heard of – and then bathing his abdomen in hot chemotherapy. The operation was likely to take ten hours, and wasn’t without risk (heart attack, stroke, death……). But there wasn’t really any alternative.

Plans were made for an operation in January, but as Simon’s health was deteriorating, they whisked him in on 29 December in preparation for an operation 31 December. At 6.30am on 31 December I hugged him as an anaesthetist administered a ‘large gin and tonic’, and off he went into theatre. At lunchtime I was told the cancer was ‘very extensive’ and they would not be able to remove it all, and in the evening that the operation was over, and I could visit Simon in intensive care. In a weak and husky voice, and through a haze of drugs and pain, he whispered ‘Happy New Year!’

Recovery, since then, has been slow, often two steps forward and one back, sometimes two back. He spent three weeks in hospital in Basingstoke, then was discharged to continue his recovery at home. He has twice been readmitted to the Royal Berks, and he is in hospital as I write. We have been told that chemotherapy ‘might’ kill off what was left behind, but treatment could be tough and the statistics are not very encouraging. There may be some difficult decisions ahead.

So how are were all doing?

It really depends what day (or hour) you ask us. Mostly ok most of the time, just getting on with whatever comes, taking things a day, or an hour, at a time. Every now and then reality hits quite hard, and sometimes we find ourselves longing to wake up from what seems like a very bad dream. Cryptic crosswords are a helpful distraction. Simon told me before the operation that he was ‘a complete woos’ when it comes to pain, but he has endured everything with huge courage and a gritty determination to keep on keeping on. I have had my weepy moments – it is agony watching someone you love suffer, and even greater agony imagining a future without him. I don’t fear death, but I do fear loss, for me and perhaps even more for our boys.

So where is God in all of this, and how are we doing spiritually?

When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 the verse that came clearly to mind was Philippians 1: 21 where Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Paul longs to depart and be with Jesus, and knows his eternal destiny is sure, not because he is ‘good’ but because Christ died to save him. Simon already has eternal life and, though we have our wobbly moments in all that is going on, an assurance of heaven is our bottom line. That’s quite a good bottom line!

We also believe firmly in a God who can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, and that Jesus still heals miraculously today. Recently I heard a helpful quote: ‘Worry is talking to yourself about things you can’t change, and prayer is talking to God about things he can change.’ I pray every day for cancer cells to shrivel and die and for Simon to be restored. I have told God more than once (often while walking our dog) that this would be the simplest, kindest, most merciful option, and begged him to intervene. I hold in tension a belief in a God for whom nothing is impossible, and a realism about the medical facts and statistics with which we have been presented.

Whether a miracle comes or not, we have seen God’s hand many times over the past few months.

We have seen him in the compassion and care of medical staff: in our GP who told us to dial 999 – did she save Simon’s life?; in the surgeon in Basingstoke who operated skillfully, then visited Simon almost every day, whose touch was both compassionate and reassuring; in the eyes of the stoma nurse who confirmed Simon’s stoma was permanent; in the care from a male health care assistant who talked football while giving Simon his first wash after the operation; in the physios who lifted Simon out of bed and gently put him back when he couldn’t stand; in the cleaners and tea ladies who cheered every sign of progress; in the stranger in the RBH A&E waiting room last week who offered tissues after Simon vomited (while everyone else drew back!)

We have seen God’s hand in the loving actions of our friends and relatives and our church family: the meals that have been delivered; the flowers left on the doorstep; the chocolates that have come through the post; the lifts we have been offered; the dog walkers; the cards and messages of love and support; the prayers offered – how grateful we are for those prayers! We have sensed God’s presence through the pastoral care of friends and colleagues: through Bishop Andrew who anointed Simon before he had surgery, through Mike who brought us communion in Basingstoke.

We have also had some tangible experiences of God’s presence with us: one evening as Simon listened to the worship song ‘Guardian’ by Ben Cantelon, he had a powerful sense of Jesus by his side. On another occasion, as we read a prayer sent by a friend, we sensed angels surrounding Simon’s bed. When praying with my spiritual director a few days after Simon’s operation I had a ‘picture’ of the intensive care unit, but in the picture it was me, not Simon, in the gown. My ‘medical team’ were the friends praying for us, and in all my brokenness and pain I sensed God say, “When you can’t breathe, I will breathe for you.”

There are numerous questions, uncertainties, unknowns, but there are certainties we CAN hold on to. God IS with us. He IS our rock. We don’t know what lies ahead, but HE does, and as the lyrics of ‘Guardian’ affirm:

You go before me, you’re there beside me
And if I wander, love will find me,
Goodness and mercy will surely follow
You go before me, my Guardian.

Penny

Penny licensing

The 22 February was a great day for our parish. Bishop Andrew came to see us to license Penny as Associate Vicar to the parish. As you will know, Penny was appointed to the post of Transition Minister for St John’s, a position whose title suggested the shorter-term need to help St John’s move from one place to another. The two and half years Penny has been with us has seen significant change in the profile of St John’s congregation and, perhaps more importantly, the spirit and mood of the church. We have welcomed new people to join us – some from other churches, others who lived locally attracted by what was going on. St John’s, in almost everyone’s opinion, now feels in a very different place to a few years ago.

On that basis, the PCC were happy to request that the Bishop now ends the temporary nature of Penny’s post and make her post permanent. In licensing her as the Associate Vicar Penny now endures the same security of tenure as any other incumbent status cleric. She can stay in post as long as she wishes. In these challenging family times, Penny also knows that she does not face the challenge of having to move home when her previous time-limited post expired.

This change of title of post is of course in one sense purely semantic. Penny will continue her outstanding work in growing St John’s, in reaching out to the community around it, and playing a leading role in providing clerical resource to the wider parish. I am sure you will want to congratulate Penny in her new role as Associate Vicar when you see her!

Mike

Marriage preparation

As part of this year’s mission focus on Hospitality, the clergy decided to change the way we undertake preparing couples who have asked to be married in this parish.

Previously we have used the traditional pattern of the officiating minister meeting with each couple privately and helping them prepare for their marriage. A growing trend in parishes that have a number of weddings each year has been to invite couples to a marriage preparation day where they can explore what getting married means to them, and they can meet one another.

So on Saturday 16 February we held our first Marriage Preparation Day at Church House. We had 7 wedding couples attend for a full day looking at how their relationships work, their expectations of married life, and an introduction to the wedding service. There was plenty of laughter and lots of chatter. We were blessed with the assistance of two married couples – one married for many years, the other recently married – who could speak authentically about their own relationships, its ups and downs, and give tips for making marriage work. The clergy team were also supported by two wonderful helpers who staffed the kitchen all day making us tea and coffee and providing a feast for lunch!

The feedback we received was immensely positive, with couples touched that we had taken the trouble to put on this event for them, and to encourage them at the start of the marriage journey. There were some lovely private conversations between couples and clergy where they showed deep thinking about some of the issues entering into married life raises. Some there also wanted to find out more about how they could attend church and learn more about the Christian faith. So do please pray for the couples being married with us this year. Those of us who have taken this step of marriage realise the enormity of the undertaking, and these couples could certainly benefit from being surrounded by our prayers as they embark on this journey.

We feel very blessed that this event went so well, and we will intend to put it on again. You never know, we might ask you to help us with it!

Mike

Dates for your diary

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

Wednesday 13 March PCC meets, 7.30pm at Church House
Wednesday 20 March St John’s CLT, 7.30pm
Sunday 24 March St Peter’s 6.30pm, Journeying through Lent with St Luke service
Tuesday 26 March St Margaret’s CLT, 7.30pm
Sunday 31 March Mothering Sunday – services at the usual times
St John’s 4.00pm, Mothering Sunday tea & activities
Sunday 7 April St John’s, 9.30am Parish-wide service including the Annual Parochial Church Meeting
Wednesday 10 April St John’s CLT, 7.30pm
Thursday 11 April St Peter’s CLT, 10.00am
Sunday 14 April Palm Sunday – morning services at the usual times
3.30pm Donkey walk from St John’s to Weller Centre for ARCC meeting
St Peter’s 6.30pm, Entry into Holy Week choral service
Monday 15 April St Peter’s 7.30pm Compline for Holy Week
Tuesday 16 April St John’s 2.45pm Mother’s Union Holy Communion, all welcome
St Peter’s 7.30pm Compline for Holy Week
Wednesday 17 April St Peter’s 9.30am Holy Communion
St Peter’s 7.30pm Compline for Holy Week
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 Holy Communion and supper, Trench Green Hall
Friday 19 April Good Friday services
St John’s 10.00am, Children’s activities
St Margaret’s 10.00am, Stations of the Cross
St Peter’s 12.00pm, Three-hour devotional service
Sunday 21 April Easter Day services
5.30am St Peter’s (starting in Caversham Court Gardens) Easter Vigil
9.30am St Peter’s Festival Communion
9.30am St John’s All Age Easter Celebration
11.15am St Margaret’s Festival Communion
Sunday 28 April St John’s 9.30am Church Forum in the morning service
Wednesday 1 May Reading Minster 7.30pm, Farewell service for Bishop Andrew

 
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