Team's blog 

Here you will find the latest thoughts from our vicar Mark and other members of the staff team

 

Living His Story Ch. 3

Jesus was in the transformation business
 



Welcome to my reflection of Chapter 3 of “Living His Story’- Jesus was in the Transformation Business.  I hope you are enjoying this lenten journey as much as I am, and if you can make it at 1pm on zoom today or any other Thursday in Lent, for a further discussion, I would love to see you.  

One Monday afternoon early on in my theological training, the lecturer caught us all unprepared when he asked us to get into pairs and film each other for one minute as we explained the difference Jesus had made in our lives.  This was not what my friends and I had in mind at all for a post lunch lecture, we hadn’t known each other for long and it was awkward to think that as future vicars we might do a bad job of this in front of each other!!!!  Luckily there was no playback required and we were all just left with the recordings on our phones.  I confess to have only just played it back this week, of course I should have played it back much sooner, as its purpose was simply to help me grow in confidence and, as the apostle Peter puts it, to always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asked me the reason for the hope that I have.   

So why does the thought of speaking of Jesus make us so uncomfortable?  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a restaurant, film or book that had ‘changed my life’ to anyone, whether they asked or not, but when it comes to Jesus we can feel awkward because people in our post christian culture might think what we have to say is odd or deluded and what if we don’t do a good job of it, and sell Jesus short.   

I think there are forces at work in the world that delight when we struggle to speak of Him, and this makes me all the more determined to overcome my fears and to speak of the immeasurable difference Jesus has made in my life.   Cue my second confession, sometimes though, in my enthusiasm, I can be a bit one sided and speak for too long, I need to remember to invite the other person to ask questions, to make it a conversation and not just a one way story.  

The challenge as we practice telling our stories and speaking of Jesus, is to be alert to where we can improve, rather than put off by where we think we may have failed.  

I don’t believe we need to worry about selling Jesus short though, if our intentions are good, then our efforts will be honoured, and seeds will be sown, whether they take root or not, is no business of ours, the transformation bit is God’s department.  

The apostle Peter, and Hannah in this chapter, strongly suggest though that our efforts would be improved if we were properly prepared.  Transformation is big business in our culture.  When something in our lives is transformed, particularly from the outside, we talk about it, a lot, we photograph it, a lot, we publicise it, a lot. It could be weight loss, a reversal of a diagnosis, a new look or hairstyle.  Our culture loves transformation.  It would only seem sensible then to be prepared to talk of the only transformation we will ever experience in our lives that heals us thoroughly inside and out.  

When I need to prepare for something, it’s not the story of a lecturer or a Christian sage that comes to mind, but one of Adele’s. As a  family we were lucky enough to get tickets to one of her concerts in 2016, where in-between the singing, swearing and banter she relayed a short story about the importance of being prepared, she has permanently left me with the 4 P’s - Poor Preparation leads to Poor Performance, her story is now my story.  Stories stay with us.  

So then, what kind of job did I do of my 1 minute video without preparation.  Well although it felt awkward and I looked a little uncomfortable to begin with, I did get the message across, well I convinced myself at least! 

And this will be the story for most of us most of the time, if we step out confident in our experiences of Jesus, then we will be able to speak of them in a way that engages, because God is Gracious.  Our stories can and will become part of other peoples stories, all we have to do is be prepared to tell them.  

Click here to join Sarah on Zoom at 1pm today for discussion and reflection

Questions for Zoom

Question 1: 
Think of a story of encountering God that you have shared with others or others have shared with you.  What did you learn from the experience?

Question 2:
In what practical ways might you express God’s love to a neighbour this week?
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Some things I've learned about grief

Today marks the 15th anniversary of my father’s death. For whatever reason, after he died I wanted to find out a bit about the grieving process. Now with the benefit of hindsight, and having taken the journey with many people through my work, I have a number of observations about grief which I tend to share with people who are at the start of that journey.
 
(1) Grief isn’t just about death
The grieving process is about letting go of one reality and adjusting to something new, so it isn’t limited to someone dying. We grieve when we move house, change jobs or get divorced. Sometimes we underestimate the need to make space around major life events, to grieve the loss of our old reality and adjust to the new. If you have a relative who has a degenerative illness such as dementia, the grief process is extended, as you have to leave behind the person they were, well before their death. This can bring feelings of guilt when your loved one dies, because you also feel relief that their ordeal (and yours) is over.
 
(2) Grief scrambles your brain
It is usual when someone dies to lose your train of thought completely for some months. You can’t focus and forget things very easily. Simple tasks can become overwhelming. This goes alongside a time when there are generally a lot of complicated and unfamiliar tasks to do, from registering a death, to organising a funeral, contacting solicitors or banks. Most people find this incredibly challenging. The fog does eventually lift but it takes time.
 
(3) Anger is a universal symptom of grief

I am so glad I learned this at the beginning of the process! Everyone (yes, everyone) who grieves gets angry. In general this anger will be misplaced; it is a reaction to the overwhelming feelings that person is experiencing rather than to the precise circumstances they are in. If you have a disagreement with a grieving person, don’t be surprised if it suddenly escalates out of all proportion. You can’t stop this happening (and it would probably be bad to try), but you can understand it when it happens and let yourself off the hook if you feel bad. It’s helpful for the people around you to be understanding too.
 
(4) Grieving takes longer than you think
People often underestimate how long the grieving process takes. When asked, many people think they will be in a state of grief for a loved one for a year or two; experts encourage us to expect it to be more like three to five years. The end point is not one where you don’t miss your loved one any more; it’s one where you can invest in your new reality without that person. It’s a bit like the difference between the pain of an open wound and a scar which has scabbed over; eventually grief ceases to be part of your daily reality and becomes something you notice from time to time, never completely gone but not in life’s foreground.
 
(5) There is no going ‘back to normal’
It’s common for grieving people to be asked when they will be going back to normal. Don’t ever ask a grieving person this! Your normal life would include the person who’s gone, so it’s impossible to go back to normal. The journey through grief is one where you eventually find a new normal, one which somehow makes sense without that person.
 
(6) Beware more than one grieving process at once
A single grieving process is a lot to cope with emotionally; more than one at a time can put you at risk of depression. Losing more than one loved one close to each other, or having other major life changes either side of a death, can make you vulnerable. Keep an eye on your own mental health; if it’s your friend who’s grieving, find some help if they need it. Cruse Bereavement Care provides free, local bereavement counselling all over the country; churches can signpost to other local services, and never underestimate the value of talking things over with your GP.
 
(7) People around you don’t always handle grief well
As a society we have moved away from experiencing death as a daily reality. In previous generations it was much more common for children to die, people tended to have shorter lives and most died at home. People who haven’t experienced a death first-hand tend to have no vocabulary for it today. This can work its way out in unhelpful ways; friends who avoid you in the street or a lively conversation which goes quiet when you walk into the room. Well-meaning people sometimes say, ‘Please let me know if there’s anything I can do’, but a grieving person will struggle to articulate what they need and be able to ask for it. In the early stages of grief, I couldn’t even tell when I was hungry. Another unhelpful thing people say is, ‘I know just how you feel.’ You don’t; no one ever knows just how another person feels. It’s better to listen and try to put yourself in that person’s shoes.
 
If you want to be a true friend to a grieving person, just be present. Let them know you’re there. Don’t wait for them to ask you to cook dinner; turn up on the doorstep with food and be prepared for them to take it without a conversation. Ask if they want to come round just for time with someone else (and be aware that they might need to accept your invitation at an inconvenient time). Grief is a very lonely process and it takes a long time; true friends show up and stay for the duration.
 
A few days after a particularly tragic death, I turned up to see my grieving friends. They were staying with people, one of whom said she had asked them before I arrived, ‘Is Mark safe?’ In that situation it was vital that I wasn’t going to bring my own feelings into a situation which already held quite enough emotion; I needed to be able to hold my friends’ feelings and put mine to one side while I was there. Not everyone can manage this, but you will be an invaluable friend if you can.
 
The Bible’s longest text about grief and suffering is the book of Job. Commentators vary in considering Job’s friends, but when I was grieving I found it hugely significant to read that their first action on seeing Job was to sit in the dust with him in silence for a whole week. Sometimes there is just nothing to say and your presence is enough.
 
One of the brilliant things about church life is that there are always people who have been on these journeys in life before you. We can be good at connecting people and finding meaning together. Don’t be afraid to flag up needs when you see them, either for yourself or someone else. It’s much better to have lots of people mentioning the same need than for it to fall by the wayside.

Mark Wallace, 03/03/2021

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Living His Story Ch.2

Catching up with God 

 

Welcome to Chapter two and week of two of our Lent Journey with Hannah Steele’s ‘Living His Story.’ Each week of lent, I will be reflecting on my experience of reading the book chapter by chapter, and you can join us for a group discussion on Thursdays at 1pm on Zoom.  

 

 

Catching up with God has always made me smile, spotting all the times His spirit had broken through and I hadn’t noticed.  Once I had switched stories I could see that the Books I’d read, music I loved, movies I’d watched, and places I had seen, were all pregnant with God.   To re listen to a song or watch a movie from my teens and to hear God speaking loud and clear, was so affirming, it made me wonder how I had ever missed Him in the first place?!? So, when Donna Lazenby, a lecturer at my theological college pointed out that the most popular Disney movie of all time, Frozen, one which I had watched over and over with my girls, was basically the gospel message encrypted, I realised that my job was simpler than I had thought, I had to catch up with what God was already doing…. 

 

Today I don’t question that God is active and that God is loving, but I’m not sure that I am always quick enough to recognise Him in my day to day life.  Even though it's completely contrary to what I believe I don’t always credit God where He is due, especially if I am finding it hard to see Him in a situation.   This can make me do one of two things; to give up, or to try too hard in my own strength.  Both inevitably lead to dead ends.  I need to be reminded as Hannah does in this chapter, that ‘Evangelism is defined, directed, energised and accomplished by God.’  When I understand that the starting point of evangelism is God, that it is ‘always only and ever because God is love’, then I can avoid many of the pitfalls that would befall me and those to whom I am a witness.    

 

I’ve never been anything but a body surfer, but I feel that evangelism is a bit like catching a wave, I have to read and translate the wave, before I can invite others to take it with me; even thought it is the same wave, they might see it and experience it differently to me.  Jesus, in the gospels approached each individual he met in a way that spoke distinctly to them.  As Christians fixed in a particular tradition of the church, we can get stuck when people don’t see things like we do, but if we trust Gods initiating, then we can know that we do not invite people alone, if we help them to see and to ride the wave, someone else will accompany them from the beach to the street and God will provide the rest. 

 

God not only provides for those we witness to, but he provides for us in our evangelism too.  God gives us what we need, if we ask for it. 

 

One thing I want us all to feel, is a deep and genuine desire to share what we have in Jesus.  I want us to be like Peter and John in Acts 4:20, completely unable to stop ourselves from speaking of what we know of the love of Jesus.  Pope Francis, Hannah tells us, expresses this perfectly in his exhortation ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, where he says ‘if we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts…’. We can even ask for the love that will be our motivation in evangelism.  

 

God provides everything that we need.  We can ask him for heightened senses that can become better at seeing the ways that God is already at work, we can ask him for the wisdom to read and interpret the waves, we can ask him for motivating love, and we can know absolutely that even in the most awkward of moments, when we’ve misread the wave and our intentions have been mixed, that his spirit will have already broken through and that we are never ever alone. 

 

 

Questions for this weeks Zoom Discussion:

 

Question one:

 

Have you ever noticed yourself catching up with God either in your own life, or in the lives of others around you? 

 

Question 2:

 

How do you think you might become more aware of God at work in relationships and conversations you are involved in?



Click here to join Sarah on Zoom at 1pm today for discussion and reflection
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Questions about coming out of lockdown

With the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday bringing a huge amount of information, all of us will have had questions. There were no specific announcements that affect church life directly, as we have been allowed to continue to worship in person during this lockdown, but it feels like a good time to have a quick Q&A about our journey through the next few months as a church.
 
When will our physical services restart?
We aim to be back in church by Holy Week and perhaps before. We are discussing restarting at our church council meeting on Monday 8 March, so watch for news in the days after that.
 
We have decided to resume our monthly 8am traditional Holy Communion service in person from Easter Sunday.
 
How long will we continue with our 10.30am service?
For the time being. We have no immediate plans to go back to two morning services, but we do foresee the need to have a more traditional and more contemporary service at some stage. We will look at how people return to physical church when we reopen; it may be that we reach our socially distanced capacity and need to add another service, or things may change when children’s and youth work on a Sunday restart. For now it feels important that we continue to worship as one body together, and continue to do this on- and off-line for a while longer.
 
When will children’s and youth work start in person?
Not yet. We expect to receive detailed guidance next Monday, but we expect to be told that it will be at least April and perhaps May before groups can meet. The government is prioritising keeping children in school, which means minimising contact in indoor groups outside school for some time to come. Dave, Kate, Tina and Joel continue to be in contact with our families, leading online meetings and providing weekly resources.
 
When will we be allowed to sing in church?
Not yet. (Sorry, this is getting repetitive!) We’ve no idea, but expect this to be one of the last things to return to our church life, so probably June at the earliest.
 
When will live music restart?
Probably not until we can sing together, but this is an ongoing conversation with the worship leaders. We are allowed a band at the moment, but this is difficult to arrange with social distancing. It is also a challenge for our tech team to mix a band so that it sounds good simultaneously in church and online. Watch this space.
 
What will we be doing for Election Day on 6 May?

Election Day is a highlight at SMOB, although I confess to being relieved that we’ve had a long break after having three elections in short order in 2019. Unfortunately it looks like we won’t be able to offer refreshments or encourage people to stop for conversations indoors this year. However, we still want to offer people a warm welcome and help them to experience something of us as a community, so we plan to have a fantastic exhibition in our worship space, a display about our building plans, our usual live music and friendly faces on hand all day (outside, weather permitting) for conversations, and to signpost to information.
 
What does Holy Week and Easter look like?
We will publish our programme next week and will have invitations available to collect and deliver by 14 March.
 
Are weddings allowed again?
Yes, from 8 March weddings can go ahead with six guests, with the government road map aiming for 15 guests from 12 April, 30 guests from 17 May and no restrictions from 21 June.
 
When will we offer thanksgiving services for bereaved families?
In March 2020 we committed to offering a thanksgiving service in church to anyone who had held a funeral with us within Covid restrictions, once these were lifted. We will wait until the final restrictions are being lifted before we organise these services, as we want people to be able to hug each other, sing hymns and eat together afterwards, and we don’t want people to make arrangements which then have to be postponed.
 
Do keep praying for our leaders and all those involved in healthcare and vaccination as they continue to plot our course out of the restrictions. Whether you’re desperate to get back to doing things you love, or feeling anxious about this, be sensitive to those who have different feelings and make sure you continue to follow all the government guidance. Get a vaccine as soon as you’re offered one, and encourage anyone who’s unsure about this to do the same.
 

Mark Wallace, 25/02/2021

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Living His Story Ch. 1

The Greatest story of all time


I offered you an invitation to come on a lent journey with me, if you are reading this, or watching this, or coming to our zoom meeting on a Thursday lunchtime, then happily you have accepted my invitation.  You weren’t coerced, forced or tricked into accepting, you have signed up of your own free will.  According to Hannah Steele’s book ‘Living his story’, this is what evangelism is, simply offering an invitation to ‘come and see’.

For the next 6 weeks I am going to draw my thoughts and experiences of reading ‘Living His Story’ into some kind of coherence here on this blog.  This week we start at the beginning with chapter one and what immediately struck me was our very deep need to be part of a story.  My own upbringing was not Christian, we didn’t go to church, but I learned my story from hearing about how I was part of something bigger, my family.  There were stories that were funny, like the time my mum and grandma pushed me around the South of France in my dolly’s buggy because my dad had taken my pushchair to the golf course; and there were stories that were surprising, like the time as a toddler I approached my grandpa, a very formal man, and permanently softened him with my interest in and childlike love for him.  He became part of my story and I became part of his.

As I grew up though and life became more complicated the anchor of family alone didn’t provide the stability that I needed to thrive, and I floundered.  Those floundering years provided the evidence I needed to be open to something different.  With God out of the picture, I had no concept of God at all,, I was utterly powerless in the face of my own brokenness.  I couldn’t fix it.

So who were the people who invited me to ‘come and see’? What were they like and how did they do it?  There were many over the years, some, like Grace, would never get to see the results.  Grace was our babysitter, she was a Christian, my mum had found her through the local Methodist church, my sister and I adored her, outside of close family, she was our favourite.  She prayed for us and blessed us, the impact she had upon us reaches us still today through her son and his family who have miraculously after decades become part of our story once again.  And then there was Anna, who came alongside me, to become my best friend, during the struggles of motherhood.  Anna was (and is) a Christian, never did she suggest she had it right and I had it wrong, not once did she point to my sinfulness, but only showed me the relentless and extravagant love of Jesus, sometimes that was in the form of a massive chocolate muffin and a coffee delivered to my door when my world was falling apart, sometimes it was accompanying me on a Hindu meditation course and one time it was the sending of a bible verse, that changed my life forever.

Not a single invite, prayer or word about Jesus will ever be wasted.  Two very ordinary women evangelists, have changed my life forever.  They invited me to come and see in gentle and subtle ways, they met me right where I was.    Anna spoke of her struggles, and journeyed with me in mine, Grace modelled holiness, so attractive, that it stayed with me permanently.   Many of us feel that over the years, our efforts to evangelise have not been fruitful, but can I encourage you, our efforts often bear visible fruit, its just we aren’t around to see it.

When I accepted Jesus’ invitation, I experienced a change that pervaded everything, I had gone from a fearful lost soul, to knowing that I was loved, forgiven and no longer needed to fear death.  I had switched stories.  Part of this new story is to tell others, and Hannah lists 4 ways we can do this; firstly to tell our own story and how Jesus has made a difference, secondly, by connecting the gospel to the stories we see around us, thirdly, by listening to others and making a connection and fourthly through prayer and living out the story we have become part of.   Anna and Grace did this for me through the power of Jesus.  In partnership with Jesus and other Christians, I can do it too, and so can you.

Click here to join Sarah today, Thursday 18th February, at 1pm on Zoom for further reflection and discussion.


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I've watched and read some things, so you don't have to

It’s always worth thinking about what you see of the gospel in the media you’re consuming. I also like getting recommendations from other people. In that spirit, here are some thoughts on what I’ve been reading and watching recently.

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
A really well-made period drama set in the world of 1960s chess. It’s more interesting than it sounds! It opened my eyes to a subculture which has always existed in plain sight, and reminded me that there used to be a chess show on TV in the olden days (but can you name it?). It was great to see an outsider looking in on this culture, a strong female lead in a man’s world. It included a tough portrayal of addiction, which was perhaps a little bit straightforwardly wrapped up. In gospel terms, we had adoption and redemption, rescue and finding light in dark places.

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
You may not be familiar with Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1938, the setting for this well-written novel. It makes for pretty grim reading, as you see the last gasp of colonialism played out in the lives of ordinary people. The history is interesting, and so are the characters, as we see much of the story through women’s eyes; it brought home to me how much history is told through the eyes of men, in particular leaders. I found it a book to admire rather than love; well researched, interesting rather than compelling. Gospel themes include how hope can win through in tough situations, and the value of perseverance.

The Crown, series 4 (Netflix)
The compelling series about the royal family arrives in the 1980s and turns away from the Queen for the first time, balancing the stories of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The central performances are in general terrific, with stand-outs for these three. As always, the series sends you to Wikipedia to see which of the details are true and which have been dramatized, but it’s clear that the salient points of the troubled marriage of Charles and Diana are well attested. The pressures and loneliness of many in the royal family come home in a very human way, and we see the cost of the Queen’s single-minded dedication to her duty on her family, in particular her heir. Some gospel thoughts: our actions have consequences, on our own you can’t break the cycle of sin and brokenness in your life, no matter how important and famous you are.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
I confess to being a devotee of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s many years since I read the book, but I am totally immersed in the TV programme, with its unflinching account of an alternative America overtaken by a Puritan theocracy. It’s not for the fainthearted: it’s remorselessly depressing, with no humour, a good deal of violence and often disturbing themes. In her long-awaited, bestselling sequel The Testaments, Atwood answers the question, ‘How will the state of Gilead come to an end?’ I couldn’t put it down, much like every one of her books I’ve read. Gospel themes include how humanity can survive even the most appalling circumstances and how goodness and love win through; also how human attempts to create totalitarian order are always doomed to fall victim to corruption and failure.

Wonder Woman 1984 (online rental)
Wonder Woman returns in the 1980s, facing an unhinged wannabe millionaire and a super-powered villainess, in a sequel which will just about satisfy fans but is unlikely to win over new recruits. The action was concentrated in the second half of the film, making it slow to get going, and we didn’t get enough of a villain who is compelling in the comics. There was the same sense of fun as in the first film, but not quite as much as in many of the Marvel franchises. The plot played on the ‘greed is good’ mentality of the 1980s without getting too laboured by the setting or the message, but I felt the director could have had a bit more fun with the setting. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ was a clear moral of the story; in gospel terms, that you don’t necessarily know what will be good for you in the long run.

Bridgerton (Netflix)
A fun and frothy romance set in an alternative, candy-coloured, multi-racial Regency London, this series was a welcome antidote to Lockdown 3.0. It managed to convey its period setting without any of the details or dialogue being too creaky, and the accomplished cast helped you buy into a show which would have fallen flat if they lacked conviction. It’s not for those of you who will be embarrassed by on-screen sex (which is plentiful here, and, as always, fairly gratuitous). Apparently there are nine books in the series; I wonder whether the viewers will last that long. Gospel themes included the possibility of a fresh start and the redemptive power of love.

Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind by Tom Holland
A very readable and accessible account of how Christianity worked its way into the social, intellectual and cultural fabric of the western world. Tom Holland is particularly good at charting the journey from the collapse of the Roman empire to the Reformation; I knew very little about the Dark Ages, and he shed some welcome light. This would be a good read for someone who takes it as a given that a Judeo-Christian moral compass is somehow part of our natural order; in fact, Roman citizens thought little of disposing of unwanted infants on rubbish dumps, and the Holocaust had its roots in the atheism and denial of the intrinsic value of humanity explored by Nietsche in the 1800s. This book made me think again about the features of our society which are rooted in our faith.

Finding Alice (ITV)
An unusual drama about grief, with Keeley Hawes playing a woman whose long-term partner falls downstairs and dies. We watch his family pick up the pieces, and we’re presented with grief from various different angles, balancing desperate sadness with humour and understanding. Television often portrays grief poorly; think about the characters in soaps who move on terribly quickly after a tragic death. We have something of an antidote here; I can't think of a more realistic depiction of grief in a mainstream TV series. What lets it down is some rather sloppy plotting around inheritance tax (a quick chat with a high street solicitor wouldn’t have gone amiss), and a final episode which throws in too many threads for a potential second series. In terms of the gospel, there’s food for thought here in what you want to leave behind when you die, and what creates a lasting legacy.

It’s a Sin (Channel 4)
Probably 2021’s most publicised drama so far, in which writer Russell T Davies gives us the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s through the eyes of five flatmates. It is unsparing both in its portrayal of gay life in the early ’80s (again, not one for those of you uncomfortable with on-screen sex) and what AIDS did to a whole community. The show creates an atmosphere of creeping menace from its start in 1981, with headlines about a mystery disease, and the first unexplained illness and death, before taking us down a heartbreaking road with the lead characters. You can’t help but be struck by how much attitudes have changed since the age of casual homophobia and Clause 28, looking back from our world where high street banks have a rainbow flag on their logo in Pride month. There are two brief portrayals of Christians; we start with a minister colluding to keep an AIDS victim’s homosexuality covered up at his funeral, balanced near the end by a very sympathetic scene of a Nigerian father begging his gay son for forgiveness for his ill-treatment of him. Some gospel themes: facing the truth about yourself is better than shame; love and friendship are powerful things; we live in a fallen world where some people suffer greatly and others never face the consequences of their actions.
 

Mark Wallace, 10/02/2021

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Identity, sexuality and the Church of England

Issues around identity and sexuality have been deeply divisive within the Church of England for many years. Over the last 50 years attitudes in society have changed enormously, with same-sex marriage being legalised relatively uncontroversially in recent years. The Church has not changed at the same pace, and finds itself divided between people who want to liberalise our doctrine and affirm the equality of all loving relationships, and those who argue for a traditional understanding of sexual ethics. Debates have often been rancorous and highly personal. How can we move forward positively and find a way through this together?
 
This is the question which faced our bishops in 2017, after a vote at General Synod which rejected their previous approach. They commissioned a major piece of work which was launched in November: Living in Love and Faith (LLF), a study project with a set of resources. This provides a thorough examination and airing of all the relevant issues, to provoke engagement with views other than your own. This builds on the previous process of ‘shared conversations’, where a wide range of people shared their views and got to know and hear from each other about their views of life, the Bible, the Church and personal experiences. People of all backgrounds were able to embrace each other and affirm their place together in the Church without agreeing on many issues.
 
LLF aims to bring this approach to every church during 2021. We are encouraged to create safe spaces to hear everyone’s views and experiences. Rather than debating, the aim is to listen to each other; to bring your own views into the room, but to be open to points of view and experiences with which you may not have engaged. LLF is a set of resources: a book opening up all the theological, cultural and historical issues, a set of videos where individuals and couples speak personally about their own Christian journey, podcasts exploring the themes of the book, and a course which can be studied in groups.
 
Every Diocese is appointing an Advocate to help churches engage with LLF, and Bishop Andrew has asked me to take on the role for Guildford Diocese, along with a small team to help. We will be making contact with deaneries and church leaders to encourage the widest possible engagement and collect feedback. The bishops have set aside the whole of 2021 for this work, with the aim of finding a way forward together in 2022.
 
I have been very encouraged by what I have found in LLF. A full range of views is presented without judgement, and is set alongside the experiences of individuals. It is very simple to engage with part of it: anyone can take five minutes to watch a video; the complete set of sixteen takes less than two hours. In those alone are points of view you may not have heard before. I was sad, but not surprised, that every single same-sex-attracted person featured had bad experiences within the church. I had heard very few Christian trans voices before. Another view rarely featured, and ignored totally by our society, is that of the celibate single person.
 
It may seem overwhelming for us to think about these issues in the middle of lockdown. Many clergy are exhausted and churches are struggling to minister in extreme circumstances. It may be that you need to park LLF until later in the year; the encouragement is to set aside time and not have it fall off your radar. Some people are arguing that this is not the right time to tackle the difficult issues LLF presents; others say there is never a good time to think about contentious issues, and the Church has been kicking the can down the road for long enough. This process is not a bulldozer; if wide engagement proves too challenging this year, there is likely to be more time set aside. Here at SMOB we have a wide range of views on these issues within our congregation, so we are giving careful, prayerful thought on how best to engage with LLF.
 
The Church needs to recognise that many LGBTI+ people have suffered at the hands of fellow Christians. In Guildford Diocese, Bishop Andrew has set up a chaplaincy to provide pastoral support to anyone from these groups for whom church does not feel like a safe place. Others in our churches will need particular care, especially our single people; each church has pastoral care in place if anyone needs help or someone to talk to.
 
Most Christians have thought carefully about these issues and have formed their views over a long time. LLF is not a space which challenges you to change your mind, but it is somewhere where you are encouraged to enlarge your experience and understanding of the full range of views. We will never agree on everything, but we can see God’s image and find common ground with people whose lives are very different from our own. We find this fellowship because of our shared commitment to walking as Jesus’ disciples. If we can maintain this different kind of conversation, holding the tension of differing views, but knowing and appreciating each other, then this may be a new model not just for the Church of England, but our whole society, as we face the challenges ahead.

Living in Love and Faith can be accessed here - everything is available to download free when you register.

Guildford Diocese's LGBTI+ pastoral link is Preb Steve Cox, and details of the group will be available in due course.

 

Mark Wallace, 04/02/2021

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Human number crunching

The UK has passed the tragic milestone of 100,000 people dying of Coronavirus. Some of the coverage this week has sought to put human faces to that number, recognising that each of these people was known and loved by others, and is sorely missed. As a church we’ve lost our first members to the virus too. Even those who were in their 90s have not had the deaths or the send-offs that their families hoped for. There will be many others, like my own granny, who did not contract the virus, but who were utterly defeated by lockdown and its attendant isolation – a human cost far greater than the numbers.

I am writing this on Holocaust Memorial Day. When we talk about the Holocaust, we talk about six million deaths. But as with our 100,000 victims, the number only takes you so far. Each one of those six million was a son, a daughter, a mother, father, brother, sister, colleague, friend, loved and missed by many people. The Holocaust was perpetrated by ordinary people too: citizens who had been fed lies about their neighbours, in an orchestrated effort to dehumanise, remove people’s rights and ultimately destroy whole people groups. It was not an isolated incident which was limited to a particular historical situation; since 1945 we have seen the same thing happen in Cambodia and Rwanda, among other places, in various very different cultures.

Today we still see a tendency to characterise unwanted people groups negatively. Refugees fleeing wars in the middle east or central Asia are talked about as a ‘swarm’, as though they are ravenous insects and not victims of conflict. We talk negatively about ‘economic migrants’, as though moving countries to build a better life for you and yours is an unacceptable thing to do. At a smaller scale, we do this when we ‘other’ groups of people. For example, over the last year I’ve seen comments locally about gangs of youths ignoring social distancing in the park. Beware such casual generalisations; for every young person flouting the rules in a group in the park, there is another who won’t come out of their room, because they are so anxious. The Holocaust had its roots in people making assumptions about Jews: that they were all out to make money, that they were running an international conspiracy among governments and businesses. These things still get said today. Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us that, given political power, these lies became deadly on an industrial scale.

Central to the Christian faith is the idea that human beings are made in God’s image. Every human has intrinsic value. The Holocaust shows us that this is not just a natural human belief. One action which made early Christians distinctive was that they would rescue unwanted infants from the burning rubbish dumps where they were abandoned in the Roman empire. This may sound shocking, until you think about how naturally we can walk past homeless beggars in our streets, choosing to ignore a fellow human (even understanding that it’s better to give money to your local homeless project than direct to someone begging). Slavery defines people as primarily economic units; there are more slaves worldwide today than at any time in history. If people are defined by what they can produce, then disabled people automatically become largely worthless. I have even heard Christians wondering whether a disabled person’s life is worth living, as though any of us can judge what would make someone else’s existence worthwhile.

Thank God that he does not lump us together in groups or judge us by our tribes. He knows us individually and loves us just as we are, in spite of all our flaws. Christians believe we can embrace people who are different from us because of our shared humanity. Jesus himself reached out to the outcasts: the adulterous Samaritan woman, the men with leprosy, the Roman centurion. We can challenge the lazy generalisations of our media or our fellow citizens; if we don’t, we know exactly where it can lead.

Mark Wallace, 27/01/2021

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How working class are you?

I was amused this week to hear about research which suggested that a large number of professional people identify themselves as working class, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. There may be a variety of reasons for this; people may want to have a good story about their upward mobility or they may be embarrassed by their privileged origins. As we look ahead beyond Covid, and think about ‘building back better’, we will do well to listen to authentic voices of people who have lived experience of the issues they talk about, rather than a paternalistic, ‘top-down’ approach, where well-meaning middle-class professionals decide what people need, without truly hearing their voices.
 
One person who has made a lasting impact over the last year is Marcus Rashford. He has talked openly about his struggles growing up relying on free school meals, becoming a powerful advocate for families in danger of going hungry. A measure of his influence is how quickly our politicians respond when he speaks; no one wants to disagree with him. There is no doubt that his lived experience is very powerful. Others may not have the same approach as him, but no one can say that his family wasn’t reliant on the state, or that he had more than he did growing up.
 
Another unlikely Covid hero is Dolly Parton. It was quite a surprise to hear that she had spent millions of dollars funding vaccine research. Without much digging, journalists also reported her long history of supporting literacy in rural schools in America’s deep south. Thousands of working-class children have enriched their education because someone gave them a chance; the sort of chance that middle-class families take for granted. Again, it was Parton’s lived experience of people seeing her talent and giving her opportunities, which spoke powerfully into these situations.
 
Christians believe that we are all made in the image of God. Following Jesus is the most authentically human we can be, and we find our true identity in him. The gospel holds up a mirror to your true self: a sinner in need of salvation, rescued by Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. The discipline of confession brings us back to God regularly, but it relies on you being fully honest with yourself and him about who you are and what you’ve done. Whatever image you put up for other people (and we all do this), God sees your heart. Whatever you’ve done, he will forgive you.
 
One of the things people say about new US President Joe Biden is that he is always authentically himself. His values are clear: unity, consistency, integrity, all based on his strong Christian faith. Authenticity is also what President Trump’s supporters valued; here was the outsider, the deal-maker who can disrupt established ways of working.
 
All of these people have a story. Rashford is the working-class boy with an extraordinary talent, who has become a campaigner for kids like him. Parton is the plucky girl from the backwoods whose music has spoken to generations, but who never forgets her roots. However you tell your life story, I encourage you to think about your faith story too. The first question I ask anyone who comes to see me for the first time is, ‘How did you become a Christian?’ No one has ever struggled to answer that question. Another good one is, ‘What difference has following Jesus made in your life?’ If you can give a clear and coherent account of your life based on these two questions, you will witness powerfully to those around you when they ask. No one can tell you that your lived experience is not true. When you talk about the difference Jesus makes, people can say he is not real, but they can’t argue that you have experienced something transformative.
 

Mark Wallace, 21/01/2021

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SMOB's staff team in lockdown

We’ve now had a week to get used to the renewed lockdown. Combined with our decision to suspend in-person church services, it’s clear that it is not feasible for some of our work to continue as normal. Government guidance has made some activities illegal for the time being, and it is vital that everyone involved in our work feels safe.
 
Part-time furlough of some of our staff team helped us to weather the financial storms of 2020 better than some churches. When the new lockdown was implemented, I asked the team whether there was scope for them to spend some time on furlough. They have responded positively and we have decided to furlough Dave, Tina, Kate, Jess, Sharon and our cleaner Carol for some of their hours until the end of half term (21 February); Bekah, Christine our bookkeeper and me continue working full-time and Sarah has been furloughed one day a week by Guildford Diocese until the end of March. Our finance team estimates that this will save us around £5,500, which helps with our stewardship, making all the church family’s generous giving go further. It is our hope that this will be a brief pause in some of our ministries before government restrictions begin to be lifted; in any case we will review the arrangements in early February, as the national picture will be clearer then.
 
What, then are our team members going to spend their time doing over the next six weeks? We’ll let you know here in our own words.

Mark, Vicar (working full time)
I continue to plan and deliver Sunday services and preaching, meeting one-to-one with staff and church members, doing pastoral work and holding church meetings, all online for the moment. One key event this month is Vision Sunday, when we check in on our vision and our current 2020-21 plan, on 31 January. With our building project currently progressing to the formal planning stage, I am pulling together a small group to plan our signage, hoping that we can soon start installing new signs on the parts of the building which won't be developed. I am looking after my curates group for Guildford Diocese, as they move towards applying for posts as fully-fledged vicars this summer. I meet with local church leaders regularly to pray and share experiences and ideas. I am also beginning an exciting new project for Guildford Diocese, but I will say more about this when it is announced soon. With the team I am praying into and planning our route out of lockdown and Covid restrictions, as well as preparing for my postponed Extended Ministerial Development Leave, which runs from May half term to September, having been due to take place last year.
 
Dave, Youth Minister
(working 4 days a week with 2 days furlough)
Things I am unable to because of lockdown restrictions:

  • Face-to-face group work.
  • Visiting or goody bag drop-off.
  • Outdoor group work.
  • School visits which are 5 sessions per week.
  • Face to face RAFAC groups. 


Things I will continue to do during lockdown:

  • Online group work.
  • Supporting staff and volunteers through weekly contacts.
  • Available for 1-1 face to face work if any young person is considered vulnerable.
  • Support schools work but access is extremely limited.
  • Support parents and young people with online content and contact.
  • Preparing church services.
  • Contact with RAFAC staff and cadets through online engagement.
  • Keeping on top of the guidance for children and young people. 


Tina, Young Families Minister (working 12 hours a week with 7 hours furlough)
During the furlough period I will be able to:

  • Resource families weekly for Sunday school. Including new film content jointly with Kate and Joel.
  • Maintain contact with church families and Bethany Babes families.
  • Provide some online content for Bethany Babes
  • Maintain contact with relevant training and idea sharing groups from Diocese and elsewhere.
  • Spend limited amount of time working on plans for future events.
  • Attend staff meetings etc online. 


During the furlough period I will be unable to:

  • Work on and launch the proposed weekly toddler service (we will develop this as the restrictions are eased).
  • Plan and deliver special activities for the children such as craft drops and films other than for Sunday School.
  • Meet individuals/families for walks. 


My hours will be used Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays with occasional Sundays.
 
Kate, Children’s Minister (working 12 hours a week with 7 hours furlough)
Kate will be spending her time during the week in Children’s and Staff meetings, preparing for Sunday School through video and sheet materials and FNC and pastoral work with families. She will be answering emails as usual, but the reduced hours will mean that she cannot answer these as promptly and she will need to lay down some of her usual work of delivering resources to families and some prayer meetings.
 
Jess, Office Manager (working half-time, 17.5 hours a week, with half-time furlough)
While furloughed I will still be working (remotely) in the mornings which will involve covering the office admin duties on the days Sharon isn’t in, continuing to manage Mark’s diary, arrange any meetings we may have, managing the church’s social media content along with Bekah and continue with any safer recruitment work that needs doing. 
With the time off while furloughed I plan to firstly finish unpacking boxes and finish organising our first home ready to start decorating, go on more walks as I will finish work when it’s light still and I plan to work on making more space to listen to God every day!
 
Sharon, Office Administrator (working 6 hours a week with 9 hours furlough)
On my non-working days, I will continue to join SMoB morning prayers, alongside my mother June. During furlough, I aim to take this opportunity to further my walk with God and focus on prayer, as this is an area I would love grow in. Due to the restrictions at the moment, I won't be able to support some of the people that I would usually visit and care for, only being able to keep in touch through the phone/WhatsApp etc.
 
Bekah, Associate Vicar (working full time)
Although many of us may feel life is on hold, opportunities for mission and evangelism are not! Perhaps more than ever our world needs to know the hope we have because of Jesus. Alongside regular parish ministry and contributing to the worshipping life of SMOB, I am excited to be involved with our online Alpha course starting this week and to continue working with Jess to develop our social media content and presence, thinking about how we can support our community online and increase digital engagement. Having participated in Woking Community Choir’s Virtual Christmas Concert last term, I am continuing to make connections within the local community and am also connecting with other churches locally as part of the Woking Evangelists’ Network, which exists to connect evangelists in Woking for encouragement, equipping and joint working in evangelism. I am also giving time to listening to the particular needs in our community and praying and having conversations about how we might respond to them, in particular thinking about how we can better support students and young adults.
 
Sarah, Curate (working 5 days a week with 1 day furlough)
Along with preparing sermons, leading services, providing pastoral care, and leading our online small group, over the next 6 weeks I will be working on my IME portfolio. This is the physical part of the ongoing training provided by the Diocese that I am to complete during my curacy.  It requires reading, study, prayer, and most significantly, reflection on the different elements of the ministry that I have undertaken at SMOB. Now more than ever is the time to be reflecting on both the implications and opportunities that the restrictions upon the local, national, and global church have afforded us. Sadly, some of the external work that I was involved in and planning with schools and prisons are all on hold due to the restrictions and/or my one day a week furlough.
 
Christine, Bookkeeper (working 7 hours a week)
Christine is busy preparing our year-end accounts for presentation at our APCM in April.
 
Carol, Cleaner (furloughed)
Carol will return to work in time for in-person services and activities in church.

Mark Wallace, 12/01/2021

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SMOB's a silver Eco church!

I promised you good news about SMOB’s engagement with creation and environmental issues. Well, here it is: we have been awarded a silver Eco Church award as part of the Church of England’s flagship scheme with the charity A Rocha! This is the product of many months of work in every area of church life, from our building to our garden and our teaching programme. Actions we have taken include changing our energy supplier to one providing renewable electricity, replacing all our lightbulbs with low energy LEDs, including eco improvements to our building project and planning to mark Creationtide every autumn in our teaching programme. I want to pay tribute to the hard work of our previous church warden Mike Smith, who took the initiative on much of this work, and our Eco Church link Beate Shaw.
 
As we have thought about these issues, one idea has come to my mind very strongly. SMOB can make good eco choices for our premises and our finances, and this will have a big impact, as we have the same turnover as a medium-sized business. But we can think more holistically: if we consider that all our members are part of the church, then SMOB’s buildings cover all the premises over which our members have control. Ditto with our gardens, our bank accounts and our investments. Thus we will have a much greater impact if we make positive decisions corporately, as these will cover over 100 homes, many acres of land, and millions of pounds-worth of investments. If we talk to others about the choices we are making, we influence them too.
 
Over the next few months we will be working towards a gold Eco Church award. As part of this work, we are launching regular eco tips on social media and beginning to engage with local environmental groups. This is an important step in our mission: many local people will look at us more favourably if we are actively engaged in these issues, and they will involve us in lots of conversations with people who may not otherwise engage with the church.
 
Here, then, are 21 top tips to get you started in 2021, and don’t be afraid to share your own. One caveat: I am not an eco-guru and these are very much a work in progress for my own household! They are in no particular order, some have more impact than others; but I hope there will be some easy wins to make positive changes in your home.
 
(1) Commit to prayer for our world, for those in governments everywhere as they make decisions about our environment.

(2) As you pray, commit to thinking Christianly about our planet and all of these issues. Read and listen to our media critically – some things which campaigners take as a given may not be so straightforward.

(3) Make good choices around travel and transport. Walk, bike or use public transport where possible, car share (once we’re out of lockdown) and travel less if you can.

(4) When you replace your car, consider whether you need one, and exactly what you need. Electric cars are rapidly becoming cheaper and have various incentives for buyers. Car sharing apps make it easier to share.

(5) Make good holiday choices. Do you need to fly or could you holiday closer to home?

(6) If you travel for work, could you fly less? 95% of air travel is undertaken by 5% of passengers. As we emerge from Covid, is there scope to cover work commitments differently?

(7) When your electrical appliances wear out, choose the most energy efficient and reliable ones you can. It’s easy to check online reviews to make sure you are getting the most reliable product.

(8) When your lightbulbs wear out, replace them with LEDs. These repay themselves very quickly in the electricity you save, and last much longer than other bulbs. (You must recycle used lightbulbs, but you cannot do this via doorstep collections.)

(9) Make sure you have as many energy-saving measures as you can installed in your home. You can get grants to install loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and double glazing, but these will expire in the next few months, so act fast.

(10) Turn down your heating; if you turn your thermostat down by 1 degree, you can save 10% of your heating bill. Turn down radiators in any rooms you don’t use.

(11) Choose renewable electricity when your supply is renewed. It’s easy to use a price comparison website to find your options. In Woking, companies offering renewable electricity are often among the cheapest options.

(12) Every home is eligible for upgrade to smart meters for gas and electricity. These help you follow exactly what energy you are using, so chase up your energy supplier if yours has not yet been installed.

(13) Eat less meat, especially red meat, which has a higher carbon footprint. Could you consider going meat-free for one day a week? Or, if you already do one day, how about two?

(14) Eat locally produced, seasonal food wherever possible. Do your research; just because food travels a long way, doesn’t mean it is bad for the environment – growing fruit fast in the sun takes far less water and fertilizer than growing it outside its natural environment.

(15) Check your local recycling services to make sure you are recycling everything you can. This is especially valuable if you haven’t done it recently, as what is recyclable changes over time.

(16) Encourage wildlife in your garden, if you have one. Could you consider leaving part of it to grow wild, even if this makes things look a bit messy? This is good for biodiversity.

(17) Consider composting uncooked food and cuttings. (Do your homework before you do this, though, as composting the wrong food can encourage rats.)

(18) Install a water butt for use in your garden and on house plants.

(19) Reuse containers for soap and cleaning products by refilling them. Several local shops offer this service including Bare and Fair in Woking town centre.

(20) Shop for products using less packaging. A number of local shops provide loose produce like nuts, seeds and beans if you bring your own packaging.

(21) Buy fewer clothes and recycle old ones via charity shops (when they reopen) or kerbside recycling. 

All of this will help you to save money and waste and reduce your carbon footprint, as well as owning for yourself the dominion of our world which we share as God’s people. As David writes, ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.’ (Psalm 24:1a) Working together, SMOB can make a huge impact in this area.

Find out more about Eco Church here.

Mark Wallace, 07/01/2021

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Surviving the New Year

Happy New Year! I returned to work after a week off to find several serious pastoral situations among our church family. Combined with the ongoing bad news around Covid in our media, it feels like we will not be emerging from this crisis anytime soon, in spite of vaccines coming on-stream. We were always warned that this would be a marathon, not a sprint. I thought I would offer a few thoughts on weathering the storm through to the spring.
 
Stay close to God
Do what you need to do to prioritise your relationship with God. To use biblical language, this will be your rock, your anchor, your help in times of trouble. If you are struggling to engage with God, do what you can. If it’s just a few Bible verses each day and some time in prayer, hold on to it. Stay close to God and he will help you navigate this challenging time.
 
Consume culture carefully

…this is especially true of news media. The old rule of newsrooms is, ‘If it bleeds, it leads’; bad news is more appealing than good news. Today I am struck that we are not hearing about huge queues at our ports, or the sort of chaos which was predicted confidently by some people once the Brexit transition period ended. You might think this is good news. Our media, however, are leading on whether or not schools should be closed, and their reporting tends towards the need for instant reaction to events and evidence which are complex and changing rapidly.
 
Many people find it helpful to limit their consumption of the news when it feels too grim. News media is curated by editors who decide what to report; there are many other stories out there, some of them much more positive. One of the reasons our NHS is struggling at the moment is that routine treatment is continuing, unlike last spring’s lockdown. We can be inspired by people’s efforts in all sorts of areas to keep normal life going as far as possible. We can also hear about the efforts of many developing countries to contain Covid; some places we would normally think of as needy have coped with the pandemic much better than the west.
 
Be mindful of what culture you consume and the effect it has on you. Take Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:8: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. It’s a high test for your programmes, podcasts, online material or reading: are they true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy? Or are you feeding your soul something less than helpful?
 
Be a force for positive change
At SMOB we are God’s transforming people in our parish: To love Jesus, to serve and tell others, to be community. We bring God’s presence into the lives of people around us in real, tangible ways. There is so much you can do today to make a difference to other people. Prayer makes a big difference. Perhaps it’s an encouraging word to someone who’s struggling, or a friend who’s helped you. It could be an invitation to Alpha, to someone you’ve been praying for. Or maybe it’s making a positive change in your life: deciding to have a meat-free day each week, taking more exercise, starting something new. It’s not too late for a New Year’s resolution! In my next blog I will have good news about SMOB’s engagement with creation and environmental issues, which I hope will spark ideas and start a discussion more widely. We have made an enormous difference in our neighbourhood over the last year, getting to know our neighbours better and opening up our church life more than ever before online.
 
St Teresa of Avila said, ‘Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.’ Pray today to be Christ to others as we continue this challenging journey with him.

Mark Wallace, 04/01/2021

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A big moment for SMOB?

Preparations for our Christmas events are in full swing. Every previous year, we haven’t known exactly what a service will look and feel like until it has happened. This year, so much of our work has been online that we can have a good idea. And, having spent time going over all the videos for Encounter Christmas last weekend, I can tell you that you are in for a treat, whether you engage with the event in person in the building or online.

We have excellent messages from our entire preaching team, and a really top notch rhyming nativity given by Tina. The music is terrific – we have six specially recorded songs using a huge range of musicians, including our children and youth, all produced to the high standard we’ve come to expect. And we’re using brilliant recordings of traditional carols, so there will be something very familiar about it all too. The stations in church are beautiful and thought-provoking. The whole thing has involved an outpouring of creativity which I think will bowl people over. I can’t find another church doing something as ambitious as this right now. SMOB used to have a reputation for being cutting edge and creative; I think this is the moment where we have recovered this in ourselves, which is really something to celebrate.

Booking for Encounter Christmas is brisk but there still some slots left, so do book for yourself and encourage others to do so. But also get ready to share all the material from its launch on Thursday – it will all be online then. The journey through the experience is one which will inspire prayer and reflection. People out there are hungry for the good news we have this year and there are many opportunities to talk about this in the songs and reflections we have produced. Please keep praying that we will see lives turned towards Jesus this Christmas.
 

Mark Wallace, 14/12/2020

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Christmas events at SMOB - some FAQs

Christmas looks very different this year at SMOB, so we are finding that there are lots of questions to answer as we go along.

Help needed!
First, we need more stewards and welcomers for all our Christmas events. If you could help for an hour or two, please contact the Church Office directly.

Q: Do I have to book?
A: Yes, either online via our website or by phone to the Church Office.

Q: Are you Covid-secure?
A: Yes, as always we are following all the government and Church of England guidance to make sure that church is as Covid-secure as possible. Please help us by not coming if you have any cold symptoms or a temperature. Do not talk to anyone outside your bubble while you are in the building; save conversations for outside (in a group of six or fewer). Do not move chairs and maintain a 2-metre social distance from everyone outside your household/bubble. Wear a face mask unless you are exempt, and sanitise your hands on arrival.

Q: Which entrance do I use?
A: Our usual one. We have a one-way system operating. Enter via our main entrance on the York Road side and you will leave through the Office door into the car park.

Q: Are your toilets open?
A: Yes. There are toilets through the door at the back of church.

Encounter Christmas
Q: How long will this take?
A: Your reflective journey through the Christmas story will take around 30 minutes. You will be self-guided using a video on your device.

Q: Is the event child-friendly?
A: Yes, there is plenty for children, including their own video story. Children will need to stay with their household bubble and not touch anything, as far as possible.

Q: Do you have free Wifi?
A: Yes.

Q: Should I arrive early?
A: Arrive no more than 5 minutes before your allocated time.

Q: What will I need?
A: A face mask (unless you’re exempt) and a smartphone or tablet.

Q: What if I can’t come to the building?
A: All of the videos for Encounter Christmas will be available on our website, as well as a virtual journey through the experience, so that you can enjoy all our content without being physically present.

Q: But I don’t have a smartphone!
A: Our daytime session 1-3pm on Monday 21 December will be suitable for anyone without a smartphone or tablet.

Christmas services
Q: Which services will be live-streamed?
A: Only our Christmas Day Celebration at 10.30am will be live-streamed. On Christmas Eve we will provide a link to the live-streamed Midnight Eucharist at Guildford Cathedral.

Q: Will I be let into the building for these services if I have not booked?
A: Sorry, if the services are at capacity then we will not be able to let you in.

Q: How can I be part of things if I am worshipping online on Christmas Day?
A: We will have an opportunity to hear people’s greetings and comments from our live stream during the service. We’ll also be having an all-age Zoom coffee Christmas extravaganza after the service! Show us your presents and join in the fun!

If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Church Office.
 


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Approaching the longest night

From last week’s coverage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions for the Christmas period, you would be forgiven for thinking that everyone is desperate to see family over the season. In fact, this year of all years, it is glaringly obvious that Christmas will be a hard time for many people. Some never look forward to it, because their family relationships are messy, perhaps involving estrangement or addiction. Lots of families are complicated, juggling multiple sets of parents, in-laws or children. For anyone who has lost a loved one over the last couple of years, the season can bring dread and loneliness. For the poor, Christmas presents are impossible. We are seeing an explosion of poverty and hunger among our neediest people, even though many of them are in work – work that doesn’t pay enough to thrive. Woking residents who used to work at Café Rouge, Bill’s or Carluccio’s, and those hanging on at Debenham’s, Bon Marche and Top Shop, may have very little to look forward to this year.
 
Perhaps this is just too much for our culture to cope with right now; we are just too desperate for some respite from the relentless, boring restrictions and fear of the virus. Many people have put up decorations early, and radio stations brought forward Christmas songs, to give us a bit of much-needed festive cheer. Only those who handle death on a daily basis, in hospices and churches, seem to be able to manage a more measured approach to the season.
 
For Christians, Advent always begins in the dark. The nights are long and get longer over the month. We reflect over the season on the promise of something better: light is coming, but there is a tension, because it isn’t here yet. Our ancient tradition of lament, epitomised in the Psalms, means we engage with just how bad things really are, rather than putting on a brave face. It’s no good saying, ‘Cheer up! It might never happen’, if it already has. Instead, we choose to say, ‘How long, O Lord?’, ‘Where are you, God?’ and ‘Why is this happening to me?’ In the incarnation, God is revealed not as someone who is remote and uninvolved, but in the person of Jesus Christ, getting down and dirty with the poor, sinners and tax collectors. Christian hope is not in the promise of good times ahead, which may or may not happen, but hope in the person of Jesus and what he’s done for us in his resurrection, which is a certain, reliable historical event. Jesus’ death breaks the power of sin in our lives; his resurrection proves God’s victory over the grave.
 
If you want some reading for this season, can I recommend two very old books by Puritans? A Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbe explores the hope that Christians can find in the darkest times, and the gentleness with which our shepherd leads his flock. The Letters of Samuel Rutherford provide pastoral gold, in the words of a wise minister dealing with people struggling with the worst that life could hold. The only thing we hear about the Puritans at this time of year is that Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas; there is another side to them!
 
Can I also encourage you to be completely real with God during this season? Come to Jesus with your mess and your fears, your frustration and weariness after this most extraordinary year. All of us have lost things large and small this year. Christ is with you in the mess, with that amazing promise: ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.’
 
Our online-only Sunday service on 20 December will help us to engage with the longest night, and will be particularly suitable for those who find the celebrations challenging this year.

Mark Wallace, 03/12/2020

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