Elizabeth Jennings, who died just over a year ago, captures in a lovely
phrase in her poem Advent the mood of the Christian Year as it turns
from one year to the next:
Blossom about us."
She reminds us that Advent and Christmas (and the secular New Year when
it arrives) are full of fresh things, new opportunities and possibilities,
providing a chance to become part of the world God is bringing into being.
Hers is another way of putting the preacher's message that the theme of all
the festivals Christians celebrate at this time of the year is
HOPE. Advent and Christmas are centred on the hope
God offers the whole human race. More - it is a sure and certain hope
because God delivers his promises himself by coming into the world to share
it with us. If you like, these wonderful festivals, which we all relish and
enjoy, provide the grounds for Christian hope, the hard evidence for what
Around us there is indeed darkness, deep darkness which includes our
growing anxiety about so much casual and irrational violence; about the
threat of war; about increasing lawlessness and disregard for the
civilising values which we value but have probably taken too much for
granted. Nevertheless Christians are not negative. We do not predict
collapse. Instead we point to an alternative: a better way. There are other
possibilities which are creative and strangely powerful when we come to
God. He enables them to blossom and bring fulfilment, joy and hope into a
bleak world. On Christmas night Christians do indeed sing:
"The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light:
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness
on them has light shined."
Precisely because most people find it difficult to come to God through
self-motivation God seizes the initiative and comes to us. That Coming of
God into the midst of all creation is the source of all the happiness,
excitement and fun of the days ahead.
So (to use another poem by Elizabeth Jennings):
"Put memory away and watch a world
Grown almost still because a baby can
Convince us he is born as God and Man."
Carol for 2000
May each of us know and share together all the blessings Christmas
Some Reflections on Youth Work
One of the important aspects of our work with Twilight Zone and The
Space youth clubs is encouraging co-operation among very diverse groups of
young people. It has been exciting to have had the opportunity to take a
group of 14-year-olds from Twilight Zone on an activity weekend to Viney
Hill in the Forest of Dean, featuring climbing, canoeing, a night hike and
low ropes course. The Space also had their first of two chances to climb at
Pates' Grammar School. These activities provided new challenges for all of
us and were a real lesson in trusting and supporting each other.
A focus of our work with Synergy and Elevate has been to encourage
honest and relevant worship for young people. The 'Celebration of Youth
Work Service' in Gloucester Cathedral on 3 November was evidence of the
diversity of worship across the Diocese, from choirs to worship groups, DJ
decks to chocolate and inflatable cubes. There was even an opportunity to
start the process of mandating Youth Workers - including Andy Macauly. The
Phatfish concert a week later provided worship with real passion - a
call to intimacy with a God who changes lives and gave everything for us -
summed up for one young person in their spine tingling song 'The Cross'.
One area of learning has been the difference between worship and
performance. In the light of this, young people are in the process of
planning the first Youth Service, which will take place on Sunday
1 December at 6.30pm in St Nicolas' Hall. The theme will be 'Belonging' and
the hope is that many, young people and adults will find it a time to
'belong' in God's presence.
Stepping Out in Faith:
Finally it was a privilege to attend, with a number of young people and
youth leaders, the confirmation of Jon Lyle in Gloucester Cathedral on
Saturday 9 November. A packed Cathedral saw Jon and forty others taking the
step to commit to live their lives for God. It was a time to appreciate the
journey already travelled with God and anticipate the opportunities and
challenges ahead. If anyone is interested in finding out about the
fantastic step of confirmation, please talk to Fr Michael or Andy Macauly.
Thank you to all the members of the youth team, young people and
countless supporters who have made it possible to 'engage together about
things that matter.'
Margaret and Raymund Waker have recently received a letter from
Fr Stewart in Tanzania, whom many of you will remember from when he spent
Christmas 1999 in Prestbury while studying at the United College of
Ascension in Birmingham with USPG.
You may also remember that Fr Stewart's wife, Dora, became ill while he
was here in England and the Parish contributed funds towards the cost of
her treatment. Sadly, Dora died in January this year, leaving Fr Stewart
with their two sons aged nine and seven years. In August Fr Stewart
remarried; his new wife is Monica. 'God of mercy is still taking care of us
and blesses us in our new Christian marriage and Ministry.'
Fr Stewart closes his letter by thanking us all again for our
hospitality and kindness to him when he was in England.
The scheme is now up and running and we have had a good half dozen
referrals. The visitors will be commissioned on 1 December at St Nicolas'
at 9.30am and at St Mary's at 11.00am. There will be a quarterly review
meeting on 15 January after the 7.30 pm Eucharist. Please continue to be
our eyes and ears, and remember us in your prayers as we visit on your
Contacts: Margaret Holman; John Elliott;
Margaret Holman, MLT
Sunday School & Sunday Club
will restart after Christmas on Sunday 12 January. Sunday Club
meets in St Nicolas' Room during the 9.30am Eucharist; Sunday School meets
in the Upper Room at St Mary's during the 11am Eucharist. Do come - bring a
friend as well!
New Year Bible Studies
Dates for your 2003 diary: locations will appear on the weekly sheet
available from church. If you don't like to leave home in the winter
evenings, don't despair, give Sue Read a ring and offer your home as a 'one
off' venue. The basic requirements are a few chairs to sit on and being
willing to boil a kettle. As host you can sit back, relax and enjoy as
someone else leads the study.
Thursday 16 January
Wednesday 29 January
Thursday 13 February
Wednesday 26 February
All begin at 8pm.
The Christmas holiday provides an ideal opportunity for you to ask
around, discuss and find out what kind of social event members of our
parish community would like to see put on for 2003. While tickets for some
events have sold out quickly, others have failed to attract support. Is it
limited appeal? Is it timing? Is it cost? The Parish Events Committee would
really welcome any views, suggestions or criticisms you might have and, of
course, if anyone out there is eager to organise an event, we would be
delighted to hear from you. Speak to Margaret Holman or Ruth Rudge at
St Mary's, Gill Wood or John Elliott at St Nicolas'. We do need your help
if the coming year is to include as wide a range as possible of social
occasions that are enjoyable, exciting and attractive not only to those in
our churches but those on the periphery of our church life.
The Diocesan Conference took place from 14 - 17 October in Swanwick in
Derbyshire. The Conference's title was 'Passion for God's World', and
almost 350 people attended, a mixture of ordained and lay members.
There were three 'key addresses' during the conference. The first was
given by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester, who spoke very
impressively for 45 minutes without notes! Bishop Michael spoke about the
Church's presence in our world, about our proclamation of the Good News,
about how the change in us as Christians results in how we act, about
prophecy and finally about peace-making.
The second address was by Tina Beattie, a Roman Catholic theologian who
has written books on Marian theology, liberation theology and ethics. Her
address was very full and covered areas including post-September 11,
possible war with Iraq and the difference between institutional power and
charismatic power! Tina illustrated her address by taking two women from
the Bible - Abigail in the 1st Book of Samuel and Mary, the woman who
anointed Our Lord's feet.
The third address was quite different and was given by John and Olive
Drane. John is a lecturer in practical theology in Aberdeen and he gave
some very powerful examples of the telling of people's stories. Olive has a
ministry in the creative arts and she illustrated to us how God had called
her to work as a clown! She concluded her quite visual contribution in a
very thought-provoking way.
We also had three Bible Studies which were led by The Very Revd Gordon
Mursell, Dean of Birmingham. His entertaining, at times hilarious, style of
delivery gave us some very thought-provoking insights into three biblical
Bishop Gavin Reid, formerly Bishop of Maidstone, concluded the
conference by drawing together various strands from the addresses and bible
In addition to all this there were workshops on issues of Conflict and
on Children's work, as well as two workshops of our choice. The whole
conference was set within the context of worship and also of fellowship
with so many other people from our Diocese.
I came away feeling quite challenged about some different areas of our
life together as members of God's Church - more of that to come perhaps!!
But I also left with an over-riding message which is about keeping the
focus. Not attempting to 'do' everything, so that we over-stretch ourselves
and end up doing nothing particularly well, but focussing on some of the
things we already do and ensuring that we do them to the very best of our
abilities and to the glory of God. Food for thought!
So what's this alliterative enigma all about then? Well, in early
October Frances and I flew off on a long-awaited visit to Canada and the
U.S. On our previous visit, six years earlier, we had been very struck by
Quebec City, together with its Old Quarter, and had promised ourselves that
we would return there on our Silver Wedding Anniversary. We had also
determined to return to an excellent restaurant, appropriately named 'Aux
Anciens Canadiens', which served traditional Canadian fare, including game
pate with moose meat, and maple syrup tart. It was also a great pleasure to
eat our meal to the accompaniment of restful classical music.
Because of its formative history, Canada has an official policy of being
bi-lingual in French and English; in Toronto and westwards, French is
rarely heard but Quebec is fiercely proud of its French roots and French is
the first language. It can be both odd and amusing to be surrounded by many
of the trappings of North America but in Gallicised form ('Poulet Frites
Kentucky et deux Cokes, s'il vous plait'), whilst the vocabulary and nasal
Quebecois accent are hardly what one is used to in European French.
So where do the Fall Figures and Bears feature? As part of our visit, we
drove south from Quebec into the U.S. State of Maine to visit friends near
Augusta and, we hoped, see something of the famed Fall colours in that
region. The Fall in America is a season which inspires several traditional
events, amongst them the making of 'Fall Figures', and Halloween. Fall
figures are similar in concept to the British 'guy' for the Guy Fawkes
bonfire; they are near life-size, stuffed with straw or other material, and
dressed in whatever cast-off clothes come to hand. Witches and ghosts
sometimes feature, but many of the figures represent ordinary people doing
jobs like raking up the leaves. Fall is also the pumpkin season and you
will find all shapes and sizes (often huge) for sale at roadside farm
shops, either to be cut out to make Halloween lamps, or to be made into
traditional pumpkin pies. When America does something, it usually does it
'big', and Halloween is no exception; dressing up in witch or ghoul
costumes (complete with lurid make-up) for elaborately staged parties is
commonplace and shops are full of truly appalling plastic toys such as
spooky trees with flashing red eyes and emitting appropriately ghostly
noises. But everyone participates and enters into the spirit (!) of things.
And the concept of participation is what leads us onto the Belfast
Bears. Belfast is a pretty coastal port in Maine where, several years ago,
someone had an idea for raising money for charity. Large model bears, in
three poses - sitting, standing or on all fours - are constructed from
either fibreglass or papier mache, placed around the streets of Belfast and
decorated by people with a bent for art or crafts. Some are painted with
decorative pictures or patterns (above is Wildlife Bear), others depict
characters such as pirates; in one case Telephone Bear can be found halfway
up a telegraph pole! Just before the onset of winter, the bears are
auctioned publicly and the proceeds given to charity. Local businesses also
sponsor the bears while they are on display during the late Spring and
Summer, thus adding to the money collected.
So, in years to come, when we think back to particular memories of our
visit, high on the list will surely be the Belfast Bears and Fall Figures.
I should like to say a big 'THANK YOU!' to Caroline Sexton for
editing the November magazine while I was away on holiday. Did you spot the
And my thanks too to the rest of the team who support me month by month:
one of the Clergy reads through the draft, Ken or Cyril
prints the 350 copies on the parish photocopier; Shirley deals with
subscriptions, distribution and advertisers; and Brian runs the
parish website. And of course thank you all of you who send me your
Frances Murton, Editor
Exploring the Psalms in Advent
Come and join any or all of our Advent discussions
on Thursdays 5, 12 and 19 December.
Morning sessions in St Nicolas' Room, 10.30am - 12 noon;
Evenings in the John Wood Room, All Saints' Church, 7.45-9.15pm.
Both venues have good parking.
Please sign up on the lists on the notice boards.
If you need a lift please speak to Beryl Elliott at
St Nicolas' or Marion Beagley at St Mary's.
Preparation groups will need to begin in the New Year in
order to be ready for a Confirmation service in the Cathedral in June 2003.
It is not too late for you to sign up! Please speak to Fr Michael.
St Nicolas' Patronal Festival
Everyone had been hoping that we would be back in the
church by the time of the Patronal Festival on 6th December, so that we
could enjoy a big celebration - even the Bishop of Gloucester was intending
to join us! Clearly that is not to be! In the light of the ongoing
we have sadly decided that it will not be possible to hold a service of any
kind on Friday 6th December. However, as a 'mini-celebration' of the
Patronal Festival, wine, soft drinks and snacks will be served at
St.Nicolas' after the 9.30am Eucharist on Sunday 8 December.
Please join us then!
Christingle at St Mary's
The first of our two Christingle Services in aid of the
Children's Society will be held on Sunday 15 December at St Mary's
church starting at 4pm.
In a simple, moving service with great appeal to
children, young people and their families, Christingle oranges are
presented to everyone bringing a gift of money towards helping the Society
brighten the lives of children for whom Christmas would otherwise be a
rather bleak time.
If you would like a collecting box and/or further
information and please contact Wendy Thomas or Dorothy Smith.
Christingle at St Nicolas'
Our second Christingle Service will be at 4pm on
Sunday 22 December in St Nicolas' Hall. With building work still in
progress at the Church, some people who normally come to Christingle may
assume that we're out of action - so please let your neighbours and friends
know that the service is going ahead as usual.
Christingle, which highlights the work of the Children's
Society, is a wonderful occasion for local children and their families, and
we are also proud to welcome the Brownies and Guides along. Each child
takes home a traditional orange and candle which represents the Lord as the
light of our world.
If anyone would like to take a break from last-minute
Christmas preparations on Saturday 21 December to help make up the oranges
and candles, please contact Caroline Sexton, or come along to
St Nicolas' Church Room at 2.30pm.
Lessons & Carols with the Brass Ensemble
The Brass Ensemble will play at 5.45 pm on Sunday
22 December before the service of Lessons & Carols in St Mary's. We
will be without a Tuba in the group because Bill, our regular player, is
still recovering from a heart operation. I am hoping to fill the spot with
a bass trombone. We will play also during the service as we did last year
with an extra trumpet.
As usual the Crib Service will be on Christmas Eve
at 4pm in St Mary's church. Children who would like to take part in
it are asked to come to the church on Friday 20 December at 4.30 for a
casting rehearsal. The main rehearsal is on Monday 23 December at 10.30am
in St Mary's. The dress rehearsal is at 2pm on Tuesday 24 December
(Christmas Eve), followed by a drink and biscuit and then the service will
start at 4pm.
Carol Singing - 18 December
Wrap up warmly - it's almost time for the annual parish
carol singing evening! We'll be carolling on Wednesday 18 December
in Paddocks Lane, Cleevelands Avenue and Cleevelands Drive. Absolutely
everyone is invited to join in, and we are hoping to create a really
festive atmosphere with favourite carols and hanging lanterns as we deliver
Christmas wishes on behalf of our churches.
There won't be a great deal of walking, and we should
only be out for about an hour - and there will be mince pies and hot drinks
afterwards! So do come if you can - we'll be meeting at 7pm at St Nicolas'
Church Room. Please put the date in your diary now, and we'll see you
Carols in the Prom
Churches Together in Cheltenham 'Carols in the Prom' will
be on Thursday 19 December on the Promenade outside Cavendish House
starting at 7pm.
Carol Singing for Christian Aid
Come and sing your favourite Christmas carols with us on
Saturday 21 December. Start at Tesco's 10am to 11am with St Nicolas'
Choir, have a quick coffee and then join St Mary's Choir at Sainsbury's
12noon to 1pm.
Paddy Spurgeon & Gill Ashman
Some Thank You's
October and November have proved to be a bigger whirlwind
for me than I expected - and it's not quite over yet! The packing cases
arrived yesterday (6 November) and are waiting to be unpacked and sorted.
But I do want to say to everyone how grateful I am for the warm welcome I
have received from so many people and from all three churches and for the
parties I've already enjoyed. I feel very settled and at home now with the
worshipping community. Thank you too for your patience while I learn new
ways of doing things and thanks to the servers who have skilfully (and with
complete discretion) guided me along the way! Impossible to believe, I
know, but it's almost time to send Christmas greetings to you all but
before that I look forward to Advent, a wonderful season of preparation.
With good wishes,
Sunday Morning Refreshments at St Mary's
The new coffee rota is now in the kitchen and the church
porch. If anybody would like to join this willing band of helpers, please
let me know. This quarter, we will be contributing £100 to the 'Cheltenham
Open Door at Christmas' appeal from the proceeds. Thank you for all your
help and support.
Margaret Holman, MLT
Following our two social events in October we are pleased
that the Coffee Morning (including Raffle and Cake Stall) raised £87.97 for
Guide Dogs for the Blind, and that the Traidcraft sale raised £40.87 for
the Prestbury Memorial Trust.
We should like to thank everyone who supported these