As a parent who has experienced a child going missing – even if only for
a very short while – I understand the feeling of panic that completely
engulfs anyone in the same circumstance. How Kate and Gerry McCann must be
feeling I cannot even begin to imagine. Thankfully I also know the amazing
feeling of relief and joy when a child is found. As a child who wandered
away from his mother in a strange place, Battersea Park as it happens, I
also vividly remember the feeling of being lost. Equally I know the feeling
of being found when the familiar voice of my Mum suddenly rang out in my
To some extent we are all lost – lost in the business of our everyday
life – lost in the focus of the immediate objective in hand. In our
weekend away in Sidmouth we had the
theme of ‘Life’, quite a wide one you will agree. In the Saturday evening
Eucharist we heard the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin, and in
the main Eucharist on Sunday morning we had a wonderful enactment of a
modern day Good Samaritan. In this account the religious, who passed by, was
a vicar, who was late for a PCC meeting. He satisfied himself that was good
enough reason for leaving the young ‘Road Rage’ victim unattended. There was
also a church warden on the way to a conference, where he was to receive an
honour for his contribution to his local community. A fine excuse to pass
by, you might be prepared to concede. Finally a man on his way to his
wedding passed by and stopped, tended to and made sure the victim was OK,
going well beyond his immediate needs.
The Vicar and the Church Warden were, if you like, lost in their own
worlds – focused on their imminent meeting and conference – lost to the
needs of the roadside victim. The young man on his way to his wedding, who
you might think would be similarly lost, was able to find himself and tend
to the immediate need of the victim, ignoring, temporarily, his own big
event. How many times can each of us be said to be lost? How many times have
we ignored the needs of others for some ‘important’ reason? It is time for
us to be found again – always walking in the way of Christ – always ready to
see and tend to the needs of others. That is where true joy is.
At Greenbelt it seemed appropriate to begin my day with Morning Prayer in
the Franciscan tent. There were about twenty of us, and the format was
familiar from St Mary’s and St Nicolas’, where we use a version of the
It was even more meaningful to meet several hours later in the same place
with some of the same people for the Evening Office. It made me appreciate
how much I and each of the others had done, seen or heard during the day,
and there was a real sense of relaxing in God’s presence for a few moments
before continuing into our chosen evening activities.
You have probably seen him – in the theatre at Stratford, or even in a TV
advert – the ardent young lover clutching a red rose, gazing upwards with
longing beneath the beloved’s balcony.
This was the connection that came immediately to mind when I came out of
the church last Tuesday morning and saw, sitting on his haunches in the
churchyard, a squirrel holding in his ‘hands’ a beautiful red carnation. He
was clearly nervous at my presence, so after a few seconds he placed the
stem of his carnation carefully between his teeth and seeming to give a
longing glance upwards to the birch tree, our Romeo began to scamper up the
silver bark, pausing as they do at unexpected moments. All the time, of
course, his wide-awake eye was fixed on me, but I wasn’t going anywhere.
About eight feet off the ground there is a strong side branch, almost
horizontal, and there he sat, still carefully clutching the flower stem.
There he played at statues, as squirrels do, regarding me with a fixed
stare. Of course, there was no Juliet in sight.
Eventually, when he was sure of himself, he took the flower back in his
hands, and held it sideways like a flute. He brought the scarlet flower up
to his nose, not to smell it but eat it! With great dexterity our ludicrous
young lover twirled the stem in his paws and gleefully chewed through every
So, if you have laid any flowers in the churchyard recently and have come
back to find them scattered and broken don’t be too quick to think ill of
some local vandals.
It may have been Romeo.
I suppose we take it for granted that since God is everywhere, unlike us
mortals, he can both wave us off on our journey and be waiting to welcome us
at our destination, and we think no more about it.
Last month, at the end of our parish weekend in Sidmouth, Fr Michael
stood in the car park at the hotel waving goodbye to us as our coach set off
back to Cheltenham. It was somewhat surreal, therefore, when we pulled into
the car park at St Nicolas’ some two-and-a-half hours later, to find Fr
Michael standing there waiting for us!
The Celebrate! service on 9th September marked the start of the 2007-8
Cotswold Churches League with a special service centred around being in a
Team. North Cheltenham
represented in force, with team members and supporters wearing the familiar
green and white hooped shirts and black training tops. The NCC ‘trophy
cabinet’ (right) was on display – the Fair Play
Award for 2007 and the 9-a-Side Plate Trophy being a fine return for their
first season. Father Michael interviewed Tim Rudge, the NCC manager, about
their first season as a team and ambitions for 2007-8. Despite the loss of
the team’s most fearless defender (Father Grant), there is much optimism
about the coming season. Some new players have been recruited and a new
Chairman, Simon Taylor of All Saints’, is now at the helm.
For some of the squad this was our first time at Celebrate! and we were
all made to feel very welcome. We didn’t quite get the hang of the actions
to the songs but we did wave our flags with gusto. And it was good to see
all the youngsters who will surely be turning out for NCC in years to come.
Fr Michael interviews team manager, Tim Rudge
Members of Celebrate! band wearing NCC shirts
On Saturday 8th September I cycled in a northerly direction, starting out
before some churches had opened, in order to visit all those on my planned
route. Where doors were closed I slipped notes under them, stating I had
with St Mary’s and the United Reformed Church at Prestbury, I followed
through to St Nicolas’, St Lawrence’s at Swindon Village and St Mary
Magdalene’s at Elmstone Hardwicke, where I discovered that I had forgotten
my sponsor/check list. Fortunately, I met the Churchwarden, Hilary Halsey,
who kindly supplied me with a spare sheet! Phew!
Next came St James’ at Stoke Orchard, with its traces of wall paintings,
then St John’s at Tredington, where I enjoyed a cold drink and biscuit. Many
churches supplied refreshments, so my blood sugar was pretty high that day.
At Deerhurst I called at St Mary’s, where a carved angel could be found
high up on a hidden corner of the beautiful stonework outside, some of it
dating to Saxon times. I also took a look at Odda’s Chapel, which had been
flooded in July, along with many other places by the River Severn. I saw
signs of the flooding for many miles in dried muddy fields and lanes, with
hedgerows appearing mummified in mud.
Holy Trinity at Apperley was high enough to escape floods, but across Haw
Bridge at Tirley, St Michael’s was closed to visitors, as was St Bart’s at
Ashleworth. Both these churches had been badly damaged by flooding and stood
eerily empty, with industrial driers working everywhere inside them.
Next, St Mary’s at Hasfield, a lovely church with carved angels between
the stone nave arches, then Hartpury, also dedicated to St Mary, but several
miles away from the village. I also found the Hartpury Methodist Church,
with its own well-kept graveyard. With time running tight, I pressed on to
St Margaret’s at Corse, St John’s at Chaceley, which has unusual carving on
its 12th century chancel arch, and St Mary’s at Forthampton, which has
I included two churches in Worcester Diocese, and by this time was in too
much haste to notice which saints they were dedicated to, namely the
churches at Eldersfield and Bushley.
From there it was straight on to Tewkesbury, where I visited Holy Trinity
Church, the Methodist Church and Abbey St Mary. Thankfully Roger met me
after these 22 visits and approximately 40 miles of cycling to take me home
with my bicycle, which he maintains so well!
I wish to thank all those who so kindly sponsored me, to raise £343, half
of which will be given to St Mary’s, Prestbury, by the Trust.
Do you enjoy new experiences, people, places? I do, but on my own terms.
So when the possibilty of attending Greenbelt 07 arose I decided to go for
it in just that frame of mind.
What I discovered was a vast event with huge numbers of people – some
20,000 I understand. I already think our racecourse is a brilliant place and
love any excuse to visit but to experience its transformation to festival
site was amazing. Tents as far as the eye could see for a majority of the
participants to sleep in. Portaloos, washing facilities.
In addition, a number of larger tents and marquees provided shelter for
event venues – talks, workshops, worship and suchlike. An outdoor screen on
the parade ring and an outdoor stage further down the slope. And any number
of small booths or tents providing retail therapy. A great variety of food
was available from vans and canvas outlets. (I especially enjoyed some
tempura). I also had some packed lunches I’d made at home or even popped
home for food and a breather.
Greenbelt is a Christian Arts Festival. There are worship sessions and
talks, and music and workshops which are unashamedly centred on Jesus
Christ. There are also things that aren’t, such as Shaun the Sheep films and
a knitting circle. And all sorts in between like a circus themed around the
culture of commercial advertising. The hardest part really was trying to
work out from the schedule what to home in on because equally appealing
events are bound to be on at the same time. It’s a great place to browse a
big selection of Christian books or to get information on certain Christian
charities or to enjoy a pint in the ‘Jesus Arms’ beer tent. Or for speed
Some of what I chose was a discussion about worship by members of the
CofE’s Liturgical Commission, a talk by John Bell of the Iona Community
whose ‘Thoughts for the Day’ I enjoy on Radio 4, a concert by the left wing
singer/songwriter Billy Bragg, a talk by lawyer turned Prior Andrew Nugent
who has written some thrillers, a breakdancing display by lads from
Tajikistan, stand up comedy by Jo Enright, Orthodox Great Vespers…. You get
the mixed picture. The experience is what you want to make of it.
Perhaps you’d enjoy being a volunteer as a steward or driver or sales
assistant. Or help financially by becoming a Greenbelt Angel. I’m sure the
fantastic weather helped the experience, and a lack of preconceived ideas.
But I’d go again (and take something squashy to sit on; grass and even
carpeted floor both get very hard after a while).
Is it only for one particular ‘type of Christian’ – no.
Is it only for teenagers – no.
Is it cheap – no.
Is it good value – yes, it probably is compared to other forms of
Give it a go – you could have your horizons broadened.
My First Greenbelt
I have been waiting to go to Greenbelt for the last two years, and at
long last that time came. Simon and I had been bought a tent between us and
we were looking forward to staying up late and eating hot toast and drinking
hot chocolate just as everyone had told us. I really enjoyed the concerts
and going to the ‘Mix’ – an activity tent for my age group. The food was
really good as well with everyone mucking in and helping. The weather was
fantastic and made my first Greenbelt brilliant – I can’t wait to go again!!
When Dad came to collect me on the Tuesday morning I could hardly speak but
he could tell I’d had an amazing experience. A big thanks to everyone who
had arranged it and looked after us.
Bigger Greenbelt than ever
A bigger Greenbelt festival than ever brought many more laughs and much
more entertainment to our ever expanding youth group. As the summer hadn’t
been much fun weather wise, we were lucky to be blessed with some of the
best weather yet, over the bank holiday weekend, causing some sun burn for
the unlucky few in our group.
There were many highlights in this Greenbelt, including the majority of
us going to see Shaun the Sheep in the arena. There were many different
music acts including Billy Brag, and a collection on Monday night including
Duke Special, Ian Archer and the Christian rock band called Delirious? This
is where I stayed all evening, watching these bands one after each other,
where Delirious? performance was inspiring. Other music included Martyn
Joseph, with singer songwriters, in the The Rising, each day in the
wonderful venue of the Centaur, where we often started falling asleep, as it
was very comfortable and air conditioned.
Comedy also featured in much of what we went to see, which was very
entertaining, laughing at the good and not so good comedians on show. As a
youth group, Andy Wood and myself held several worship sessions over the
weekend, which bought the youth group together and allowed us to share
worship in our own group daily.
On Sunday 9th September this year St Mary’s church celebrated its
patronal festival. For many years this was celebrated in August, at the
feast of the Transfiguration, but as society became more able to take summer
holidays that date was scuppered completely because it is in the middle of
the school holidays and half the congregation seemed to disappear.
Heritage Open Days coincides with our patronal festival and we try to do
something special for this reason. Having previously delved into the ‘Oxford
Movement’ and John (Edwards) de la Bere, we needed something lighter this
time. We have lots of documents relating to our village and also lots of
pictures so we decided to go modern and make an audio visual presentation.
Ken Bradbury was eager to stretch his computer into fresh fields so we were
off and away – BUT this project has involved more than twenty people and it
was Summer Holiday Time and in one instance a farm to run in a year of
The first three days of HODs week saw Ken and me frantically counting
spoken sound waves, music sound waves, picture fades, sound fades etc right
into Wednesday afternoon. We have a brilliant technical director in Ken and
a superb coffee maker in Rosemary Bradbury, she did stop us going completely
balmy and with Father Michael’s television and our DVD player we opened on
time, first showing at 1pm Thursday, as advertised on the net.
We were all stunned to see the interest shown, a strong and steady flow
of visitors came throughout the four days, watching the film, drinking tea,
studying our Victorian OS maps. Thank you, yet again, for the really
professional Teas team St Nicolas’ and St Mary’s can produce.
A digression – diocesan synod
On the Saturday morning I had to attend my first Diocesan Synod, in
Gloucester, where I felt very much the minnow on the edge of a lake. We
started with Holy Communion and the sermon preached was one of those that
strike home, hard. Its message in the most simplest of terms was that we,
the body of the church, must make that body live. If we stay in the comfort
of our own circle worshipping, bible studying, celebrating, then the body of
Christ’s church won’t live and breathe. To fulfil God’s will, we must take
our belief out into the everyday world and actually live it. This theme was
recurrent throughout the morning and certainly not by design either. One
item on the agenda was ‘Vocation to Teach’ presented by the leader of a
project ‘Transforming Lives’. The example given was simple: a group of
modern language teachers in a school looked at the GCSE syllabus; the aim is
definitely: ‘as a tourist in a foreign country, can you get what you want?’
Then followed the parable of the Good Samaritan: ‘In this country, could you
help a foreigner to find what he wants?’ It involves the same vocabulary,
same grammar, but in each lesson they are now teaching a whole class to
listen and care for their fellow men.
The last section was devoted to the recent Flood Emergency. Dr Tim Brain,
our chief Constable, told a riveting story and summarised it by commenting
that he would never forget the unquestioning help the people of
Gloucestershire gave each other and also two pictures. The first was of
Tewkesbury Abbey, standing high in a sea of water and the second was the
Tewkesbury scouts, slaving away throughout at the Scout Hut, supplying free
drinks for all and flushing toilets!
The final contribution came from the Vicar of Tewkesbury, Paul Williams,
who described the closeness of their teamwork with the mayor and civic
authorities. Since the Abbey was not in immediate danger, he and his wife,
Catherine, also an ordained priest, and their curate, Charles Witney,
decided that they would look after the High Street first. They spent all
their free time filling sand bags as the water crept up. When it was time
for evening prayer they returned, alone, to the Abbey only to find that
water rising from the drains was getting in at the south door. They started
sand bagging again but it was hopeless so Father Paul dashed to the Bell Inn
over the road. He remarked that he had never emptied a pub so quickly in his
life. The whole crowd within raced back with him and joined the battle. When
they had won he said that now he must go and say evening prayer. The pub
crew replied that though they were not into his sort of thing, they would
stay with him, the Abbey had supported the town so now they would support
the Abbey. Every one of them stayed to listen to Evening prayer. Father Paul
sat down quickly with a very tight throat.
And so, back to St Mary’s
I lunched on tea and cake and joined the team of stewards again. We met
so many strangers as well as friends. Father Peter must have near drowned in
cups of tea by Sunday evening, acting as a host on the map and tea side of
the church whilst a rota of us ushered people to seats, gave out programmes
and took orders for DVDs. What was planned very much for our own interest
turned into quite a party for four afternoons, talking, meeting old friends,
It brought the meaning of the Saturday morning sermon back to me – go
out, meet people in everyday life and Christ is alive with us. We didn’t set
out to do it, it just happened. For four whole days, St Mary’s was very
alive, in the nicest possible way. Everybody watched and listened to John de
la Bere III’s final words on the DVD which echoed so closely Father
Michael’s sermon of that Sunday morning, and on several occasions our
audience burst into a round of spontaneous applause. I am afraid you will
have to listen to what John de la Bere said to understand why. It is beyond
me to explain.
‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly
meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’
What does a man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?
Generations come and generations go… The sun rises and the sun sets… The
wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes… All
things are wearisome, more than one can say… What has been done will be done
again; there is nothing new under the sun… I have seen all the things that
are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the
Ecclesiastes 1:2-9, 14 (NIV)
Isn’t it reassuring, when you are totally fed up with everything, to be
able to open your Bible and find a passage which expresses your feelings so
eloquently? You don’t want solutions to your problems; you don’t want kind
friends saying things will get better soon; at this precise moment you just
want to wallow in your fed-up-ness…
Ecclesiastes is one of my favourite books in the Bible. Nestling
somewhere between Psalms and Isaiah it is short enough to be read at one
sitting. It follows a style of ‘pessimism literature’ going back to 2000 BC
in both Mesopotamia and Egypt. It is the only example included in the Bible
and differs from other writings, where pessimism is unrelieved, in that it
offers the possibility of joy, faith and assurance of God’s goodness.
We do not know who this Teacher is. Chapter 1 verses 1, 12 and 16 point
to his possibly being King Solomon, but that name is not mentioned. Whoever
he is, by Chapter 2 he seems to have had a go at everything: pleasure (v2),
wine (v3), great gardening projects (v5), amassing wealth (v8) and yet here
we go again in verse 11: ‘When I surveyed all that my hands had done,
everything was meaningless.’. He realises that, wise or foolish, all of us
die in the end, and he comes to hate life, feeling that all that he has
achieved will be passed on to someone else who has not worked for it, so
what’s the point in bothering?
Then comes the first hint of light: we might as well get on with eating,
drinking and finding satisfaction in our work because it ‘is from the hand
of God, for without him who can eat or find enjoyment?’ (v 24-25). It is
with this recognition of God that this book differs from more traditional
In Chapter 3 we read that wonderful passage: ‘There is a time for
everything… to be born and to die… to weep and to laugh… to be silent and to
speak…’. Is this just fatalism or is it an acknowledgement that God is
there, holding our every situation in his hand?
In later chapters the Teacher discusses poverty and riches, politics and
religion, wisdom and folly, wine, women and light entertainment, gossip,
friendship and old age. Although he appears to conclude in 12:8 that
everything is still meaningless, a more positive thread has crept in, almost
as a refrain, suggesting that our satisfaction and pleasure derive not from
the things themselves, but from our relationship with the God whose gift
they are (3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7).
So if, in the midst of our misery, we can thank God for what he provides,
however meaningless it may seem at the moment, then we can begin to piece
things together again and come to enjoy life once more in a fuller
relationship with him.
Evening Prayer –
change of time
From Monday 1st October Evening Prayer at St Nicolas’ on
weekdays (Monday to Saturday, excluding bank holidays) will be at 5pm, half
an hour later than at present. Do join us whenever you can for this short
Eucharist with a Difference
The next ‘Eucharist with a Difference’ at St Nicolas’ will
be on Sunday 7th October at the usual time of 9.30am. Do come and join us
for this special time of worship.
Bible Study Group
We continue with the last two chapters of Jonah on the 9th
and 23rd October in All Saints’ church. Coffee is available from 6.45pm and
the bible study runs from 7-8pm. All are welcome. Compline will be said at
approximately 8pm by those who wish to stay on.
‘Music for Malcolm’
Malcolm McKelvey was Director of Music in Prestbury parish
from 1989 to 2003 and this series of concerts in his memory is to raise
money for work on St Mary’s organ.
On Saturday 13th October at 7.30pm in St Mary’s church the
St Cecilia Singers will give a concert of English music. Admission is by
ticket, on sale in advance and at the door, and will include refreshments.
Please see leaflets or pewsheets for details.
The final concert in the series will be on Wednesday 7th
November at 11am and will feature Peter Greaves, the current organist at St
Taizé at St Nicolas’ Church
On Sunday 14th October there will be a Taizé Singing
Workshop at St Nicolas’ church from 3.30-5pm led by the Revd Maz Allen from
the United Reformed Church. This will be followed by a bring-and-share tea,
and the afternoon will conclude with Taizé service at 6.30pm in St Nicolas’.
This is a Churches Together in North Cheltenham event and is an opportunity
to meet together with members of the various churches in North Cheltenham,
as well as St Michael’s (Whaddon), Prestbury URC and Holy Name Hall.
St Mary’s Bakestall
The next bakestall at St Mary’s is on Sunday 21st October
with contributions from those with surnames A-F. Please contact one of us if
you would like to join the rota.
Margaret Waker & Linda Matthews
Our meeting this month is on Tuesday 23rd October at
7.30pm at St Nicolas’ and will feature a talk by Father Paul Iles. You are
very welcome to join us even if you are not a member of the MU.
Looking ahead – dates for your diary
25th November at 9.30am: Eucharist with a Difference at St
2nd December at 3.30pm: Iona Workshop, tea and Service at
Holy Name Hall
Heritage Open Days
Thank you to all who offered welcome and hospitality at St
Mary’s during the patronal weekend. Also to those involved in the production
of the Travels Through Time DVD. Copies of the DVD are available at
£7 by using one of the request forms in St Mary’s or from Lynda Hodges. All
profits to the Quinquennial Appeal Fund.