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Prestbury Parish Magazine

December 2003 / January 2004

Joseph went to Bethlehem to register with Mary, who was expecting a child.
While they were there the time came for the baby to be born.
Luke 2:4-6 (abridged)

December 2003 / January 2004


Put God at the Centre

Making the best of Advent

Christingle - a Celebration of Light

Parish Consultation on St Mary's

Rockers Half-Hour

Mr Micawber said...

Of Itching and Scratching

Why Egypt?

Confirmation 2004

In Tune

A Combined Diocesan Choral Festival

Connecting ...

Sidmouth 2004

Some articles from this month's magazine have been included elsewhere in the web site:

The Calendar for December 2003 and January 2004

The Diary for December 2003 and January 2004

The Parish Registers

Put God at the Centre

Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace

This is the message which the Christ Child came to bring and to teach and demonstrate in his adult life.

Looking back on this past year, world events might seem to have taken a turn for the worse: war in Iraq, continued aggression between Israel and Palestine, conflict in several African countries, terrorist bombing across the globe... The list seems particularly long this year.

In our hearts we know that war, terrorism, bigoted fundamentalism, persecution, aggression, reprisals, cannot possibly be the will of an all-loving God. Each tragedy has involved individual families, individual people. Please pray for a New Year of Peace.

Mary had nowhere to give birth except in a stable. The Holy Family became refugees, no doubt suffering further rejections and indignities. The UN Commission for Refugees estimates there are currently 20.5 million refugees in the world. This Christmastime, please remember refugees: each one is a child of God, and as such has the right to dignity. Pray especially for all refugees - and for all strangers who come among us, for whatever reason.

Looking Forward

We all still have to learn to fully respect and affirm people of other faiths, and recognise that they, too, may also hold God's truth, revealed in other ways. Jesus who said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life', and, 'No one comes to the Father except through the Son', also said, 'Other sheep I have who are not of this fold,' and 'In my Father's house there are many rooms.' This equally includes Jews, Muslims, people of other faiths, and people of no faith during their earthly life, for in the next life with God, without exception, we shall all be transformed. My New Year prayer is that all people should live with this understanding.

Pray, too, for peace and harmony within our own families, within our own circle of acquaintances through work, pleasure and proximity of living, and within our Church.

Putting God at the centre

The angels' hymn, 'Glory to God in the highest', is reflected in the Golden Rule given to us by Jesus - love God with all your heart, soul, mind and spirit. God is at work in the world, Evil is being defeated.

Let us give glory to God this Christmastide, and put him at our centre in this coming year.

Fr Stephen


Making the best of Advent

All too often, the month of December goes by in a rush of preparations, and we realise with a jolt on Christmas Eve that we hardly noticed Advent. Take a little time to sit back and reflect on what this season has to offer; it really can make a difference to Christmas.

'Long ago, Prophets knew...' an evening right at the start of Advent to think about some of the Old Testament prophecies and what they might mean to us today. For anyone who hears or reads the Old Testament lessons Sunday by Sunday in Advent. Monday 1st December in the Upper Room at St Mary's, 7.45 - 9.15 pm.

Lunchtime Meditations for Advent at St Matthew's with speakers from various churches in Cheltenham - URC, Anglican, Baptist and Roman Catholic. A simple lunch is available afterwards. 12.45 - 1.15 pm, every Friday in December.

Beryl Elliott

Churches Together in Cheltenham

Join with other Christians from around Cheltenham for Advent Meditations and Carol Singing.

In a change to the CTC programme pinned on the board at both our churches the Advent Meditations will take the form of reflections by local clergy on what Advent means to them. They take just 30 minutes (12.45-1.15) on a Friday lunchtime at St Matthew's, with the option of staying for soup, roll & fruit. By the time you read this you will probably have missed the first session (28th November) but each one stands alone so come along on 5th, 12th or 19th December. Why not use this as an opportunity to take a break from Christmas shopping?

Carol Singing with the Salvation Army band takes place in the Beechwood Arcade on Thursday, 18th December from 7.00pm. All are welcome to take part.

Geoff Shaw

St Mary's & St Nicolas' Carol Singing

We are singing around the Noverton Estate on Tuesday 16 December.  Please come and join us with your torches!  We will meet at 6:45 pm in Roberts Road (Noverton Lane end) by the letter box.  Afterwards there will be mulled wine and mince pies at Prestbury Rectory.

Carol Singing for Christian Aid

Come and sing your favourite Christmas carols with us on Saturday 20 December. Members of St Nicolas' will be at Tesco's from 10am to 11am and St Mary's will be at Sainsbury's from 12noon to 1pm. Do join either or both.

Paddy Spurgeon & Gill Ashman


Christingle - a Celebration of Light

Sunday, 14 December, 4pm at St Mary's Church

Sunday, 21 December, 4pm at St Nicolas' Church

There is a pause between the familiar Christmas carols. Darkness falls. There is stillness, and quiet. One by one, the Christingles are lit, illuminating the excited faces of children who have gathered to offer prayers and hope to children in danger and distress...

If you have been to a Christingle service before, you'll know why it is one of the highlights of our Christmas celebrations. At both St Nicolas' and St Mary's about a hundred children, with their families, traditionally gather to receive their Christingle orange, and to raise funds for the vital work of The Children's Society.

Christingle is a breathtaking, poignant service. It is a tremendous opportunity for us to share the light of Christ's love with our neighbours and local families who might not often come to Church. And our loose change, collected in special Christingle boxes, enables The Children's Society to offer practical help to the UK's most neglected and disadvantaged children.

The Society actually helps more than 700 children every week. They include young runaways, children in trouble with the law, and those having difficulties at school. Through ground-breaking projects the charity offers practical help to the most vulnerable young people in our communities.

The money raised at our Christingle services will help ensure that this essential work continues. So please, do join us. If you would like a special candle-shaped collecting box in advance, please contact Caroline Sexton (St Nicolas') or Jane Turner (St Mary's). Or simply put your pennies in a purse or bag, and pop them into a collecting box when you arrive for the service.

Jesus asked us all to love and protect the weakest among us: this Christingle, we have the chance to do that with our prayers and our gifts. We hope you'll be with us for this very special event.

The Christingle: what does it mean?

The Christingle itself symbolises the light of Christ's love. It is a lighted candle, mounted in an orange, which has red tape around it. Also in the orange are four cocktail sticks, each bearing fruit and sweets. The orange represents the world, the candle stands for Jesus, the Light of the World. The red tape symbolises the blood of Christ, and the fruits and sweets represent God's creation and his love for us.


Come, shine a light... the light of Christ's love.


Parish Consultation on St Mary's

At its meeting on 13 November the PCC decided to hold a parish consultation on the future direction for St Mary's. This consultation will cover a range of topics, including:

* our role in the church's mission to bring others to Christ
* congregation membership (currently declining)
* income (also currently declining)
* styles and patterns of worship
* use and development of the church building in support of the subjects above.

The consultation will take place on Sunday 18 January. All will be welcome - look out for further details nearer the time.

The PCC also decided that its September decision to install an experimental platform and nave altar will stand for the time being, but that no further action will be taken without taking the results of the consultation into account.

Kay Porter, Hon Secretary to the PCC


Rockers' Half-Hour

Rockers is also a mid-week service, but differs from those described by Fr Michael in Worship through the Week, in that we are noisy and often roam around the church instead of sitting in one place. If you would like to worship God together with your young child or grandchild (0-5 years) on a Thursday afternoon in term-time, then do come and join our informal service in St Mary's church at 2pm. We sing 'hymns' (children's songs with actions), have a 'reading' (a story from a children's bible) and end with a short prayer. A brief time of chatting over a cup of tea is incorporated in the middle of the service, leaving you free at the end to go to school in time to meet older children if you need to.

This term ends on Thursday 11 December. During the holiday you are invited to bring the children to the Christingle and Crib services and on Christmas Day (details elsewhere in this magazine). Rockers' new term will start on 15 January 2004. For more information contact Frances Murton or Susan Banks or email

Frances Murton


Mr Micawber said..................

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

I am sure we are all very aware of the importance of making ends meet. Mr Micawber in David Copperfield certainly knew! The fact is, in the accounts of the parish as a whole, the expenditure currently exceeds the income to the tune of approximately £1000 per month. This will result, not just in misery, but in catastrophe.

You may wonder why there has been no stewardship campaign during this year. It is not because we have forgotten, but because we have taken steps to try and work out the best strategy that will result in the best response. To this end, we expect to launch an appeal in the early spring and we hope as many of you as possible will think long and hard about your responses and give very generously, to enable our ministry within the parish to grow, without the fear of not being able to pay our way.

Christ gave His all to us by dying for us - what will our response be?

Marion Beagley - Stewardship Committee


Of Itching and Scratching

According to the 2001 Census, 72 per cent of people in Britain claim to be Christian. Of that number, only a small fraction - precisely how many will vary according to the measuring criteria adopted - feel the need to become regular worshippers. Many claim to have difficulties with Christian doctrine and practice. They may well exist within your circle of friends and relations, neighbours and work colleagues. Possibly they have attended courses that have left them unsatisfied, because the sessions were either too simplistic or too complicated. Possibly they have worshipped with a Christian congregation which placed a strong emphasis on the very doctrinal points which trouble them and have been told that the only valid interpretation is the one on offer and not open to further discussion. For example, it is not just in the American Bible Belt that there are churches where a strong rejection of any attempt to harmonise theories of evolution with the Biblical account of creation is considered a badge of orthodoxy.

As a wise bishop once said to someone who professed not to believe in Christianity, 'Tell me what it is you don't believe. Perhaps I don't believe it either.' It is not contended that everyone can be reasoned into an acceptance of the Christian faith (although C S Lewis stated that this was his personal route) but that misconceptions that were proving a barrier can be removed.

We are trying to assess what demand there would be for a series of meetings in which people who are attracted to Christianity but have genuine problems with some of its aspects (or the presentation of them) can come and voice their problems. Father Tim and Father Paul have agreed to lead such groups. Father Paul is familiar with a similar project in Hereford diocese whose title No Holds Barred may give some flavour of its approach.

The success or otherwise of this venture could well depend on the atmosphere created within the group. The structure of each session should be loose and flexible, ready to respond to the particular concerns of those who attend. It is the latter and their concerns that should set the agenda. As some religious dissenters in the United States complained pithily about the more established churches: 'They do not scratch where we itch.' Secondly, all opinions of the visitors should be treated respectfully and seriously, regardless of how defective they might appear to the committed Christian. Finally, it should be emphasised that the sessions are intended for 'seekers' rather than 'certaintists', to use Bishop David Jenkins' recent categorisation of the religiously minded. Indeed, at least in its early stages, the latter could best support the venture by not being present, so that 'seekers' are not inhibited in expressing their views for fear of being outnumbered by or offending whose who are more committed.

Do you know anyone who might welcome a personal invitation to join such a group? If so, please tell any member of the clergy or the undersigned.

Brian Knight


Why Egypt?

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Rise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt...' Matthew 2 v13

Why Egypt? What are the implications of their going there? How might they have travelled there? What did they find when they got there? How might they have been received? What were the long-term results?

Come to St Nicolas' on Monday evening the 26th of January to see how far we can answer these questions. Talk followed by finger buffet. Further details and tickets available after Christmas.

John Elliott


In Tune

On a bright September morning some years ago I made my way to St Mary's Church. In order to raise funds to keep the 700-year-old building in good shape, someone had come up with the idea of having a sponsored, non-stop, marathon singing of the entire hymn book. It would start at Office Hymn 1 and continue through to the end of the book.

I was not sure how it would work, but decided to get my stint over early, and arrived at the end of Advent and in time for Christmas. It seemed strange to be singing 'A great and mighty wonder' and 'Christians awake! Salute the happy morn' three months earlier than we normally do. However, it was when we started to sing 'In the bleak midwinter' that I really began to enjoy it.

These words telling of grim weather can strike fear into you when you know that 'Earth stood hard as iron' is waiting as soon as you put your foot beyond the heavy door in December. Here, in September, you knew that the water in the brook that runs through the churchyard could not possibly be like stone, nor would snow have 'fallen snow on snow'.

Even in December/January I love to sing the hymn, but in glorious September it held no fear of what might be waiting for us outside. After the warmth of 'God rest you merry, gentlemen' and 'Hark! The herald angels sing' the poem of Christina Rossetti can bring you up with a start.

But when did she write this? The obvious thought is that she looked out of her frosted window and observed the leafless trees, the frozen water on the bird table and found her inspiration there. But do poets work like that? Do they have to have the whole scene in front of them and report it word for word as they might do for a newspaper? Or, on some equally lovely September morning, did she turn her back on the beauty of her late summer garden and try to visualise that other morning long ago, and create her own world from winter memories?

Whatever the act of creation was, I appreciated her words as much on that morning as I do when I am muffled up with scarves and gloves. But I did prefer coming out into the glow of a Cotswold morning and on to soft earth.

Tudor Williams, Prestbury Writers' Workshop


A Combined Diocesan Choral Festival

Saturday 18 October saw three choir members from St Mary's visiting Bristol Cathedral for the annual Royal School of Church Music Festival. The aim of the RSCM is to improve the standard of music in church parishes. For some years now St Mary's Choir has been to this festival when it has been held alternately at Gloucester Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey. The visit to Bristol was the first time there. In future the RSCM hope to visit Bristol once every seven years, and in the other years alternate between Gloucester and Tewkesbury.

Towards the end of September booklets with all the music were supplied so that some home study could be done. A practice was held at Gloucester Cathedral on Tuesday 14 October conducted by Andrew Nethsingha (Director of Music). A further practice was held at Bristol on the afternoon of the 18th, conducted by the Bristol Cathedral Director of Music, Mark Lee.

The actual service began at 5pm. A rough estimate suggests there were about 400 choristers from parishes in the Gloucester, Swindon and Bristol areas. They were arranged in a great oblong in front of the chancel steps, facing down the Nave. The Bristol Cathedral Choir were in the choir stalls and the Gloucester Cathedral Choir were in front of the parish choristers facing across the nave. There was a large congregation.

The Music: Hymns: He who would valiant be; Glorious things of thee are spoken; Immortal love forever full; O praise ye the Lord. The Choral pieces: Benedictus in G, Stanford; The Gateway of Heaven, Paul Trepte; The Wilderness, John Goss; Psalm 118, Dom Gregory Murray; Veni Creator, Chris Bell; Kyrie, Louis Vierne; Nunc Dimittis in D, Dyson.

It all went very well despite the fact that apart from the hymns, all the music was new to the majority of the parish choristers. Particularly memorable were Chris Bell's Veni Creator, sung beautifully by the ladies of the choir, and Louis Vierne's Kyrie, which was written for Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Festival was conducted by Mark Lee and Andrew Nethsingha. The Bishop of Swindon presented Bishop's Award medals and the Dean of Bristol Dean's Award medals to young choristers who had taken courses in their parishes and passed required tests.

John Boxwell


Connecting ...

In October's issue of the Parish Magazine Fr Michael wrote: 'We in Prestbury have been hit by the national trend of declining church attendance - you only have to look around you on a 'normal' Sunday to see that.' And he poses the question: 'are we just going to sit back and let that decline continue, or are we going to do something about it?' Naturally, he didn't leave this question hanging in the air, but mentioned ways in which the Ministry Leadership Team and the Mission and Outreach committee had begun to address this.

Many people have remarked on how much they enjoyed the service on Sunday 7 September when the congregations from three churches gathered together in St Mary's. Fr Michael wrote: 'Worship has such a different feel when a large number are gathered together and the church feels full. Like many, I could not help reflecting on how wonderful it would be if it were like this every week!' Meanwhile, Sundays at St Mary's have not been nearly so well attended as one could wish. Indeed, figures for the number of communicants year by year show a seemingly continuous decline. Must it be so?

One thing that any reader of this magazine can do is, of course, to make a point of attending Sunday worship (extraordinary circumstances excepted), as a matter of duty not only to our God but to one another. Each empty place, each vacant pew, has a negative effect on all those who remain. Every voice subtracted from our hymns and prayers makes those who remain feel less strong. As Fr Michael remarked: 'it has such a different feel ...'. But I believe there is something more that could and should be said. Worship is good for us. God wants us to do it. He smiles, like any fond parent, when he sees his children doing what leads to health and wholeness. What's more, He desires that everyone might join in and experience this. So what are we doing to bring more people in? Here are a few facts which, I think, reveal where part of the problem lies.

Recently I was cycling in Bath with my wife Ann when we were held up by traffic. Opposite we both noticed a large pink sign board with the following message: 'WELCOME to the Parish Church of St John. SUNDAY SERVICES: ...' then followed the details and times of all regular worship, and at the bottom a telephone number to ring if you wanted more information. We looked at one another and nodded: 'Yep! What a difference!' A few weeks earlier we had been cycling through Dunwich, famous for having lost so much of its old town under the waves. They say there is an ancient church sunk beneath the sea. But still on dry land one church remains and that too had a large notice outside: simple, direct, and very legible even to a speeding cyclist: EVENING WORSHIP: 6.15. Had I been in either place on a Sunday I would have considered it my duty to join them. Their priorities are right. They are addressing the outside world. The regular congregation already knows the service times: it's the others, outside, whom Jesus most wants to reach, and the people of Dunwich seem to know that.

Not long ago I went to St Mary's on a Sunday evening in time, as I supposed, for the 'Evening Prayer' at 6.30. But as I came around the yew tree by the porch I was jolted out of my complacency. The doors were locked and all was darkness. There was no explanation, and no-one to speak to. So I went home. Of course, had I been at the morning service I would have heard that there was in fact a combined service that night, at a different venue. Like many others, Fr Michael was delighted by the combined mass of people on 7 September, but who spares a thought for those who turned up at the two empty churches? My plea is this: we should stop thinking about re-ordering our churches, and instead re-order our priorities. Communication is vital, particularly with the guests we were not expecting.

If you go on holiday, or spend a weekend away in a new place, maybe you do as I do on a Saturday evening - take a stroll to the local church to check on their service times. Anyone staying at the holiday cottages in and around Prestbury faces an extraordinary situation. Wander up to St Mary's and you find a church that declines even to identify itself by name. If the doors are locked you would be very hard pressed to see that small, curled-up paper behind the iron gates giving the service times, and if it is dark you will be unable to read it anyway, unless you had the foresight to bring a torch. Never mind. Suppose you are persistent. You make a guess and turn up on Sunday morning: what would you try in an unfamiliar place? Ten o'clock? Recently I had cause to be there, and was dismayed by what I found. The sun was shining. The porch was open. The church doors were unlocked. But there wasn't a soul about. Any visitor would have a hard time guessing whether they'd come too early or too late. Yes, there are notices, but they are not very obvious. You think I am being too critical? Well, hear this. A fortnight later I again had reason to visit the church early - this time it was quarter past ten. As I arrived a complete stranger was coming away. He was frowning, and obviously puzzled: 'Can you tell me the time of the morning service?' he asked. (He seemed satisfied with the information I gave him and I was delighted to see that he was back again at 11 o'clock.)

So, does this apply only to strangers in Prestbury? Surely not. Outside the regular church-going community there are hundreds of souls whom Jesus longs to welcome. Shouldn't we be doing more to smooth the path for them? The Holy Spirit is at work very often in the hearts of people who never knew their need of God and have no connection with organized Christianity. How are they to find their way home? What resources is St Mary's devoting to reaching these future stalwarts of the faith?

Imagine a parallel universe. There is another Prestbury and it also has a churchyard, but this one has a notice telling people the name of the church, somewhere it has the word 'Welcome' and service times plainly written. Imagine another sunny morning; it's Sunday and someone turns up at 10.15 as before, but this time there is a simple, bold, unmissable notice in the porch - Welcome to St Mary's. NEXT SERVICE: 11 am. Such a small thing; but such a difference!

There is, of course, no guarantee that investing in notices (and making the effort to maintain them) would make a permanent and dramatic difference to the size of the congregation. But someone would be greeted by it, and feel more positive. And the very act of providing it would re-focus our attention away from the comfort and convenience of those inside and direct it where Christ would have it, towards those outside.

Michael Cole


Sidmouth 2004

After our recent trip to Sidmouth in October, we have evaluated the comments regarding holding a Parish Weekend again. The feedback was extremely positive and we have decided to broaden the opportunity to enable more people to join us in 2004. We have booked the same hotel for 120 places for a weekend next autumn. This means we will have all their facilities to ourselves, giving us more room choice and extra lounge space. If you are interested in joining us, please give your names to me at St Mary's or to Gill Wood at St Nicolas'. If you did not come with us this year, but are interested to find out what we did, please talk to me, or anyone else who attended, or read the articles in the November magazine. We had great fun and people were free to join in planned activities or not, as they so wished.

We are all part of the Parish Family and this is a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better and to enjoy fellowship in a relaxed and genial way.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Marion Beagley


Saturday 6 December - St Nicolas' Day

We will be celebrating St Nicolas' Patronal Festival
with a Sung Eucharist at 6.30pm

You are then invited to attend 'the social event of the year'(!!)
St Nicolas' Hall will be transformed to represent the period of
the 1920s and '30s:
'The Age of Elegance'

A jazz band will play, canapés and cocktails will be served and there will be a cash bar. All those attending are encouraged to come dressed appropriately. Evening dress for both men and women (and children!) can be worn to the service as well!

Tickets: £4 for adults, £2 for children and £10 for a family.


Confirmation 2004

There will be a Confirmation Service in Gloucester Cathedral in June 2004. We hope to run preparation groups for Confirmation and intend to begin them in the New Year. There will be two groups: a group for young people who are secondary school age and a group for adults. Precise dates and times will need to be agreed amongst the group members.

We need to know if anyone is interested in taking part. If you would like to know more, please speak to Fr Michael or one of the other clergy.


Thursday Morning Service - 10.30am

At St Mary's we have raised £320 this year: £300 for the Church Heating Fund and £20 for World Vision. After the Service we meet socially for a cup of coffee and biscuits, for which we usually pay 50p. We started this function on 18 February 1999 and we first of all raised £500 for 'Let the Children Live' and then we commenced in November 2000 raising money for St Mary's Heating Fund. Our Grand Total for the latter is £1,200 to date.

I would like to thank Joan Rushworth and Mary Edington for their great support over the four years.

Do come along to this Service if you can, you will be sure of a warm welcome. See you there.

Doreen Morris

St Mary's Bakestall

All members are invited to contribute to our next bakestall on Sunday, 18 January 2004. There will be NO bakestall in December.

Proceeds from the stall this year have amounted to £362 which was sent to the following Charities: Every Child, Care International, Ethiopiaid, SOS Children's Villages, VSO (Doctor for Gambia), Unicef (Children in Iraq), Christian Aid, World Vision (Herd of Goats), Hope Africa, Children in Distress, Disasters Emergency Committee (Liberia).

Margaret Waker

Sponsored Cycle Ride for Historic Churches Trust

On 13 September  riders from St Nicolas' and St Mary's raised £884.50 in total. £442.25 goes to Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust to aid churches throughout the Diocese; £165.50 goes to St Nicolas' and £276.75 to St Mary's. Well done!

Bob Lyle



Prestbury Parish Magazine - December 2003 / January 2004

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