THERE is an ancient tradition of thinking about a new start at this time
of year. For many it takes a practical turn, becoming conscious again of
our bodies, re-committing ourselves to a healthy lifestyle and specifically
trying to bring our weight down. For gardeners it is a time of preparing
for the season of sowing and growing, the season of Lenten Springtime. So
we make a sudden shift, a trick picked up by the film industry, from the
aftermath of Jesus’ birth to the beginning of his ministry some thirty
years on. The link between these two events, birth and baptism, is the
start of something new, the coming of a new age, the fulfilment of God’s
commitment to the world that he has made.
Jesus’ baptism is a powerful image: the Son of God has no need to make a
new start, and yet here he is, presenting himself to John the baptizer,
willing to undergo a ritual that speaks of surrender and obedience, of
letting go, of resting in God, of being surrounded, filled, overwhelmed,
drenched and overflowing with love. Like a dog shaking after its dip he
showers this love over all around him and, whatever your reaction is, there
is no ignoring it. If you were in Church for the Baptism of the Lord you
will have experienced this first hand, the sprinkling of the water not only
reminding you of your baptism but also making you wipe your face, clean
your glasses or laugh at your neighbour. It is a sharp, playful reminder
that Christian faith is not about a disembodied heaven or wishful thinking
but about a God who grasps the nettle of this wounded world, whose
viewpoint is not from above but at eye level with us, who calls us away
from our comfort zones and challenges our self-importance, our self-hatred,
our self-centredness. This is why the Diocese has chosen this month to
encourage us to consider our place in God’s kingdom: to grasp again the big
picture of which we are a part, and to think prayerfully about what this
global Jesus-movement means at a local level.
A wise person once said that to be a Christian is to receive a free gift
that costs everything. No wonder, then, that it is hard to communicate it
to others. I think of a hymn that says ‘Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all’. The point is not that we have to
repay Jesus for his love for us. It would be actually more accurate to say
‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands nothing of me other than that I
receive it’ (not so easy to fit to the music, I admit). To follow
Christ is completely different from making a New Year resolution. It means
being committed to being ‘ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven’, to
letting yourself be immersed in him, learning to be carried on the current
of his love to a world that is desperately thirsty.
Congratulations to David Smith on his appointment as organist and
choirmaster at St Mary’s. David took up his post on 1st January and will be
playing regularly for the 11 o’clock service and leading choir practices.
We welcome John Pout, who will be spending time in the Team as part of
his preparation towards ordination. John is married with one son. He lives
in Northleach and worships at St Lawrence, Bourton-on-the-Water, where he
serves on the PCC, is a house-group leader and works with the youth group.
He works full-time and so will be with us mainly on Sundays during
Jim Moore 29.02.1912 – 09.11.2008
Jenny and Maurice would like to thank all family and friends for their
kindness and messages of sympathy when Jim died. We would also like to
thank the clergy, the servers, John Wade and the choir, who helped to make
Jim’s Requiem Mass a celebration of his life. Many thanks to everyone who
attended the service and to all those who made donations to St Mary’s
Church in Jim’s memory.
I hope you will have read the article by the Archdeacon of Gloucester in
edition of ‘Our Diocese’. Designating 2009 as the Year of the Child
aims to keep the needs of children everywhere in the spotlight of
publicity. As churches in our Diocese we are being encouraged very much to
make this year one in which we focus on reaching and working with children
in our parishes.
The Year of the Child in Gloucester Diocese will be launched at a
service in Tewkesbury Abbey at 3pm on Sunday 1st February. We have been
invited to bring some of our children to the service, to carry a banner
during a procession and also to collect a special candle and a challenge.
The challenge is to take the candle to as many places as possible in our
area where children are present, light it and say a prayer written by
Bishop Michael. There is a special prize for the most unusual situation
where the candle is lit!
Anyone is welcome to attend the service on 1st February. Please can you
let one of the clergy know if you are thinking of attending?
On Saturday 4th July there will be a big celebration in Gloucester
Cathedral with lots of workshops which will be appropriate for all the
family, so it is worth booking that date in your diaries now.
THERE were two matters at Synod which I thought would be of personal
interest to parishioners.
Year of the Child
The first is that 2009 is designated ‘Year of the Child’. The diocese is
making a great effort to reach out to the 125,000 or so children within it
with lots of special events and activities. I wonder if Sunday
Club, Rockers, Celebrate! and our PPY youth groups will be involved.
Turning to old habits… including going into a church
The second matter was first raised by Bishop Michael in his opening
address. He drew our attention to the fact that when people are under
stress, as we as a nation are at present, they turn to old habits for
security. This seems to include going into churches, perhaps for a service,
perhaps just to sit or browse for a while. We are all concerned in some
way, and as Christians we must make an effort to be compassionate to those
around us, to give a genuine welcome, a friendly ear to listen, even when
life isn’t easy for us either.
Mission of welcome
The final speaker was the Revd Andrew Braddock, who holds the rather
awesome title of ‘Diocesan Missioner’. In fact he is not at all awesome and
his talk was on ‘Developing a Mission of Welcome’. Don’t worry – it is
quite simple in reality!
When a stranger walks into one of our churches what can he or she
discover about the congregations or about the services? What does
‘Eucharist’ mean? In our parish I suspect St Nicolas’ is a little ahead of
St Mary’s at present: the visitor finds a well-organised entrance, a big
bright notice board and to one side a quiet and comfortable church.
Now consider St Mary’s entrance – our porch. Two long notice boards, on
one side a jumble of parish and community information, on the other perhaps
a photo of a child to be baptised, a mention of youth clubs, and lots of
lists and rotas for the initiated to read, but not very much to catch a
stranger’s interest. Then open the door and step down into the dark space.
In the dimness some things of beauty can be picked out, but that’s all, no
information about us. I love every stick and stone of this old church –
just as it is – but listening to the speaker’s words I knew they made
We have made a beginning: our churchwardens have recently done a major
facelift to St Mary’s notice boards, the ‘Real Christmas’ brought many
visitors in to meet us, chat and ask questions. We advertised our Christmas
services on a bright notice board inside the church, and on our new Bakery
Stores Notice Board. We hung a banner in the High Street.
I do not have St Nicolas’ statistics to hand but these are St Mary’s: in
2007 total attendance at services from Carol Service to Christmas Day was
1,238; in 2008 it was 1,641, an increase of 403. Crib services in 2007
attracted 358 people; in 2008 503; and Midnight Mass was up from 168 to
220. These are the services to which visitors come and they came as they
have not done for a long while.
Why do they come?
Why did they come? Was it our publicity, the national stress factor, or
the hard work put into our schools or open gardens and cream teas earlier
in the year? We can never know.
This Easter we have a Passion Play again; there will be a cross outside
the United Reformed Church and a bright Easter banner in the High Street.
We will attract attention – a lot of it – but what are we going to do for
that constant little stream of people coming to find our churches? They
don’t know what happens in our services; nor, for example, that the
Mothers’ Union has interesting talks for all people, a friendly Money
Advisory Service, or practical parenting sessions.
These people come out of curiosity for a few moments perhaps. We should
be happy to meet them, make friends, and not frighten them away. It’s a
tricky balancing act, but if we really believe in Christ’s teaching we must
find a way of getting it right.
Hodges, Diocesan Synod Representative
Handbell ringers at the ‘Real Christmas’
in St Mary’s church on 6th December 2008
Photograph by Brian Wood
IT PROBABLY will not come as a surprise to you that this is not my first
Passion Play. In fact this will be my fourth experience of performing the
story of Holy Week, and (somewhat disturbingly) my second time as Judas.
When I played Peter at Lee Abbey in 1994, I was astonished that people
began to call me Peter wherever I went. It took some effort to cope with
this, to remind people that I am not the character I play. Perhaps this is
because of the nature of Peter, uncomfortably close to my own personality
in so many ways. This is the power, not only of the Passion, but of the
whole Bible, that as we read these ancient stories we see ourselves in
sharp relief, in all our glory and darkness. But who was Judas? How do I
Judas. The name itself hisses snake-like in our consciousness: evil,
despicable, the serpent that betrays humanity to their destruction. But
Judas is the tempted, not the tempter, who denounces Jesus and destroys
himself. His name cuts through history like a dagger, a label that signals
treachery, an insult that draws blood. He holds a strange fascination, not
least because he leaves us with a question: what made him commit that
venomous act, the betrayal of a friend?
‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’ he asked the chief
priests (see Matthew 26). Was it the money? He was the treasurer, in charge
of the disciples’ kitty. John tells us he was dishonest about it too. Was
it some debt he had to pay? Was Jesus betrayed for an overdraft? Or does
the answer lie in his name? Some say ‘Iscariot’ derives from ‘sikarios’,
the dagger favoured by the resistance, a silent weapon that strikes in the
darkness. Was this a hot-headed revolutionary disillusioned by Jesus’
teaching about love for enemies and the payment of taxes to Caesar? Under
the heel of the Roman wolf, Israel cried out to God and, like many who find
themselves powerless to control events, they looked back: back to a famous
victory when a Jewish hero led a bloody revolt against the pagans who dared
to set their unclean feet on God’s holy hill. This hero, who commanded the
force that retook the temple, a new Joshua to lead the people, was called
Judas. To bear this name meant to remember the pride of God’s people, and
perhaps to lead them to freedom. Is this how Judas saw himself? Was it the
desire to spark a revolution that set him on his course? Did he believe
Jesus would resist and later thank him for causing the essential spark that
set all Israel ablaze?
In the Channel 4 reality TV series ‘Shipwrecked’ (2006) two teams
competed with one another to win a prize and escape their desert island.
One of the contestants, James, joined one team but offered to act as a spy
for the other. In the process he was discovered and so became an outcast,
but crucially his own side rejected him too. What fascinates me about this
individual was his self-image. He truly believed himself to be crucial to
the success of whichever team he chose. Not only that but he tried to play
the teams off against each other, confident that he was so essential that
he would end up on the winning side. Is this the key to Judas’s
personality? Was he so taken up with his own inner conversation that he
failed to see he was a pawn in a much bigger game?
And if we struggle to understand what motivated Judas, what of the chief
priests? Why did they take him up on his offer? Jesus was well-known:
‘Every day I taught in the Temple’ (see John 18). They did not need a
friend to point him out, and it would have been simple enough to have him
followed to the Mount of Olives to locate his camp. We are used to thinking
that without Judas the story of salvation would never have happened, and
yet the decision to have Jesus killed was made without him. He was not
essential to the plan: it was already in motion when he stepped forward.
Can it be that the real tragedy of Judas’s betrayal is the sheer
unnecessariness of it?
One thing is sure: to play Judas is a daunting prospect. It is bad
enough when the character is the much-loved Peter. What on earth can I
expect when I embody Judas, who became a traitor?
Prestbury Passion Play 2009
Rehearsals are now underway in earnest. We still need some more players,
especially men for non-speaking parts; women and children are also welcome.
If you can take part please come to the next rehearsal at St Nicolas’ at
7.30pm on Wednesdays or speak to Brian Wood or Daphne Philpot.
Our rehearsals this month are on Wednesdays 4th and 11th February. Next
month, March, rehearsals are on every Wednesday.
Brian Wood, Producer
Fr Andrew’s Licensing on 4th
St Francis’, Friar Park, Wednesbury
Robed in gold, Bishop Andrew remains seated to deliver
Fr Michael and Fr Ron watch as Fr Andrew receives
his licence from the Bishop,
while the camel in the foreground has other things to contemplate!
Under one of the painted arches
The cake …
... and the camel
Photographs by Janet Green and Martin Hughes
A Long Journey
ON AN ICY winter’s evening, evading with greater or lesser success
disruptions on the M5, a good number from Cheltenham travelled to the
Midlands for the licensing of Fr Andrew Hughes as Assistant Curate of the
Parish of S Francis, Friar Park. There we joined with the people of S
Francis’ and their Bishop to celebrate a Mass of the Solemnity of the
Epiphany, anticipated (as it so often is nowadays) on the Sunday before.
If getting to (and from) Friar Park presented us with challenges, they
were as nothing to those faced, with good humour and unfailing
determination, by Fr Hughes on his long and tortuous journey to ordination
and then to stipendiary ministry. A journey to rival that of the Magi
So it was fitting that after all that this should be a joyful Mass, a
relaxed celebration accompanied by smiles and laughter. The church was
full, not just to greet the new deacon, but also to mark the end of an
impressive programme of restoration. It is an handsome edifice from the
inter-war period (and as such relatively unusual). Its central tower is
surmounted by a statue of its patron saint, which at night shines out like
a beacon over the streets of the populous parish round about it,
symbolising the light of the Gospel that S Francis loved to spread at all
Our worship over, we shared the warm hospitality that the parishioners
offered, and together made inroads into the mountains of food set before
us. Some fine fresh samosas remain particularly in the mind. There was a
chance too to wander round and appreciate the altars, statues and other
fittings with which the relatively plain, but well-proportioned church is
beautifully enriched for Catholic worship and devotion.
It was good to see one of our own finally in place in his new home. We
pray for Fr Hughes, for his parish priest Fr Ronald Farrell, and for the
people he will serve.
David Smart, All Saints’
We all have different ways of celebrating Christmas. Last year we were
with our daughter Karen and her family in Didcot and she took us on
Christmas Eve to see a lovely outdoor exhibition of lighting in nearby
Appleford. On our way there, we passed through the village of Sutton
Courtney and were amazed to see a huge bonfire in the churchyard and dozens
of people singing away, holding flaming torches. We could not stay then but
hoped to see it the following year.
And so we did, this Christmas. We drove there in plenty of time and
arrived as the blazing log fire was being fed – very welcome on a chilly
night. A piano was wheeled out of All Saints’ Church there and the pianist
played a selection of carols and Christmas songs, as the others organized
the evening. They seemed to be waiting for the torches to arrive, which I
presumed meant they would come in a box for those of us gathered there.
Finally a few people arrived at the church gate with their torches
already lit. They were followed by a dozen more and then another dozen.
Then we saw the procession of torches slowly moving along the High Street
in our direction. Finally there must have been a couple of hundred, held by
people of all ages, as we toasted ourselves in front of the flaring logs.
The carols sounded beautiful, with our locally composed In the Bleak
Midwinter always my favourite. As the torches burned down, so they went to
join the logs on the bonfire. There were smiling faces everywhere as
complete strangers greeted one another. It could hardly have been a better
start to Christmas and it was wonderful that so many people wanted to join
in the old tradition of carol singing in the open.
God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger,
steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.
Jonah 4:2 (NRSV)
Jonah was an Old Testament prophet, sent by God to preach to the people
of Nineveh in order to persuade them to repent from their sins. At first he
disobeyed God’s instructions, and headed off in completely the wrong
direction. Then, in a tremendous storm, he was swallowed by a great fish
before being miraculously restored to life when the whale spat him out on
dry land. When Jonah set off again, he had changed his mind and executed a
complete turn-around, both geographically and in his response to God’s
will, by turning around and heading for Nineveh, the city to which he had
been sent by God in the first place.
The story is full of symbolism and can be interpreted in a number of
ways. Jonah voluntarily offered to be thrown into the sea, so that his
fellow-mariners could be saved; his three days and nights inside the whale
can be seen to foreshadow the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus.
He is himself saved from death, which can be taken to represent dying to
sin and rising to new life through the waters of baptism. Jonah also gives
us an acted parable of repentance, illustrating his message by the way in
which he behaves.
But the tale of Jonah is concerned less with the actions of Jonah than
with the activity of God. Jonah had been sent to announce God’s judgement
and he had fully expected to see God’s vengeance visited upon the people of
Nineveh for all their wickedness.
When this did not happen, he was cross! But perhaps we should not be too
hard on poor Jonah. After all, he was an Old Testament prophet and this
account does date from the time when no less a prophet than Isaiah wrote:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and … the day of vengeance of our God.
Jonah’s hopes for Israel’s salvation included the belief that God’s
chosen people would be vindicated and their enemies would get their
comeuppance. But instead, God had compassion and did not bring down the
destruction he had threatened. What is more, Jonah was forced to admit that
he had known all along that this was what would happen.
He was vexed! His expectations had been turned completely upside down.
And if you think that is peculiar, it is not the only thing that is a
little odd about the book of Jonah:
God said to Jonah: Should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that
great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand
people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many
And there the story ends!
The story of Jonah invites each one of us to complete the ending; to
turn present-day beliefs and hopes on their heads by standing up for the
eternal values of truth and goodness and justice. So let us begin each day
with the prayer that we will be guided to imitate the actions of God
himself, because He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding
in steadfast love.
Advertisements in the Magazine
We are looking for an Advertising Editor for the Parish Magazine. Your
role would be to receive letters, phone calls or emails from prospective
advertisers, discuss with them the style, content and size of their
proposed advertisement and inform them of the cost. Some advertisers design
their own advertisements, but need to be advised of the required
dimensions; others will prefer you to design the advertisement for them.
You would be responsible for arranging all the advertisements on a given
number of whole pages (currently six), which you would then give to me for
inclusion in the printed magazine each month.
You would also liaise with Shirley Brown, who is responsible for
invoicing advertisers and sending out renewal reminders.
If you are interested in taking this on, or would like to discuss it,
Frances Murton, Editor
Come to St Nicolas’ Hall on
Sat 7th February for the
PARISH QUIZ NIGHT
Starts at 7.30pm prompt
(doors open at 7.00pm)
Teams of maximum 4 players
Over 16s £2 pp Family team £5
Questions to suit all ages
Now that Fair Trade goods are much more widely available
in supermarkets it has been decided to discontinue the Traidcraft stall at
St Nicolas’. I would like to thank everybody for their wonderful support
over the last few years and especially Janet White who has so reliably
accepted the Traidcraft parcel for me each month, although I won’t miss
turning my car round in her tight drive! I will be selling off the existing
stock on Sunday 8th February.
Tuesday Morning Bible Study Group
The Tuesday morning Bible Study Group will continue to
meet on Tuesday mornings at 11am, however our venue will be changing. For
the time being Rosie Bradbury will host the group. Look in the Sunday
notice sheet for weekly updates. The Bible Study group will be discussing
the readings for each coming Sunday, details of which can also be found on
the weekly notice sheet.
During Lent, the group will depart from our regular Bible
Study pattern to explore the Lent Course as one of the many Lent Groups
running throughout the North Cheltenham Team. Our group will be advertised
alongside the others for signing up, and new faces are always welcome.
Tuesday Evening Bible Study Group
The evening bible study group will meet twice this month,
looking at the book of Amos, on Tuesdays 3rd and 17th February. The venues
will be published in the pewsheet (we have decided the church is too
cold!). All are welcome to join us. We start at 7pm and finish at
approximately 8 o’clock.
Frances Murton & Karen Winder
Informal Prayer Group
This group is a new venture that has recently started. We
meet fortnightly on Tuesday evenings between 8.00 and 9.00pm. There is no
particular format to the evening nor do we pretend that we are expert in
prayer. We pray for a variety of things within and outside the group. There
is also the opportunity to chat and have coffee.
This month we meet on Tuesdays 10th and 24th February. If you would like
more information, please get in touch with Father Daniel or Anne Nicholson.
St Mary’s Bakestall
The next bakestall is on Sunday 15th February, when we
welcome contributions from the N-Z team. We are looking for new people to
join the baking teams. Please have a word with one of us if you think you
could help in this way.
Linda Matthews & Margaret Waker
Prestbury URC and St Mary’s CofE
Relax – think – discuss – think – relax
A time to meet, chat, be quiet …
A time to pray, connect, to be …
A time to listen and to be heard …
A time especially designed for those who don’t usually go to Church
Every 4th Sunday 6.00pm at Prestbury United Reformed
Church, Deep Street
25 January, 22 February, 22 March, 26 April
Please note earlier start time than previously
This month’s meeting will take place on Tuesday 24th
February at 7.30pm at St Nicolas’ Church. It will be our AGM, followed by a
Eucharist led by Father Michael. All existing and any possible new members
are welcome to join us for what promises to be an interesting programme of
meetings for 2009.
Our thanks go to Barbara Lyle for hosting our Christmas
Social. We had a short service followed by readings and extracts from
various members, most relating to the Christmas and New Year period. This
was followed by a delicious buffet supper, supplied by each member. Thank
you to all who contributed in whatever way.
Lent Groups 2009
We are considering material for a Team-wide Lent course.
At this stage we need to know if people are willing to host a group or to
lead a group (not necessarily the same person). If you feel you could offer
help, please speak to one of the following:
Liz Greenhow at St Nicolas’
Colin Holman at St Mary’s
Karen Winder or Trish Downes at All Saints’
Please say which day of the week and which time of the
day would suit you.
Christingle Service 2008
A big Thank you!
The Christingle Service at St Mary’s was packed to the
rafters again this year, with excited and happy children who were looking
forward to Christmas. The Celebrate! music group did us proud with a
mixture of modern and traditional hymns and, with the newly arrived
Christmas tree twinkling in the corner, the special atmosphere was assured!
of course, after the distribution of the oranges, was the switching off of
the lights and the lighting of the candles as we sang ‘Away in a Manger’.
At the end of the service the children proudly left church sporting their
oranges to light later at home and over £300 was raised for The Children’s
Society! So a big ‘THANK YOU’ to everyone who attended or contributed to
this year’s total. Another big THANK YOU goes to the merry band of helpers
who gave their time to assemble our oranges – it was a great team effort!
Christian Aid Carol Singing
Thank you to the choirs and friends of both churches who
sang Christmas carols for Christian Aid at Oakley Sainsbury’s in December.
We raised £268.40 altogether, £140.40 during St Nicolas’ session and
£128.00 during St Mary’s.
Many thanks to all who supported us.
Thursday Morning Eucharist at St Mary’s
This year St Mary’s have raised £400 at the Thursday
morning Eucharist. £300 has been given to the church heating fund and £100
towards the Passion Play expenses. After the service we meet socially for a
cup of coffee and biscuits for which we usually pay 50p.
Thank you to everybody who has supported us whether by
donation or helping in any way. A great achievement and a much warmer
church. It would be nice to see some new people joining us for this lovely
half-hour service, after all, only half an hour out of your week. Do join
us, you are sure of a warm welcome.
Let the Children Live!
Very many thanks to all who bought the Christmas Quiz and
raised £120 for Let the Children Live!. Congratulations to those who
returned entries and especially Eunice Miles, whose form was the first
correct one selected, and who wins a £10 book token.
Janet White & Molly Campbell
The Children’s Society at St Nicolas’
Very many thanks to the box-holders, whose collections
during 2008 amounted to £518. Thanks too to Enid Cowley, who helps me to
count all those pennies. I’ll be glad to open your boxes again: please give
them to me on a Sunday morning, or telephone and I will be glad to collect.
Thank you to Lynda and Roger Hodges and all who prepared
and served a delicious meal following the Epiphany Eucharist on 6th
January. A very pleasant
North Cheltenham Team
Pilgrimage to Walsingham,
Friday 1st – Monday 4th
I have already distributed application forms to all those
who have expressed an interest in joining our 2009 pilgrimage to Walsingham.
If there is anyone whom I may have overlooked or who may be interested and
would to like to know more, please contact me. The overall price this year
is £135.65 (children £81.39, under 5 free) and this covers accommodation
and all meals from supper on Friday up to and including breakfast on the
Monday. I would be grateful if booking forms and a non-returnable deposit
of £20 could be returned to me by Tuesday 3rd February.