Weekly Pastoral Letter - 1 January 2021

From Angela Burrell

New Year Reflection

Dear Friends,

As a child I was fascinated by the story of the little boy Samuel in the Bible.  His father had two wives, one who had several children, and his favourite wife Hannah who had none.  Taunted by the other wife, Hannah longed for a child.

On the annual visit to the Tabernacle at Shiloh, Eli the priest saw Hannah as she wept and prayed that if God would give her a son, she would give him back to Him “for all the days of his life”.  Eli saw Hannah’s distress and said, “May God give you peace and grant you what you have asked for.”

In time Hannah had a son and remembered her promise to give him back to God.  She took the small boy to Eli the priest at Shiloh, to live with him and help him in the Tabernacle there.

Every year, the family went to Shiloh and we are told that Hannah took with her ‘a little robe’ for Samuel.  I love the human touch.  Each year it needed to be a little bigger.  What a joyful reunion this must have been!

This story is retold in the hymn:

‘Hushed was the evening hymn, the temple courts were dark’
the lamp was burning dim before the sacred ark;
when suddenly a voice divine rang through the silence of the Shrine.’

Succeeding verses begin,

‘O give me Samuel’s ear, the open ear, O Lord...

‘O give me Samuel’s heart, a lowly heart that waits...

‘O give me Samuel’s mind, a sweet unmurmuring faith...             J.D. Burns (1823-64)

I loved this hymn and sang it often as a child.

The Bible tells us “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord” but God called him in the night.  He later became a messenger of God at a time when “the word of The Lord was rare in those days and there was no frequent vision”.  God called Samuel who later became a prophet, priest and judge over Israel.

I love this story of a faithful woman who kept her promise to the God she knew, and entrusted her precious son to God’s loving care. (God gave Hannah other children in time)  As to Samuel, he was willing to be used by God when he had learnt about Him and came to know Him.  He became a great prophet in difficult times.

If we are willing, God can use his people in many ways and at any age.  We have the task of making God known in our generation where many people don’t know Him or care.

“He has no hands but our hands to do His work today.
 He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way.”

A new year has begun!  Let us resolve to have the ear, heart and mind that was Samuel’s.  We can do it together.

A very happy and fruitful year in His service.

Angela Burrell

 

From Revd Catherine Bowstead

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year!

Let’s hope that 2021 proves to be a better year for each of us.  With the vaccine programme being rolled out, hopefully it won’t be too much longer until we can meet together.  In the meantime, it’s important that we keep each other safe. That’s why we have decided to keep our worship on-line for the moment, even though public worship is permitted under Tier 4 restrictions.

I am leading our recorded service for this Sunday with the assistance of Liz and Mike Goddard.  We’ll be thinking about the visit of the Magi in Matthew 2 and the prophecy of Isaiah 60 and wondering about how God guides and directs us.

Many thanks to David Knee with his marathon Christmas cake bake, and to Liz and Mike Goddard for their Christmas card delivery.  The donations received from these have enabled us to make an astonishing donation of £1200 to Action For Children!

Keep safe and keep positive.

With every blessing
Catherine

Weekly Pastoral Letter - 21 December 2020

From Revd Catherine Bowstead

Dear Friends,

With our move into Tier 4, we have decided to suspend worshipping in our Church building until the situation changes.  This means that sadly, we will not be holding our midnight communion service or our service on Christmas morning.  We will, however, still be having our Christingle at 4pm on Christmas Eve by Zoom (please contact Claire for the link if you’d like to join) and there will be a recorded service of worship for Christmas morning on our website.

Christmas is far from being cancelled.  We may be having to do things very differently this year, we may have had to make last minute changes, and we are probably not celebrating Christmas in the way that we would like.  But preparing to celebrate Christmas is a hopeful act, full of optimism.  Christmas is about light being born into darkness a light that we need more than ever this year.

“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”

As we pass the Winter solstice, from now on there will be more daylight each day.  I hope that, however you celebrate Christmas this year, you will be aware of the light of hope shining in your life.

With every blessing
Catherine

Weekly Pastoral Letter - 18 December 2020

From Malcolm Ray-Smith

Reflection: “Count our Blessings”

Dear Friends,

2020 is an American term used to indicate good vision but none of us would have predicted that 2020 was going to prove such a problematic year – because there has been a long period when no end of the coronavirus was visible, even to those with perfect vision.  But now we have hope restored as vaccines begin to appear that will provide protection.

Our Christmas carols remind us that long before Christ came God was inspiring prophets to tell of the one who would be sent to save all people, and to explain the sort of man he would be, and the problems he would experience.  God relied on a young girl willing to accept the responsibility of a child to be nurtured and Joseph who was willing to become an exile to protect the child whom Herod tried to murder.  Together they made a home and cared for the one who God sent to be Emmanuel – GOD WITH US.

The wise men who attended the infant Jesus to present gifts with significant meanings had used their enquiring minds to perceive God at work, and to understand what the Christ-child would face, and what he would mean to those who trust God’s plans for our world.

Many of us have been “stay at homes” this year as the pandemic threatened all of us, but especially the elderly.  We have been grateful for those who have prepared and recorded services week by week and for Songs of Praise.  As a singer I have missed concerts and choir rehearsals but have been glad to sing to the hymn tunes carefully included in the recorded services.  I have been thankful for the entertainment of television and the ability to communicate by Zoom and email and telephone through the long months of being largely confined.  I have enjoyed books and music and good food and those who have delivered groceries to us so faithfully.  Plans to go abroad had to be forgotten but the kindness of friends and family have been a constant encouragement and we are grateful to God for all his mercies.  An old song encourages us to “Count our Blessings” – so please do that!

May God bless all of us as we recall his blessings through a difficult year.

Malcolm

 

From Revd Catherine Bowstead

Dear Friends,

I wonder how your plans for Christmas are going and if you’ve had to change them in the light of Government advice this week and our move into Tier 3 [now Tier 4].  Christmas will be quite different this year and for some people this will be very difficult.  But as a Church community we’ve planned things which I hope will help us to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way.

We have a prepared a lovely Carol Service video that you’ll be able to access via a link on our website on Sunday.  The readers recorded themselves in their own homes and the singing is our congregation from recordings of previous carol services and Forest Singers concerts – you can even hear people clearing their throats as they prepare to sing!  I am grateful to Paul Jeffrey, a member at Wokingham Baptist Church who has produced the video for us, to Roger who has produced an audio version, to Michael who has made it available on the website and to Judith and Graham who have taken CD copies to people without internet access.  I hope that you enjoy it, and that it will give our church community the sense of togetherness that we are missing so much.

On Sunday morning, from about 11:30, a group of us are gathering for some socially distanced Carol Singing in Peach Place.  We’ll be collecting for Action for Children, and it will be wonderful to sing carols together and bring some Christmas cheer to our town.

At this event we will be giving out knitted angels with a Christmas message to people.  Many thanks to all the people who have been making these angels, especially to Daphne who made 89 of them!  I took some of the angels round to our friends at Lovat House along with Christmas cards for the residents and staff.  They were very appreciative of the angels and used them to decorate their Christmas tree – you can see the pictures on our facebook page.

Our Christingle service this year is on Zoom at 4pm on Christmas Eve.  Please contact Claire for the link and let Claire or me know if you would like a Christingle kit – these will be available to collect from 11:30 on Sunday morning at the Peach Place doors to the Bradbury Centre.

Also, this weekend, Claire is organising our virtual display of Christmas cribs.  Thank you to all who have sent in photos and to Claire for arranging the display, this is on our website.

Our café had planned to be closed for the next two weeks, but we will not be reopening until Government restrictions are eased.  There won’t be a pastoral letter next week and only a brief one the following week, but do contact me directly or via the office e-mail if you need to be in touch.

Tier 3 allows for Church services to take place, so we are intending to continue with the services that we have planned: [now we are in Tier 4 we have changed our plans and cancelled the live worship]

Sunday 20th am service [cancelled] (on-line services available at Woosehill and Bagshot)
Carol service accessed via link on Church website
Christmas Eve 4pm Christingle on Zoom
Christmas Eve Communion 11:30pm [cancelled]
Christmas Day 10:30am in the church building [cancelled] and recorded service on the website
Sunday 27th: recorded service on website
Sunday 3rd Jan: service in the Church building [cancelled] and recorded service on the website.

I came across this quotation recently: “We don’t save Christmas, Christmas saves us”.  The overwhelming message of Christmas is that Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us”.  It’s astonishing that the creator of the universe takes human form as a tiny, helpless baby born in inauspicious circumstances who came to be the saviour of all humankind.  My prayer is that you will be aware of Emmanuel with you this Christmas, that despite your feelings of sadness, disappointment, anxiety, or loneliness you may know that God is with you, and that this knowledge might bring you joy, hope, comfort and courage for what the future brings.

With every blessing
Catherine

Weekly Pastoral Letter - 11 December 2020

From Revd Catherine Bowstead

Dear Friends,

It was lovely to be able to re-open our café this week (albeit with tighter restrictions) and for some of us to worship together in our building last Sunday.  Jane and I had an enjoyable time at the Churches Together stall in the Wokingham Christmas market last Sunday.  People were very pleased to receive the lovely goody bags of Christmas crafts and the Nativity story that Churches Together had prepared, and it was good for our town churches to be seen to be working together in providing this generous gift.  And of course, there is the good news about a vaccine, which means that the time when we can gather together again comes closer each day.

A reminder about our Christmas services:

  • Sunday 20th December a video Carol Service will be on the website for you to watch whenever you wish, but you might like to watch it at 6pm when we would have been gathering in our church building.  There will be a service in the church building that morning, but not a recorded one on the website.  If you’d like to take part in on-line worship that morning, I suggest that you visit one of the other churches in our Circuit.  Woosehill, for example will be live streaming a service led by Revd Soba Sinnathamby and Bagshot will have a recorded service prepared by Mike Bowstead.
  • On Christmas Eve we will have a Christingle service on Zoom at 4pm (details from Claire) and a service of Holy Communion in the Church building at 11:30pm (please book by 22nd Dec). 
  • Our worship for Christmas Morning will be live in the building at 10:30am (please book by 22nd Dec) and on the website. 
  • On 27th December we will have a recorded service only.

Our worship this Sunday is led by Christine Morgan.  The third Sunday in Advent focusses on John the Baptist and we consider how we, like John can be heralds of the good news and point towards Jesus, the light of the world.  You can read about John in the first chapter of John’s Gospel – interestingly, he is not called “John the Baptist” here, simply “John”, why do you think this might be?

I am finding that the words of our well-loved Advent hymns have a particular resonance for me this year.  I think that this is because the longing and waiting for this pandemic to be over echo the themes of Advent.  I am taking very great comfort from the Advent hope that God remains faithful to his promises, that he will never leave us and that he shines a light into our darkness.  I hope and pray that you are finding similar hope and comfort too.  Do get in touch if you want a chat or you need a bit of support.

I hope that you have a good week,

With every blessing
Catherine