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
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.
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.
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
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
Paddy Spurgeon & Gill Ashman
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
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
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.
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
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 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 rockersprestbury.net
"Annual income twenty pounds, annual
expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual
income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six,
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
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
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.
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.
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
Tudor Williams, Prestbury Writers' Workshop
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
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.
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
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.
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
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Saturday 6 December -
St Nicolas' Day
We will be celebrating St Nicolas' Patronal
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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!