All posts by stellawiseman

The Story that Matters Most

We are still early in the new year, still at the time when any new year’s resolutions are at least not a distant memory (the second Friday in January is said to be the one when most of us have given up on resolutions). What if one of our resolutions this year could be to follow Jesus more truly? What if we were able to respond to the question “is this the year we’ll walk in Your ways?” with a promise to do all we can?

That question is one asked in a carol which was sung at St Mark’s last month. It was in fact a world premiere of a carol by author, songworker and artist Ash Brockwell. The carol was ‘The Story that Matters Most’.

Just before we sang it, I told the congregation how I had come across it. Ash had shared it on Facebook because of his concern and compassion for a 17-year-old transgender boy, Eli, who had already attempted suicide twice, who had then been asked to leave his church. Ash asked: ‘How is it possible that we still have church leaders who can reject and hurt such a vulnerable young person and yet convince themselves they’re doing God’s work?’. I don’t know the answer to that, but the God I put my faith in is one who welcomes all and loves all and who asks us to walk in his ways and do the same. We dedicated the song to Eli and others like him.

The carol, sung to the tune of William Parry’s Jerusalem, is going to be part of our canon. The story of how Ash came to write it is recorded here.

And here are the words:

The Story that Matters Most

Two thousand years this story’s been told,
Two thousand years and still we sing:
The Magi came with spices and gold
To glorify the new-born king;
The stable bare, the angels there,
the humble shepherds gathered around…
To tell the story that mattered most,
The love and hope their hearts had found.

Two thousand years and still we’re the same,
Watching the flames of hatred burn,
The grief and fear still spread in Your name…
Beloved, will we ever learn?
I know Your only law is Love,
I’ll hold to what I know to be true,
Perhaps the story that matters most
Is one that starts with me and You?

I won’t let hatred tear me apart,
I will not yield to doubt and fear;
I’ll look within the core of my heart,
And find You always waiting here.
You know the truth of who I am:
Open my eyes and help me to see,
Until the story that matters most
Begins again with You and me.

Is this the year we’ll walk in Your ways?
Is this the year we’ll learn to lead,
And share Your truth through worship and praise,
But also thought and word and deed?
What leads to fear is never right,
what leads to Love can never be wrong;
We know the story that matters most
Is one in which we ALL belong.

 

 

Stella Wiseman

 

 

 

The 25-year story behind The Story that Matters Most

By Ash Brockwell

The song that evolved into ‘The Story that Matters Most’, which had its world premiere at St Mark’s, Hale, in December 2018, started life in Southampton a quarter of a century ago.  That makes me feel old!

At secondary school, I was well known as a poet, composing odes on everything from Bonfire Night to homelessness.  So when the music teacher, Duncan Bradley, decided that he was bored with teaching the choir the same old carols every year, and wanted to write some new ones, I was the student that he approached for help with the lyrics.  It was the early 1990s, and at the time, a lot of people were convinced that Jesus would return in the year 2000 – so several of the carols that we collaborated on, as well as a short poem that never made it into song form, had a bit of a millennial flavour,

This particular song, then called ‘Peace and Goodwill’, examined how, 2,000 years after the message of peace and goodwill came to earth in the shape of a child, there was still war and oppression. It ended with a call to action to bring that peace and the challenge ‘Could it begin with me and you?’

The original carol was performed two or three times in school carol services, before Mr Bradley retired and the choir went back to a more traditional repertoire.  A few years ago I tried to track down a copy in the hope of getting it arranged for a four-part choir – but to no avail and with more immediate concerns like work, money and parenting, I forgot all about the song.

Fast forward to November 2017, when I was figuring out how to admit – to myself, to my church, and to the world at large – that I wasn’t the straight cisgender woman I’d always assumed myself to be.  I’d tried coming out as a lesbian in 2011, and again in 2016 to a bigger audience, but the word never quite felt right to me.  After discovering the term ‘non-binary transgender’ (neither fully female nor fully male), I’d embraced it enthusiastically as my new label – at least to myself and a few close friends.  My conservative rural Baptist church was less than impressed with my declaration that I was a lesbian, coming out with some version of ‘well, gay sex is a sin so you’ll have to take a vow of lifelong chastity if you want to become a member’ – so I didn’t even try to go there with my newly discovered non-binary identity.  But then a friend of a friend introduced me to Inclusive Church, and I somehow found myself signing up for their free Faith Leaders’ Gathering in London.

At the gathering however I found myself freaking out with social anxiety and unable to say anything at all, other than my name (which I hated anyway).  I knew I couldn’t possibly fit in. My non-binary identity was difficult to explain, my theology felt much too ‘out there’ and heretical to be discussed in front of bona fide vicars, and I wasn’t even a proper faith leader.  Most people had a congregation of some sort, and wanted to talk about practical things like how to get them to participate in Pride marches:  I didn’t even lead a prayer group.  I couldn’t understand what I was meant to be doing there, or why the ‘calling’ to attend had felt so strong.

But then there was a labyrinth walk, and everything suddenly clicked into place.  After everyone had walked the labyrinth, the conversation took on a very different tone.  It wasn’t about the practicalities of Pride any more: it was a deep sense of love, commitment, and passion to do something that would make things better for the thousands of LGBT+ people hurt by the Church.  On the train home, I was inspired to write two brand new sets of inclusive Christian song lyrics.

That gathering was a new beginning for me, in amazing ways.  One of the other participants introduced me to a private Facebook group for LGBT+ Christians, in which I later met my wonderful fiancée.  After the group chats helped me accept that it isn’t ‘wrong’ or ‘sinful’ to dress in a masculine style and accept myself as non-female, I started describing myself as transmasculine – and eventually came to realise that I’m actually a transgender man.  Coming out as male, changing my name and switching to ‘he/him’ pronouns has helped me to feel much more comfortable and confident in myself, and to experience moments of joy that trans people refer to as ‘gender euphoria’ – that feeling of finally being seen for who you really are.  I’m now registered with the NHS Gender Identity Clinic in London, and hoping to have HRT and chest surgery in the future, although there’s still a long road ahead (the usual waiting time for a first appointment is 18-24 months).

Being in the group also inspired me to collect up all the Christian songs I’d written over time, both traditional ones and more controversial ones, and compile them into a book.  It was in the process of doing this that I remembered the carols I’d written as a teenager, and decided to update them for a post-millennial age; and after trying out some songs with a women’s group on the Isle of Wight and receiving the feedback that they were too difficult to learn, I came up with the idea of setting some of my lyrics to well-known hymn tunes.  I needed music that would be out of copyright, and of the old Victorian hymns, ‘Jerusalem’ has always been a favourite of mine.  And so ‘The Story That Matters Most’ was born, focusing not on war this time, but on the exclusivity and holier-than-thou attitude of so many churches – the ‘grief and fear still spread’ in Jesus’ name, especially among LGBT+ people!   I was sorry to miss the premiere because I was travelling overseas in December 2018, but I’m looking forward to hearing it sung in the future.

Emily and the Generations on the radio

Emily and the Generations may sound a little like a pop group, but today’s blog post title actually refers to an interview with Lesley Crawley on BBC Radio Surrey this morning (Sunday, Jan 13).

She was interviewed on the Sunday Breakfast show about our final push to raise money for Emily the organ – just £559 to go folks, come on, we can do it – but the interview spanned far more than just Emily, important and beloved as she is.

Interviewer Emily Jeffery talked to Lesley about how Emily the organ is a beloved part of the community and how her overhaul will allow us to use her again in worship, concerts and for children to learn on.

Then the interview broadened out to something that is also dear to our parish – the way we try to bring old and young and in between together.

Lesley spoke about the fact that local school children will be welcomed in to see the organ when it is being restored, how the table tennis club we run has become a ‘youth group for all ages’, the fact that we don’t send the children out of church for a separate Sunday school (“we are an inclusive church … and it seems wrong to send out part of our congregation”), the plans for opening St John’s up more to the community and bringing people together with a café, and other resources, perhaps even a nursery which could link in with a local care home.

To hear the interview click here and go to 2:38:52.

 

 

Picture by Will Francis. Unsplash.

 

Have your say on the future of St John’s

As St John’s Church turns 175 this year, we are launching a major improvement and fundraising project and want to know what facilities you would like the church to offer.

Residents and local organisations are invited to complete a short survey to help us learn more about what our community needs and how the church can better provide this.  It can be found by clicking here.

 

Beetle drive!

Join in the fun of a Beetle Drive, beginning at 6:30pm with fish and chips (bring your own drink), at St George’s Church, Badshot Lea, on Saturday, January 19.

Games start promptly at 7.15pm.

A Beetle Drive involves several tables with players, each of whom takes turns to roll a die to try to collect parts of a beetle, which are either pre-drawn or which players draw themselves. To start collecting each player must roll a six which represents the beetle’s body. After that they may start adding parts with each number on the die representing a part of the body. Once a player has a complete beetle they shout ‘beetle’ and the game stops. The person on each table with the most nearly complete beetle moves to a table clockwise round the room while the player who has collected the fewest parts moves anti-clockwise and the game begins again.

Tickets are £8 each and must be bought by Wednesday (January 16). To buy them, contact Carol Le Page 07798 640815.

Keep on moving

If you want to grow in your Christian faith, discover more about following Jesus and find out more about being a committed member of the church, then maybe it’s time for ‘Moving On’.

We are running a series of sessions at the Rectory between now and Easter considering some of the aspects of faith and how we live it out. Each session lasts roughly 90 minutes and involves watching a ‘Moving On’ video, followed by time to talk, listen and ask questions. The sessions are all on Thursday evenings at the Rectory starting at 7.30pm.

The first one is on January 17 when we will consider ‘What does it mean to be a disciple?’, followed by ‘What is the point of church?’ on January 31, and ‘Why do we do the things we do at church?’ on February 7. In subsequent weeks we will look at prayer, the Creed, the Holy Spirit, why bad things happen, giving, and putting God at the centre of our lives.

To find out more, contact Lesley on 01252 820537 or email revd.lesley@badshotleaandhale.org

 

moving on poster

Top image by Gaelle Marcel, Unsplash.

A Rainbow Epiphany

Everyone is invited to a Rainbow Epiphany Eucharist at St Mary’s Church, Quarry Street, Guildford, this Thursday (January 10).

The service, which begins at 7.30pm, will be an ecumenical Eucharist to celebrate and give thanks for the gifts and talents of and offered by the LGBTI+ community. Everyone is welcome, including friends and allies.

This is the second Rainbow Eucharist to be held at St Mary’s specifically to welcome and celebrate LGBTI+ people, and here in Badshot Lea and Hale we have been instrumental in setting up the series. On Thursday, Dave and Helena Walker, who worship at St Mark’s, will be leading an artistic element in the service with the help of Stella Wiseman who is on the Rainbow services steering group.

We are part of this, not just because the Rainbow services are uplifiting, celebratory and welcoming, but because of our commitment to inclusion. The parish belongs to Inclusive Church and seeks to include everyone whatever our economic status, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality.

The service will begin at 7.30pm and will end with refreshments, including rather good cake!

To find out more, email Stella Wiseman: news@badshotleaandhale.org, or contact Holy Trinity, Guildford:  office@holytrinityguildford.org or 01483 567716.

Picture: Enfolded by Gillaine Holland

‘Emily’ the Organ – one last push!

We are nearly there! ‘Emily,’ the pipe organ at St Mark’s Church, Upper Hale, is in need of a thorough overhaul – at 106 years old she is showing her age. We need £23,000 to mend her and we are almost there – just £559 to go!

The money has been raised by the generosity of local people, the hard work of fundraisers and those who have put on and taken part in events, as well as funds from grant-giving bodies. Some people have sponsored pipes, others have made donations at concerts, sung, produced art, recited poetry, made cakes, bought cakes, even constructed a model organ and pushed it round two carnivals! Thank you everyone for what you have done.

We are now appealing for the last little bit so that work can begin this year. One easy way is by sponsoring a pipe. Pipes can be sponsored anonymously or not, and if you sponsor a pipe you can dedicate it to a loved one. You will receive a certificate and the church will display all the names and notes that all the sponsors write on a ‘Sponsoring a Pipe’ manuscript. There will be a celebratory concert once ‘Emily’ has been restored to which all those who have sponsored a pipe will be invited.

Rev’d Lesley Crawley from St Mark’s said: “Emily is a beautiful Edwardian pipe organ which is over 100 years old. She is referred to as ‘Emily’ after her benefactor – Emily Mangles. Sadly, she has been used very rarely over the past six years because, after a century of service, she is in need of a complete overhaul. Once she is restored then she will be available for community events such as concerts, and children who are learning the organ will be able to practise on her once again.”

These are the recommended donations:

Choose your level            Donation

Stop                                           £100

16ft pipe                                   £60

8ft pipe                                     £30

4ft pipe                                     £15

If you would like to donate, please contact Lesley on
revd.lesley@badshotleaandhale.org

Mary, faith and holding on

When I was nine years old, I remember having a discussion with my friend, Cherry, at school about how babies were made. She thought boys had something to do with it. I asked my mum and dad about it after school that day and they sat me down in our dining room and told me the biological facts of human reproduction. I burst into tears. It was all a bit too much for me that day, even though, to this day, I remain grateful to my late parents for their courage, honesty and clarity in telling me the Facts of Life.

My mum, Jean, was told nothing at all on this subject by her parents. When she was nine years old and her younger sister, Margaret, was born, my mum looked in the dustbin for the eggshells from the eggs which she thought her mum must have laid when the baby was born!

After my parents’ honest chat with me, they gave me a Ladybird Book called The Human Body which contained the details they had explained to me (plus colour drawings!) and which also explained digestion, respiration etc. That book gave me a lifelong interest in how the human body works in sickness and in health.

Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, was probably only 14 or 15 years old when Jesus was conceived within her by divine, not human, means. Initially fearful and confused as to how this promised baby could possibly be created without the help of a man, Mary then demonstrates an impressively open-minded, trusting and humble faith in the fulfilment of God’s promises to send a Saviour, Jesus Christ, whose kingdom will have no end.

So, what does such a young girl as Mary do in this highly irregular, not to say potentially shameful situation, of being pregnant but not being married? Remember also that a standard human baby would have been enough of a worry, but her baby was nothing less than the Son of God.  A pretty tall order for one so young.

As many women have done before and since, Mary seeks female support and travels from the one-camel town which is Nazareth – it possibly only had around 150 inhabitants – for four days into the hill country of Judea to her much older relative (probably her cousin) Elizabeth who is six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Some scholars believe that Joseph may have accompanied Mary on this potentially dangerous and arduous trip at the start of a pregnancy which will also end with an arduous trip but that time to Bethlehem. We can only imagine the conversations between Zechariah, Elizabeth’s elderly husband and Joseph, if Joseph did go along to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home with Mary.

I wonder whether Mary was sure of the welcome she would receive from Elizabeth? Might Mary have feared criticism or rejection by Elizabeth? Perhaps, just perhaps, Mary was nervous about their meeting. I have no doubt that on her long journey, Mary would have prayed for a happy meeting. Her prayers are answered, if so, in spades.

As Luke describes it, what happens when Mary does eventually arrive at Elizabeth’s home is a wonderful scene, quite rare in the Bible, of a very pure, intimate, domestic demonstration of female bonding, unshakeable faith and mutual empowerment.  Though Mary’s pregnancy probably does not yet show physically, Elizabeth, wife of the Jewish priest, Zechariah, knows with eyes of faith that the child Mary carries within her is indeed Our Lord Jesus Christ.  John the Baptist, as an unborn baby, moves within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary greets Elizabeth. The Bible states that the unborn John ‘leapt for joy’, possibly a little bit of literary exaggeration but entirely appropriate for such a significant encounter with the divine Son of God.

Elizabeth calls Mary blessed because, she says, the fruit of Mary’s womb is ‘my Lord’ and because Mary believed that she would conceive and bear a Son even though Mary had absolutely no idea how it would happen.

No idea how it would happen……. Do you currently have no idea how you are going to get through a particularly testing time in your life?   Do you have no idea where money is going to come from? Do you have no idea how a personal disagreement or problem is going to be solved?  Do you feel up against it, muddled, confused, with no idea about something you simply do not understand?

Try singing your prayers, as Mary did in her beautiful, praiseful, worshipful, well-known song called The Magnificat.  Singing may relax you enough so that you can start to see God opening a door you did not see before. Keep an open mind and stay humble, believing, as Mary did, that nothing is impossible with God but do also, as she did, seek support and advice from other trustworthy sources. Dig deep within yourself to find the child-like faith Mary had in God who puts to flight proud hearts and stubborn wills, who feeds the hungry with good things and lifts up the lowly. Believe with all your heart, that, as we sing in the hymn Tell Out My Soul, God’s promise to each and every one of us, is firm and his mercy from age to age is sure and unchanging. He will bring us through every time of testing. Tears will last for a night, but joy will come in the morning.

From a sermon by Wendy Edwards, preached at St John’s on Sunday, December 22.

 

Picture: Waiting For The Word, Madonna – Mary & Jesus – artist Warner Sallman. Creative Commons.

Christmas – a story of hope and unity

This Christmas, come and join us at services at any of the three churches – St George’s in Badshot Lea, St John’s in Hale, St Mark’s in Upper Hale. For details of services, see here. For details of why you may want to, read on.

Human beings are natural storytellers.  It is something that defines us. We love stories, we define ourselves by our stories, in them we find identity. We even turn things that aren’t really stories into stories because everything needs a story for us to find it plausible; if there is no story then we don’t really register what we are hearing; lists of names or facts or equations generally bore us.

More than anything we need stories of hope and stories to unite us. These are the best stories and they are even better if we tell them from one generation to the next, including the children in the telling. I love the Jewish tradition of Passover, with the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs and the four glasses of wine representing hope, and the youngest child asks the question four times in different ways “Why is this night, of all nights, different?”

The story of Christmas is part of the greatest story ever told, and for me it is the most shocking part, that 2000 years ago a baby was born who united heaven and earth, united God and humankind, and this baby was born in humble circumstances. This baby was worshipped by angels in heaven, poor shepherds who lived locally, and rich magi who had travelled from afar. The baby gets a name “Emmanuel” which means “God with us”, and in that name is our hope and our unity, God is with us… Wow…

We remember this each year, we act it out at our crib services, we involve our children, so that we all know the story. We know that Herod was horrible, we know that there was no room at the inn, we know that Mary was a virgin (even if some of us don’t yet know that word means!) and that she travelled a long way on a donkey whilst heavily pregnant. During the rendition of this story some of the women who have given birth smile at the depictions of Mary’s labour, there are usually a few costume malfunctions, sometimes we struggle to find a Joseph (understandable really), and we all sing carols. The story doesn’t get old or tired.

We also remember this story each year at the “First mass of Christmas” – Midnight Mass – when the church is lit with candles and the organ plays the carols we know so well. Everything is more magical at night time, we wait up past our bedtimes with expectation and with joy, joining together as a rather disparate community, all with one intention, to see in this special day where we celebrate the birth of our Saviour. There are some who come to church only once a year to this service, there are some who have come from afar who are staying with friends or relatives, there are some who have just come from the pub; last year we had some who were Muslims and who had never been to a service in their lives before, and there are some who are regulars at that church. This is the magic of Christmas – the ability for this story to bring us all together in hope.

I love the poem “Christmas” by John Betjeman that we hear each year at the carol service at St John’s. It ends with a question:

And is it true,

This most tremendous tale of all,

Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,

A Baby in an ox’s stall?

The Maker of the stars and sea

Become a Child on earth for me?

 

And is it true? For if it is,

No loving fingers tying strings

Around those tissued fripperies,

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant,

 

No love that in a family dwells,

No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare –

That God was man in Palestine

And lives today in Bread and Wine.

 

And is it true? Why is this night of all nights different?

I pray that your Christmas will be joyful and give you hope, I pray that you will find unity and community in your travels this Christmastide and I pray that this will bless you throughout 2019.

Lesley Crawley