All posts by stellawiseman

A farewell to John and Sue Innes

At the beginning of this month we said a sad but hugely affectionate goodbye to John and Sue Innes who have moved to Somerset for what John calls “the next stage of retirement”.

John and Sue retired to the parish in 1997 though in truth they had had their house on the Upper Hale Road since the 1970s and had also spent a year as interim priest-in-charge of St George’s, Badshot Lea. Since then they have both continued to be active in the parish in so many ways, from organising distribution of the church magazine, to baking cakes, to preaching and presiding at services. John preached his last sermon for the parish on August 30 (https://badshotleaandhale.org/2020/08/30/sunday-worship-30th-august/). 

This ‘next stage of retirement’ comes after 64 years of John’s ordained ministry. Brought up in the Scottish Episcopalian Church – the family lived for many years in St Andrew’s where his father was a university lecturer – John was ordained a deacon in 1956 after studying theology in Cambridge, and a priest the following year. He has spent his ministry in the south-east, in London first, then Walton on Thames, at Moor Park College where he was chaplain, at St George’s, Badshot Lea, and in Tilford, while also teaching at Farnham Grammar School. Since retiring from the school in 1996 and Tilford in 1997, he has ministered in Hale and in Badshot Lea.

But this is not the half of it. A huge part of John’s ministry was behind the Iron Curtain in the then Soviet Union, and then, when his visa was denied, in other parts of Easter Europe including Poland and what was Czechoslovakia. In fact he was in Prague when Soviet tanks rolled in to crush the ‘Prague Spring’ rebellion in 1968. “There was an extraordinary feeling in the air,” he recalls. “You felt you could throw yourself in front of a tank.”

John’s interest in Eastern Europe and in Eastern Orthodox faith was sparked as a school boy when an art teacher showed the class on a screen some examples of Christian iconography. John was hooked and began looking into the spiritual teaching of icons.

He learned Russian at Marlborough College, taught by a World War One veteran who had picked it up when on minesweepers in the White Sea, but he went on to study history at Oxford University. However, he picked up Russian again while doing his national service in the Tank Corps in the early 1950s, as he was able to take Army evening classes in the language. But it was at Oxford that he began a life-long association with the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, an Anglican-Orthodox fellowship in which the Orthodox members were mostly Russian refugees. “They were highly academic,” he says, “and some of them were probably pushed out of the country by Lenin. They were in one sense the lucky ones as he killed many.”

The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius has been responsible for continuing dialogue between the Orthodox and Anglican churches and has also played a part in bringing Roman Catholics and Orthodox believers together. “It creates a space in which discussion and argument is possible,” says John. “Political tensions don’t upset the relationships and it has a continuing influence today.”

This part of John’s life has been vital to him and has run alongside his calling to ordained ministry. In fact, he has realised that his vocation was “to be a servant of God, not necessarily to be a priest in the Church of England.”.

A series of promptings pushed him in the direction of ordination. ”My company commander [during National Service] and my mother and one of the lecturers at university all said ‘have you thought of the ministry?’. He pursued the interest and enrolled at theological college in Cambridge in 1954. While here he was introduced to another dimension of understanding faith, not thanks to his studies so much as to a Billy Graham crusade. Here he heard the message that ‘what matters before God the Father is not what you have done but what Christ has done’. “It was something to do with pride and as with St Paul, this has remained a perpetual battle,” he reflects.

Though a parish priest he was able to visit Russia – “because I saw my vocation as being to be a servant of God, I never saw any tension between my work in Russia and Eastern Europe and my parish work” – and in 1960 had what he describes as a “life-changing” experience while travelling there. “I had some Bible commentaries to take to a monastery in Russia. I arrived there and went to the office where I said ‘I have gifts for you’. The monk smiled at me and said ‘for the library?’. I said yes and started to take them from my bag and pile them up on the table – there were about 40 of them – and the monk said nothing the whole time. When I had finished he said ‘would you like to see the monastery?’. It was when we were on our own he suddenly said ‘now we can talk. It is not wise to talk where there are more than two people’. It was a complete culture shock for me.”

He wasn’t exactly doing anything illegal during his visits behind the Iron Curtain but he did collect information about what church buildings were in use for services and he would then feed information back to Keston College at Oxford (which studied faith and communist countries) and to other mission organisations, and then tourists were able to go to the countries and take Bibles to those churches. He published a little handbook of open churches in Leningrad (St Petersburg) and Moscow, and it was probably his knowledge of these churches which led to him being denied a visa in 1976. “I was with a school group and had a sketch on me of a town with the churches on it and a border guard saw it. He was very courteous and shrewd but the next time I applied for a visa it was denied. I didn’t blame them.”

During his decade or so of visiting the Soviet Union John saw a lot of the country. “I belonged to the Pushkin Club in London which was made up mostly of elderly Russian refugees and their offspring. They arranged a bus tour staying in campsites in the 1960s. It was very primitive – especially the toilets – but we had our tents on Russian campsites alongside the Russians and we had our own guides. People could slip away if they wanted. Later on, tourists were kept isolated from most Russians.

“But we could talk to the ordinary people and I particularly remember a group of students who said ‘tell us about your country. We want to hear from you, not what we read in the papers’. It was a world of contrasts.”

When he was denied his visa, John switched his attention to other parts of Eastern Europe, including Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, a place he had visited the previous decade during the Prague Spring. “I was in Prague with a group from France, sharing a room with a wise old Jesuit who was a wonderful support and encouragement.” Meanwhile at home Sue was patiently waiting and did not welcome a phone call from a friend on the day when the tanks rolled in telling her to watch the news about Prague as “I think John is there”.

Alongside this John was chaplain at Moor Park College, Farnham, from 1967-76, a non-stipendiary post which he funded by part-time teaching at Farnham Grammar School, during which time he finally got round to taking a Russian A-level. He also filled a vacancy at St George’s before being appointed Priest-in-Charge at Tilford. It was in the 1970s that he and Sue acquired the house on the Upper Hale Road which they vacated last weekend.

John’s faith has been deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy as well as Anglicanism, Scottish Episcopalianism, and Presbyterianism. “I was brought up in the Episcopalian Church and sometimes on holiday we would go to the Church of Scotland. I enjoyed the scholarly and challenging sermons. It forced me to develop my intellect in a spiritual way, something that is often lacking in England. The Orthodox Church introduced me to a mystical theology and showed me that there is a link between prayer and theology. Theology has often been seen as an intellectual pursuit but you can’t divide doctrine from devotion.”

John has continued both intellectual pursuits, pastoral work and prayer throughout his time serving this parish in his retirement and will no doubt continue to do so in his new home in Wiltshire. His lively mind, gentleness, curiosity, friendship, enthusiasm, wide knowledge, faith and prayerfulness have given so much to the parish. John is fond of quoting one of the early church fathers who said: “He is a good theologian who prays truly”.  He may not appreciate how much we see this lived out in him.

The Tuesday before they left Alan Crawley presented him with a gift from the parish, a book which John described as a foundation classic on the study of icons: The Meaning of Icons by Vladimir Lossky, Leonid Ouspensky. Alan said: “Thank you so much for all you have done for the parish. There are so many things that I know both of you have done – the pastoral visiting, the magazine, the church cleaning, the sermons, the groups, and I suspect I don’t know the half of it. From Lesley’s and my point of view, we value all of those but the thing we value the most is the support you have given us over all that time.”

Goodbye John and Sue – we will miss you, but we wish you every blessing in your next stage of retirement.

Politics and Faith meet in Season of Creation

Politics and faith meet in the parish this month as we celebrate the Season of Creation, with contributions from local MP Jeremy Hunt; Cllr Penny Marriott, Mayor of Waverley; Rt Rev’d Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford; and, for Harvest Festival on October 4, the Mayor of Farnham, Cllr Pat Evans.

The Season of Creation is an international, ecumenical season which runs from September 1-October 4 each year. During this time people are encouraged to focus on prayer and action to protect the planet, and we are joining in with services in the churches and here online each Sunday. The online services will feature guest contributors including the Bishop of Guildford who will preach this Sunday, September 6, on what is known as Climate Sunday, when the focus will be on the challenge of climate change. He will be joined by Cllr Penny Marriott, who will give a Bible reading and Jeremy Hunt, MP, who will read a prayer known as the Collect.

Other guests over the next few weeks include Ruth Valerio, environmentalist, theologian, social activist and author, who launched the Eco Church scheme; Ben Niblett, campaigner on poverty, injustice, climate change and fair trade who works for the Christian charity Tearfund; and the Mayor of Farnham, Cllr Pat Evans, who is passionate about local community issues.

The Season of Creation will challenge everyone to do something to help tackle the environmental crisis that is threatening the Earth. Lesley Crawley comments: “The Season of Creation helps us focus on the world we live in and our duty to care for the environment. The way we are living is causing damage to the planet and all that lives on it – humans, other animals, plants, all living things – and we are calling on everyone to take action in whatever way we all can to stop the damage and begin restoration of our world. We would like everyone to make a pledge, however small, to do something positive, whether it is walking rather than driving where possible, cutting down on the amount of meat we are eating, looking at how our clothes are manufactured and how many we buy and then throw out.

 “Please join us in person at our churches or online where we will be thinking about what we can do in the Season of Creation and long term. We are delighted that the Bishop of Guildford, the Mayor of Waverley Penny Marriott, Farnham’s mayor Pat Evans, and our local MP Jeremy Hunt are among those contributing to our online services and we continue to call for action from all areas of society.”

Everyone is welcome in the churches which have had Covid-19 precautions put in place.

Baptisms are back!

Families are returning to church for baptisms in the parish after months of delay thanks to Covid-19. The first baptism in the parish took place on Sunday, August 23, when little Archie Higginson (pictured with his parents above) was baptized at St John’s, and this is being followed this month by the baptism of two sisters, one of whom was born in lockdown, and a further one booked for October.

The baptisms all take place in the main Sunday services and there are strict rules on hygiene, social distancing and wearing masks but this didn’t detract from one-year-old Archie’s baptism. “It all went well,” said Archie’s mother Nola. “It was a bit strange wearing face masks but it felt like a proper baptism and we felt welcomed into the church.” She also sought to allay other families’ fears about not being able to invite family and friends to the service. “We were able to invite everyone we wanted to and Archie enjoyed it too. I thought he’d wriggle more as he doesn’t like being still but he was fine.”

On September 27 we will welcome little Isabella and Eden Argenti. Two-year-old Isabella was to have been baptized in May but now her baby sister Eden, who was born in June, will be baptized at the same time. Isabella and Eden’s mother Rose, who is one of the regular readers in our online all-age service, said: “We were so happy to hear when the churches were able to reopen, and after welcoming our second daughter during lockdown, we are very much looking forward to having both our girls now baptized together at St John’s this month and welcoming them into the church.”

Lesley Crawley baptized Archie and will baptize the sisters. She said: “We are so pleased to be able to hold baptisms in the services again. Obviously, there are differences because of Covid restrictions but these don’t detract from what is a very special and joyous occasion of welcoming someone into the church and beginning their new life as part of the Christian community.”

Adults as well as children can be baptized and baptisms take place in the main service as baptism symbolises the entry of a person into the life and family of the church. The services all have anti-Covid measures put in place.

To enquire about baptisms, please contact Stella Wiseman on 07842761919.

Pictured top are Nola and Matthew Higginson with Archie.

Children welcome in church

We would love to welcome children back to church now that we have started services in the buildings again.

There is plenty of space in the churches and there are places for families to sit in their ‘bubbles’. Please, though, bring your own toys, books, colouring books, colours, snacks and drinks etc, and we ask that you don’t share between families.

There is a relatively formal service at St John’s at 9.30am, an informal service at St George’s at 10am and a very informal service at St Mark’s at 11am.

Please join us.

Picture by Dawn Hudson

Safer recruitment

Lesley and Alan recently undertook some safeguarding training, and were reminded that the reason that the church sometimes does things differently is because most organisations can safeguard by exclusion – if they think that someone might be a risk they exclude them.  The church is inclusive and welcomes all. However, the impact of this is that we need different procedures to other organisations. 

The training was about Safer Recruitment, and one of the facts we were given was that other voluntary groups are getting better at this, and if the church doesn’t also do so we will become the most likely place for malevolent people to seek to infiltrate their way in.

All people helping with church activities which involve children or vulnerable adults should be “safely recruited”.  We have a large number of people who have taken on roles over many years without this.  It is within the PCCs authority to accept all those currently in role and implement this for those going forwards.

Safe recruitment says that for those roles which involve children or vulnerable adults:

A role description should be written;
The role should be advertised (not essential for volunteer roles);
An interview (which could be an informal chat for volunteer roles);
References should be taken;
There should be an ongoing oversight role;
A confidential declaration should be completed;
A review should determine whether a DBS is required.

If you would like to know more, please contact Alan.

Picture by  Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

The Irrepressible spirit alive in Church

This is you, Jesus. This is us. This is you and us together, the Body of Christ. You Jesus, here with us and in us, your church.

That is the sense I had today (Sunday, 2nd) back in the building for a service which was both different and yet irrepressibly the same, filled with the spirit of a group of people together turning to God, opening themselves up to God, and so letting God’s Holy Spirit in.

Jesus was recognised by his followers as the Christ, which means the anointed one, anointed with God’s Spirit. It flowed through him in his time on earth, spilling out of him and into others. That same Spirit meant that his death was not the end and it filled the early Christians; that same Holy Spirit hasn’t gone away. It/she/he, however you like to define the indefinable, means that we are not alone, that anything is possible.

We don’t understand everything, or even very much; we are in the dark a lot of the time; we grasp at and express our faith in different ways; we fall out; we are all shapes, sizes, personalities, backgrounds, traits, nationalities, skin shades, loves. We have strong feelings and opinions and aren’t always careful of each other. We don’t know what the future brings. But today, back in church I knew that we are the Body of Christ here on earth now, filled with that Spirit.

Jesus Christ, this is you, this is us. This is you and us together, the Body of Christ. You Jesus here with us and in us, your church.

Stella Wiseman

Pictured: Christ the Redeemer, picture by Mourad Saadi on Unsplash.

A new and joyful way to read the Bible

Have you ever wanted to read more of the Bible but feel a little daunted? Do you want some fresh insights? Would you like Bible-reading to be…. wait for it…. fun and full of joy?

All of this is possible with the Bible Book Club which meets on Zoom every Wednesday at 7.30pm. Each week we read a book of the Bible – or shortened highlights if we don’t have time for the whole, long book, then talk about it, using questions posed by the Bible Society. The questions give us a vague structure but we often go off on interesting tangents – though I still can’t remember how we ended up talking about husky dog sledding.

We discuss a lot, we learn a lot and we laugh a lot. In fact, Wednesday evenings are now a highlight of my week and I have a pretty busy and interesting life.

Next Wednesday (5th), we will be talking about Proverbs. If you want to know more about the course, click here.

Please join us. Contact me (Stella) for details of the Zoom meeting.

Celebrate Pride and God’s Love

Join us to celebrate Pride on Saturday, August 8, here online from 10am.

August 8 should have been marked by a Surrey Pride march and celebrations on the street but these had to be cancelled because of Covid-19. However, we are celebrating the LGBTI+ community and God’s wonderful, inclusive love with an online service.

There will be music, art, photography, prayers, poetry, Bible readings and reflections from individuals including a former curate of St George’s whom some of you may remember – Rev’d Paul Holt – along with Sara Gillingham, a leading intersex campaigner and great friend of the parish; Jayne Ozanne who runs the Ozanne Foundation which works with religious organisations to eliminate discrimination based on sexuality or gender; and Dr Ash Brockwell, a transgender man and educator who has contributed both a poem and hymn to the service.

There is a moving reflection on growing up as a gay man from James Muller, a Farnham photographer whose work features regularly in Vogue Italia, and who has kindly contributed many of his beautiful photographs; there is art from local people, including paintings by members of Farnham Heath End School’s LGBT+ group, and stones painted with rainbow messages to indicate God’s love for everyone.

Stella Wiseman, who leads inclusion work in the parish, explains the thinking behind the service: “The church as a whole doesn’t have a great track record in welcoming people who do not fit into a heterosexual, cis-gender box, and indeed has caused great harm to many LGBTI+ people. This is something we need to repent of and make amends for. We have no right to limit God’s love and welcome like this and to damage and destroy people in the name of God is appalling.

“Thankfully, things are changing and many churches, such as those in this parish, are more welcoming and inclusive now. Some of us would have been walking under the Christians at Pride banner in Woking on August 8th but Covid-19 has put paid to that. So instead we are organizing this lovely, colourful service online and we are delighted that members of the local church are taking part along with friends from other churches. We are really grateful to them for giving up their time to share with us their experience of God’s love and welcome and grateful too for the art, photography and music.

“Pride in Surrey is taking a Pride-themed vehicle around the county that weekend too and will be live-streaming and the parish has just been asked to send a contribution to the online Pride. The Pride vehicle will be making its way to Farnham on Sunday 9th at 10am so watch out for that too. You can find out more on prideinsurrey.org/ontheroad.”

Everyone is invited to join the service online here on Saturday, August 8 , from 10am and on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/badshotleaandhale

Have your say on Farnham’s future

What do you want for Farnham? Have your voice heard! Sign up for the launch of the Farnham Local Liaison Forum which will be held on Zoom next Wednesday evening (August 5) from 6-8pm to discuss plans for spending £250m on infrastructure in the town.

In the first hour of the forum you will hear from local MP Jeremy Hunt; Cllr Tim Oliver, Leader of Surrey County Council; and representatives from Waverley Borough Council (Cllr John Ward) and FarnhamTown Council (Cllr John Neale). They will lay out the objectives for the town. The second hour will be a chance to ask questions about plans for how the money will be spent.

There will be further consultations later this year, with members of the public taking part more directly in the discussions. There will also be opportunities for people who are not online to participate.

To find out more or book to take part, visit www.farnham.gov.uk/LLF

Churches reopen for services

Come on in! We are excited to announce that our churches will be open again for services this Sunday, after more than four months of being closed thanks to Covid-19.

There will be simple Communion services at each of the three churches from this Sunday: St John’s at 9.30am, St George’s at 10am and St Mark’s at 11am. We will also hold a service at noon on Wednesday at St Mark’s, replacing the old Friday service.

We are also going to continue to offer online services as we know that not everyone will feel able to come to the church buildings themselves. You can find our online services here.

If you are familiar with the services you will notice some differences, as Lesley Crawley explains: “We are absolutely delighted that we can return to the church buildings to worship together in person. However there will be changes to the services designed to reduce the risk of Covid-19.  For instance we cannot have any singing, we cannot sit close to each other and we cannot share the Communion cup of wine. We will, however, be able to receive the Communion bread. Please come along and be a part of our services if you are able to, everyone is welcome.”

We have installed hand sanitizers and put up notices to remind everyone about social distancing and where it is safe to sit. Everyone attending will be asked for contact details so that if someone tests positive for Covid-19 it will be possible to get in touch with others who attended church at the same time. Those coming to church are strongly advised to wear masks but this is not compulsory.

There will be services available online from 9am on Sunday. “Holding services online means that more people can access them,” says Lesley. “Some people may feel particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 and therefore not want to come to church, and there are also others who cannot come to church perhaps because of mobility issues or illness, or because of work or family commitments. We should have thought about online services long ago but Covid concentrated our minds rather and has enabled us to be creative and reach more people.”

We are also very aware that the Covid pandemic has accentuated the divide between those who have access to modern technology and those who do not. Many of those who are not online are also older and have been increasingly isolated during lockdown. The parish, along with other groups in Farnham, has been supporting those who are isolated and is looking at how to increase this support in the future.