Category Archives: sermon

175th birthday service at St John’s

A bishop, a mayor, an archdeacon and clergy and church members old and new joined the celebratory service for the 175th birthday of St John’s on Sunday, November 24.

St John’s was consecrated in November 1844 and the service on Sunday – which was led by the Bishop of Guildford and attended by the Mayor of Farnham, Cllr Pat Evans – marked the climax of several months of birthday celebrations which have included a flower festival, an arts and crafts festival, talks, concerts, a lot of reminiscing and, of course, cake.

St John’s was also delighted to welcome the Archdeacon of Surrey – the Venerable Paul Davies – as deacon, and former St John’s clergy the Rev’ds Paul Smith and Jennifer Paterson. Paul Smith led the intercessions while Jennifer read the New Testament lesson – Acts 2:37-47 which shows the church in action 2,000 years ago, sharing the same gospel of Jesus Christ that is shared today.

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Rev’d Andrew Watson, preached at the service about the many changes that had gone on in the past 175 years, including the fact that traffic on Castle Street could sometimes be slower now than it was when local resident and inventor John Henry Knight was the first man fined for speeding in a car – in 1895, travelling at nine miles per hour. The Bishop also spoke about the future and the sense he had of God’s plans for the church in Hale.

There are plans underway to use St John’s not just for services but as a hub, responding to needs in the community. Rev’d Lesley Crawley is working on a long-term project to develop the church and has been talking to local residents, groups, charities, schools, businesses and other organisations, to discover what is most needed in the area. She said: “Our 175th birthday has been a wonderful reason to celebrate this beautiful church and we have loved welcoming friends old and new to St John’s. It has also been an opportunity to focus our minds on the future and what we believe God is calling us to do here in Hale. I am very excited as I look forward to seeing the church grow and develop. Here’s to the next 175 years!”

Afterwards there were snacks and Prosecco and the Bishop and Lesley Crawley cut the birthday cake made by parishioner and member of the choir June Jasper.

There is a communion service at St John’s every Sunday at 9.30am, and on the first and third Sunday there is also a ‘Taizé service at 6pm, using liturgy featuring prayer chants and silence and based on the Taizé monastic community in France.

This Christmas there will also be a carol service on Sunday, December 15 at 4pm; a ‘Longest Night’ service – for people who find Christmas difficult – on Wednesday, December 18, at 7.30pm; a Crib Service on December 24 at 3pm; Midnight Mass on December 24 at 11pm; and a Christmas Day service at 9.30am. St John’s will also be the meeting point for the Christmas event, ‘a Journey to Bethlehem’, on Friday, December 20, when two groups will walk to the church from Badshot Lea and from Upper Hale and arrive for a short service attended by the Mayor.

Division and peacemaking

A sermon preached at St Mark’s on August 18 on the text Luke 12: 49-56.

The text from the Gospel today is a tough one. It is about Jesus saying he came to bring division to the world. (You can read it here). I gather that far more learned people than I am have decided today to preach on one of the other readings in the lectionary but at St Mark’s we don’t read these, so I have to deal with the Gospel.

Mind you, the other readings (Isaiah 5: 1-7; Hebrews 11: 29-12: 2) aren’t that easy, because they talk of some of the less pleasant things God is portrayed as doing – eg drowning the Egyptians – and this is something that we have to deal with.

And here in this passage, what is going on? Is Jesus talking about his death, about the end times, about strife within the community? Fire is something that is used in the Bible to purify and is painful and associated with a vengeful God.

And what about saying that he had come to bring division? I thought he was the Prince of Peace. After all he said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’.

Or was he talking about what inevitably happened because of the radical, anti-establishment nature of the Gospel? Jesus was a divisive character then and continues to be. Those following him at the time would have been seen as radicals and no doubt this divided families, as it still does in some places. And a gospel which said that the outcast was worthy, that the poor should inherit the earth – was this upturning of values the fire he was talking about? It was obviously going to divide people.

And if Jesus inevitably divides people, what are we meant to do about it? Do we just say, oh, that is OK, Jesus said there would be division so I am right to be divided against my friend, neighbour etc? That seems like a lazy, literal interpretation of the text.

I’ve been reading various interpretations of the text and they have been useful but also exposed something at the root of why we have the problem of division –  ie there are lots of interpretations and I, like most of us, have leaned generally towards the ones I agree with and have discounted the others. That interpretation suits me, that one doesn’t so I will go with the first and not the second. Or I can’t fit that one into my narrative so I will ignore it. It doesn’t fit with the conclusions I have already reached.

The issue of my liking some interpretations and not others, the issue of not even considering some interpretations, is fundamental to the issue of division which he talks about and is horribly resonant with society today. I don’t know when there was last such a divided country. The same goes for America. And as I look at people who support opposite views to mine I find myself thinking – how could you? How can you be so: ignorant, selfish, blind etc etc? And they no doubt look at me and say much the same. That sort of attitude and division is not going to bring healing to the world.

Think for a moment about something you are convinced you are right about. What do you feel about the people who disagree with you?

The same goes for church. This was really underlined recently for me when I went to the first Surrey Pride and spent some of my time arguing against a group of men and women from an organisation whose main aim appears to be to challenge LGBTI+ people, and persuade them to turn away from their sexual identities. I believe passionately in a God who accepts people just as they are. This group were made to leave the Pride event – one of the ambulance staff there said that one young person had had a panic attack after they had spoken to this group – but stood outside to talk to people there with the police keeping a watchful eye. The police were fantastic and stood close while I spoke, ready to intervene if they were concerned for anyone’s safety.

Neither the group nor I was going to persuade or even listen to the other. We both knew we were right. But where did that leave us? Probably both sides feeling self-righteous and cross.

So what do we do about these divisions?

My personal response to division has usually been to try to pour oil on troubled water, try to keep everyone happy. Division is bad, right? OK I didn’t try that at Pride but that was unusual. Usually I have tried to be a peacekeeper.

But maybe peacekeeping isn’t the way forward. If we just try to keep the peace then we are less likely to deal with the issues that are causing the division in the first place. We will ignore those issues and they will fester and cause greater issues and greater divisions. Maybe that is one of the things we have been doing in this country which has led to such division now. If one lot of people have felt left behind and another happy with the status quo, maybe that was inevitably going to lead to the divisions we have over Brexit, or inevitably going to lead to Donald Trump.

I think there has been another factor which has been at play here too, encouraging the rise of the right wing, something which has exacerbated the divisions. As a more liberal society has emerged there has been a push back by those whose position and power is threatened – chiefly the mainly white patriarchy.

So we have divisions and if peacekeeping isn’t the way to solve them, what is? Maybe looking at what causes division would help us grow and change for the better. Maybe this is one of the things Jesus meant when he talked about division and about reading the signs. He was saying that there will be division because his way is challenging to the status quo, challenging to the powerful, challenging to the haves, and it is right that it is challenging and divisive, because if it isn’t society will never grow and change and follow his way.

So maybe we shouldn’t be peacekeepers but something more proactive – peacemakers. Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ not blessed are the peacekeepers. Peacemakers are those who look at both sides, see both sides as having rights and responsibilities, offer both sides a way forward. Peacemakers at their best are those who try to look at the world through the eyes of both sides.

But, says the follower of Jesus, my side is obviously right. I am obviously right. My understanding of what Jesus wants is obviously right.

How do we know our interpretation is right? Maybe a little humility would be good here, and maybe a little bit of trying to listen, to each other and to God. I have become more and more convinced that prayer is a way forward (even though I am not good at practising what I preach!). If we pray, try to listen to God as well as each other, then maybe we will change within. Maybe that is the fire that Jesus meant – a fire within us which changes us.

Stella Wiseman

Picture by Sunyu.


Lord, teach us to pray

A sermon by Lesley Shatwell on the Lord’s Prayer

The disciples said: “Lord, teach us to pray”.

And then Jesus replied by giving us what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s something which everyone used to learn when they were little – at least that was so back in the 1950s/60s when I was little, but I guess things have moved on since then …

I rather feel that it’s not just me falling behind the times though, because whilst the Lord’s Prayer is the most beloved prayer, well known and well used by Christians every day, I think the words themselves may be concealing some things.

Let me say from the outset that it is completely, totally NOT my intention to question the words of Jesus. These are merely thoughts I have which I hope may encourage you to think prayerfully for yourselves.

Take “Our father” for example.  It seems to me that’s a shorthand for “our mother, our beloved parent who created us, who sees us and knows us better than we know ourselves and who loves us come what may”. Often people have difficulty in thinking about God as father.  It could be for any number of reasons, but we are addressing God here, the God who created us, who is without gender.  Ageless, timeless, and without limit.

And yet, by using the word “Father”, Jesus invites us to have a personal relationship with our God, creator of all things.

We are invited to count ourselves into God’s family.

Our father …

At this point, maybe we had better take a moment to acknowledge the holiness of the Lord’s name.

We come into the holy presence of God.

As Moses was reminded when he approached the burning bush through which God was speaking to him, “Take off your sandals, you are on holy ground.”  Hallowed be your name.

We are allowed to call God “father” but God is holy and we are humble before him.  Let’s not forget the priorities here.

Talking about priorities, “your will be done”.

Yes, that’s your will, Lord, not mine.  Because if I’m honest, you have a much better grasp of things than me.  For instance, I struggle to share all I have generously with your whole creation.  I take too much for granted, I want too much for myself and my loved ones.  I’m inclined to get annoyed and upset if you don’t play your part in my plans to make everything happen the way I want it.  And yes, that hurts.

But I wonder, whilst you are at work on me Lord, it would be useful if I could remember that what I want is not always the most important thing from your point of view.  Help me to be gracious and accepting of your will.  I know ultimately it never works if I try to force you to fall into line with me.  If I make the wrong decisions, gently bring me back to your ways.

Your kingdom come – and please hurry up.  We are in dire need of heaven here on earth right now.  We as humans have made such a mess of so many things.  When your kingdom comes all will be realigned to your ways and I can’t wait.

But in the meantime, we need daily bread now.  Yes, that’s food and clean water, shelter, and safety – everything our bodies need.  But also give us each day our spiritual food.  Help us to grow in wisdom and your grace.

Forgive us our sins.  Oh my goodness, if there was ever someone needing forgiveness, it’s me Lord.  Even when I try to do my best, I fall short.  And I do try, but it is so disheartening when things don’t work out the way you would wish.

I’m inclined to try and hide my shortcomings.  I hide them so well, sometimes it’s difficult to admit I have any, least of all if I call them “sins.” I don’t sin, I’ve been really good just lately … who am I kidding? Yes Lord, I acknowledge that I am less than the perfect human.

I am work in progress, I keep trying and in the meantime I would be grateful if you could forgive my past slip-ups and let me have the freedom to make a clean start.

It hurts when I’m annoyed with someone, when I believe someone is deliberately trying to upset me. Or even if the person upsets me without them knowing it. Lord, give me the grace to forgive everyone who has ever harmed or upset me or my family or my loved ones. Again, I need the freedom which is in your gift, so that I can move on to reconciliation.

Lord, help us through the evil which surrounds us.  Keep us true to you when we seem to be surrounded by darkness and terror.  We are living through uncertain times now.

Circle us with your love and let us know you are with us come thick or thin.  Be with all who suffer, let everyone know that you deliver us from evil.

And Lord, I know I’m asking a lot – but please be aware that I will carry on asking. I’m not going to give up calling on you because I know that you never give up on me. Let me not be too upset if you don’t grant my prayers in the way I ask. You have a far more complete picture than I do, help me to trust your kind and loving judgement of me.

All that said, I do have confidence that if I ask for anything which is good and right in your sight, then my prayer will be answered, in your own time and your own way – for which I thank you.

I know that if I knock persistently on your door you will open it to me.

If I persistently search for you, I will find you.

For you give me your Holy Spirit, so I need never search alone.


Luke 11.1-13 – Lord’s Prayer: St Mark’s. 28 July 2019.


Image by Beki Blade,  used in Thy Kingdom Come 2016 exhibition.


Repent and flourish

A couple of Sundays ago, Lesley Shatwell preached at St Mark’s on repentance and what it means.

The  Gospel reading that day was from Luke, chapter 13, v 1-9. You can read the whole extract here but, basically, Jesus says: “unless you repent, you will all perish”. He then told the parable of the barren fig tree which was given a reprieve.

This is what Lesley had to say about this uncompromising message:

When I first read the reading, I couldn’t quite make sense of what was happening.  I had to read through a few times.  It starts when Jesus has been told about an atrocity which Pilate has committed.  He slaughtered some Jews when they were offering sacrifices to God.  My goodness, that has strong resonance for us today doesn’t it?  Muslims being gunned down when they were at prayer in New Zealand.  Perhaps Jesus overheard people trying to make their own kind of sense to a barbaric act because he tells us that those who died were no more sinners than anyone else.  They weren’t slaughtered because of their sin.

But then there’s his comment, “unless you repent, you will all perish as they did”.  That’s worrying, it doesn’t seem to make sense does it?  And it’s frightening.  On the one hand, people died in a horrible atrocity and they no more deserved it than anyone else does.  They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But on the other hand, that could be our fate unless we repent.  Can repentance really ensure that we will avoid perishing, even in random acts of terror?

Same goes for the disaster when the tower of Siloam collapsed and killed 18 people.  A “natural” disaster, no one’s deliberate fault.  And “unless you repent, you will all perish as they did”.  Those people who died weren’t extra wicked sinners, they were just like you and me.  Oh Jesus, help me, I don’t even know how to repent?  What is repentance?

OK, time out!  Let’s press the pause button before we all disappear into the fiery furnaces of hell.

What does “perish” mean?  That’s straightforward at least, isn’t it?  It means “die”.  We are human, we do all die eventually.  We don’t know when, but it comes to all of us.  Some might have an untimely death, some may slip away peacefully after a long and happy life.  So I don’t think Jesus is saying, “repent and you will have a human life here on earth for ever”.  There’s something else going on.  Hum.  One of the reasons why people were flocking to be baptised by John the Baptist was because they thought the end of the world was imminent.  And tomorrow could be the last day.  It tends to focus the mind: better get ready quick before it’s too late.

But equally, who knows exactly what Jesus meant?  He might have been talking about perishing to this world so that we might rise to glory in the next.  I’m afraid you will have to consider that for yourselves because we could be here till Christmas with this sermon if I start tackling the idea of everlasting life with God in heaven.

Right, I’m ready to press the “play” button again.  Repent!  Repent!  Yes all right!

Repent or else fire and brimstone, perishing in eternal hell.  Yes, but how?

What is repentance?

Repentance is the translation of the Greek word “metanoia”, which means “a change of mind”.

Oh, so it’s that easy?  I just have to change my mind?  It can’t be so hard – particularly if I will avoid eternal damnation.  But you have to mean it.

Change your mind and do something to show that you have truly changed your mind.

Change your mind and turn to Jesus – now there’s an invitation.  Yes, an invitation, not a threat.  Change your mind and turn to Jesus.

What if all those things which have been holding me back, all those things which stop me from being truly me, all those things which I am ashamed of in my life, which worry me, which upset me … what if all that rubbish in my life perished?

Now: imagine, for a moment, you are living a reasonably contented life.  Things are ok, you get by most days.  There are some good things, maybe a lot of bad things.  But generally you find life is worth living.  It’s like you are a tree, growing in a vineyard.  Some days it’s quite pleasant, the sun shines, the birds sing.  And nobody bothers you.  Nobody asks anything of you.  You are just a tree after all and there are plenty of trees around in the world aren’t there.  Yes, there are days when the storms come and you are buffeted by wind and rain, but nobody pays much attention to you.

And then, out of the blue one day, the owner of the vineyard comes by.  Where are the figs?

Figs?  Who said anything about figs?  I didn’t know I was meant to be giving you figs.  I’m just a tree, leave me alone.  Don’t chop me down, that’s not fair.  Look, give me a chance – now I know I could give you figs, I will, but I can’t make them overnight.  I will give you the figs, especially if I get help from the gardener.

It’s one view of the parable.  Do you see what Jesus is offering us?  Repentance.  It’s not a threat, it’s an opportunity, an invitation to try something in a different way.  Of course, it could be tough, even if it’s in your nature to produce fruit, you will have to put some effort in.

But, what is it about your life that you would change?  Do you have any regrets?  Any sadness?  Any cherished hopes?  Within each one of us there is potential.  The potential to bear good fruit.  But we need the right encouragement and we need to want to unlock the potential.  Within each one of us there is something, a gift, and it would be a huge loss if we let it perish.  Maybe you have found the gift, the potential within you, maybe you are still searching.  But we do have the gardener on our side.  Jesus is ready to give us all the love and nurture we need to flourish and bear good fruit.

Repent!  Turn to those true things which bring life in all its goodness.  But be kind to yourself, all things in their own time.  Gently does it, fruit takes a while to ripen.  And remember, Jesus, the gardener is always ready to nurture and care for you.

Where is God in the storm?

The Gospel reading on February 24 was from Luke 8, 22-25. At St Mark’s that day, Lesley Shatwell preached.

The Gospel passage:

‘One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”’

Lesley’s sermon:

Jesus said to them: “Where is your faith?”

That’s a good question. And what is faith anyway?

It’s easy to believe something if you can see it to be true. The disciples witnessed how Jesus was able to calm the storm, so they came to believe.

But is that the same as faith? I don’t think it is.

Faith is about knowing. But it’s about truly knowing something even though you can’t explain it to anyone else. It’s not something we can measure. “I wish I had your faith … etc”

It’s not something we can force in ourselves and it is something which we can lose just at that very moment when it could be useful.

Just at that moment when you are all at sea in a storm.

Loss of faith doesn’t have to be so dramatic though.

The theologian Thomas Merton talks eloquently about how people can lose faith very easily. In summary he says: ‘People seem to lose their faith as they grow more mature. To start with, it’s easy, believe this and you do. But then the comfortable reassurance you get stops working. And then, well well, God’s not looking after me, why should I have faith in him? What’s God ever done for me? I don’t believe he exists, he’s never around when I need him.’

Merton goes on to say: ‘Don’t put faith in “sunshine” Christians, who promise a quick fix. You may have to find God alone. Faith is personal, nobody else can do it for you.’

I think a lot of us are looking for a quick fix. Something which will make us feel safe and secure, loved and well cared for.

And perhaps it seems that God offers this. All will be well, if I just had a bit more faith in God … and perhaps it would, I’m certainly not going to dismiss people’s faith, but at the risk of being less than a “sunshine” Christian, I can’t offer it to you that today. That’s a quick fix.

It doesn’t take into account that plain fact that none of us can force ourselves to believe in God.

I can look with wonder and a fair dollop of jealousy at people whose faith can move mountains, and yes, I probably envy them, but it is not my experience of being Christian. There are some days when I wake up and I know, without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is my saviour. That wonderful aria from Messiah, “I know that my redeemer liveth …” is playing like a constant companion in my mind and the joy of the Holy Spirit runs right through me.

Then I catch a glimpse of the outrider clouds of a massive storm and all those wretched doubts creep in.

Life is tough. Lots of people have things far more tough in life than I do, but, dear Lord, this is me and there are times it feels as though I am totally alone and lost in a storm at sea. I long for Jesus to wake up and make everything better for me. But it hasn’t happened yet.

But before I wallow too much in the awfulness of everything, I must be honest: there are good times along with the bad times.

There are times when I love my life, I’m full of delight with everything and everyone around me. Times when life can get no better. And then it is tempting to think, “Oh, this is all down to me, to my careful planning, everything is working out well and I’m in charge.”

Wrong! God’s in charge.

It’s God’s doing, even though it may seem as though God is asleep and letting me get on with my life, I have to acknowledge that my joy is not entirely down to me.

God has given me a wonderful day and it is at times like that when I sometimes remember to give thanks and show my gratitude.

Often I don’t, because I’m human and I accept the good times which come to me as though I have a right to them.

It’s different though when things go wrong. Have you ever had days when you wake up with a feeling of dread as to what is going to happen now you have come out of the dreamland? Have you ever had days when everything hurts, everyone you meet seems to rub you up the wrong way so it would have been better if you had avoided people?

Yes, people, they are the problem; no, it’s my tummy, I shouldn’t have eaten that great big dinner last night; oh my back aches; no, it’s that awful meeting I’m going to have with my boss – yes, I knew it, everybody else is the problem. Always someone else’s fault.

Probably God’s fault. Everybody else is happy and well and I’m not.

God this isn’t fair, why have you forsaken me?

What have I done wrong? Wake up God!

It’s true, isn’t it?

We call on God a great deal more to sort out our problems than we do to give thanks and praise. It’s when disasters happen that we wonder where God is and why he has abandoned us.

Where was God during the tsunami? Where was God when evil people get into power? Why didn’t God stop that child from being hurt? Yes, God – where are you? Why are you asleep in the back of our boat as we are sailing head-on into a storm?

Wake up Jesus! We need you here now.

In our reading today, we hear about experienced fishermen who made their living going out in boats.

And they were terrified, they thought they were going to die. They were out of their depth as the gale swept down on them and the waters poured into their boat. All their own effort and skill couldn’t save them.

All the while, there is one person, their friend who sleeps through it all. He is with them though. He’s not left them. He’s in the boat with them.

At the point in the gospel where this passage occurs, they are just learning who Jesus is. They need more reassurance before their faith is strong enough to realise that because Jesus is with them in the boat, whatever happens, they are safe in the loving care of God.

The winds and waters obey Jesus, for God created all things. By calming the storm and saving their physical lives, Jesus is not forcing them to have faith, he is showing them again that he is with them.

In our lives there are plenty of storms when it seems that God is asleep and not aware of our troubles. Despite what it feels like, that’s not so, for God is always with us – as the final words Jesus says according to the Gospel of Matthew: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.

Perhaps he is asleep but I don’t happen to think so. And anyway, what I do know is that Jesus is most definitely in the boat with us.


Picture: Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee by Rembrandt.

Church is a who, not a what

On February 17 we celebrated, for the second year in a row, Love your Church Sunday. Here is the sermon preached that day by Stella Wiseman at St John’s and St Mark’s.

We love because he first loved us

Sunday was Love your Church Sunday and given out at the services – and sent to those who weren’t there but are part of the church – were some leaflets titled Love your Church Sunday 2019.

That does rather raise the question why we might love our church.

The leaflet speaks a lot about this and about some of the ways we might respond, but I wanted to share some personal ideas about why I have moved from a position of thinking that church is something I should do and should like, to something I actually really do like, in fact I do love it, even when I don’t love the institution of the church.

I have been in the Anglican church all my life and, for many years took part in communion services where the words near the start of the Eucharistic prayer – the one that leads up to saying the Lord’s Prayer and then receiving communion – were:

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
It is right to give him thanks and praise.

It is indeed right,
it is our duty and our joy,
at all times and in all places
to give you thanks and praise,
holy Father, heavenly King,
almighty and eternal God,
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

I could always appreciate the duty bit, but not the joy. But I think that was when I saw church as something we did – a place we went to, liturgies we followed, beliefs I thought we had to have, beliefs that I had somehow to persuade myself to have even when I wasn’t sure I had them, which made it was all quite trying.

But recently it has dawned on me that church is not about what we do and what we believe so much as about who we are. Church is a who, not a what. By that I mean it’s about us being the body of Christ, all with our own strengths, weaknesses, personalities, beliefs, understanding etc, and all loved and equally important in God’s eyes, and all of us part of the body of Christ on earth.

It’s actually being here in this parish that I have begun to learn this, to learn that church is a community, a family, though with fewer blood ties. That’s what church started out like in the days after Jesus was on earth – a community – though in the early church they held all their possessions in common which I am not suggesting we do (although we are encouraged to make contributions to the church and there is more about that in the Love your Church Sunday 2019 leaftet. They were a community and we are a community.

That doesn’t mean we are all lovey-dovey and everything is sweetness and light. There are, as we all know, divisions in the church as a whole, deep divisions and deep hurt. There were divisions in the days of the early church – in particular about and between Jews and Gentiles (eg in Acts six ‘the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food’), and there was great division over circumcision and whether it was necessary.

There will always be divisions as, guess what, we are human and we don’t know all the answers despite what we think. But this sermon is about what we love about church not the divisions and we forget this sometimes and focus on what we do not love, on what goes wrong.

What I love is the community and support in bad times. We all have these. Many of you will be going through a very difficult time at the moment, or just coming out of one, or about to head in to one. It is what happens. My family and I have had a pretty rubbish time recently with redundancy and illness, and there has been huge support for us. This has been through the church and from elsewhere – one non-churchgoing friend turned up with a big bag of food and some flowers for us at one point. Jesus doesn’t work just through ‘churchgoers’.

But there are added dimensions that I have found in the church which are not so apparent elsewhere. The first is the understanding that God is with us in all of this. In the Old Testament reading this week (Jeremiah 17 5-10) it is written: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord… They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” I’m not saying that I am not fearing or anxious or that I am bearing a lot of fruit at the moment – I am very anxious, today has been particularly tough, and what I can do is limited – but I understand from this and from elsewhere (eg Psalm 23 ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’) that God is with us in this.

The second is prayer. Sometimes I haven’t been able to pray. It has seemed foolish, as if somehow I am expecting a miracle. In times of crisis I can’t always believe – a faith seems to be no more than wishful thinking. But that is where the church helps. For a start, there are people praying when I can’t pray, when you can’t pray. I was at a meeting of the group LGBT+ Christians Southampton and around the other day and I was asked for an update on what has been happening. The leader said:  “We hope you can feel held in our hands for a few hours” and we were prayed for and I know other people in that group and in this parish and all over the place, are praying and they are praying when I have felt I can’t pray. That is enormously comforting.

In fact, the church, as the body of Christ, carries us when we can’t do it ourselves. Sometimes we find it hard to believe but you will find that the creed which we say in a church on Sundays says: “We believe…” which is perfect when I, as an individual, can’t believe. There are days I find belief hard. That happens to all of us, but the corporate belief remains and is still there when our faith returns.

The church is also a family who are not as immediate as your home family which means that when something difficult is happening they can be a step away from the raw emotion that may be consuming you and the rest of your family, which can be a huge help.

Church is also a place to learn about God and to ask questions – that is very much the case in this parish. There are groups in the parish where you can study and learn more – Moving On!, Beyond Belief, various Bible study groups and so forth – and you can ask anything. You don’t need to worry about holding the ‘correct’ beliefs.  I would not be setting out to train for ordination this September if I had not been in a parish where I could discuss my questions, doubts and beliefs without fear, where I have been held through the years as I wrestled with faith. It started when John Page was rector and carried on, allowing me to explore without fear of judgment or rejection. I am very grateful.

There are groups and activities too which are more to do with just getting together and being sociable, making friends – table tennis, art, Connections, choir are just a few – times when we can get to know each other and help form a stronger community – but always an outward-looking community and never cliquey.

Churches are not perfect but that is OK. We love church because it is made up of us, but us with God, reflecting God’s love. Being part of the church is not something we have to do by ourselves – we are the outward expression of God’s love on earth. As is written in the Bible in John 4, v 19 ‘We love because he first loved us’.


Picture by Jiroe (@matiasrengel) on Unsplash.

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.

Being intersex in the House of God

On Sunday, August 5, Sara Gillingham, an intersex Christian, came to talk to us at St Mark’s in one of the first sermons in our inclusion series this month.

She spoke movingly on her experience of being intersex in the House of God. This is what she said:

Thank you so much for inviting me here today just to share some of my experience of Church as someone who is born intersex. Firstly, I want to share a bit of my own story, before I reflect on Church and faith.

Just to explain what ‘intersex’ is, as it is often confused with LGBT, particularly Transgender. “Intersex” refers to people who are born with any of a range of biological sex characteristics that may not fit typical notions about male or female bodies. Variations may be in their chromosomes, genitals, or internal organs like testes or ovaries.

About 1.7% of the population is born intersex, across a very wide spectrum. Much of the problem is that there is very little awareness about ‘intersex’, and the secrecy surrounding us is often shaming and stigmatising. Often children are subject to surgeries that are not medically necessary, simply to alter their bodies to fit others expectations. It may be that intersex children, like other children, also have medical conditions that do need treatment, so it is important we differentiate between the two. We now know from research how harmful these non-medically necessary surgeries are to children’s physical and mental health.

I am a survivor of non-consensual surgeries. I was of an age that I remember some of the surgeries and the times when I was recorded or examined in front of medical students. The nature of these surgeries was kept secret from me by doctors and family, despite my asking about them on numerous occasions throughout adulthood. It was only seven years ago that I retrieved my medical records, which explained the secrecy. I have grown-up with the knowledge of knowing that I was somehow different, often with a sense of stigma as the secrecy surrounding me suggested I was somehow shameful.

It is my faith that has helped me endure those ‘dark days’, by showing there is a light out in the darkness. I often drew upon scripture such as :

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 

Many Christians born with Intersex traits find solace in the stories about eunuchs, for instance the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 : 26-40 where God acts to include those previously excluded.

Also they may emphasis in Genesis 1:27 that “God created human beings in his own image…male AND female he created them.

I personally do not feel the need to identify myself so specifically in biblical scripture, as I feel like everyone else I was created in the image of God. I do frequently turn to Psalm 139 which I find very affirming :

“You it was who fashioned my inward parts….You know me through and through, my body was no mystery to you, when I was formed in secret, woven in the depths of the earth’.

However, I know there are others in the Church that have a very different biblical interpretation and who call upon scripture to enforce their binary understanding, and label such people as myself as having ‘a disorder’. This is label that leads to the stigmatisation and non-consensual surgeries I have spoken about. I have also been labelled as being the embodiment of sin, and have been told by Christians to my face and in social media just in this last month alone, as being possessed by Satan with calls to ‘repent’.

I was invited to share my story in the Regional Shared Conversations on Human Sexuality over two years ago, where many were challenged by my physical presence. I had one member of clergy, who led a large team in his own parish, avoid eye-contact and actively avoided just me when sharing the peace at communion. I had people after hearing my story start to pray uninvited, that I be cured. Some embarrassment followed when I asked what being ‘healed’ may look like. It is this hurtful response that brings me in to fellowship with many people who have physical and mental health challenges.

The belief that is core to my faith is that Christ healed by helping people escape discrimination by restoring them as equal members of the community, no longer being marked as ‘IMPURE’.

So Church can be an extremely painful place for me. But I feel called by “God” to try and make use of my pain, and for this reason I am now on Deanery and Diocesan Synods. It is something I find difficult to do, but also at times hugely rewarding and uplifting as people who have remained silent for some many years also find the courage to speak out.

I am currently working with bishops as they prepare a new episcopal  teaching document and pastoral guidance on human sexuality, which will also include ‘intersex’. This again is a bruising experience at present, but I hope greater understanding will reap fruit in the future.

Church can also be a very healing place, and it is important to me and my well being. My own church community at Holy Trinity in Guildford has become my family, and has enabled me to flourish. It is my faith and my church that have given me the courage to find my voice, and put my experiences to good use.

Also being invited today, to one of an increasing number of safe and affirming churches, is both moving and joyous. Most of all we must not lose sight of this, as for many this is what they understand as Church.

So thank you.


Sara Gillingham

sara crop

Craig’s Sermon – Luke 24:36-48

Resurrection Church – Luke 24: 36b-48/Acts 3:12-19

Welcome to the third Sunday of Easter. To me, Easter never seems to be a very meaningful name for the most momentous event in the history of our world. The resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ from the dead. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Resurrection – what a word. What a fact! Should we rename Easter Sunday as Resurrection Sunday? You’ve heard of being an Easter church, an Easter people. But what would we think of ourselves if we took seriously the fact that we are Resurrection people, living and witnessing as a resurrection church? In today’s gospel reading we hear another episode of the Risen Christ appearing to his disciples. Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.” They thought they were seeing a ghost and were scared half to death. But he reassured them, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over. Look – my hands; look at my feet – it’s really me. Touch me. Take my hand. Look me over from head to toe. A ghost doesn’t have muscle and bone like this.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. Jesus was still Jesus.

They still couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was too much; it seemed too good to be true. He asked for something to eat.

So they gave him a piece of leftover fish they had cooked earlier. He took it and ate it right before their eyes. Spooks don’t eat. Jesus really was Jesus. New. Fresh. Alive. It was Him. Resurrected. Still him, but different. Who didn’t feel that little bit more alive on Saturday, as what seems to have been a long sluggish winter suddenly gave way to the newness of spring? I saw our Magnolia tree which is in full bloom and was moved to ‘wow’-ness: Resurrection beauty: my heart gave a leap of joy and I said ‘God, you’re amazing’! This is resurrection. The old has gone, the new has come! Winter is over, summer is coming. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

So what is resurrection? Well, it’s not resuscitation! In the Creed we say that he was killed on a cross. Under Pontius Pilate – it actually happened in history. There were witnesses. He was thoroughly dead. Buried in a new tomb. He descended to the dark place of the dead: the Lord of Life takes on the Lord of Death and is victorious. The Gospel is preached to those in hell. Jesus has destroyed death and its dominion. And miracle of all miracles, Jesus rose from the dead. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! We have this idea that the Resurrection of Jesus is somehow the end of the story. Maybe because it comes at the end of the gospels. But actually, this is just the beginning. This is something new, which has reshaped our world forever. The book of Acts, also written by Luke, is ‘part two’ of his gospel. It’s the continuing story of the resurrection.

Traditionally, we’ve understood the resurrection as Jesus having secured somewhere else for us to go when we die: heaven. But the resurrection was a cosmic event. Creation in entirety. It’s not just about us: in Revelation we hear of a new heaven and a new earth. The same ones – but better. The entire creation. Enhanced. Renewed. Restored. Resurrected. Resurrection is now, not when we hear the pearly gates clang shut behind us after we have died. It has already begun. Here. Now. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In all the messiness of life, we can see glimpses of glory. In pain we can find hope. In desolation, we can find consolation because He is risen. Resurrected. Alive.

Jesus went on to say to his followers, “Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled.” He went on to open their minds to the power of the Word of God, showing them how to understand what had taken place. How it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and a new way of life of sins is proclaimed in his name. He says “You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses”. You are my resurrection people.

Whilst I was cutting the grass yesterday, I reflected that creation began in a garden. Beauty. Order. Fellowship between God and Humans….but we know the rest of the story. This story was embedded in the hearts and minds of God’s people, the Jews. In his gospel, John tells us that Jesus was buried in a new tomb… in a garden. This image is loaded with meaning. Re-creation – resurrection – began in a garden. On the first day of a new week. Resurrection is now. Despite the darkness and cruelty in today’s world, where evil seems to be particularly rampant. Despite the lack of vision in our politicians, and the defense of the status quo and the poverty and pain around us.

The fact of the resurrection should radically reshape our hearts, minds, and world-view. That new creation is here. Right under our noses. And we should live in the light of that knowledge. In Acts, the disciples had taken this radical fact of Jesus rising from the dead to heart and became fearless witnesses to the reality of resurrection. Absolute hope in an uncertain and very dangerous world.

So my final point is this: we have our Vision Meeting following this service. Perhaps we should ask the question: what am I bringing? is it just my thoughts, my preferences? Am I happy with things as they are, will it see me through until I’m gone? Or dare I think like a child of the resurrection? That here new life is now. Hope is now. The reality of Jesus Christ among us is now. I’ve written ‘resurrection’ on my hand to remind me of that when my mind feels the need to get a bit parochial! he reassured them, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over. Look – my hands; look at my feet – it’s really me. Touch me. Take my hand. As a church, lets take him at his word. Put our hand into his, and fearlessly be the resurrection church in our village. A beacon of hope. A people of hope. A people whose song is “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Sermon by Wendy last week at St John’s


Acts 4:32-35

1 John 1:1 – 2:2

John 20:19-31

My first reaction to the Bible readings today was ‘What a lovely trio of readings!’ That’s not always the case when you check Bible passages when due to preach. Sometimes an initial reaction to them is ‘How on earth can I say something helpful and hopeful with these readings?’ I am sure other preachers would agree. However, God is in charge and prayer is part of preaching. Sometimes, with difficult passages it is a very big part. Gradually, with God’s help, even the toughest readings impart some thoughts, some sense, some hope and some peace for the preacher and their patient spouse or partner if they have one!  Our readings are long today so I cannot cover everything in a 10-minute sermon. Here are some highlights for me.

What do I like about these readings today? I love the sharing of personal possessions and money in our Acts reading so that no-one is in need and I love the fact that the early Christian believers were ‘of one heart and soul’- oh if only both things could happen now, worldwide, nationwide, locally. There is so much need in the world and such an uneven distribution if wealth and resources. There are many differences of opinion on all sorts of subjects, even within this church and that is exactly as it should be but isn’t it wonderful when our differences are put aside at a bring and share lunch, when the Holy Spirit makes us one in heart and soul during a service or   a hymn or over coffee or when receiving communion or singing hymns or helping one another in various ways? Nothing compares with that feeling of oneness and fellowship when we help another in need and when we enjoy fellowship. There is much more that unites us than divides us.

I could not give away all my possessions or persuade my husband, Steve that we must sell our home and give the proceeds away to those in need.  I know I am not that generous even though I think I am quite generous.   Do we give testimony with great power about the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ so that great grace comes upon us? I guess this sermon is an attempt to do that on my part, but I need also to take that powerful testimony outside the church walls.  I try. I think we all try in our own different ways to do that. This Acts reading gives me such a boost though and an encouragement to keep trying to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. I hope it does the same for you and that maybe, like me, when Christian Aid week comes up soon in May we will remember to help and give as generously as we can.

I have too little time to unpack the reading from the first letter of John. However, we are assured that the testimony about Jesus Christ has come from real people who saw and heard Jesus, The Light of the World, preach and teach and who felt his healing touch. We are assured that Jesus will surely lighten our darkness.

In our Gospel reading, it’s Sunday evening that first Easter Sunday, Jesus has risen from the dead, appearing to either just Mary Magdalene or to several women (depending on which Gospel account you are reading). The message has been passed to the other disciples that the Lord had risen from the dead but many may have thought the women hysterical in their grief- it is a normal part of grief to believe you hear or see a loved one who has died- and, anyway, a woman’s testimony in those days was, sadly, not worth a great deal.

Our Gospel passage today describes not 1 but 2 resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ. Before I go on I would like to give a little plug here for some art evenings coming up soon at St. Mark’s on 10th (this Tuesday), 17th and 24th April 2018 at 7.30pm about the Stations of the Resurrection, the appearances of the Risen Christ.  Do try to get along to St. Mark’s for them.

In our reading today, Jesus has appeared once to the disciples when Thomas was absent and once, a week later, when Thomas is present. On both occasions the Risen Christ somehow gets through a locked door, nothing being impossible for the Son of God. This is the part of Scripture from which we get The Peace part of our Communion service. A bit later in this service after Pamela has prayed our prayers of intercession, John will say to us the words Jesus said that evening to his amazed disciples ‘Peace be with you’.

I like Thomas. I have doubts at times, we all have doubts, if we are honest. Thomas is honest and courageous enough to express his doubts. We human beings are a sensory bunch. We are much more inclined to believe something we have seen with our own eyes or touched with our own hands or felt inwardly with our hearts and souls, especially something quite this miraculous. A dead man coming back to life as had happened to Jesus.

There is a painting by Caravaggio from the start of the 17th Century called The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. It is not for the faint hearted in some ways. Jesus’ left hand holds Thomas’ right hand at the wrist and guides and controls Thomas’ right hand as Thomas’ index finger enters the wound on Jesus’ chest. I was a lawyer, but I am a frustrated medical doctor- I love medicine and anatomy and find the human body fascinating. I am not squeamish, and I love that painting despite its slight gruesomeness. What it says to me is that Jesus is telling us, as he told Thomas, that it is OK to doubt, and it is OK to believe. It is OK to do possibly painful explorations on our journey of faith. Jesus guides and controls our faith, our doubt and our explorations as he controlled Thomas’ hand.  Doubt, as I have found on my own journey of faith, can make belief all the sweeter when the darkness lightens.   I think Jesus is saying something else also. Whilst we should not share publicly about our own wounds when they are still too sore and in need of healing, Jesus encourages us to share our healed wounds with others in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about healing in others in God’s power and timing.

Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, reassures us that we who have not, with our own eyes, seen his wounded risen body here in Hale today are still blessed by our belief in Christ as we touch and taste the holy sacrament of his body and his blood.

May we who are so blessed at the Holy Table today feel just a tiny sliver of the knock out grace felt by Saint Thomas when he said, ‘My Lord and My God!’   Amen.