We had so much fun with the lost sheep trail at Half Term, we are doing another one for Easter!
Please pop an Easter Egg, Easter Scene, Easter Garden, Easter Wreath or even a knitted Easter Egg in your window or front garden in time for Easter Sunday, and leave it up for 2 weeks, so we can all enjoy finding them during the Easter Holidays. We have our Easter Trail web page ready to go, and will add all your trail locations to our list in time for Easter Day.
Contact Alex on 07730609446 (text, call or WhatsApp), or send an email to email@example.com with your location and a photo to add your display to the trail. We are happy to include everyone in Ash, Ash Vale, Ash Green & Tongham, so don’t be shy! We hope you have lots of fun making your Easter displays and hunting for them all during the Easter break.
The most exciting thing to happen this year (apart from vaccinations!) has been the start of the ramp building project. That isn’t to say that this has not been many months, or even years, in the planning. Only last summer we were busily examining bricks for compatibility with the clunch work of the church. (Phew – they match…). The ramp will make such a difference to wheelchair or pushchair users, in fact anyone who finds climbing stairs difficult. As part of the same project we are renovating the porch, with new glass doors and curtain heating to ensure a warm welcome – in both senses of the word!
We have carried out a considerable amount of fund-raising to finance the project, and people have been so generous, both in donations and in legacies and fund-raising, e.g. making cakes. (We do love cakes in Tongham.) Claire – our Vicar – was planning to do a sponsored sky-dive, and in fact may still do so.
Our builder, Richard Margetts, started work in December 2020, closely followed by Christmas, in quite horrendous weather – he has worked through rain, gales, snow and occasionally sunshine – and expects the work to be finished around Easter day, but as a back-up we are hoping to have an outdoor service to avoid using our shiny new ramp and porch. Or, more honestly, we are hoping to navigate any sudden changes of Governmental policy in the Lockdown restrictions by planning an outdoor service. Watch the website and Facebook for updates – because of course in Britain we can’t ignore the weather. But one way or another, whether online, outdoors, in church or maybe a mix of all three – we plan to be in action.
We are so looking forward to welcoming as many people as possible into our Church.
About twenty years ago I prayed what for me then was an almost unthinkable prayer. I paused for a long time before I prayed it. I couldn’t imagine the sequence of events that would be necessary for God to lead me to see the issues differently, and I wanted to pray with full openness to allow God to work in me. I asked God to show me if I was wrong in how I understood what the Bible says about homosexuality. I was not prepared for how painful and disturbing God’s answer was to prove. I took a conservative position, and it seemed obvious to me then that this was the only biblical view and therefore the only legitimate Christian view.
A year or so later, my prayer began to be answered in a way I had not anticipated, when I discovered suddenly and unexpectedly that my devout and deeply Christian older son was gay. Three things were very clear, firstly that he had not chosen to be gay, secondly that his efforts, which had been long lasting and persistent, to find ‘healing’ from homosexual orientation, had been to no avail, and thirdly that he loved God and was submitted to God in a way that won, (and still wins) my admiration and respect. Over the next several years he moved to a position of believing that the expression of homosexual love was not necessarily un-Christian. Though we still do not totally agree over how to interpret the Bible on this issue, I was deeply changed by engaging with him and with the questions raised. I found myself reading the Bible with a fresh urgency. In doing I found myself reflecting more biblically on how we live together with profound and emotive disagreement, and on what God might be saying to us when we see Jesus and the fruits of his Spirit clearly manifested in those with whom we disagree. I have found that the scriptures have a great deal to say on the matter in ways that have enriched my faith and my love for Jesus Christ, and have opened up the Bible to speak afresh to me in all kinds of circumstances.
This book is the result of my journey of exploration.
It is not primarily about homosexuality. It is about being Christlike, and what that might mean in a church and society that is often divisive and judgmental. It is about where we find our identity. It is a book about how we treat our ‘enemies’ and what it actually means to love them, about how we argue well, about grace and honesty and disagreement.
Above all it is a book about Jesus, and how we are called to imitate Him, not just ‘believe the right things’.
The above is slightly adapted from the introduction to the book,’Navigating by The Son: Finding Our Way in An Unfamiliar Landscape’. Matador 2021 £11.99 paperback or £9.99 e.book. Widely available including from the Matador shop at
Does faith seem hard at the moment? In fact does life seem hard? It is often said that life is a marathon, not a sprint – and there are times in a marathon where it feels almost impossible to take the next step towards the finish. The image of a race is one that is used in Scripture to describe our journey of faith – and in today’s Bible reading, the writer acknowledges that it is an endurance race! Not only that, but Jesus has run it before us…
The writer of this letter highlights three ways in which we can be encouraged during this strange time when all is changing, but sometimes it feels as if nothing has changed. The first of these is set out immediately in v1.
We are surrounded
Whether we live on our own or with others, many have experienced the kindness, neighbourliness and a sense of community that has grown throughout this year. Coming on to our doorsteps to encourage the NHS, or to remember those whose lives have been lost, has somehow bound us together. Who, in particular, does this verse say “surrounds” us (v1)? At St Mary’s, many have known the importance of “fellowship” – that “togetherness” that we experience through the Holy Spirit in our lives – as we have continued to meet and worship, albeit remotely, through the wonderful technology of Zoom. How wonderful that our God is not limited by physical walls and distances! There are times when running a long race when it is only the encouragement of the crowds lining the road – “You can do this!” – that keeps us going. Let us not stop encouraging one another in these (hopefully) last stages of beating the pandemic.
Strip off the weight
For an endurance athlete, the balance between weight and strength is an important one, and it is essential that they are not carrying any unnecessary weight on race day that would slow them down. Whilst God does not mind what physical shape or size we are, he does want us to run this “race” of our Christian life unhindered. What are the things that might slow us down, or even “trip us up” (v1)? As we reflect on the past year, can we use the opportunity to consider what might be preventing us from living life as God intended? We may not have been out much – but are there aspects of our attitudes, relationships and behaviours that we have hidden away, but we know need to change? “Strip off every weight that slows us down” – use this time to commit to change!
Eyes on Jesus
If the challenges just mentioned seem hard, we are now told how to do it (v2) – what is the secret? All successful athletes have a trainer – the one who commits to seeing them succeed, from beginning to end. The athlete can only succeed if they follow the trainer, who will themselves have been a successful athlete who has won many races – a true “champion”. Who do these verses say is our “champion”, and what is his role (v2)? The secret is that we are not meant to run this race alone. The “crown of witnesses” (v1) can support and encourage us, but is it Jesus himself, our champion, who enables and empowers us. Note that he is both the “initiator” (some versions say “author”) and “perfecter” of our faith. We so often feel guilty that we are not trying hard enough to believe, or not trying hard enough to live the right way. The world tells us that we need to rely on our own inner resources. The Bible tells us that it is Jesus himself who, by his Holy Spirit living in us, is our inner resource. He sows the seed of faith within us, he shows us the way forward, and he gives us the strength and ability to live according to what he has shown us – to “run the race”.
We know we can trust him to do this because he has run it before us (v2b). This coming week we will remember how Jesus went to the cross (v2) and died for all our sakes (v4) in order for us to be able to live our present lives in relationship with him, free of all that slows us down (v1). We have this “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” * because this death was not the end – Easter is a celebration, not a mourning, because Jesus rose again and “is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne” (v2).
And so, this Easter, if you are tempted to “become weary and give up” (v3), “fix your eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith”!
1Great is Thy Faithfulness. Thomas Obediah Chisolm 1923
Hebrews 12: 1-4 (NLT)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
Once again, a huge thank you Dan Austin for another great Easter cover for the Parishioner Magazine. For those reading this on the web page you get it in glorious Technicolor too! You might remember, last year he took us verse by verse through the chapter in the gospel of Luke 24 and the road to Emmaus. This year, we have a picture of an English hedge row, with a tree that clearly represents the cross.
The painting was inspired by a wounded blackbird that Dan found in the road, and brought home to nurse. With the mother and father blackbird, and the eggs in the nest, it’s almost like a holy family. On the lft, representing our business that we are all involved with is the car, whizzing past. On the opposite side, a field, and the hope of something different. The Sun is shining, like a beautiful pearl.
When I showed the painting to the local Chapel Poetry Group, someone said that reminded them of their favourite poem, The Bright Field by R S Thomas. We had a look at it and it is miraculous how well it fits.
The Bright Field – R. S. Thomas
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as our youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Although Dan didn’t know the poem, he had illustrated it, just as the poem illustrates the passage, inspired by Matthew 13: 45-46 which reads:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (NIV)
Of course the field and the pearl represent the great good news of Jesus Christ, which we celebrate every week in church, and more than any other time at Easter.
The poem talks about missing something that is so precious, because we are too busy to stop and notice. So this is an invitation to stop, and find something that is for all eternity this Easter.
The ‘old normal’ that we find ourselves longing for was never really that normal. Let’s face it, we were stressed out and spread thin. Now is an opportunity to discover what truly is important and where our treasure lies, not in holidays or big houses or fast cars, but in connecting to our creator through Christ.
Certainly, something that I have missed greatly during lockdown, is sitting around a table together with friends and strangers, easting and sharing. I personally can’t wait to make that part of my ‘new normal’.
During lockdown, we have of course been meeting around a table, whether in church or on zoom. It’s called the Lord’s table, and we remember what Jesus did. His last supper, crucifixion and resurrection. It is that hope of resurrection that has brought us together each Sunday around a table. To give thanks, to share, and to pray for one another— and it has been priceless.
As we come out of lockdown we want to invite you to the table, whether it’s for a cup of tea, or to celebrate Easter. Come and join us, as we rebuild our lives as a community.
Whoever you are, whatever you believe, you are welcome.
A huge THANK YOU to everyone who took part in the Sheep Trail! We had a lovely time and we hope you did too. 💕🐑 The trail is now closed, but let us know which was your favourite sheep, we have a little prize for them! 🙂 text 07730609446
Can you find all these sheep? Why not see if you can find them all this half term? We have also hidden 17 sheep in the Parishioner Magazine, you can pick up a paper copy of it at St Mary’s.
Boaz & Ruth – You will find us in Alder Close, Avondale
Lamby – looking out from a window upstairs, Vale Croft, Lysons Avenue, by Ash Vale train station roundabout.
Shawn Minerva gilderoy – 362 Vale Road
Joshua (blue) Alex (red) Lulu (cuddly sheep) – Coverack, Horseshoe Lane GU12 5LL
Shaun – White Lodge, Wentworth crescent. (Private road part. The big old White House as you turn in)
Woody – You’ll find me if you walk along the canal towpath between The Swan and The Admiral, and look across the canal!
Cedric, Cecil & Cyril – 203 Vale Road (Cyril said it was too cold outside so he’s peering out the window). They told us an amazing story, apparently their distant relatives were there with the Shepherds and saw the Angels on THE Christmas Day! Wow!
St Mary’s Flock – St Mary’s Church
Fluff – 14 Wood Street
Herbie (the herbivore! 😁) – 24 Wood Street
Flower and Petal, And one printed picture quoting Psalm 29 – 56 Waverley Drive
Cuddle and Trouble – 52 Firacre Road, Ash Vale
Cedric – 155 Vale Road
Daisy, Minty, Minnie, Herdy 1,2&3 – 91 Vale Road (2 sheep on flower border right of drive. Daisy and Minty. One on Gate post. Minnie.3 in windows. Herdy1, 2 and 3)
Baaaaaa-bara – Ash Hill Road (Near the Phyllis Tuckwell Shop)
Stump House Sheep rocks in the covid snake: Rocky, Stella, Fluff and Lammy
Baaaa-tholowmew – Ash Hill Road (near the Kia garage)
Mike’s Flock – Cobo, Beetons Avenue
Bob the sheep – Murrell Road
2 sheep – Longacre
Shaun & Dawn (beautifully made by the Chapel Craft group) – 1 Grove Villas, Grove Road, GU12 5BD #ChapelCraft (Wednesdays 8pm)
Timmy – Wharf Rd (look up, I’m above Bet Fred!)
Chapel Flock – The Chapel, Wharf Road
Bah – 11 Foxhurst Rd (aptly named by L aged 2 😍)
Valentine – Collins Gardens, Ash
Ramsey, Eugenie and Lambert!- 14 College Road, Ash
Shadow – 2 Potters Crescent GU12 6AY
Zara & Sam Sheep, South Lane, Ash
lots of sheep – 35 Wyke Avenue (2 crafted ones and some cuddly ones!)
Upcycled Sheep – 16 Lincoln close Ash Vale
Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom, Woodland and Yardley- White Lane, Ash Green (go past Hazel Road to find the Ramsbottom flock)
Susie and Geoffrey – Yankari, Hazel Road, Ash Green
Keep them coming – If you’ve got a sheep on display, send us it’s name and location and we will add them to the trail. 07730 609446. The more the merrier, we have all half term to enjoy the hunt for the lost sheep!
Share your photos online with the hashtag #AshValeSheepTrail and tell us who’s your favourite, or why not comment here?