Bible Study: Belonging (Isaiah 43:1-5)

By Helen Lambert

Where do you belong? Is it where you are from, the town or country where you were born? Is it your family or your friendship group? Perhaps you belong to a club or a team? Do you sometimes feel you belong to your work?

We talk about having a “sense of belonging”, or “feeling we belong”, as things that make us feel safe and secure. Where we belong gives us a sense of identity and affects how we behave. What aspects of your life (or even your identity) are affected by where you belong?

Conversely, it can be really hard to feel we don’t belong – whether to the “in” group, our community, the prevailing culture, or perhaps life in general.

Where does today’s Bible verse tell us we belong? The narrative of the Bible, from beginning to end, is that the God who created the world, and created us, also chose us to belong to him. Amazingly, the God who created the universe and everything in it, knows us so personally that he calls us by name (v1). He tells us, through the prophet Isaiah, that we are his. 

What are the implications of this deep and personal relationship with our creator God? This verse makes clear to us that belonging to God is a safe place to be. Why do you think this is so? 

Firstly, we are safe because we are known. The One who created us knows us better than we know ourselves, and so we do not need to hide away, or pretend to be someone we are not – as we may have to do to “fit in” with some of other the groups we want to belong to.  Not only are we known, but we are loved (yes – in spite of being known!) Further into this passage it says that we are infinitely precious to God (v4). 

Secondly, we are safe because God promises to look after us through the storms and terrors of life (though note that he does not say he will remove all these challenges). The promise is to be with us when we walk through “deep waters” (v2) so that they do not overwhelm us. What deep waters do you feel threatened by at the moment? Ask God to walk with you so that you are not overwhelmed.

Thirdly, we can feel safe because we have been chosen by God – we have nothing to prove! The Bible tells us that God chose us to belong to him even before the beginning of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and that this is made possible by Jesus Christ. It is not our own doing.

Finally, we can feel safe because our belonging to God gives us an identity and a purpose: “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit…” (John 15:16)

So, God’s love, acceptance and choosing does not depend on who we are, what we have done, or even our choosing to follow him.  It is there for us, and has been since “before the world was made” (Ephesians 1:4).  We do, however, have a choice about whether we want to live in that place of safety, to accept the offer of belonging, to choose to explore and discover the relationship that is offered to us.  This in turn leads us to make choices about the way we live.  Earlier, we considered how where we belong affects the way that we live.  If we accept that we belong to God, this will inevitably inform the choices we make about our life, our behaviour and our priorities. How might they change for you?

I write this in the week that COVID restrictions have been lifted. Many are celebrating, but others have great fear.  Whether this is true of you, or whether other fears threaten to overwhelm you, or if you struggle with the fear of being an “outsider” – of not truly feeling you belong – be encouraged by these verses which are “bookended” by, and centred on, the promise of God to save, protect and accompany, all will a deeply personal love. “Do not be afraid – I will save you” (v1); “Do not be afraid – I am with you” (v5); “I am the Lord your God who saves you” (v3);  “I will…save your life, because you are precious to me and because I love you…”(v4). 

Know that you too belong and are welcome in the place of safety that is the Father’s love: 

“I have called you by name – you are mine!”

43 But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush[a] and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.

Read online: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+43&version=NIV

Neighbourly Reflections

Before lockdown I was very much challenged by a talk at church about how we can love our neighbours; and in fact asking whether we even know any of them. We were asked if we took note of who moved in and if we welcomed people into the street. Jesus was big on telling people to love their neighbour, but I’ve never really looked at it terms of the people in my street – I’ve always seen my neighbour as relating to the people I work with, the parents of my children’s friends etc, because I spend time with those people. We don’t tend to have connections with neighbours other than living next door and sharing a hedge/fence! So the challenge was a good one …. and then lockdown happened!

We have lived in our current house for 24 years and in Ash Vale for 34 years since our marriage. We know our immediate neighbours but have not spoken to many of the others in the street for most of that time – even though there have been comings and goings along the road over the years. I guess the reason I have always used is that our street has only got houses on one side of the road – we can’t look in neighbours’ windows and be nosy! And it makes things a little less easy to connect with those we live side by side with. When we went into lockdown, to my shame I did not dash along to all the neighbours and check that they were all OK – I have followed the isolation rules as was demanded because we have an elderly relative that we have ‘bubbled’ with and so we were not involved with other community initiatives during lockdown. Covid has thrown us all onto a new horizon; giving us new ways of looking at our locality; making us re-evaluate how we work and how we connect with friends and our neighbours. We did become acquainted with one or two via a nod and a ‘Hello!’ as we walked past on our way to pick up shopping from the Village, but that’s about as far as it went.

As the restrictions started to lift in April and May, we started to think outwards again and realised that over lockdown there had been three houses in our little patch alone that had sold and now had new people settling in. Having two sons who also moved during lockdown I appreciate just how difficult a thing it has been for people to move and find out about a locality in these times of restrictions. So things had to change – I no longer wanted to be an ostrich. The best way I know of connecting with people is through food, so we decided to hold a cream tea in the garden which we could do within the restrictions. We hand delivered invitations and invited all the neighbours in the small section of street near our home – about 10 invites in all – and waited. Even though we had left it really late to invite people, we got responses almost straight away and had about 8 families accept the invitation. I was very pleased. The day we chose to host our cream tea was one of the hottest in the late Spring which meant that we could all gather in our shady garden and drink tea, prosecco, wine and eat scones to our hearts content; but more importantly it connected all the households who came together. People were initially hesitant, but by the time the afternoon ended everyone knew who each other was  and which house they lived in. It was the first event of what I hope will be a continuing trend – how can we progress this? How can we really be neighbours to our neighbours?

How have you connected with your neighbours this last 18 months? I would love to know other peoples’ experiences – I want to pick up creative ways to be a good neighbour – to do what Jesus told me to do.

By Jackie Scott

Do you have a story about how you got to know your neighbours, or people being neighbourly? The Parishioner would love to hear from you. parishioner@ash-vale.org.uk

Chapel Project News

Chapel Arts Monthly Makes—Debi Retallick

Debi is continuing to run the monthly make on Zoom but hoping to return to face to face sessions at the Chapel from September…..

May’s monthly make was a Bird sculpture; one of the participants has caught the making bug and is now on her 9th Bird sculpture; she’s even teaching her friends to make them! 

June Monthly Make: Join Debi for the next monthly make to do some wire work, creating your own dragonfly:  4pm on Tuesday 1st June 2021.

Continue reading “Chapel Project News”

Pentecost Bible Study

By Helen Lambert

We have been waiting a long time – waiting for lockdown to end, waiting to go out, waiting to go away, waiting to hug, waiting for our jabs, waiting for test results, just waiting for COVID to go away and life to “get back to normal” (whatever that was!)  For many, the waiting has been painful – for those in other parts of the world, it remains so, and the cries of anguish still resound.

What are you waiting for with the greatest anticipation?  As with childbirth (v22) we know that the time is coming when we will experience the joy of these hopes being fulfilled – indeed, the signs are already here.  This scripture passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us that “Creation” is also waiting – groaning even – for something that is on its way, but not yet quite fulfilled.

What is it that the world is longing for?  Are you longing too?  We can see from these verses that all of us, somewhere, have an inbuilt desire for “something” that is beyond us, for a kind of fulfilment that is beyond that which our daily lives, and the world around us, have to offer.  We might call this a “search for meaning”, a “spiritual awareness” or even a “God-shaped hole” – and we might have decided to ignore it, or we may be on a path to find it.

Paradoxically, for Christians, this longing does not disappear – in some ways it becomes more acute!  What do these verses say that we are waiting for (v23,24)?  And why, perhaps, do we feel this so keenly (v23)?

We have just celebrated the Feast of Pentecost – the day when God returned to fill the lives of his followers.  Jesus had died and risen again, and many had seen him subsequently (as we celebrated at Easter) and then he had “ascended” back to his Father in heaven.  On Pentecost, God returned in the form of the Holy Spirit – and made himself present in the lives of those who were waiting for him, as he does in our lives today.  Although we do not fully understand this “mystery” of the Trinity, this experience of God’s presence in our lives through the Holy Spirit is the everyday experience of Christians throughout history and throughout the world.  This is the “foretaste” of v23 – this experience of God, without complete knowledge, which directs the rest of our lives.  Tantalising!

Here we are told that there will come a time when we will no longer be subject to the troubles of this life – whether through sickness, our own wrong choices, or anything else.  We look forward to this full freedom in the future, when we leave this world (the hope” of v24).  However, we do not have to wait until we die to begin to experience all that God has to offer – “our full rights as adopted children” (v24) even now, as we wait (v25). 

As we begin to experience the Holy Spirit in our lives, our strength and vision are renewed and transformed (v26).  What does he help us to do (v26-27)?  Our experience with God is based in relationship, and relationship flourishes on communication.  We often feel so inadequate in our communication with God – but here we are reassured that we do not need to know what to say, or how to express how we feel.  As we make ourselves available to God’s Holy Spirit, he himself will enable this communication.  We will not need to “pretend” to be other than what we are, for he knows our hearts (v27).  More than that, he changes our hearts, so that eventually our prayers will reflect the heartbeat of God too.

Bible verses: Romans 8:22-17

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.

If you would like to read the bible online there are lots of websites to choose from. One of them is Bible Gateway: https://www.biblegateway.com/

What’s on in June & July 2021

What’s on at St Mary’s, Vale Rd, Ash Vale,

Sundays 10am –Join St Mary’s for our weekly Church Service. All are welcome, both on Zoom and in person. Wednesday Evensong  is back too, please contact the office for the latest rules and timings. Contact: Parishoffice@ash-vale.org.uk

Mondays 11am: Coffee Chat Zoom Join fellow parents and carers for informal coffee chat and friendship. (Term time only) Zoom ID: 520 880 119 / Password: Grownups Contact Alex: 07730 609446

Tuesdays 10am: Babies at St Mary’s Support Group We are open Tuesdays 10am-11am in term time for parents and carers with babies under 12mths. Booking is essential. Come and join us! Contact Alex: 07730  6094446

Thursday Café Once cafés are allowed to reopen we will be risk-assessing and reopening. Contact us for details.  parishoffice@ash-vale.org.uk

Sat 26th June: 7:30pm:  Poetry Night & Book Launch:  Chapel Poetry Group are launching their latest collection, and celebrating the winners of the “Mirror Mind” Poetry Competition. Join us on Zoom or in person at St Mary’s to hear some of the winning poems and celebrate with us! St Mary’s Church, 26th June, 7:30pm. Contact Alex: 07730 609446 for tickets, zoom links and copies of the book!

August: Summer Café: Fridays in the holidays at St Mary’s—keep an eye on the notices for details. Sign up to receive the weekly news parishoffice@ash-vale.org.uk

Summer Fair!  10th July 12-3pm Sneakin’ Suspicion are booked for an ‘end of COVID’ Gig – and the Wood Street & St Mary’s Team are cooking up a bit of a festival! See inside back cover for details.

Donations for St Mary’s: https://givealittle.co/campaigns/47eb21e6-c2b0-4a23-a526-8d13fd24fa56  Thank you!

The Chapel Project, Wharf Rd, Ash Vale

Chapel Arts Monthly Makes: Artists in Residence Debi & Jono Retallick host a ‘monthly make’ fundraising workshop for The Chapel, teaching all kinds of art and craft techniques. Email Debi for event details, Zoom links, and to book your place on the workshops: (&See page 26) Contact debiretallick@googlemail.com

Tue 1 June 4pm: Dragonflies

Tue 6 July 4pm: Painting with fibres

Chapel Kids Baby & Toddler Group: Wednesdays 11:30am: Garden Praise  Chapel Kids toddler group ages 0-4yrs at The Chapel in Wharf Road GU12 3AY (term time only, text us to book) Contact Alex: 07730 609446

Chapel Poetry Group Workshops: Join  the group on WhatsApp for chat with like minded creative writers, and join us on Zoom for a monthly poetry workshop. (Hopefully in person once regulations lift). Contact Alex: 07730 609446

Chapel Craft Group: Join us on Wednesdays in term time 8-10pm at The Chapel on Wharf Rd. Bring along your latest craft project and have a natter and a cuppa as we craft. We have been zooming but aim to be back at the Chapel as soon as regulations allow. Contact 07730 609446

Chapel Filmshare: Your local fortnightly Filmshare is starting back in September! If you enjoy tea, coffee and cakes and appreciate films you’re welcome to join us fortnightly at the Chapel from 7.30pm. To sign up to our e-mail newsletter contact: Dick Elsey at richard.elsey45@gmail.com or on 01252 694314.

Donations for The Chapel : https://givealittle.co/campaigns/8d80cd98-df9f-494e-9808-b8898744146f Thank you!

St Paul’s Church, Poyle Rd, Tongham:

Baby Plus :

· Mondays 4-4.30pm. Toddler Storytime  – stories, actions and songs

· Tuesdays 2.30-4pm Mum Plus— friendship and facilitated discussions

· Wednesdays 4-4.30pm. Toddler Storytime

· Thursdays 10.30am-12. Baby Plus  – Informal chat session for mums, with some singing and action songs for the little ones.

Baby Plus Contact: CommunityWorker@stpaulstongham.org.uk Or via the Church office: 01252 783081

Messy Church at St Paul’s :

· 17th June (pack with Facebook live introduction)

· 15th July (format tbc)

Keep an eye on Facebook / Website

Open Church Event:

Keep an eye on Facebook & the website for our “Open Church” for reflection, a grand opening of the ramp, and an outside event for the community (or we might combine this into one big  3-in-1 event!)

Web.: https://www.stpaulstongham.org.uk/

St Peter’s Church, Ash

27th June St Peter’s Day: Outdoor (weather permitting) service in the St Peter’s Centre garden, followed by a bring-your-own picnic lunch in the Rectory Garden.

St Peter’s Craft Evenings: At St Peters we have a regular craft evening which will relaunch in September. It’s a free of charge group which meets at 7pm on the 3rd Monday of each month. It’s a creative session where people bring along whatever craft project they have underway. We have some painting, card making, jewellery making and lots of keen knitters! Refreshments are offered as well as an evening of friendship. All ages welcome. For confirmation of the relaunch please check our website Web  saint-peters-ash.org.uk

Holy Angels, Ash

Youth Group: Our first face to face Youth meeting will be on Sat  29th May.  Rounders and picnic on the field behind Holy Angels Church.  2-5pm – praying for the weather and no further lock downs!!!  If you’d like to join our groups please get in touch.

Gloria:  gloria.benson14@gmail.com

All events listed above are subject to change, due to Covid-19 safety rules. Please keep in touch!

The Ash Vale Easter Trail!

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.

Trail link: https://ash-vale.org.uk/easter-trail-4th-18th-april-2021/ Click here to see where to start hunting for Easter windows!

Continue reading “The Ash Vale Easter Trail!”

News from St Paul’s Church in Tongham

By Margaret Murray

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.

https://www.stpaulstongham.org.uk/

Navigating By The Son: Finding Our Way in An Unfamiliar Landscape

How I Came to Write It, by Stephen Cox

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

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/