Rob

Bishop Graham's visit

Bishop Graham's visit

I have been mentioning for the last week or so that I was hoping to upload Bishop Graham's sermon from a fortnight ago to the website - it is now there in the resources section, or at the bottom of the homepage.

 

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Rob

Rob writes...

Rob writes...

It has been an interesting few months, hasn't it? It started with Brexit last June, when Britain voted to leave the European Union: our government now has the challenge of taking a country (which voted pretty much 50-50) in a new direction with lots of uncertainty. In the meantime, the people of the United States have elected and inaugurated Donald Trump as their 45th President, again dividing the country between those who voted for him, and for Hillary Clinton.

In all of this (and especially with the US election result) there has been more and more fear and concern expressed by all sorts of people. I have heard Christians saying, ‘Only God can save us from this situation now,’ amongst other things.

As I have been thinking about this over the last few days, a thought has occurred to me. I have begun to wonder whether the truth is that all of a sudden circumstances have got so bad that only God can save us, or if in fact things have been like that the whole time, and that it is only now that the news has become worrying enough that we are starting to realise it.

Jesus came into a community which was suffering under Roman oppression, and he told the people he met that he had come ‘to seek and to save the lost.’ Throughout his ministry, Jesus demonstrated and explained what this meant, most of all in his death on the cross. He did it because he thought it was the only thing that could save people from the situation they were in. His resurrection two days later proves something else—that this rescue was not just for the people who were there at the time, but for everyone, always and everywhere.

The Bible doesn't have a lot of easy answers about who you should vote for, or why, or what to do about the decisions that governments and presidents make, but it does tell us that in the best or worst of worlds, or circumstances, only God can save us who are lost.

 

 

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Rob

Change a Nation update, coffee morning and more...

Change a Nation update, coffee morning and more...

A big thank you to all who came along and supported our coffee morning in aid of our partner church in Okunguro, Uganda. We are so excited that we raised over £450 thanks to the generosity of all those who provided so many gifts and refreshments at their own cost, and many more who came and bought them! 

At the same time, we received a fantastic new update from Change a Nation about the work in Okunguro, which you can pick up in church, or download here.

 

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Rob

Rob writes...

Rob writes...

Do you know what you are getting for Christmas?

One of us in our family thinks he knows what he is getting, which is everything that he thinks of. Father Christmas will bring me one of those. He’ll bring me one of those, too. And one of them. Maybe two. It’s led to some interesting conversations in the toyshop. (Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, he quite likes the toyshop.)

It is very sweet, really—my only concern is that it might lead to a little disappointment somewhere down the line, when Father Christmas doesn't quite deliver the goods. It can be tricky not getting what you are expecting.

The interesting thing about this disappointment, of course, is that it is rooted in the things which don’t happen. The presents that don’t come. The bible uses a neat little phrase to describe this experience, and its effect on us: ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick.’ I think it is fair to say that the writer was not thinking about how no-one brought along yet another toy camper van, but about the longing we all have at some level for a better life, a better future, a better world, that sometimes feels fruitless. Some of you will be experiencing this very strongly as I read.

Do you know what you are getting for Christmas?

My little friend in the toyshop doesn't. There is something waiting for him which is better than he can imagine, better than everything he has even asked for. And I would like to suggest to you, that we don’t always realise what we are getting for Christmas—that we don’t notice, as a more modern version of the bible puts it, ‘who has moved into the neighbourhood.’

Many of us who follow Jesus found something that was not what we were expecting. I don’t know what I thought I would find when I decided to make the first step in following him, but what I have found is indescribably good, and a source of constant, eternal hope. He is better than anything any of us can ever want.

Do you know what you are getting for Christmas?

With love this Christmas and New Year from Rob

 

 

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Rob

Archbishop's Evangelism Tips!

I have been talking about our vision to Create Community, Deepen Discipleship, and Encourage Evangelism in recent weeks, and along the way I have mentioned a few good tips that the Archbishop of Canterbury has for all us in evangelism, especially for those of us for whom this is a difficult or uncomfortable word. If you didn't pick up a printout at the services, you can read it here: https://greatcommission.co.uk/the-archbishop-of-canterburys-top-ten-tips-for-evangelism

 

 

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Rob

Stoke & Dunston Gift Day, 20th November 2016

If you would like to read Rob's talk from the Stoke & Dunston gift day, which contains stuff from our vision as well as some of the thinking behind the way gift days work and how we can respond to God's generosity with ours, you can find it in the resources section.

Thank you

For many years, all of us at Stoke Holy Cross and Dunston churches have contributed enormously generously to the cost of the ministry of our churches, without raising funds from any other sources. It is something really worth celebrating.

 

Background

This year, the diocese asked us to pay almost £30,000 towards the cost of ministry in these parishes. Contrary to a lot of misunderstanding, giving of this kind from across Norfolk is the source of the vast majority of the diocese’s funding. Of course, we also have about £8,500 of other expense.

 

Current situation

At the moment, we are expecting that your giving will produce a total income of over £31,000 this year. As you can see, this is only a little more than the total parish share we have been asked for this year. Given our current financial situation, we anticipate that we will only have about £1500 in reserve at the end of the year if we pay our full parish share, which is something the PCC would be very keen to do. We can only do this by giving just £1250 out of the £3000 we had set aside for charitable giving: we would love to give this amount in full as well.

 

What are we asking?

Our balance looks like being £1500

but we would like it to be £4000,

which is a difference of £2500

We have given to charity £1250

But we would like to give £3000

which is a difference of £1750

So we would need to raise a total of about £4250

to get our budget to that point at the end of this year.

 

Can you help us?

Between 20th November and the end of the month, we ask that you would send a gift either through our offering plate on a Sunday morning, using one of the special Gift Day envelopes, or direct to the treasurer, Henry Caswell. If you are a UK tax payer we can reclaim tax on your gift, as long as Henry has a signed declaration from you. And please pray with us, that in this and every way, God would do more amongst us than all we can ask or imagine.

 

 

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Rob

Fasting and Praying, November-December 2016

Pray with us!

 

As Christmas draws near, we have the opportunity to welcome lots of people to our churches who might not yet know Jesus. This year, we want to challenge you to join us in praying and fasting to see them come to know God over this time, through our Alpha course in the new year, and beyond.

Jesus asks us to “pray without ceasing”, and he also asks us to fast, setting out how to behave “when you fast” in Matthew 6. When we miss a meal to focus on praying, we show God that we are putting him and his kingdom first, concentrating above all on his will for our villages. We see that Jesus is the “bread of life” (John 6:35) and can sustain us, as we give him our full attention.

Between now and Christmas, we will be gathering at the vicarage every Friday from 12.30 – 1.30 to pray together. If you are elsewhere, please join in fasting and praying wherever you are at that time!

We would like to ask you to pray for the following things every day in the lead-up to Christmas:

For people to see God’s love through our Christmas events, and to come closer to him

For many to join our Alpha course in January, and to become Christians

For our churches to grow and be known for our love, generosity and welcome.

 

While most people can miss a meal safely, we know that some are medically unable to do so and we would not want you to make yourselves ill! If this is the case for you, why not think about what else you could “fast” (television or treats perhaps?) in order to focus on praying with us?

 

 

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Rob

Rob writes...

Rob writes...

When I was growing up in—well let’s say an adjoining county—I used to go to the village church. I say I went, because for me then church was the building and the service, not so much the people or the faith stuff. I managed to keep thinking about it that way for a long time, even through being confirmed, which was quite an achievement on my part, given that the vicar talked about God a lot, and I went to services at school and all that business.

The reason I am telling you all this is that when I was at university there came a point where I began to think very differently about things, and a big part of that was going on an Alpha Course. What I learnt (among other things) is that following Jesus is not something we only do in church, or because we go to church, but that being part of the church is what we do because we follow Jesus. More than that, following Jesus affects all of our lives, and everything that we will do not just now, but forever—because Jesus’ amazing promise of life for us who follow him is forever, not just for now.

Some of you might say it is not surprising that I had to leave Suffolk to discover the meaning of life, but I don’t think that the wonderful opportunity of getting to know Jesus belongs to any particular place or time –it’s for anyone, anywhere. And that is why following on from this Christmas, we are excited to be running an Alpha course again in the villages here. We plan at the moment to be meeting on Monday evenings from  mid-January up to just before Easter. If you have a lovely new 2017 calendar with a bit less on it at the moment, why don’t you put the first few in now, and let us know you want to come. More details on our Alpha page.

 

 

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Rob

Venta group vision update 2016

Venta group vision update 2016

Back in July, we held an away day for all of our PCCs which to work on a new vision which would inspire, sustain and grow our group of churches in the years to come. We worked as groups looking at each of the Diocese’s mission priorities, and have focused those into 3 key areas for us here: creating Community, discovering Discipleship, and encouraging Evangelism. To help concentrate on these 3 things, we have created three groups made up of members of the different PCCs, which met this week.

Each group looked at the vision sheet (in the image below) and discussed how the churches look now in relation to their column. We then settled on some big hopes and dreams for the coming years—we said 5 years, but maybe they will happen sooner—and worked out what the all-important first steps will be. I am really grateful to the person who suggested that with all this, Venta should probably stand for Very Exciting New Things Ahead.

So…

C (Community) group had a vision for putting the life of the church back in the heart of our village communities. The next thing we would like to do is organise a village-wide questionnaire in the new year to see how members of the community would like the church to be involved in what is going on in the villages. We will be exchanging ideas over email, and meeting once the results come in at the end of February.

D (Discipleship) group would like us to grow to the point where almost all regular members of the church are in some form of small group, where we are all playing our part as the Body of Christ, where we are all excited about the bible and prayer as individuals, and about worshipping together around the group. We are going to begin with a short survey of church members to gauge how people feel about their own discipleship so that we can provide some resources to go with our teaching on prayer in January.

E (Evangelism) group would like to see 100 people across the churches who are more confident in welcoming new people, inviting people to church activities, and sharing their faith. Our first step will be to encourage people to go on some outside training about faith sharing, plan some sessions on it within the group, and talk about it on Sunday mornings in February.

I hope that you can see that we have been busy! Do pray for us, and do talk to any of the PCC members if you would like to find out more.

All of this is available as a PDF in the Resources section as well.

 

 

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Rob

Rob writes...

Rob writes...

This summer has been another wonderful season of sport, with first the Olympics and the Paralympics capturing our imaginations along with our airtime. I wonder which of the events or medal winners captured your imagination the most?

The Olympics had much to appreciate again, from Mo Farah defending both his titles from London, to Nick Skelton ‘finally’ winning the show-jumping at the age of 58. Many of us will have been even more captivated by the Paralympics, as a collection of extraordinary athletes brought home an even more extraordinary collection of medals, all of them winning the race despite the many obstacles and difficulties put in their way.

In the few days since the Paralympics, yet another sporting event has caught my eye. In the final event of the World Triathlon Championships in Mexico, British athlete Jonny Brownlee, who had been leading, began to struggle badly towards the end, weaving badly from one side of the road to the other as he suffered the effects of extreme dehydration. As the second-placed athlete passes him, Jonny’s brother Alistair appears in third. Rather than carrying on past him in the hope of catching the leader, he picks up his brother, drapes him over his shoulder, and pretty much carries him to the end, dropping him across the line to make sure that he finishes first.

The internet, unsurprisingly, is full of this heart-warming story. The idea that someone would put a fellow competitor—even his brother—first is an unusual one. But for those of us familiar with what the Bible says about Jesus, the image of being helped to finish the race is a familiar one. Paul reflects on the way we can’t find our way to God on our own—our own tendency to stagger in all different directions, even within sight of the finish line—but rejoices that ‘God has given us the victory through the Lord Jesus Christ.’ The truth that Jesus has won for us all the things we cannot, like forgiveness, relationship, and eternal life with God, is at the heart of what we believe, and invites us once again to run the race with him.

 

 

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Rob

Caistor Cream Teas 2016

Caistor Cream Teas 2016

The last scones have been served, aprons and washing-up brushes have been laid down, and this summer's season of Cream Teas at Caistor St Edmund church has come to an end. There have been loads of visitors, both local and from further afield, dropping into the church on Saturdays and Sundays, and have experienced a lively rural church community serving them and making them welcome. So a big thank you to everyone who made this possible, and helped us to a tremendous total of nearly £2000.

 

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Rob

Rob writes...

Rob writes...

This summer we have had a lovely holiday in Northumberland. If you haven’t been before, you would love it—miles of sandy beaches., lovely castles and lots more. But it is probably worth noting that it is a long, long, long, how much longer Mummy and Daddy, long way.

One of the most exciting things in these parts is  the story of Grace Darling. Most people know about this extraordinary young woman, who set out one stormy evening in 1838 with her lighthouse-keeper father to rescue the 9 survivors of the wrecked SS Forfarshire. In terrible weather they rowed from their lighthouse to the wreck and back; her father made a second trip to collect those they couldn't fit in the first time.

After the event, Grace very rapidly became a national celebrity—people used to come up to the north-east to take boat trips out to the Farne Islands, pretty much just to look at her, as far as I can tell. She became so well-known in such a short time that the Grace Darling museum in Bamburgh has a vast collection of her possessions– letters, books, and most remarkably of all, the 200-year-old rowing ‘coble’ that Grace and her father used to rescue the sailors, still almost intact. You’re not allowed to touch it, but you really, really want to!

Stories of rescue against all the odds are stirring ones, which is why the story of Jesus is so compelling. Here is someone who set out on the most perilous of journeys, with no guarantee of success. But his death and life have rescued us, from death and worse. And so we come to look at him and wonder at what he has done, we reach out towards God who has come so close to us.

 

 

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Rob

New things this summer!

New things this summer!

Last Sunday 24th July we started a summer series on stories from the Old Testament which feature change and growth and new things happening. We are doing this because we have recently had a brilliant PCCs away day where we began to talk together about ways we expect that we will change and grow under God in the years to come. I started off by talking about the call of Abram (who becomes Abraham) at the beginning of Genesis 12, and I suggested a few reasons we can change and grow...

1. Because God doesn't change - the God who revealed himself to Abraham is the God who has revealed himself to us through Jesus, and Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever...

2. Because God expects us to change - he revealed himself to Abraham, and he told him to 'Go'!

3. Because when God changes us we grow - he made Abraham a great nation, and blessed him, but not just for himself. He did it so that Abraham would be a blessing, even that all nations of the earth would be blessed through him!

Stay with us through August and into September as we continue to explore these exciting themes!

 

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Rob

Cream Teas

Cream Teas

Caistor St Edmund Cream Teas will be served every weekend from the 6th August until the 4th September from 3.00pm till 5.00pm

 

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Rob

Ordinations this weekend!

A quick note to remind you that this weekend sees the ordination of men and women to minister in positions of leadership in the churches across the Diocese of Norwich. These are happening on Saturday in the Cathedral, and Sunday in different locations across the county. Please pray for all involved, especially Jill Haylock from the Chet Valley group of churches, who is being ordained on Sunday morning by Bishop Alan at Holy Trinity Church in Loddon. We have uploaded a sheet to the resources section in case that would help you to pray.

 

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Rob

Rob writes...

Rob writes...

It is always a tricky business writing this article before the end of the month, when you don’t know what will have happened by the time it rolls off the printer. Today, for example, there are 2 areas of big uncertainty where Europe is concerned. One of them will have major implications for the future of this country, and the other one is the referendum. Or is it the football? I can’t quite be sure…

I have been struck by what a friend of mine wrote recently. He is not like me—he says what he thinks always and immediately, and does quite well with it, because, as he puts it, he tries to play the ball, not the man. This is a good lesson both in football and life, I think, and I suspect he and I both regret that the referendum campaign has become characterised by a lot of arguments which aren't telling the truth about what the opposing party think, or even what the statistics say, and much more about how dreadful or daft the other side are for thinking and feeling the things they do. (And in case you were wondering, the two of us are almost certain to vote in opposite directions, like the people in the photo above!)

I find it all the more difficult to write this month, because I happen to be sitting at my computer the morning after the horrific murder of Jo Cox MP. It would not remotely be playing the ball to suggest that either campaign, Remain or Leave, has to answer for a crime which is as yet far from explained, but much of the early commentary around this terrible event has been about the worrying climate that has been created by the strength of feeling on either side of the referendum. Paying tribute to his wife, Brendan Cox spoke of the need to ‘fight against the hatred that killed her.’

By the time you read this, the result of the referendum should be clear, and, leave or remain, we will be looking towards a different future together. It would be lovely to think, and pray, that it would be one where we can read over the previous sentence again, and agree that the most important word in it is the last.

 

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Rob

Caistor Cream Teas

Caistor Cream Teas

We are really grateful to everyone who worked hard to make this event such a success. Lots of people came through the doors (especially on Sunday when it was a bit less of a downpour!). There were some amazing floral displays, and lots and lots of scones and tea and cakes and all good things, in celebration of the Queen's 90th birthday. All in all it looks like over £800 has been raised for church funds, but the connection with people we made across the wider community was more important still. Here you can see a couple of photos of the fantastic flags and bunting made by the primary school and pre-school, and some paper plates with some prayers that we wrote at the family service in the morning. We also featured on Radio Norfolk's Treasure Quest - for the time being you can listen to it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03x4d6r. They start talking about the clue about 2h10, and they get to Caistor at about 2h36. Thanks again to everyone who made it such a great weekend!

 

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Rob

Rob writes...

Rob writes...

We are Premier League! We are Premier League!

I am writing this on 25th May, so I don’t know what happened on 28th, but there is a good chance that by the time you read this, Sheffield Wednesday will be in the Premier League. (Many thanks to Norwich City for kindly making the necessary room for us, by the way.)

I have supported Sheffield Wednesday for more than 25 years, so I have seen my fair share of ups and downs. Mostly I remember the downs—when we lost to Arsenal in both cup finals in 1993 (the only time this has ever happened in English football, Wikipedia tells me), the succession of relegations... There have been highs as well—eight years in the Premier League from 1992-2000, or back before my time when we beat Sheffield United 4-0 in 1979, a match we still refer to as The Boxing Day Massacre, and commemorate in a very entertaining song to the tune of Mary’s Boy Child.

Having got that out of my system, I should return to the real point of this article, which is to say that whether we support Norwich or Sheffield Wednesday (or even Sheffield United or Ipswich) most of us will be getting behind England once again, as we try to put an end to 2016-1966=50 years of hurt. And in the spirit of getting together, all the England matches will be showing on the big screen in the Church Hall: we would love to see you there! There will be plenty of snacks if you would like to bring your own drinks of any variety.

When we talk about football, we tend to say we. Speaking for myself, I haven’t ever played football for England, or even Sheffield Wednesday, but I say we. We won. Speaking of Jesus and what he has done for us, the bible uses the language of we. This is most evident when Paul talks about how we died and live—it is not that we died ourselves when Jesus did, but that as we put our trust in Jesus that his death and his life become our death and our life. He died, he lived, we died, we live. We won. Even better than the Premier League!

 

 

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Rob

Rob writes...

Rob writes...

I have given up my place looking out from the corner of this article to someone else. I think you might recognise her, unlike the American tourist who came across her out walking (somewhat dressed down) with one of her bodyguards, and got into conversation with her about whether she had ever met the Queen. “No,” she replied, nodding at her police escort, “but he has.”

Starting around 21st April on her ‘actual’ birthday, a series of events across the country (and in these villages) will celebrate not just her reaching 90—a few of you have managed that too! - but a lifetime lived in service to this country.

It is not just us whom she serves, though. In many of her Christmas broadcasts the Queen refers to the importance and strength of her faith in Jesus. Last year, she wrote of the hope we can find even at the hardest of times: “It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’.” Going all the way back to 1952,  the Queen-to-be asked all the people she was to serve to pray for her, that God would give her wisdom and strength for the task he had for her. Sixty years and more later, that prayer is still being answered.

Your life and mine, your job and mine, your family and mine, are very different from the Queen’s in lots of ways, but I am still conscious of the need I have for hope, wisdom, and strength.  These are things which ultimately can only be found in Christ, and that’s why this summer I will be celebrating not only the Servant Queen, but also the King she serves.

 

 

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Rob

Rob's letter for June 2015

Rob's letter for June 2015

My son got fascinated by the idea of welcoming at a very young age. He can’t have been much more than 2 when he started saying ’Welcome’ to everyone who came to the house. He even said it to me when I came home. I’m not sure that there was much more going on in his head than that he had learnt a new word and he was going to try it out on everyone he could.

I don’t know what goes on in your head when you hear the word welcome. To me it is important that we welcome people as a family, but I also want people to feel welcome when they visit the church, or go into any of our homes. A couple of years ago when we had a weekend away, we identified it as one of our most important values.

This is mainly because I think the bible teaches us that God is welcoming. Now that may very well not be the first word you would use to describe him, but one of Jesus’ most famous stories compares God with a father welcoming home his lost son. The interesting thing is the son has done absolutely nothing to deserve a warm welcome—anything but—and he has even rehearsed his apology speech, but he gets an extravagant embrace. That’s what makes me want to welcome people unconditionally.

The reason welcome is in my head now is that we will be seeing a large number of different faces in our group of villages soon, as the new houses in Stoke Holy Cross begin to be completed. That is alongside all the people who are moving into existing houses near you, week in, week out.

I have begun to ask myself how as churches, and indeed as whole communities, we can make sure that people feel welcome in these new places which they are moving into. It is not just something for the church, of course: I am sure each of you, in your own ways, will be making people feel welcome, just as God offers to make us all welcome with him through Jesus, whether we feel we have done anything to deserve it or not.

 

 

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