Category Archives: Matthew’s page

A selection of thoughts from our Minister, Matthew Scott – please check back to see the next update. Why not leave a reply? We’d love to hear from you or meet you in person!

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy – John 16:22

Dear friends,
This morning the picture provided by Microsoft when Pauline turned on her computer was of a mountain range in South America. Beautiful enough in its own right, but she was suddenly aware that in the very top of the picture, floating above the peaks, were several hang gliders with brightly coloured canopies. These thrill seekers immediately reminded us of our nephew Andrew, the quietest of young men but a lover of adventure, who loved to spearfish, cycle (he once carried his bike up Ben Nevis then rode down, filming his journey via the camera on his helmet) and hang glide, once landing in his village, much to the astonishment of his parents. We lost Andrew in a diving accident in 2017 and any photos of extreme sportsmen and women always make us think of him.

This morning’s memories triggered others, all concerning people we had lost, and we realised that many of them had died at this time of year, including both our fathers who died in January, though twelve years apart. Our most recent bereavements occurred just before Christmas and we still carry that raw grief, but like all these experiences they trigger memories of how we felt and coped on those earlier occasions. We believe that the loss of a person never leaves us, and that it informs our character in subtle ways, so that we carry them with us in all our subsequent relationships and life experiences. A friend who has themselves suffered the loss of a spouse, and has subsequently very happily remarried, still holds their first spouse very closely in their heart, and this morning sent us a link to a very useful talk by someone in their own position (see link below). The speaker said that the memory of her husband’s death would always make her cry – but the memory of how she met him would always make her laugh. She hadn’t moved on from grief… she had started a new chapter when she met her second husband, but she had moved forward with her grief, not left it behind. It had made her who she is now, and that experience had marked her, and made her, permanently. ‘Some things can’t be fixed, and some wounds don’t heal’ but we will still laugh and find joy in life.

We hadn’t intended to write about this today, but the picture on Pauline’s computer, followed so soon afterwards by the message from our friend, felt like a prompt from God to express these feelings, in these dark days at the start of this year. So much feels uncertain, and many of us are housebound and isolating, so that the memories of the past, and the griefs we have known, may well loom larger than usual. It would be easy to feel guilty that we have somehow not ‘made progress’, especially as Christians who are supposed to rejoice in all circumstances, so that we begin to spiral down into despair and self-loathing. We want to say today that God knows about grief, that through Jesus He felt the whole range of human emotion, and that he understands only too well the isolation which occurs when much needed human contact is lost. If this message speaks to you then please pick up the phone and call us, or call someone else whom you know and trust, and if ever you hear us say the words ‘you should move on’, feel free to put us right, and remind us that we will never move on from grief because we are not meant to. The lessons we learn and the character that is formed when we experience it are far too important for that.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

… none of us lives for ourselves alone

Dear friends,
It won’t be a surprise to any of us that the start of this new year looks much the same as the end of the old one. The rise in Covid cases which has led to the closure of our schools and shops and forbidden our family gatherings, must cause us all concern and we have a responsibility as Christians, as well as good citizens, to ‘do the right thing’ and obey the law. But, unlike in previous lockdowns, churches are this time legally permitted to stay open, leaving us with the freedom to meet in the limited form we have become used to. In spite of this, the Baptist Union has encouraged us to close our doors to all but essential services like Foodshare, giving us these reasons for doing so:

Our freedom must always be held in tension with love. As Christians, we have always had something profound to say about the nature of sacrifice and selflessness. At this time when our society is speaking and relearning the language of laying down their life for their friends, it would be deeply ironic if we put our own need to worship in person before the common good. We are listening to the experiences of church members who work in hospitals and healthcare. In the sacrifice of losing a Sunday gathering, we believe, we join with our communities to ease the strain on the NHS and save the lives of friends and strangers… For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.

The leadership team at DGBC agrees with the BU, so we are not holding any in-person services for the time being, though our online services will continue as before. We are in the very fortunate position of being able to distribute recordings of the services to all those in our fellowship who do not have internet, so no-one needs to be left out. Furthermore, we know that our online services are appreciated by others who live elsewhere in the country, as well as overseas, so our mission has not been curtailed by the pandemic, for which we give God glory. That doesn’t mean that we are complacent, or have failed to understand that meeting in person is of vital importance for the growth of our love and fellowship. Some churches will doubtless stay open for that very reason, and we honour their decision which we are sure was not taken lightly. However, at this vital time, with the vaccine already being administered and hope beginning to grow that the end of this pandemic is on the horizon, we will close our doors and continue to trust God to work through the new and significant opportunities which this pandemic has given us. Messy Church goes live at 3 on Sunday afternoon; our prayer meeting is active on Saturday mornings at 9; homegroups are up and running via Zoom and there is a chance every week for us to catch up at 11.45 on Sunday mornings, where even though we meet as small faces on a screen, we still enjoy our coffee and biscuits together!

This past year has shown us that our church is resilient and alive and that God is using us in the lives of many people throughout our community and beyond. What personal stories do you have of new opportunities which God has given you because of the pandemic… conversations and chances to serve which would never normally have come your way? Please share them with us so that our sense of fellowship will be strengthened, as we continue to give God glory together, keeping connected in whatever ways we can, while we play our part in keeping our community safe.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

So there goes 2020 and most of us are probably breathing a deep sigh of relief. This time last year we had barely heard of Covid-19, and Pauline would have thought that being forbidden by the government to stay overnight with her mum in Wales was the stuff of bad fiction. But now these things are an ordinary part of everyday life, along with face masks and track and trace, and quite honestly, we have had enough of them. So bring on 2021 and let the good times roll again.

Alas, no… because in spite of the famous midnight chimes of Big Ben, and the fireworks which usually accompany them (noticeably absent this year) it turns out that January 1st looks pretty much like December 31st. We are still in Tier 4 and our New Year’s Day get-togethers were just as curtailed as those at Christmas – in other words they didn’t happen. No browsing at the sales either! Instead we still have short days and cold weather, rain and cloud and the sneaking suspicion that we might have eaten too many mince pies and not enough vegetables. But hang on – we feel like that every year, regardless of Covid. Winter is frequently dreary, the weighing scales are often unkind after Christmas and the sales are never good for our wallets, so why do we always feel as if the change of year is going to make things better?

Perhaps it’s something to do with the eternal optimism which says that we have learned from our mistakes. We can forget about the ways we messed up during the year we are leaving behind, as a brand new year must surely signal brand new opportunities, which we will recognise and use to our advantage. We will naturally find it easy to cut down on chocolate because it does us little good, and we will stick to a new diet and exercise regime because a new year will bring with it a new resolve to do what is right. We will find a better job, curtail unnecessary spending so that, with Del-Boy and Rodney, ‘this time next year we will be millionaires’! Is it any wonder that most New Year resolutions don’t make it past January? Our desire to do better might be sincere but our will power so often fails us, especially when the Christmas chocolates are begging to be eaten. Why, then, should 2021 be any different, even once we have a vaccine and the masks are gathering dust? We will still be the same people at heart, and although we might have learned lessons which only Covid could teach us, we will still face the struggles we endured before the first case ever emerged.

Thankfully as Christians we can have a different perspective. It is not a different date which makes things new and better, but a change of heart, and our God is in the business of re-forming us as new creations. He has promised to remove the stain of sin, regardless of its previous hold on us, through the love and sacrifice of His Son. The apostle Paul wrote that ‘…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here’; and that ‘…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’, so the trials of 2020 can take their place in the past without breaking us in the present. The even better news is that this is true of any and every year, because this gift of God is eternal and ever-present. All we have to do is accept it, and allow Him to make us the people He always intended us to be, secure in the knowledge that with His help, love and grace, that is a new start we can truly expect to bring us into new and better things.

With our love and prayers for a very happy New Year, with Jesus at its heart,
Matthew and Pauline

‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ 

Dear friends,
The BBC news headlines the other morning felt rather familiar. After months of Covid-dominated news, we are once again in Brexit territory, as the big story was ‘Strong possibility of no trade deal with EU’. We can be forgiven for thinking that we have been here before, and that nothing much seems to have changed. But in reality, the situation is different, as the end of the Brexit transition period draws ever closer, and all the years of debate and politicking, as careers have waxed and waned and the majority of us felt ever more bewildered, are coming to an end. The time of fulfilment is near – and we have yet to see the consequences of what has gone before. It’s the end of an old story – but it’s also the beginning of a new one.

It might seem unlikely, but this has some resonance with the early chapters of the Gospels written by Matthew and Luke, where the birth of the Messiah is announced and then takes place, and a new story breaks into the old. Matthew is keen to tell us that Jesus’ birth is the fulfilment of prophecy: speaking of the circumstances of Jesus’ conception, he writes, ‘…all this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)’ (Matthew 1:22-23). Later, King Herod’s advisers tell him that Bethlehem was foretold as the place where the Messiah would be born, because ‘…this is what the prophet has written.’ (Matthew 2:5). But Luke is more subtle. Instead, he focuses on people whose stories already have resonance for his audience, so the birth of John the Baptist to old parents reminds them of the birth of Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah; and God uses Mary, Jesus’ mother, to sing out the truth that God is still in the business of bringing justice to the poor and hungry, through the gift of a Saviour from the house of King David himself (Luke 1:5-56).

One commentator writes this: ‘The new is at the door, to be sure, as new as the young Mary who visits the old Elizabeth. But for now, it is enough to be assured that the new continues and fulfils the old, with the same God remembering covenants kept and making good on promises made.’ It seems to us that we need to remember and hold on to this, most particularly at this time. The past year has forced us to face new uncertainties, and in spite of the good news that vaccines against Covid are already being administered, we cannot expect a return to ‘normal’ life any time soon. The Brexit situation might also feel like an unwelcome visitor whom we thought we could ignore for a while, but who has turned up anyway without an invitation. We might all be wondering if God has forgotten that it’s Christmas and that we have a right to do what we have always done – but He hasn’t, and anyway, it’s up to Him how we celebrate, if at all. Instead, if this eternal Christmas story is to remain relevant and true, safe from the temptation to turn it into a fairy story, we have to focus on the promises that it contains. It is still a new story, which breaks into the old, bringing with it not uncertainty and the threat of unlooked for change, but rather showering us with abundant hope in a Saviour who loves us.

The angel Gabriel told Mary that ‘…no word from God will ever fail’, so we can be reassured that whatever new story God has planned for us will always be part of His old story – the one He has purposed from the beginning, and He will bring it to fulfilment when the time is right.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

O come, O come, Emmanuel….

Dear friends,
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of Hope. On this same Sunday one year ago we lit the first of the candles in our Advent ring, as we do every year, and could not have imagined that twelve months on we would not even be able to meet physically to do exactly the same thing, due to an unseen threat which had killed thousands of people in this country alone. Our government has asked us to be very careful in these pre-vaccine days, so our regular Christmas services are suspended or at the very least held in socially distant forms. Travel plans must be curtailed, and we are allowed just five days over the Christmas period for rather limited contact with family and friends. We have discovered this year that we can take nothing ‘normal’ for granted, and as 2020 draws to a close we are most definitely in need of hope.

We might be tempted to feel that because Christmas won’t be the same this year, we are somehow missing out – but the message of Advent is the same as it has been for generations, so even if our celebrations appear to be muted, they can be no less sincere. Advent reminds us that the church is waiting for the return of Christ in glory, so that He can finally bring into reality His eternal kingdom. In many ways we are in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament, when the people were in exile, remembering how God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, while also waiting and hoping for the coming of the Messiah.  During Advent, we look back and celebrate that Jesus came to be one of us, while at the same time looking ahead to the time when He returns for us, his people. We know that Jesus was born in poverty, lived amongst us, died and rose again to overcome sin and death, that He lives with us today and that He will call us home in His good time, so we can still be glad because that message is unchanging regardless of our own ever-changing circumstances.

Our hope today lies in the truth that we are known to, and loved by, Emmanuel, God with us, so His church is as excited by Advent as it ever was. On this first Advent Sunday of this difficult year, we will meet, albeit virtually, with our brothers and sisters in our local Baptist cluster, and will worship together even though we are apart. We will remember again that we are the church of the risen Saviour, who gave everything that we might be forgiven and reconciled to the Father. We will be glad that we live in a generation where this technology is available, and rejoice that in spite of all we see and experience around us, we can live in hope because our future is secure with Him.

So let us pray the words we always use on the Sunday of Hope, when we light the first of the candles in the Advent ring:

O God of Hope, Emmanuel, God with Us – we ask you to send your light into our hearts at this time. Thank you that you were prepared to come into this world to rescue us. Help us to be ready for the day and the hour of your final appearing.  Live in us and help us to live in you. By the power of the Holy Spirit, transform us so that our worship, our celebration, our time of preparation, may be pleasing to you – both now – and forevermore.  Amen.Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

On the loss of a friend…

Dear friends,

Many of you will have heard by now that our friend Jem Sewell died very suddenly and unexpectedly on Monday. We knew him from his time as pastor of Slough Baptist Church, where Matthew trained for ministry. He was far more than a colleague and mentor, quickly becoming the closest of friends. We loved him dearly and have found this week exceptionally difficult. Jem pastored Slough Baptist Church for twenty years, during which time he moderated for DGBC twice, and he preached at Matthew’s induction service here. In 2012 the family moved to London and the following tribute is on their current church’s website. We echo all their sentiments:

‘It is with overwhelming sadness that we announce the death of our friend and pastor, Jem Sewell. Jem passed away very suddenly on Monday 16th November at home. As there was no warning of this, shock and disbelief is the pervading emotion for his family and our church family. Jem has been the Pastor at Westbourne Park Baptist Church since 1st October 2012, when God led him and Hil and their family to us. Over this time he has been committed in care, support and spiritual leadership of the church here. He has been the God-given person that saw our new church building to completion, and has pastored us through the uncertainty of the pandemic with consistency and love.

Whilst Jem’s death has been so sudden, there are many things that comfort us. Jem always began to pray and consider his sermons on a Monday. His Bible is open on his desk at Matthew 6:19-21, the passage for this coming Sunday. The title of this section is ‘Treasures in Heaven’. Amongst our grief we know that Jem is now with God in heaven. He is receiving the reward of the years of his service to his Lord, and his ministry for His kingdom. Our hearts are broken and we don’t understand why. However, we do know that God is in control; That God holds the masterplan and we WILL trust Him.

The verse that Jem has chosen for our motto text for 2021 is Philippians 4:6-7

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As a church leadership team we pray that we will all know God’s peace and comfort at this time. And we particularly pray this for Hil, Luke & Emily, Bryony, Ruby and Lydia and that they will know God’s everlasting arms holding them in their grief.’

Jem was an avid reader, and during lockdown he recorded himself reading three books from The Chronicles of Narnia, which can be heard on his church’s website. It felt right to us to recall here the final words of the final book in the series, as our own tribute to him. After their death Peter, Edmund and Lucy stand before the great lion Aslan, who reassures them that they will never leave him again:

…and as [Aslan] spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Jem is at the beginning of Chapter One and we know the best is yet to come.

With thanks for your love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour

Dear friends,
The last few weeks have been dominated by political stories. From Covid and Lockdown 2:0, to students coming home in a controlled evacuation; from the hope of a vaccine, to power struggles at the highest level of government, our screens are filled with facts, opinions, blame and rhetoric. Some of the most gripping stories (at least to us!) have been concerned with the aftermath of the American elections as after a long and hostile campaign President Trump appears to have been beaten – but is not giving up in spite of his opponent Joe Biden being congratulated as victor by governments all over the world. One Republican senator has declared that President Trump has a ‘relatively relaxed relationship with the truth’, so whether or not his allegations of Democratic vote rigging are proved to be true, the fight for the White House will continue to rage and the transition from one term of office to another will not be smooth.

What does it mean to have a relatively relaxed relationship with the truth? Human beings seem to prefer to think of truth as a rather abstract concept, which we can bend to suit ourselves.  It can be difficult to know what is genuine these days, whether it’s the labels on the clothes we wear and the products we use, or telephone calls from people claiming to represent our bank. The news stories we read on countless websites can be so far from the truth that they are complete fiction, and we are urged to be discerning, so that we don’t get drawn in by unsolicited phone calls which threaten to cut off our internet, or are beguiled into replying to an email which appears to make us an offer which is too good to be true. The world we live in has countless opportunities to have a relaxed relationship with the truth, and the innocent amongst us find themselves broken as a result, while misunderstanding, hatred and violence can often be the outcomes of reporting which does not make every attempt to be free and impartial.

Of course, this is not a modern concept, and even Jesus found himself up against a cynical manipulator of truth. Standing before Pilate, who had asked Him if he was a king, Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ Pilate replied, ‘What is truth?’, a question which is still causing us headaches today. A quick search of our dictionaries, as well as online definitions of the word, show us that it can be a difficult concept to pin down, though perhaps the definition which said that truth is ‘the true facts about something, rather than the things that have been invented or guessed’, (Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries) seems like a reasonable statement. But what the world, along with Pilate, still struggles to grasp is that truth is actually a person – and Pilate was looking him in the eye.

Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6) and that ‘if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ (John 8:31-32). Truth, then, is not a concept with which we can have a relaxed relationship, but the Saviour of the World, who wants us heart and soul, working with Him now and enjoying His love and presence forever. This is a relationship of all-encompassing love, and it comes with the promise that if we listen to Him the lies of the world are powerless against us, because our King and friend stands by our side.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted

Dear friends,

Captain Sir Tom Moore has launched a new campaign to get people walking, in order to help support those who feel “lonely and frightened” during lockdown. His challenge encourages people to log their walking on social media using the hashtag #WalkWithTom, and through this he hopes to raise money for his foundation, which aims to combat loneliness and support those facing bereavement. The facts on loneliness in the UK are truly alarming. Half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all, and 45% of all adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England. This equates to twenty million people and does not include the many children and young people who also feel lonely and unloved. (Check out https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/ for more information). Captain Tom says that, ‘we are in a difficult situation but we’ll get through it if we all join together,’ and after already raising millions for the NHS he knows what he’s talking about!

We looked up references to loneliness in the Bible (we used the New International Version but other versions gave much the same results) and found only four references, so we wonder if this concept was alien, or at least not experienced much, in the society into which Jesus was born. Like most ancient cultures, and many which still exist today, life revolved around family and times of worship, agriculture and festivals, rites of passage and community. Jesus travelled with a group of friends and had to physically remove himself if he wanted some time alone; provision was made by relatives and friends for widows and orphans so that they could still be part of community life and the earliest Christian believers lived communally… all things we either let the state do or find a bit strange today! But our urge for independence and autonomy has left a trail of very real loneliness in its wake, and we have a duty as Christians to ensure that all those whom God has placed in our community do not feel isolated, alone or even forgotten.

In Psalm 25, King David wrote ‘Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted’, so even for a man after God’s own heart, loneliness could strike. David was a soldier and was often on the field of battle, especially in his youth, so he knew about fear and the isolation it brings. But he also knew that his refuge was in God and that his ultimate companion was the Lord who could relieve the troubles of his heart and free him from anguish. On this Remembrance Sunday, we give thanks for all those who gave up so much that we could have the freedoms we enjoy today, and we recognise the fear and isolation they must have felt so often. They fought against oppression for the sake of their families and friends, and in so doing mirrored the sacrifice of Jesus, who, in isolation and pain, exemplified what He had taught his disciples: ‘My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ (John 15:12-13)

We might not be called to lay down our lives amongst gunfire and mud, but God expects us to live sacrificially for the sake of each other’s well-being. Ending loneliness is a battle worth fighting, and God does not leave us to fight it alone.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

…may God …equip you with everything good for doing his will

Dear friends,
Our little granddaughter had a birthday this week, and her big present was a toy kitchen. It has everything the modern kitchen needs – cupboards, oven, hob and microwave – and we all chipped in to buy the relevant pots, pans, tea set and food items. It is a lovely thing and she loves it, probably because it is completely appropriate for her. It’s a good fit for her age and ability and lets her imagination soar, so we are looking forward to sharing many imaginary cups of tea and pieces of cake. She has been watching her mum and dad cooking for a long time, and had started to ‘borrow’ the pans to play with, but that equipment was not appropriate for her and her parents need it. At her age she naturally wants to copy what they do, and try it out for herself, but she is very small, and she has to be kept safe, so the answer is a kitchen of her own.

It’s made us wonder what things we might be trying to copy, or cling on to, because they spark our curiosity and imaginations. There are so many interesting initiatives we could try, both as individuals and as churches, but there is wisdom in making sure that we either adapt what others are doing so that it becomes a good fit for us – to make it appropriate for our own context, as we’ve had to do to identify the best way for us to do online church – or to accept that we are not the right people for that particular task.  It’s so easy to go down a path that takes us to a place where we end up merely coping, rather than thriving, so perhaps the best question to ask is ‘what resources has God given us?’  because they will tell us what he wants us to do.

Right now we are asking difficult questions about where God is leading His church, and we are struggling to do things in new and appropriate ways.  For example, we are particularly mindful of the younger children in our wider church community who are not getting access to the groups which help them to thrive. We cannot hold Noah’s Ark at the moment, or take the children out to our Zone group during the Sunday morning service, and this hurts us as well as them. So we have looked at the advice we have been given and the stories which other churches are telling, and we have decided to adapt the new Messy Church guidelines to our current context, as this provides at least one way of connecting with those we have been ministering to over recent years. Last Sunday afternoon, we held an ‘in person’, Covid-secure, much reduced Messy Church session because we believed (correctly!) that God had given us the means to do it. But we are also aware that there are many other things we want to do which are just not appropriate for us any more, at least for the time being. If you like, they no longer fit, perhaps because we don’t yet have the resources we need to allow us to do the work properly and safely, or perhaps because God has other plans for us.

But just because what we used to do might no longer fit, either in church or in our own lives, we can hold on to the truth that God never leaves us empty-handed if he wants us to do something for him. Perhaps, in keeping with our current sermon series, you feel that God is saying ‘no’ to the way of doing things you have become accustomed to, and which seemed to be working well. But if that time has passed, and new ways are now required, let’s pray that God will give us the resources which we need, so that we can be fully and appropriately equipped to thrive once more, and to let our imaginations soar.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

…each member belongs to all the others…

Dear friends,

Like so many of you, we sponsor a child through Compassion UK. Our Joseph, who lives in the Philippines, is now 10 years old and loves playing football on the beach, and messing about with anything technological which he can get his hands on. We send him photos, and he was very taken with one of Windsor Castle and another of a steam engine – and particularly the scene we sent him of both of us walking in the snow. His letters are short but full of detail, so we know that he is currently not able to go to school because of the pandemic, and that he had a great birthday in spite of going without any party or surprises this year. He loves his mum and dad and tells us how blessed he is to have them, and always lets us know that we are in his prayers. It’s fantastic to think that we are part of this little boy’s life, even though he is so far away, and we look forward to his letters. But what particularly strikes us is that in so many ways Joseph’s hopes and dreams and passions are exactly the same as those of the son of a friend of ours, who lives in the south of England, and who celebrated his 10th birthday just a week before Joseph’s. These two boys, living on opposite sides of the world, show us that our stories are so often the same, in spite of the very differing contexts in which they take place.

We have seen that this is true throughout this pandemic, as people share their stories of loss, fear, courage and strength regardless of who they are or where they live. Everyone has been affected in some way and so often their experiences are the same. Just this week BBC Breakfast interviewed a family whose loved one was in a care home, and were currently unable to share physical time and space with her, so that they were very afraid that she was beginning to forget them. The BBC was consequently inundated with stories from others who were experiencing exactly the same fears and concerns, so that it became very apparent that this was a real crisis point for thousands of people. No matter who we are, or where we live, we have the same reactions and emotions, the same cares and anxieties, the same hopes and desires, because what unites us is so much greater than that which divides us. Even when we have never experienced the situations ourselves we can still feel compassion and sympathy, as God has made all of us in His image and so allows all of us to feel the links that bind us together in common humanity.

Everybody’s story is therefore necessary and valuable to us, as they give us insights into ourselves and our own experiences and values. That is why we are so keen to hear your stories, particularly at this time, as they encourage and enlighten us and give us hope. It doesn’t matter if the subject matter seems mundane and unimportant, because just knowing that someone out there is experiencing something with which we can identify reassures us that we are part of something bigger. The apostle Paul says that ‘in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others’, so in order to feel ‘whole’ we all need to recognise our connectedness and unity. So please think carefully about how you too can help us to feel united through the stories we share. Has God blessed you in some way which, if shared, would bless all of us? Or have you gone through a difficulty and come out the other side knowing that God was with you throughout it, making you stronger? If so, please let us know, so that we can all benefit and the body can be strengthened.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

The unexpected guest

Dear friends,
The other day – just as our online Deacons meeting was starting – there was an unexpected knock on our door, and we opened it to find Matthew’s brother on the doorstep. He is a taxi driver, and had just completed a rather lucrative job, taking someone from Bournemouth to Heathrow Airport, before deciding to call in on us on his way home, on the off-chance that we were in.

Of course, our deacons were very understanding and started the meeting without us, while we caught up briefly with one of the special people in our lives, who we had not seen in person for over a year.

The following day, we received another unexpected visit, this time from our granddaughter… along with her own taxi driver, also known as her mum!

It occurred to us that in these rather strange times, when we are rightly discouraged by the ‘rule of six’ from mingling too much with other households, and when in some parts of the country such visits are temporarily illegal in an effort to stop the spread of the dreaded virus, visits like this from loved ones take on a much greater significance and can bring much joy. We no longer take them for granted, especially when we don’t know if and when we ourselves might come under even greater restrictions on gathering with friends and family.

In their concluding encouragements, the writer of the book of Hebrews says this: – ‘Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are suffering as if you yourselves were suffering.’

In challenging times, these are important principles to hold on to and value. Where we have the opportunity to spend time with others, it can be an unexpected gift of joy from God, in which they might be the unexpected gift to us, or we might be the unexpected gift to the other person (just make sure you are not presenting them with the gift of Covid as well!). And where circumstances prevent us from meeting up, then God calls us to find ways of identifying with those in the ‘prison’ of unwanted isolation from friends and family. Where visits are not possible or are inadvisable, that might involve taking the time to make a phone call, or a video call via Zoom or FaceTime, and spending time with them that way.

The greatest unexpected visit of all was of course the visit of Jesus to this world, to show us God’s love and to free us from the ‘prison’ of our isolation from God. That is the good news of the Gospel, which we are called to take into all the world, and into our own relationships with colleagues, family and friends through the way that we value them. So next time you receive an unexpected visit, give God thanks for the joy that it brings. And remember that you too can be a means of bringing God’s love whenever you are the unexpected visitor – whether in person or virtual!

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Waiting on the move

Dear friends,

The other day Pauline was stuck in a queue outside the local chemist’s. Getting more than a little bored, she texted Matthew to tell him that there were five people in front of her; then ten minutes later she texted again to say that there was now only one, so that she was moving as well as waiting. In his wisdom Matthew messaged right back with some theology about waiting for God to move, as well as something about moving on while continuing to wait… Pauline was naturally hugely impressed and grateful for this inspired input while she stood in a rather chilly wind with her collar turned up and her mask firmly on her face… Back in the warmth of the study we listened to Joth Hunt, our regional minister talking about waiting (you can hear his message during today’s online service) and we felt that Pauline’s experience confirmed our impression that as a church we are most definitely waiting on the move.

It has been a long time since we gathered together in person, so we are naturally glad that our Sunday services will soon resume. But for some of us the waiting will continue, as we might be in a vulnerable group, so should not be going out into the company of others more than necessary; or perhaps we might feel that we simply don’t want to take the risk of coming into contact with the virus. Some of us have young children, and as there are no children’s groups meeting yet, it might be easier to stay home and carry on watching Virtual Sunday School. These are good and valid concerns, especially if they help to keep us and others safe, and we would encourage everybody who prefers to wait a little longer before returning to church (or who should do so) to carry on doing just that. Our online service will continue, as will our after-church Zoom coffee catch-up, so no-one will miss out by staying home.

But even as we continue waiting, we are also moving on. On a practical level, we are planning to open the church for Sunday services from September 6th, though with many restrictions in place. There is a video on our website which tells you what that will entail, and we have included it in this morning’s service. Please watch it very carefully, and think about how the new way of doing things will affect you, before you decide to book in and join us. But there is more to moving on than just physical movement, because along with every other church in the country, we must listen to what God is saying before we can act. In our own context, we have concerns which reach beyond our Sunday services, and waiting for God’s voice is difficult, especially with regard to groups where we have worked for years to build up trust and relationship. So please keep Noah’s Ark, Messy Church and Messy Zone in your prayers, and ask God to make plain His plans for those groups, and for the families and children who love them. Ask Him to bless and keep safe our precious Zone children, whose faith is burgeoning, but needs to be nurtured in community with each other. Foodshare is thriving, but please keep praying for the new team which now runs it, and let’s all give thanks for Sarah, whose work has blessed hundreds of people in our community. In other words, even if we still feel we are physically waiting, in fact all of us are moving on, because through our faithful and intentional prayers we will know His will, and find His direction.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

…was lost and is found

Dear friends,
The other day Pauline lost her key to our front door, and she turned the house upside down looking for it. It wasn’t in any of the obvious places (handbags, shelf in the hall etc.) so she looked everywhere else (kitchen cupboards, fridge, washing machine…) to no avail. We tried the church building late in the evening, but there was not a key in sight. Finally, with every possibility exhausted except that it had got lost when we were out for a walk, we resigned ourselves to its loss, along with the attached Tesco club card. Our only hope was that if anyone did find it, they would at least shop at Tesco and use our card to earn points for our account. Just before bed, Pauline went into the kitchen, and noticed that the small stack of flyers on the work surface which she had moved to one side during the search had slipped slightly…and there was the key just visible under the top sheet. Crisis over!

It’s true that small dramas so often turn into crises, especially when our frustration boils over into real anger or despair. Thankfully, no-one got hurt in this particular case as Matthew kept his head down and didn’t say anything unhelpful! But for Pauline it was a real worry, and she gave grateful thanks to God when the key was safely back where it should be. But whether it’s a lost item, an unhelpful conversation, or the prospect of a local lockdown, everything and anything can bring us to the point where we no longer have peace of mind. This is especially true at the moment, and until we bring ourselves to set aside our pride or fear, and tell each other how the issue is burdening us, we cannot rest. Once we have shared it with someone who understands, we can often put it aside and find life manageable again. And if the problem is subsequently solved, we can all share in the pleasure and relief.

Jesus understood this when he told his followers stories about a lost sheep and a lost coin, because he knew that what we value has deep significance for us, so that something apparently unimportant is still worth seeking and finding when it is lost. These were actually valuable items, but the owners still possessed many more of the same, so that an extensive search for the lost ones might have seemed more trouble than it was worth. Yet they searched with all their might and when they found what they were looking for they shared their joy with their neighbours and celebrated together. But Jesus also tells a third story, which explores the pain of a father whose most beloved son intentionally loses himself, so he can do nothing more except watch and pray that his boy will come to his senses and come home. Israelite fathers were not supposed to care about disrespectful children who had left them without a backward glance, so this story was shocking in its implication that to God we are of such immeasurable value that He seeks us with all His heart, and watches out for us until we turn back to Him and are found. When we do He celebrates, and all heaven with Him.

God knows and cares when we lose our peace of mind, as it is always precious to Him. Whatever the cause, let’s not be afraid to share our small dramas as well as our great crises with Him, and with each other, mindful that His heart and love are with us when we do. And when the crisis is past, and that which was lost is found, so that our peace is restored and life can begin again, let’s celebrate together.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Waiting on the move

Dear friends,

The other day Pauline was stuck in a queue outside the local chemist’s. Getting more than a little bored, she texted Matthew to tell him that there were five people in front of her; then ten minutes later she texted again to say that there was now only one, so that she was moving as well as waiting. In his wisdom Matthew messaged right back with some theology about waiting for God to move, as well as something about moving on while continuing to wait… Pauline was naturally hugely impressed and grateful for this inspired input while she stood in a rather chilly wind with her collar turned up and her mask firmly on her face… Back in the warmth of the study we listened to Joth Hunt, our regional minister talking about waiting (you can hear his message during today’s online service) and we felt that Pauline’s experience confirmed our impression that as a church we are most definitely waiting on the move.

It has been a long time since we gathered together in person, so we are naturally glad that our Sunday services will soon resume. But for some of us the waiting will continue, as we might be in a vulnerable group, so should not be going out into the company of others more than necessary; or perhaps we might feel that we simply don’t want to take the risk of coming into contact with the virus. Some of us have young children, and as there are no children’s groups meeting yet, it might be easier to stay home and carry on watching Virtual Sunday School. These are good and valid concerns, especially if they help to keep us and others safe, and we would encourage everybody who prefers to wait a little longer before returning to church (or who should do so) to carry on doing just that. Our online service will continue, as will our after-church Zoom coffee catch-up, so no-one will miss out by staying home.

But even as we continue waiting, we are also moving on. On a practical level, we are planning to open the church for Sunday services from September 6th, though with many restrictions in place. There is a video on our website which tells you what that will entail, and we have included it in this morning’s service. Please watch it very carefully, and think about how the new way of doing things will affect you, before you decide to book in and join us. But there is more to moving on than just physical movement, because along with every other church in the country, we must listen to what God is saying before we can act. In our own context, we have concerns which reach beyond our Sunday services, and waiting for God’s voice is difficult, especially with regard to groups where we have worked for years to build up trust and relationship. So please keep Noah’s Ark, Messy Church and Messy Zone in your prayers, and ask God to make plain His plans for those groups, and for the families and children who love them. Ask Him to bless and keep safe our precious Zone children, whose faith is burgeoning, but needs to be nurtured in community with each other. Foodshare is thriving, but please keep praying for the new team which now runs it, and let’s all give thanks for Sarah, whose work has blessed hundreds of people in our community. In other words, even if we still feel we are physically waiting, in fact all of us are moving on, because through our faithful and intentional prayers we will know His will, and find His direction.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Losing control

Dear friends,

A few days after A level results were published, a young girl was interviewed on BBC Breakfast. She had missed out on the grades she needed for her university course, and told the reporter:  “My future has been set back completely. I would have happily sat the exams but it was up to the government,” adding that she was angry her results had been affected by something out of her control. There is no doubt that thousands of young people knew exactly how she felt that morning, and the ensuing crisis over how the grades were awarded probably only added to their feelings of helplessness, as their futures were apparently decided by a computer algorithm over which none of them had any control. The fall-out from the government’s subsequent U-turn in favour of teacher assessment is still with us, and doubtless the controversy will rumble on throughout the coming months.

The feeling that we are out of control of events which are seriously impacting our lives can be extremely frightening as well as inducing anger and frustration. This particular season has seen thousands of people losing their jobs in industries which were thriving, but which are now at the mercy of economic forces outside their control. Our bodies can let us down, leading to medical diagnoses which suddenly propel us into treatment we would rather not endure. Family breakdown, the sudden change of life after an accident, unexpected bereavement and a myriad of other circumstances all leave us reeling and suddenly aware that the plans we had for the future were not securely in our hands as we had once believed

Thankfully God has not left us to founder in the wreckage of our expectations and unfulfilled hopes. There are secure promises in the Bible which tell us that the future is safe in His hands and that there is no need to fear. Sometimes these verses are quoted so often that they lose their resonance (Jeremiah 29:11 is one example!), but they are eternal truths to which we can cling when things are spiralling out of our control. Proverbs 19:21 says that ‘many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails’, and these words tell us that even when our own plans seem good to us, God has a greater one which cannot be put aside.

We have found this particular promise to be true on several occasions in our own lives, and although sometimes it can be difficult to bow to God’s will when we would prefer to go our own way, it is also enormously reassuring to know that God has a purpose for us when all our plans go awry. That was certainly true when sudden illness threatened Matthew’s earlier career with the police, but the ensuing change to our plans set us on a road which took us to a different destination. In the particular context of exam results, we have seen young people reluctantly take up offers at universities which were not their first choice, only to thrive once they arrived there. And in the struggles which seem futile, or which appear to give only negative outcomes and weaken our faith, we can still cling to the promise that no circumstance is outside God’s concern. As we have said in the past to our young people, our lives and futures do not depend on the grades we receive, or the opinion of others; rather, they are in God’s hands and He is always in control.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

The Heat is On!

Dear Friends,

By the time you read this the weather will probably be cool and cloudy, because British weather is notoriously changeable, but at the time of writing the thunder clouds were rolling in on a day of searing heat. At home we could not find an inch of cool space, in spite of the drawn curtains and closed windows which we hoped would keep out some of the sun’s rays. Everyone we spoke to was complaining of their clothes sticking to them, of sleepless nights and the terrible lethargy which stopped us all from doing anything productive. The weather presenters described the nights as ‘tropical’, but we weren’t geared up for it in non-tropical Windsor, and everywhere you heard the same lament…’It’s too hot!’

We talk about ‘the heat is on’, when we are in an extreme situation, or that ‘things are hotting up’ when a crisis is brewing. Heat is energy, and we could feel it in the air when the storms were threatening, oppressing us like a weight as the atmosphere grew close and unpleasant. It’s no wonder that heat can become a metaphor for times when we feel that things around us are becoming too much for us to cope with, when we feel burnt out and in need of refreshment.

Many of the Biblical writers spoke of God’s care for His people as a refuge when times were hot, stormy and tough. In Isaiah 4:6 we read that God’s glory ‘will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding-place from the storm and rain’; and Psalm 121 tells us that ‘The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night’, so we know that for thousands of years God’s love for His people has promised them sanctuary from all that threatens to burn them up or sweep them away.

Jesus demonstrated this in a supremely practical way when he was on the Sea of Galilee, perhaps after a day of intense heat, when ‘a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’ (Matthew 8:24-27).

This story is a great example of how the Lord of Creation can still the storm with just a few words, so how wonderful to realise that this is the same Lord who has promised never to leave us or forsake us. It’s interesting, however, that Jesus does not tell the storm to clear off before they get in the boat! He waits until it is in full swing, asleep and apparently unconcerned because those with Him are in no danger while He is with them. But at their call He wakes up and calms the waters. They were obviously shaken and upset by the experience, but Jesus did not try to shield them from the storm raging around them. Instead He protected them from its effects, and in doing so told them great things about Himself and their relationship with Him. For some of us today the heat may be on and the storm may be brewing, but we can be absolutely certain that we are safe in the company of Jesus, who will watch over us and protect us from the after-effects of the crisis, keeping us sheltered and shaded from the heat of the day so that we will not be burned up or swept away.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young

Dear friends,

During our recent Noah’s Ark Zoom session we experienced a takeover bid by one of the participants. He took the opportunity to activate the edit mode on the video we were watching and virtually painted what might have been a piece of high quality contemporary art all over our shared screens. Alternatively it might just have been a scribble, as he is four years old and had commandeered his dad’s phone in order to share in what we were doing. Dad was obviously letting him express his artistry freely, while the rest of us were laughing too much to sing the song about animals going two by two into the ark which we were supposed to be leading. As most of the leaders didn’t have a clue how to do what the little one achieved so easily, it proved to be a humbling experience, and it showed us all very clearly that being very young is a great advantage when it comes to technology!

This led later to some serious thinking on our part, as the Southern Counties Baptist Association had just advertised its next online gathering for ministers and leaders, and one of the subjects for discussion is the need to ‘pivot’ towards younger adults. We can all appreciate that it is essential to identify and train our younger people, most especially if there are very few of them and they are still on the periphery of church life without any opportunity to feel valued as an essential part of our life together. Our experience at our toddler group might have made us laugh, but it also challenged us that we must identify and value the skills of our younger people and start using them, if we are to remain current and grow.

We wonder if God is challenging us all at this time to consider carefully what responsibility we have in this area. Mentoring younger Christians is a sacred task, whether they are four or forty, most especially when they turn to us for help and guidance in spiritual matters. But it is also hugely important to allow them to thrive in more everyday tasks, as these are the things which will help all of us to make our way in today’s rapidly changing society. It’s not just four-year olds who have things to teach us about social media and technology and there is no doubt that the passion young people feel for social justice and equality puts our own in the shade. We have personally benefitted enormously from spending time at Soul Survivor every summer for the last few years, not just from the speakers and new worship songs that have blessed us, but through the conversations and prayer times we have had with the young people who were supposed to be being led by us.

Years ago, when we were both youth leaders at Slough Baptist Church, the words written by the apostle Paul for his protégé Timothy were written on the wall of the youth group room: ‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity’. Now more than ever we need to look at the example set for us by our younger members, graciously accept that they know more than we do in so many areas, and that God is calling us to encourage them and set them on the path which will bless them, and us, in the years ahead. We firmly believe that God is leading His whole Church in this direction, and we must follow where He leads.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

I will remember the deeds of the Lord

At the deacons meeting this week, we were reminded that the Israelites would often recall their history, so that they never forgot that God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. In recounting their story, they also had to face the reality that their ancestors had frequently forgotten God’s goodness to them, so that they risked losing their relationship with Him, their great provider and sustainer. This had happened within a short time of their release from Egypt, when the visible reminder of God’s presence had been in their midst as a cloud of fire and smoke, so that even in those days of miraculous provision the people still forgot that He was with them and grumbled when they couldn’t have what they thought they needed.

It is easy for us to do the same when it is so difficult to be together in person, sharing our stories of how God has blessed us, and there is a real danger that we will begin to forget about God’s goodness and His everlasting purposes. As we leave the enforced strictures of the last few months behind, the danger is that, like the Israelites, we become anxious to have what we believe we need, and so try to rush ahead without God‘s guiding hand upon us. This is particularly true with regard to opening our church building again, which is something we all want, but the accompanying lengthy documents with pages of guidance on what we must do beforehand, means that is neither right nor fair to proceed without due care. We cannot ride rough shod over the government’s advice, and we have responsibilities which we cannot shirk, even if they are very onerous. But that does not mean we should complain or forget who is really in charge,  because the God who brought the Israelites out of slavery is the same God who rescues us today, and He will take us at exactly the right pace for us.

When the Israelites became increasingly aware of their inclination to forget what God had done for them, the answer lay in making remembering the past their shared responsibility. Psalm 78 begins with these words:

My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth…things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.

We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.

The truth is simple and it sets us free: Our God is Lord of all and when we cannot see how best to progress, we can recall what He has already done, and remind all those in our church family that His deeds are praiseworthy, and His power endless. Through Jesus we have the assurance that our sins are forgiven and that our relationship with God the Father is eternally assured. He has built His church and promises that the gates of Hell itself will not prevail against it, so we need not fear that our fellowship will end because our services together are delayed by restrictions which seem burdensome and even sometimes unnecessary. Remember what God has done for us, remind each other when we grow weary and seem likely to fail, and let Him do the rest.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

All the believers were together…

Dear Friends,
For the past three weeks we have been able to spend time in each other’s gardens, as long as we adhere to the government’s guidelines (social distancing, no more than six people etc), so at the first opportunity we took to the M25 in order to visit our daughter, son-in-law and little granddaughter. It was terribly hard to keep them all at 2 metres distance, but it was wonderful to breathe the same air and to talk to them face to face. The same applied to our visit to our son and daughter-in-law, as although we had all met up regularly online, there was no substitute for being together physically, even at arm’s length! We are sure that you have done likewise if at all possible, and you might even be able to form ‘bubbles’ with some of your family or friends, so that you can actually hold your precious loved ones in your arms again.

Baptist church life should be the same. Early Baptists believed that faith must be experienced by individual choice, as a result of the free gift of the grace of God, so congregations of like-minded believers came together to worship God through prayer and preaching, believers baptism and sharing communion. They were inspired by the New Testament pattern of church, and because they were often on the margins of society they built links with other like-minded congregations. Associations were therefore part of their life from an early date, so gathering together is a very Baptistic way of being church. If we are missing that way of church life now, it’s because we are made in God’s image, and He is in the business of bringing people together in community.

But as we have seen in previous bulletins, that doesn’t mean that He will do so in exactly the same way as before, once this crisis is over. In our very first Keeping Connected bulletin, we said ‘God… is in the business of making all things new. He takes the things which we treasure, but which are naturally flawed and sometimes broken, and makes them into something new and durable, so perhaps He is doing so today…’. Those words are still true, as we continue to grapple with what the practical logistics of gathering together will entail.  Of course, it’s great that we can do so much online, and it’s likely that there will be no going back – new technologies will be part of church life from now on, and we will benefit greatly from them. So please get involved in our Zoom groups, join with us in praying together on Wednesday lunchtimes and Saturday mornings, and above all please watch and take part in our Sunday morning service so that we can still enjoy worshipping God together. These things keep us connected – and it’s vital that they do.

But when we can gather together again, no matter how far off that may be, it’s vitally important that we still feel the need to do so, sharing physical space as the body of Christ. We will never again take for granted being in the same room as those we love most, hugging them and not having to keep distance between us! So please don’t get too comfortable with ‘sofa church’ in your pyjamas – the time will come when we can once again walk through our doors on Smiths Lane, in whatever new ways God chooses to use.

With our love and prayers,

Matthew and Pauline