As we get ready for our Christmas events and services, here's what we'd love you to do ...
Christmas is a great opportunity to point people to some really good news! But we need God to be working in people's hearts if they're to receive the Christmas story for what it really is: life-giving, vital, joyful news!
So get praying for your friends and family, your colleagues and neighbours! Ask God who he wants you to invite to the different events - and prepare to be surprised - maybe the name or face of a colleague or neighbour you're not that close to will pop into your mind. Take that seriously, because maybe God has been preparing their hearts - and maybe they secretly want an invitation! Pray too for all involved in planning and running the different events we've got coming up.
And, remembering our current 3-words series, let's pray expectantly, remembering that God is able to do way more than we can imagine!
"How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?" asks Paul in Romans 10. So as well as praying for people, let's get inviting them! Hopefully there's something on offer for everyone - from children to older people and everyone in between; for those who like tradition and those who like informal; for those who are happy to come into a church building, those who would find that daunting, and those who can't get out at all.
Remember to make the invitation personal (rather than just a vague group invitation). And, remembering our current 3-words series, let's invite courageously, knowing that God is with us as we do so - especially if you felt God prompting you to invite someone you weren't expecting him to draw to mind!
Here's the link to all the Christmas events, and we'll soon be posting on Instagram and Facebook so you can spread the word there, too (but do invite face to face as well as virtually!).
Don't feel you've failed if they say 'no'. Focus on getting the invitation right, and leave the responses up to God.
We're preparing to welcome in hundreds of people from the local community to events for different schools as well as the events we're putting on ourselves. That takes a lot of work! If everyone serves, we'll be sorted! There's opportunities for delivering leaflets, serving refreshments, welcoming, shifting chairs, stewarding, helping with children's crafts, decorating the windowsills ... and more.
Click here to see what you might be able to do and sign up.
Click here to offer help to decorate the windowsills.
Click here to bring mulled wine or mince pies to our carol services.
Remembering our 3-words series, let's serve whole-heartedly - after all, the Christmas story is about how Jesus has come to serve us whole-heartedly!
We'd love to create a display of Christmas cards in the foyer - and we want to avoid a pile of unopened Christmas cards in January (which has often happened in the past!) So please, instead of sending cards to individuals in church, could you just write one card to the whole church family - and pin it on the board by the creche in the foyer, or bring it along to the office?
And remembering our 3-words series, well, there isn't a fourth word! So just get sending!
General Update from Paul Thaxter.
Many of you will have been following some of the distressing news of the war waged by Russia in Ukraine and praying for a just peace in the Ukraine. There have been over 8-9 million people displaced in the country. Many Ukrainians have moved to the west in the country where conditions are moderately better. As a bitter winter approaches the Russians have targeted the energy infrastructure in the nation in order to lower the morale of the Ukrainian people. In Kyiv it is getting extremely difficult moving around the city due to very limited transport. People are still flowing over the borders as matters get worse and countries like Moldova, Romania, Georgia and Poland are seeking to respond appropriately. Christians continue to make a real difference in this war-torn country. Please pray for the safety of CMS partners in the country. Furthermore, Christian military chaplains in the country are really stretched in their work and some travel far to be of help - a friend of mine said as he had travelled east. “It was very worthwhile but heart-breaking to see the pain and destruction first hand.”
There has been a record number of Ukrainians received into UK homes with over 90,000 families. Christians are playing their part. Recently at a Sanctuary UK conference a key Ukrainian co-ordinator said her fellow Ukrainians were living in the UK are struggling in 3 areas – longer-term housing, English speaking and understanding how to integrate into the wider culture quickly and how to find jobs. It can be difficult for many who do not have access to their documents, proof of education, evidence of bank deposits etc. They also have difficulties learning how to write CVs in job applications and how to interview well as there are cultural differences. e.g. Many Ukrainians are not used to stating or discussing their hobbies or personal interests in a job application process. Many are desperately trying to save up for a cash advance deposit for housing but it is difficult to do so.
The government is now fast-tracking Ukrainian teachers so they can work in the UK so that is good news.
Food and Basic Banks have been helpful around the country in an emergency and there is now a Baby Basics Bank - but the nearest one is Portsmouth which covers that city and Havant. There is, however a local, smaller Baby Bank who can take donations of baby equipment and clothes.
Other resources that may be helpful:
Mental health resources (also available in Russian and Ukrainian):
The Church Urban Fund has various good links on their website to help refugees
Be encouraged by how Christians are seeking to be part of the ongoing support for Ukrainians at this time.
St James by the Park Hosts
We are pleased that 5 families in the church now have Ukrainian guests staying with them for 6 months. Some of these families are linking up with other families in the community. This is both commendable and a big commitment so please do pray for our hosts and their guests. The hosts are supporting each other, sharing tips and advice and learning from each other and their Ukrainian guests. It is an enriching but challenging experience for all of them.
Here is a excerpt from one of our hosts from our church….(we seek to be discreet and maintain confidentiality and so avoiding personal names)
A story of a mother and her 2 young children who is now living here
“Despite lots of chasing, it took a painful & frustrating 4 months to get the visas to the UK. During that time her block of flats was shelled. Her flat was flooded and her upstairs neighbour was killed. After trying to dry things out, she took a 97 hour bus trip to Czech with her children for 6 months with no knowledge of the language and little company. She tried to save some of their benefits to support their father back home. Then they got visas for the UK. After a sleepless 37 hours bus & train journey, a mother and her young children with a pile of cases arrived at St Pancras. Remarkably they were still in good cheer with great big smiles on their faces.
They were exhausted when they arrived but spent their first day preparing a sumptuous thankyou meal for us and the Ukrainian woman and her family who had served as translator throughout the process of the previous 4 plus months (taking their combined funds down to less than £2.)
Our host shares that responsibility with her parents who have the accommodation. We then launched into the task of setting up life here. There have been so many doors needing to be pushed and others that seemed to be worth a try. Incredibly, and with a lot of help, advice and prayers from the churches in the wider Southampton area doors have opened – praise God!
Despite having little English, two weeks after arriving her and another Ukrainian woman both found jobs at pretty much the only workplace within walking distance. The company has a good reputation as an employer. Child care options have been found and church members have gifted laptops, football boots and strip, clothes, a bike, helmets, lights & locks.
We have become like an extended family and we share similar interests such as walking outside and our children have bonded really well. “
St James by the Church needs host supporters…
One of our hopes was that when guests came to live with host families in the church there would be a number who would offer to be host supporters. Several people said they could not host people but be willing to help in some way. No specific needs have been identified yet, but the support needed could potentially be around transport, spending time together as friends, meals, English language practice, provision of furniture, showing around the local area, assistance with admin, registering with GP, finding schools and colleges, applying for jobs. If you are interested in supporting host families please could you email Shirley Parish Office with an indication of what kind of assistance you think you could offer. Your email will be forwarded to us. (If you already have our email just email us directly.)
Wider church support needed…
It may also be that we will appeal for material needs at times and devise a simple way of doing that.
Also, at Christmas we may host a wider welcome event for Ukrainians but we will let you know about that nearer the time!
Takeaway Prayer points to pray in your homes and networks
• Please continue to watch the news – an act of solidarity with the Ukrainian people - and pray for the Ukraine but also for Russia – that it would seek a peaceful resolution.
• Pray for Ukrainians who are living in the UK and struggling in 3 areas – longer-term housing, English speaking and understanding how to integrate into the wider culture quickly and how to find jobs.
• Pray for Ukrainians who are carrying the trauma of their families, communities and nation in their hearts and minds and bodies so that they may receive respite, supportive counselling, listening hearts and ears, empathy, love and acceptance, in the ongoing trauma that war inevitably creates.
• Pray for our hosts that they will have wisdom, love and help to deal with the many complexities and perplexities of their situations.
• Pray for host supporters to provide assistance to hosts where needed.
• Pray for us as a Christian community at St James by the Park as we seek to grow into a community that anticipates Revelation 7:9..
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
There have been a number of leadership changes over the last few months, with more announced here:
Dave Arbery, Church Council member, writes about October's meeting:
The meeting started with a reflection on Matthew 7.24-27 (The wise and foolish builders). During stormy times- personally, nationally and globally- we must build our foundations on Jesus. Seeking the kingdom of God in all decision making will allow us to do this no matter what the storm throws our way (as Dan said on Sunday, God will only give us what he knows we can handle). Prayer and reflection on the song ‘Firm Foundation’ (Cody Carnes) led us into our meeting.
The first topic was around the external missions group on their proposals for who we will be supporting and by how much in the coming years. The PCC had a healthy debate around the unanimous desire to support these charities generously, considering the valuable work they do, and the necessity to be prudent with our limited finances, especially in the current climate. Further decisions are required in the coming months and the final details will be presented to the wider church.
Next was safeguarding. We heard a summary of the Church of England’s ‘Past Cases Review’- a sobering listen. Rosie fed some information about the team’s latest meeting to us, rest assured that the PCC takes its responsibilities very seriously, led by the outstanding safeguarding team.
The final main topic was around Pastoral Ministry. There is a lot of need in our parish for this kind of ministry and we had a broad discussion about what, who and how we may be able to meet this requirement.
We also discussed:
This obituary was originally published in The Times:
In 1957, Anne van der Bijl, a Dutch missionary known as Brother Andrew, travelled to Moscow in a battered blue Volkswagen Beetle. Although religious belief was actively persecuted in the Soviet Union, piled on his back seat were dozens of copies of the Bible. It was the start of what would become a decade-long mission to smuggle Bibles across the Iron Curtain.
Declaring on visa applications that his occupation was “teacher”, Brother Andrew rarely found himself denied official permission. When he reached border patrols, his car overflowing with Bibles and tracts, he would mutter a prayer under his breath: “Lord, who made blind eyes see; now make seeing eyes blind.” Time and again, customs officers waved him onwards with a cheery greeting. In Czechoslovakia, when the suppression of the Prague Spring had put an end to relative religious freedom, he even handed out Bibles to the occupying Soviet troops, who were left somewhat bemused.
On his travels, Brother Andrew discovered the subtle ways in which the communist authorities, instead of banning the Church, ground down its leaders and worshippers, ensuring that they were demoralised. Christian agitators lost their jobs for spurious reasons and were denied university places without explanation. State-sponsored official churches gave the impression of a freedom of faith while underground churches, where allegiance to the state did not go hand in hand with allegiance to faith, were persecuted.
The battered VW Beetle became the symbol of Brother Andrew’s charity, Open DoorsAfter half a dozen journeys, distributing Bibles in Yugoslavia, Hungary and East Germany, Brother Andrew was summarily arrested during a return visit to Yugoslavia and expelled from the country. It marked the beginning of a more formal Bible-smuggling operation called Open Doors, using an ever-expanding volunteer base to take the Gospel to the east. His VW Beetle became the symbol of the charity.
In 1964, Brother Andrew published an autobiography that included stories of his derring-do and dangerous border crossings. God’s Smuggler sold more than ten million copies in 35 languages, and led to a big expansion of Open Doors’ work until it had 200 staff working in 20 countries, all funded by donations from Christian churches. In recent years, Open Doors sponsored Project Samuel, an operation to supply a million schoolchildren in the former Soviet Union with their first Bibles.
Brother Andrew was born Anne van de Bijl in 1928, in the village of Sint Pancras in the northern part of the Netherlands. He was the son of a blacksmith father and semi-invalid mother. During his teens the Germans invaded his small town of Witte, and the enterprising boy claimed to have formed a one-man resistance force, harassing the occupiers with fireworks and putting petrol in their diesel tanks.
In 1946, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the Dutch army, and was soon posted to Indonesia in the Dutch East Indies, where the colonists were fighting a dirty and bloody war. Shot twice in the foot, he found himself convalescing in the care of Christian nurses, and on his return home in 1949 was invited to a revival meeting, where he fully embraced the Christian faith.
After working in a factory, he enrolled in 1953 at the World Evangelisation Crusade Missionary Training College in Glasgow, taking Bible classes and studying systematic theology, homiletics, linguistics and car mechanics. As an exercise in faith, the students were sent out into Scotland in groups of five with only £1 between them, from which they were expected to pay for transport, lodgings, food, advertising and hall rental. They were not to take up offerings or mention monetary needs on their travels, and were expected to refund the £1 upon their return. Andrew’s team returned with enough money to send several students on missions overseas, himself included.
His first was to the camps of west Berlin, that half of a long-divided city that was an island of western influence in the middle of the German Democratic Republic. Here, even in the mid-1950s, the flotsam and jetsam of the Second World War — the stateless, the homeless, the confused and the forgotten — lived in squalor alongside more recent refugees, those who had made a narrow escape as the Iron Curtain descended across Europe.
From there it was for Brother Andrew but a short step to the east.
Under the pretext of attending a youth conference, Brother Andrew visited Poland in 1955 to see what communism was doing to the Church behind the Iron Curtain. He had taken with him some religious tracts entitled The Way of Salvation and, giving the official tour group the slip, managed to give most of them away, including several to Red Army soldiers. He was also invited to preach at an underground church, an occasion that brought home for him the true suffering of believers behind the Iron Curtain.
Back home he was fêted as a hero. Sympathisers and supporters provided the financial means to continue his journeys. In 1965, he entered China from Hong Kong. Obtaining a visa to travel behind the Bamboo Curtain, he was advised, would be impossible because of his recent destinations. When he visited the China Travel Agency in Hong Kong, and an official said: “You cannot possibly go to China because these countries are our enemies.”
“But,” Brother Andrew replied, “they are not my enemies.” Three days later he was on a train to the border town of Lo Wu. When he was instructed by a young Chinese customs officer to open his suitcase, his bulging supplies of Chinese Bibles were clearly visible. However, she did not touch a thing and waved him through, possibly not aware even of what a Bible looked like.
Once inside the country he found a more dispiriting atmosphere than anything he had seen in Eastern Europe — indifference and apathy. Instead of a persecuted Church, he found Bibles on sale but no one buying them, and seminaries with evidence that western missionaries had collaborated in espionage with their own embassies. He left the vast country, where countless western missionaries had proselytised less than a century earlier, a broken and disillusioned man.
In communist Cuba, by contrast, he was welcomed with relatively little harassment. However, he soon found it necessary to declare his Dutch credentials as the majority of Protestant churches had been American missions, and even Christians had been brainwashed into believing that the United States was the great enemy.
The next communist country he visited was Albania. Whenever he “accidentally” left a tract or Bible in a hotel, on a counter or by the street, he found that someone would chase after him to return his “lost” goods.
In 1977, Brother Andrew went to Uganda to encourage the church when the dictator Idi Amin was purging the country of perceived threats. After returning home, he learnt that his name was on a list of people Amin wanted arrested and executed. “Somewhere in my office I still have a copy of that list,” he said years later.
Rarely put off by dangerous situations, Brother Andrew visited war-torn Lebanon twice a year during the 1980s, encouraging Christians there and trying to build bridges between the various factions. With Bibles in hand, he went to see the prime minister and the president, and most of the generals of the various armies engaged in the civil war. He also had his first contact with Ayatollah Fadlallah, the spiritual inspiration for the fundamentalist group Hezbollah. Later, he made contact with Hamas, when their leaders were deported by Israel to southern Lebanon.
At this point, he decided to have another go at penetrating China. Project Pearl was the name he gave to the secret delivery of one million Bibles to the country in a single night. The idea came from Christians in China, who told Brother Andrew’s team how, when and where to do it. “That was very illegal,” he said, with mild understatement.
After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1989, Brother Andrew turned his attention to the Middle East and the growing strength of Islam. There he encountered fundamentalist Muslims preparing to take part in suicide bombings. “They seem to have an endless supply of volunteers,” he noted, “because everybody wants to go to Heaven. Crying Allahu Akbar, they want to blow themselves, and those around them, up”. Although he didn’t believe that Christians should be suicide bombers, he did think they should show they were equally committed to their cause.
“Unless we witness to the point of laying down our lives, we won’t get anywhere,” he said. “This is what I saw the Russian and the Chinese Christians do under communism: lay down their lives in the gulag, the re-education camps, the labour camps. That’s why the Church won.”
In 1958, he married Corrie van Dam, a nurse who had tended his wounds immediately after he was repatriated from the Dutch East Indies, and whom he had later met again when they were working in a factory. She died in 2018, and he is survived by their five children.
Over the years Brother Andrew wrote 16 more books and received many honours, including a knighthood from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
The honour of which he was most proud, however, came after the fall of the Iron Curtain and he obtained copies of the KGB reports numbering more than 150 pages about his work in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. He was surprised that they had known so much about him, but had been unable to stop his work.
Anne van der Bijl (Brother Andrew), Bible smuggler, was born on May 11, 1928. He died on September 27, 2022, aged 94
We don't often see or hear much from the Bishop of Winchester - but he or she is the senior leader of the Diocese of Winchester, of which we are part. So they directly influence quite a lot of what happens in Shirley.
The post of Bishop of Winchester is currently vacant - and the diocese are asking us what we'd like in a new bishop, as they prepare to draw up a person specification etc. So ... this is your chance to influence the appointment of the next Bishop. If you want to have your say, read on ...
The team heading up this stage of the appointment process is known as the 'Vacancy in See committee'. Simon Clift is part of this committee. They have written to all parishes as follows:
On Thursday 1st September the first meeting of the Vacancy in See Committee of the Diocese of Winchester took place. The Committee is a group of 21 representatives elected and appointed from across our diocesan communities. Their task is to help feed into the discernment and appointment process for the next Bishop of Winchester.
Working in conjunction with the Archbishops’ Secretary for Appointments and the Prime Minister’s Appointment Secretary, the Committee is responsible for preparing a document that sets out qualities and skills needed in our next bishop in the context of the current state of the diocese. This document is known as a Statement of Needs.
At our meeting, the Committee was reminded that the Statement of Needs must be underpinned by two things. The first is listening. To this end, we want to hear from as many individuals, groups and communities across our diocese as possible.
Specifically, we invite you to complete a short questionnaire which has been designed to help us all articulate what we hope for in our new bishop. A link to this can be found here but please do contact us if you have any challenges accessing it.
Every response received to the questionnaire will be read by at least three members of the Committee (including the Chair), with answers collated and analysed to help inform the Statement of Needs. Short and concise answers to the questions are requested, please.
The death of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has meant that this consultation is beginning later than we had planned. Please may we ask you, therefore, having considered the questions and prayer about your response, to complete and return the questionnaire no later than the 10th October 2022. The sooner we have your responses, the sooner the analysis can begin.
Over the coming weeks and months, we aim to keep the diocesan community updated on the work of the Committee, whilst recognising the strict confidentiality that the process requires. Further details of the process will be shared on our website in the coming days, with regular updates shared through our weekly newsletters and social media channels.
The second vital ingredient at every stage of this process is prayer. Please pray for the Committee in the coming weeks and months, as they undertake this important task for us all.
‘Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.’ (Ephesians 3.20-21)
With all good wishes
Charles Stewart, Chair of the Vacancy in See Committee
Colin Harbidge, Secretary to the Vacancy in See Committee