Saturday, 28 June 2008


Children excluded from school with little or no hope for the future, were this week offered a lifeline by a Christian educational charity. The Lighthouse Group officially opened its third centre, providing a sanctuary for excluded children to learn at their own pace and to build relationships. At the launch, Big Issue founder John Bird explained how, as a young offender, he had been taught to read by a prison officer. Education, he said, had given him the chance to turn his life around – and it was important for organisations like the Lighthouse Group to take proactive measures. ‘You’ve got to give people opportunity, because hope’s not enough,’ he added. More than 50 young people are permanently excluded from school every day.

Source: Church of England Newspaper (27/6)

Christian CharitiesCould Lose Charitable Status!

From Times OnlineJune 24, 2008

Church charities face rule change threatRuth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
Christian charities that promote particular versions of the faith, such as a traditional stance on sex, could lose their charitable status under new guidance, the Church of England has warned. The established church believes there is a serious risk that dozens of charities could be affected by the Charity Commission's proposals to tighten up what constitutes a charity.

Earlier this year the commission published new guidance on what constitutes "public benefit", including on how religious charities must show they contribute to the public benefit. Under the same guidelines, many public schools are having to raise fees to pay for bursaries and other schemes to prove they benefit the poor.

Although the commission has made clear that it would only remove charitable status from an organisation as a last resort, the Church of England still believes there are grounds for concern. There are many thousands of church charities. Every parochial church council in the country is a charity, and there are more than 13,000 those alone. Under the Gift Aid scheme, these charities gain many hundreds of pounds a year in reclaimed tax on donations.

The Church is concerned that charities with narrow objectives, such as promoting a traditional sexual ethic, might be unable to prove public benefit. They are also objecting to the demand that pastoral work carried out by charities should be distinguished from purely secular or social work. In a society where faith-based providers of social welfare services are increasingly required to suppress their religious character, this would make their task even more difficult, the Church says.

"We are not aware of any legal basis for that proposition and would wish to argue strongly that what matters is the motivation of activity of this kind rather than what badges are attached to it in practice," the Church says in its response to the guidelines, published today.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Gospels to be specially printed for the Olympics

I cannot wait to share with you this wonderful good news that reached me by e-mail this morning. We will all be adding our prayers to all these plans to spread the Good News at the Olympics as the eyes and ears of the world turn to Beijing in a few weeks' time. I am so delighted!

"Bibles and Scripture booklets will be available to athletes in the Olympic village in Beijing this summer, despite rumours that Bibles would be banned at the games. In a major breakthrough, Chinese authorities have given the go-ahead for the printing and distribution of:

- 50,000 booklets with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in Chinese and English
- 10,000 Chinese-English Bibles
- 30,000 Chinese-English New Testaments

The Beijing Olympic organising committee has even, for the first time, allowed its logo to be used free of charge on the Gospel portions. The announcement follows controversy earlier this year over whether the Chinese authorities would allow Bibles to be made available at the Olympics.

James Catford, Chief Executive of Bible Society, said, ‘This is a major and exciting opportunity. We are privileged to be able to support the Church in China in the publishing of these Bibles and Scriptures during the Beijing Olympics.’

The booklets will be available to some 16,000 athletes and officials in the Olympic villages in Beijing and five other cities that are hosting events during the summer.

In other developments:

Places of worship have been set up within the Olympic village to provide religious services to athletes.
The Church in Beijing has been asked to provide people to staff the chapel and conduct worship services and prayers.
Please share this news with your church and friends – and please pray:

Thank God for this unique opportunity to make the Bible available in a country where, only 40 years ago, the Bible was banned.
Pray that people from across the world would encounter the Bible’s life-changing message through the Scriptures available at the Olympics.
Pray for those staffing the Olympic village chapel, that they would be powerful witnesses for God’s embracing love.
Pray for the Bible Society staff who have been working hard to create this opportunity, for continued energy, creativity and passion in their work.
To join Bible Society in supporting the printing of Scriptures at the Olympics,

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Chinese babies named 'Olympic Games'

Chinese children are often named after virtues or events.
More than 4,000 children in China have been given the name Aoyun, meaning Olympic Games, in the past 15 years.

The rise in popularity of the name is seen as a sign of support for the Games being staged in August in Beijing. Officials in charge of identity cards say that more than 92% of the 4,104 registered Aoyuns are boys.

It is not uncommon for Chinese children to be given names of common events and popular slogans - such as Defend China, Build the Nation and Space Travel.

There are 290,798 registered Civilisations.

The first surge in Aoyuns came in 1992, when China applied to host to the 2000 Games. About 680 Aoyuns were registered at the time.

In 2002 another 553 Aoyuns were named, after China was chosen to host the 2008 Games.

The BBC's Chinese service says that in recent weeks babies have also been given names such as Hope for Sichuan, to show solidarity with earthquake victims.

Source: BBC World News Channel 11th june 2008

Saturday, 14 June 2008

How can we help further?

It is 10 years now that my church, Caversham Heights Methodist Church in Reading has been twinned with the United Church of Zambia church and school in Mindolo in the Copperblet region. We have had several exchanges of personnel and, among other things, have been delighted to pay the salaries of staff at the Race Course Community School there.

Recently, our Minister, the Revd Dermot Thornberry, and his wife Charlene have visited to assess the needs of the Mindolo community with a view to working out the best way for us to continue our help in the future. This is their initial report -

"Imagine being used to a certain comforting smell and then suddenly it is not there!
Imagine being used to a familiar voice and then suddenly it is not there!
Imagine being fed by a warm body and then suddenly this is also taken away from you.
You are only 4 months old you no longer have your mother,
Your mother has died of HIV AIDS and life has suddenly become very very unpleasant.
You experience fear.

"This is just one of the many sad stories we encountered on our trip to Mindolo Community Zambia. Children are losing their parents to AIDS and grandparents are having to step in and attempt to bring up their grandchildren. Money is scarce and there is no help from the state. The United Church of Zambia in Mindolo does what it can to aid these struggling families but the church coffers are bare. Poverty abounds in Zambia. Death and disease are constant companions.

"However, at the Race Course Community School there was a glimmer of hope when we visited. The children at the school are so keen to learn. There are 1800 pupils and each class has three sessions. Well in advance of each session starting the children are already lining up to go to their classes. The children are polite and well mannered and it was a pleasure to be with them. The teachers are all voluntary and although they are very well qualified and can easily be employed in paid positions they feel called to teach at this community school.

£It is now 10 years since the twinning project began between Caversham Heights Methodist Church and the Mindolo community along with the Race Course Community School. Dermot and I were part of the celebrations which culminated in a three hour church service. There were choirs, there was a Girls Brigade inauguration, there was a fantastic Boys Brigade brass band, there was much singing and dancing. The Zambian community were so happy to have us there! It was a very humbling experience as we encountered warm greetings and much hospitality. For us it was wonderful to be back in Africa and to be able to feel at home with the culture, the vibe and the people.

"10 years is a very long time for a twinning project to survive. However, encountering the severe needs of the people has convinced us that this project must continue. The Zambian people need our help, they need our support and they need our love.

Please pray for the people of Mindolo in Zambia.

Friday, 13 June 2008

‘Act now’ on food prices peril

The impact of rocketing food prices on the millions of people suffering from hunger demands urgent action from Churches and political leaders, Methodists have warned.

The global food crisis, described by some as the “silent tsunami”, has made basic staples unaffordable for many living in poverty. An estimated 854 million people worldwide do not have enough to eat each day, with 90 per cent of these living in developing countries.

The World Bank has now forecast that the rapid increase in food prices could add as many as 100 million people to this count, resulting in an international catastrophe. As food costs reach a 25-year high, an international summit held in Rome last week saw the UN set out measures to deal with this crisis.

Christians are also being urged to address the issue. According to general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Methodist the Rev Samuel Kobia, the “scandal of hunger demands the immediate attention of the Churches”.

Source: The Methodist Recorder (12/6)

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Crossing boundaries

I have just returned from our Reading and Silchester Circuit Meeting and would like to share the vision that occupied quite a bit of our time together. Particularly in the southern (Silchester) part of our Circuit, it has become increasingly obvious that places in neighbouring Circuits have many links with nearby places that are in our Circuit. For instance, the people of Kingsclere, which is in the Newbury and Hungerford Circuit, come into Tadley for many things in their everyday lives. So, as we contemplate being a mission-shaped church, we are exploring ways in which our mission to the area as a whole can be run across the Circuit boundary by people from both Circuits.

It is also clear that when considering mission to other areas, especialy in the south of our Circuit, Basingstoke or Andover are more natural centres than Reading - as many of us found tonight when travelling to the Circuit Meeting at Tadley and an accident at junction 11 of the M4 diverted us along unknown country lanes, where we encountered horse drawn transport!

We already have training sessions for all four Circuits together, under the name of 'Fourward', allowing us to be more ambitious in our training than we would be able to be in our separate Circuits.

Two years ago, when our Circuit was running a Disciple 3 study group in the eastern section of the Circuit, a few people from Slough and Maidenhead asked if they could join us, so that we had folk from 3 Circuits studying together. Other churches in our eastern section are closer to Wokingham and Bracknell and so they, too, are considering working together for mission across the boundaries.

We already have Circuit staff across the boundaries, with a presbyter in Windsor while his deacon wife is serving a church in West Reading. From September, we shall welcome two presbytersto the area, one of whom will serve our Silchester church while his presbyter wife will serve the Thatcham church in the Newbury and Hungerford Circuit. This means that the Circuit staff of neighbouring Circuits find themselves working together, thus heightening the possibility of extending mission to work across boundaries.

It remains to be seen whether this may lead to revision of Circuit boundaries or not. As our Superintendent Minister told us, 'It is better to work out which is the better way to do mission and then to adjust the boundaries if necessary than to create new boundaries and then try to see how we can make them work.' As my car driver said on the way home (along those unfamiliar country roads again), 'We live in exciting times.' We certainly do and there is a wonderful sense of God's Spirit at work among us and across our present boundaries.

Saturday, 7 June 2008


New ground was broken on Facebook this week with the launch of an area to promote networking and understanding across different faiths. Faithbook is the brainchild of the Movement for Reform Judaism (MRJ), although Simon Cohen, its director, says the site is for everyone. ‘This is about sparking debate, not owning debate’, he said. Faithbook uses images, videos and content from a range of sacred texts alongside commentary from nine major faiths. Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, executive director of MRJ, explained, ‘We wanted to use the potential of social networking sites as a catalyst for conversations about inclusivity and equality, issues that are facing all religions.’

Sources: The Guardian (3/6); The Times (3/6); Church of England Newspaper (6/6); Baptist Times (5/6)

Friday, 6 June 2008


Boris Johnson, the new London Mayor, has praised the groups of volunteer Christian ‘street pastors’ who now offer support to late night revellers in 70 areas of the country. Mr Johnson spoke of the ‘extraordinary and inspiring movement’ which he sees playing an important role in reducing street crime. Previously, Conservative Party leader David Cameron lauded the ‘absolutely fantastic job the street pastors are doing’ in complementing the work of police in tackling antisocial behaviour. Backing has also come from police, who are freed up to concentrate on more serious incidents.

Begun in Brixton in 2003, the movement has spread rapidly to other cities, towns and suburbs. Teams take to the streets on Friday and Saturday nights to help worse-for-wear and vulnerable club-goers. Their services range from having a chat to giving flip flops to revellers stumbling in their high heels and issuing night-bus timetables to help people get home.

Their help could not come at a more opportune time. As the Government prepares to unveil its Youth Alcohol Action Plan to improve education in schools and for parents, the alcohol consumption of a typical teenage drinker has more than doubled. In 1995, it was 5.3 units per week, but last year it was 11.4 units. More teenagers are drinking spirits than before: 63 per cent of 15-year-olds named spirits as a regular drink.

Frank Soodeen, of the pressure group Alcohol Concern, has nothing but praise for the street pastors. "The work they do certainly helps – getting people out of clubs, onto buses and into taxis is really important when they are drunk and putting themselves at risk," he says. "The real problem is when bars and clubs are illegally selling alcohol to people who are too drunk to consume it sensibly."

Many of the street pastors recognise this change in drinking behaviour and the atmosphere on town high streets in recent years. Nick Boddy, a church worker in his fifties and a street pastor of three years standing, says Sutton now seems busier with drinkers on a Friday night than it is with shoppers on a Saturday afternoon.

Free flip-flops are the latest addition to the street pastors' arsenal of goodwill. "We give them to young girls whose feet are hurting," says Mark. "We try to chat to people to reduce their fear of crime here in the suburbs, where people's worries can be as bad as people living in the inner city."

Thermal blankets for those who did not bring coats have proved popular, he says. Pocket night-bus timetables are invaluable for helping disorientated youngsters get home. In the most serious cases, the pastors will bring a sleeping bag from their base at a nearby church for those with no other shelter.

Melissa Wynn, who works for an IT company, says: "We all want to get out of the cosy environment of our churches and homes to where we can make a difference."

Peter Ticher, aged 80, is one of the group's newest recruits. "I'm not scared of going out on the streets," he says. "We hear so much about knife crime, but not one street pastor has ever been injured."

At first, the police and ambulance services were sceptical about the street pastors scheme, says Nick. "They were worried we would cause more work for them, if people targeted us or we got into trouble. But the shopkeepers, clubbers and bar owners are glad we're out there to give advice," he adds.

Source: Sunday Telegraph (1/6)

Thursday, 5 June 2008


African Christians must ‘wage war’ against misuse of international aid by their governments, concluded a Nairobi consultation organised by the All-Africa Conference of Churches, the region’s Roman Catholic Symposium of Episcopal Conferences and Action for churches Together for Development. The Bishop of Burundi, Rt Revd Pie Ntukamazina, said accountability and an end to endemic corruption and bureaucracy were critical for Africa’s liberation. The Third High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness will produce an action plan when it meets in Ghana this September. This will review progress on implementing 50 commitments, agreed to by 100 countries, to ensure aid is effectively channelled to those who need it most.

Source: Church Times (30/5)

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Slugs and snails

Yesterday we had a month's (normal June) rainfall in 24 hours, with resulting flash flooding all over the area. The rivers Thames, Loddon, and Kennet all overflowed their banks, so that Berkshire and Oxfordshire were once more busy with sandbag barriers and mopping up operations - with Oxfordshire bearing the brunt of it. I am safe from flooding here because my house and garden are on the side of a steep hill.

So, with all that rain, apart from a quick trip into town in the afternoon, I didn't go out, and I certainly didn't go out to inspect the garden. When I did so today I was in for a shock! I had been given some beautiful dahlia corms and was eagerly watching them grow their early foliage in their tubs on my patio, in anticipation of the wonderful blooms I'd been promised. This morning, when the sun shone, I found that the foliage on one had completely disappeared and in its place was a very ugly fat slug. The other dahlias had been bitten and looked very ragged but still had visible foliage.

Then I had another shock. Last year I grew carrots in a large pot on my patio with wonderful results over a long period, so I did a repeat pot sowing this year. The leaves are quite decorative and a couple of days ago I was admiring them and thinking I must thin them out a bit, but today only one tiny leaf remains! There is a mass of green stalks, but only one tiny leaf is left! On inspection I found three black slugs who had obviously made a meal of the rest.

I'm very sorry, God. I know you created slugs and snails for food for the birds but I can never bring myself to sing that line of the hymn that says 'Thank you God for slugs and snails'. I would prefer to be an organic gardener, but today I've put slug pellets in all my pots on the patio, to prevent the slugs doing any more damage. I'm very cross!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Methodist Conference at Scarborough

This year's Methodist Conference will take place in Scarborough at the Spa Complex, from 5-10 July. It is the first time that the Conference has been to Scarborough in ten years.

The annual Conference is the governing body of The Methodist Church, debating and determining policy and legislation for the Church and considering issues of national and international concern. Over five days, 384 voting members of the Conference will be joined by thousands of visitors at the Spa Centre to celebrate church life and debate issues of both church and public interest.

Topics for discussion include embryology and early human life, equality and diversity in the Church and the Church's new Youth Participation initiative. There will also be an update on the Anglican-Methodist Covenant.

The full timetable for the Methodist Conference, including downloadable versions of all the reports to be debated, will soon be available online at