This Sunday sees the first of our "whole congregation" summer sessions, and that really is a reason to celebrate! Yet we know that "whole congregation" won't be entirely true as some of you will be shielding or will find the lack of children's provision prohibitive. If you can't come this Sunday we completely understand why you can't come, and we'll miss you!
Separation is painful, and for church not being able to meet as a whole is particularly painful; we are the body of Christ after all and a body is meant to be together.
In John 14, Jesus comforts his disciples in readiness for their imminent separation from him, promising that the separation will enable him to make his home with many others, and that ultimately their grief will turn to joy as they see him again. Mark 15:33 depicts the ultimate agonising separation as Jesus is separated from his Father; and yet the bleakest moment wins the greatest victory.
Separation is clearly not where God wants things to end up; God meant us to be a diverse community together (Galatians 3:28), but we also know that God can use the toughest situations for good (Genesis 50:20).
This season has seen us turning our attention outwards, reaching many through food deliveries and phone calls. Hundreds, whose names we don't know, have tuned into our podcasts. Relationships with our actual physical neighbours have deepened, and speaking about faith has become easier, as the disruption erodes some of our usual reserve and people ask big questions.
It's still painful that we can't all be together, but we're always still one body; the only body Christ now has on earth.
...there should be no division in the body, but... its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1 Corinthians 12:25-26
PICTURE OF THE WEEK
This week's picture is literally that! We're so grateful for this piece that Rose has painted. It's now situated in The Branch in order to give encouragement to the volunteers who are still working hard to continue with food deliveries over the summer.
Rose says, "I felt inspired to make this to speak of the Branch bearing fruit, considering all that has been achieved already during lockdown. The branch of course is the key... I want it to be a blessing to those working so hard for the community."
Philip, who heads up the volunteer delivery team was delighted with the "beautiful and inspiring" gift and said "I've shared a picture of it with the volunteer drivers via our WhatsApp group - and there were some very positive responses."
"It’s hard to believe that after 6 years I have finally finished my curacy. These have been very significant years for me and for us as a family - indeed two of our children proudly have Chipping Norton as their place of birth.
"There have been many times when it has been very hard work, and I’ve felt overwhelmed and confused by God’s calling on my life. There have also been many times of great joy and privilege as I’ve tried to serve you as a church.
"Some of my best memories are about feeling very much part of the team here - working alongside you for Pandemonium, helping the youth overhaul Christingle, playing my part in the regular worship of our church family. And then there have been the times of completely surprising encounter with God - a divine moment in conversation with baptism families, putting the bread of communion in each of your hands and sharing in unexpected joy with those who suffer greatly.
"I have been richly blessed by all of this, and want to thank you for welcoming and loving our whole family. I also want to thank James who has done a very good job of training me, and bearing with me over the years - what you see now is in part a product of his hard work!
"It’s not really goodbye, because we will still be in Chippy until at least January, but it is the end of a very important chapter. Tom and I are full of thanks for it, and for all the saints of St Mary’s Chipping Norton.
"With my love,"
SUMMER SESSIONS: FAMILY WORSHIP
Our family Summer Session kicked off with Jonny leading us in some great dance moves, which the children were already experts at from watching the One Way & Ignite Sunday videos.
In church the children thanked God for all the outdoor things their families had been getting up to, including "Thank you God for rabbits" and (my favourite) "Thank you God for sticks!".
We heard the story of Noah's Ark and were inspired to think about God's faithfulness - even when difficult situations seem to go on for a long time - and looked at how the rainbows that the children had been putting in their windows are also a symbol of God's faithfulness to us.
This Sunday, 26th July, is the first of our whole congregation Summer Sessions. This is a chance to get together, worship God, see some familiar faces, and see how church looks and works during this new phase.
We want to make sure there is enough space to seat everyone so we'd love it if you could let us know if you're planning on coming by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guidelines are changing all the time. Please read the notice below about masks and click on the "Summer Sessions checklist" button to remind you what you need to bring and what to expect.
Masks - update
You will know already that from today you need to wear a mask in a shop or enclosed public place. We’ve just received word from the Church of England that we also need to do this when we gather for worship, to help keep each other safe. So from this Sunday, please wear a mask when you come to church.
What if I forget my mask?
We will have a stock of spare disposal ones available should you forget your own and will continue to treat each other with grace and kindness if/when any of us get in a mask muddle!
Sadly we're not able to have any separate children's provision so any children attending should sit with their families. We know exactly how hard this is and please be assured that if you've got small children we're continuing to think of how best to serve you.
On the first week of the school holidays (27th July - 1 August) we'll be bringing a holiday club right to your house!
Collect a bag with a craft for each day, tune in twice a day to watch LIVE fun and games, and pick up any extras you need from the church porch.
Email email@example.com or pick up a bag to find out more.
You may already know that our podcasts have been available on Apple podcasts since the start of May (search on stmaryscnorton).
You can now also find us on Google podcasts, and if you search for 'Chipping Norton' St Marys now dominates the results! This means that Android phone users should be able to enjoy listening to all of our audio by installing the 'Google Podcast' app.
RULE OF LIFE TOOLBOX: FASTING
As part of our sermon series we're providing our very own Rule of Life Tool Box brought to you by members of our own congregation.
This week Bill and Jo share how fasting has become a part of their lives, and give some practical advice for anyone who wants to develop this practice.
Eat, Fast, Feast: Heal Your Body While Feeding Your Soul - A Christian Guide to Fasting by Jay W. Richards
This book, recommended by Bill and Jo, teaches modern believers how to use intermittent fasting, not just to bolster ones health, but as a means of spiritual awakening, adopting the traditions our Christian ancestors practiced for centuries into daily life.
Everyone has questions about what life is all about. We believe that everyone should have a chance to share those questions, explore the Christian faith and give their point of view.
Alpha is a place where you can ask those questions in an honest, friendly and open environment.
In recent months at St Mary's, God has been extending our vision to serve the town in an exciting, ambitious and creative way at a time of substantially increasing need for many within our community...
So many people in our community feel the weight of debt, and we are passionate about helping to release anyone we can from a life sentence of debt and poverty. At St Mary's we are working with Christians Against Poverty to bring good news, hope and freedom. If you need support, we'd love to hear from you.