Thursday, 15 October 2015

How did I become a Christian?

As a child, I was dragged along to Church by my parents, but when a teenager, studying sciences, I couldn’t reconcile the things I heard in Church with my understanding of the world, and I turned completely away from God. After school I enjoyed the single life as an apprentice with Vickers Shipbuilding in Barrow, who then sent me to University to study engineering.
Whilst at Uni I had several friends who were Christians and I always thought that their belief in God was something that was nice for them, but which I couldn’t accept. Over a few weeks a series of miraculous events took place which caused me to rethink my view.
My friend Pauline attended the Baptist Church. She was going to be baptised by ‘full immersion’, going right underwater, in a service one Sunday and she asked me to go. It seemed a daft ceremony to go through to me, but because of our friendship, I turned up. I sat at the back in this strange old building, feeling uncomfortable, thinking what a fool Pauline was for doing this, wanting to leave as soon as possible. But somehow, during that service, the most incredible feeling of peace came and overwhelmed me. It was a wonderful feeling, as if all the cares and worries I had ever had were  lifted and taken off me, and I felt great! This lasted for some days, but I didn’t do anything about it, and soon life returned to normal. 
On a second occasion, a girl who I had been previously going out with invited me to a Christian talk. We had broken up because (she told me) she wanted to spend more time on her studies, and I didn’t really want to go to the talk, but she persuaded me. When we met up outside the venue, I discovered she had a new boyfriend in tow! So much for the studies! Although never a violent man, during the Christian talk which I can remember nothing of, jealousy and anger were coursing through my veins and I determined that I would beat this new boyfriend up once outside. But again, somehow, this same feeling of tremendous peace came over me as I sat there. All the jealousy and anger was washed away - I felt great and no fighting ensued.  I couldn’t explain what I had experienced, but I enjoyed the amazing feelings of wellbeing and contentedness for a few days again. 
A week or so later I was at a student party – good music, good company and quite a few drinks – it was fun! Then I was invited to go on to another party taking place just a few streets away. ‘This is the life’ I thought ‘a popular guy – going from one party to another – what could be better than this?’. En route to the second party I passed Pauline’s house, and so called in to say hello and just casually drop the fact I was on my way from one party to another. But as we were talking I thought, ‘This is great, but tomorrow everything will be just back to normal again – surely there must be more to life than this’. I expressed these thought to Pauline and she replied – ‘There is – there’s God’. Friends had said similar things to me many times before, and I had just dismissed it, but on this occasion I thought ‘Yeah – may be’, and again the same wonderful feeling of peace and wellbeing came over me. 
The next day back in my student room I thought ‘Look – I can’t explain these feelings – it’s nothing that I’m doing, it’s coming from outside of me. They always happen in some kind of religious context – I think God is trying to tell me that he’s there. This is three times it’s happened now – I can either choose to deny it and turn away from it, or I can accept that there must be something or someone there – that God really does exist’. And so, after a time of decision making, I chose to accept that God exists and I asked him to come into my life.  
That’s not the end of the story – it’s really just the start – the start of the greatest adventure of my life. I count myself fortunate that God made himself clear to me – he got beyond reasoning and argument and just showed me he was there – all I had to do was to choose whether I wanted to respond to him or not. Life with God isn’t always easy, but it is fulfilling and rewarding, and knowing you belong to God gives incredible reassurance. I hope that you may find these things too.  

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

From St Luke’s Summer 2015

Thankfully, God has made us all different - it would be a very boring world otherwise! We have different looks, different shapes, different viewpoints and different feelings. That’s also true of the things that we are good at. Different people are good at different things. I might be good at practical things and DIY – someone else will be good at creative things or at caring. I think God has made us this way as it forces us to be interdependent rather than too self-reliant. ‘No man is an island’ as they say - no-one can get by completely without others, whatever we may think! We need other people and their gifts and skills to help us live out our lives – and they need ours.

As a Church too we believe that God equips different people with different gifts and skills so that, if we work together, his Church will thrive and grow. By the time you read this we will have completed the teaching on our ‘Discovering your God-given Gifts’ series, and we’ll be getting ready for the second workshop evening on Tuesday 29th September to help folk think and reflect on what gifts God has given them, and how they can use those gifts to serve him in their lives. Our belief is that God equips his Church with everything it needs, so if we are all using the gifts He has given us, then God’s Church life will be healthy and thrive.

So if you have a God-given gift of whatever type which you’ve been keeping secret – let someone know! Serving God with our gifts is one of the most satisfying things we can do. And if your gift is to pray, do keep praying for St Luke’s that God will continue to bless and guide us as we reach out to others with the Good News in Lodge Moor.
Rev Chris

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Vision for the new Glass extension / Gateway at St Luke's.

I often use the phrase at St. Luke’s – ‘these are the kind of problems we like to have!’. Whether it’s running out of wine at Communion, having to bring in extra seats for a parade service, or needing to schedule a third welcome meal; these are all signs that God is at work in our Church and that by his grace we are growing.

To accommodate this growth, the time is coming where we must think about extending our premises. If we do, we need to pray and to think very carefully about what form that extension might take.

In today’s society, any extra space needs excellent access for those with mobility issues. Growth in size of many of our groups requires any new space to be sufficiently large to accommodate a good number of them. Increasing pressure on seating at some Sunday services makes the ability to open such space up to extend the worship space highly desirable.  

Most of all, how could any new space express our Church vision to ‘Offer God’s living water to those who are open to receive’ in Lodge Moor? This vision is about the life of the people of St Luke’s (who are, of course, the Church), rather than the building itself, but could a building project express those same ideals? If so, first of all, it would have to be something that is noticed by folk as they walk or drive past, not tucked away behind Church building or up out of sight on a high level but seen by passers by. Then, to ‘make our faith visible’ as strand 2 of our vision says, the walls would need to be see-through rather than solid brick, so that passers-by can see the people, who are the Church, (hopefully enjoying themselves!) and see the activities that are going on in there, in the hope that they might see something they want to join. Thirdly it should allow us to increase our worship space – so that ‘life-giving, dynamic worship’ can be accessed by more people. Lastly, it should provide a facility which is attractive and open for folk to just ‘drop-in’ to at different times of the week – serving others, offering welcome and hospitality.

As many of you know, Trustees approved a feasibility study for a glass fronted new entrance way and ‘coffee lounge’ on the front of Church. However, as time has gone on, it has become apparent that our needs are changing, and so the proposal has been adapted in line with all of the above.

Today at the Annual Church Meeting I've shown some outline plans. They are far from being finalised or approved by the planners, but they do give an idea of how such an area might work.

Glass frontage helps us to be modern and visible. A good size provides a comfortable meeting room, at ground floor level giving a good place for existing groups to meet, and also more space for other things to happen. The ability to open up the space to join the worship area for more seating at, for example, parade services would be really helpful. It lets us bring office staff closer to the front door so they are accessible to welcome visitors. There may even be some times during the week when the area is free to operate some kind of ‘drop-in’ cafĂ© too.

We’re at the very early stages with this project, but it does seem now to fit with our current needs as a Church and with our Church vision. Most of all lease do pray for this project, that, if it is indeed God’s will, he will inspire our architect, that the planners will accept the proposal and that he will give us wisdom and also the resources to bring it to fruition.

Rev Chris

A year in review - report on 2014 for the Annual Church Meeting

We’ve had a great year at St Luke’s! I perceive a strong sense that we are well working together, with  God, to further his work in this area and that, although it means we are quite busy, with a lot going on, there is purpose to that busyness in fulfilling our vision to offer 'God’s living water' to those who are open to receive. In many ways we are starting to see the fruit from the changes that we’ve made in recent years – changes to the way Trustees operate which are often letting us move things forward more easily, changes to our music ministry which is proving attractive to new folk. A new couple who came to visit last week told me how tremendously uplifted they were by the worship and teaching at the service that day. The increased focus on welcome and hospitality, and events for outreach and Messy Church, are all attracting new people. 

The fruit of all this is that our Church is growing. We’ve had around 30 new people to welcome meals at my home in recent months – that’s wonderful! Sunday attendance is growing as are our mid week groups, several of which are bursting at the seams. There is so much to give thanks to God for in the life of His Church here.

I know this meeting is primarily about looking back on the last year, but if I can look forward a little too, new things this year which will help St. Luke’s to continue to grow include include the employment of a children and families worker. Through the generosity of folk here we’ve been able to fund a new worker to continue to build on the contacts we’ve made. We are providing folk the opportunity to go deeper with God from initial contact through an event or a christening or something like that, to being warmly welcomed by folk here, to finding out more through the Alpha course or through Messy Church, to becoming a full part of our Church here. There’s a sense that we’ve got a pattern where one thing leads naturally into another to bring folk closer to God. This process often takes time, but I think that if we continue with the good practices that are now established, Church will continue to steadily grow. 

Friday, 3 April 2015

Pause for Thought - Easter 2015

Spring seems to have arrived at last! After the cold and barren-ness of winter, new life is springing up all around us as the days are getting longer and the cold hard ground is bring forth life. The crocuses are out, the birds are returning, and the weather is warming up a little. I even replaced the snow tyres on my car yesterday with the ordinary ones, although guess what happened as I was swapping them? Yes – it started to hail! 

In Church we’re thinking about new life too as we’re getting ready for Easter. A time when we remember that Jesus died and was buried on that first Good Friday, but then that he rose to new life on that first Easter morning – he was alive, and he could talk and eat with his friends, the disciples, again. 

In the same way that Jesus started a new life at Easter, we believe that he can give us a new life too – a new life in heaven when we die, but also new life now. Inviting Jesus into your life and putting your trust in him gives a new perspective, a new purpose to life, and he can wash away worries and cares of the past, giving us a fresh start with him. This has been the experience of Christians throughout the world, and several folk from St Luke’s have written down their stories of faith for you to read in the Church magazine which those of you in Lodge Moor have received through your letterbox this week.  They’re well worth reading – real life stories of how God has made himself known to people, and how he has helped them in particular situations. My own story is in the magazine too! 

So as you enjoy the flowers and birds – the life that you see in your garden or around you in the coming weeks, think about the new life that God gives, and if you want to, like the folk in the magazine, you can invite God into your life and enjoy a new start with him.  

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

From St Luke's House - March magazine article

Recently Mandy and I have become grandparents! Elizabeth Grace Stebbing was born on 4th January in London at almost 7 lbs. We’ve been to visit them and they are all doing well, although our son Thomas does look pretty tired! As we held little Elizabeth we couldn’t help but wonder at the miracle of childbirth, and give thanks to God for this new life. 

March brings another cause for celebration as it will be Mothering Sunday on the 15th – a chance to remember our mothers and those who care for us, and to thank God for them. In Church it’s a time to be thankful too for the care and nurture of the Church, both the pastoral workers who do so much good quietly behind the scenes, and also the ordinary Church members who live out Jesus’ command to love one another through simple acts of care, thoughtfulness and service.  I know that many folk in St Luke’s are thankful for the care and love they receive from others in Church. Often it is these acts of kindness and concern that demonstrate our Christian faith to those who don’t yet know Jesus ‘By this shall all people know that you are my disciples – that you love one another’ as Jesus told his disciples. The love of God is expressed in practical ways as we care for other people.  Another theme of Mothering Sunday is thanking God for the nurture that we receive from His Church through fellowship and teaching, equipping us to live His way in today’s world.  I do hope that you will be able to come to our special Mothering Sunday Parade service, where we will join with the Uniformed groups to thank God for mothers and for all those who care for us.

Holding our grand-daughter reminded me of how I felt when our own children were born, and how when I became an earthly parent it helped me to understand a little of how our heavenly Father feels towards us.  He loves us with an unconditional love, and he longs for us to return that love, but he wants us to return it of our own free will – not through being coerced or forced into loving him. Our hope is that as a Church we will help people find and know this love for themselves, so that they can choose to respond to their heavenly Father if they wish.