|What a way to start the year, with Union St. Baptist Church Choir singing “The Gift” by Graham Kendrick to a church that was nearly full and buzzing with excitement before they started. As David Greatbanks explained, it was a work of praise. Graham Kendrick has written hymns which are sung by many denominations throughout the country so there was a good chance that we would already know some of the 23 songs performed for us. Having the words displayed on the screen encouraged us to join in the praising, not too loudly. It meant that, even when most of us enjoyed singing “The Servant King”, still we could hear the quality and musicianship of the choir. The other outstanding piece was “Heaven invites you to a party” which was really lively, happy and interspersed with party poppers. Who says that church is dull? Let them join in to find the truth for themselves!Once again Caroline Greatbanks did an excellent job of readings and narration for us. Thank you, Caroline, for your links which made such a difference.The hour of praise was followed by the church treating us all to a sumptuous spread, which was appreciated by the many visitors and friends, some of whom we had not met before. The atmosphere was wonderful and we thank the choir and David for making it so through their polished performance and from the enjoyment they exuberated. We don’t normally note David Spence’s words of thanks but this time they were rather special. He said, “For many people Christmas is over at the end of Christmas Day, over for another year, but the choir have reminded us today that Christmas is all about the wonderful Gift that goes on and on. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us now and always.” To which we can all echo “Amen.”|
April Fools Day was a step forward for us in improving the appearance of the church from the road. The ventilator had been painted cream and brown several months ago and the main door was painted to match last year. The side entrance and brickwork have now been repaired and the gates painted cream and brown. The garden looks nice every year thanks to the work of Barrie and Elizabeth. The one part that spoiled it was the red sign which had proclaimed our presence for many years and was now faded until almost unreadable. On 1st April, CoSigns erected for us two yellow sign boards so that passing passengers were in no doubt that this was an active church.
We were delighted to welcome Evelyn Lewis into membership on Easter Day. She has been coming for a few years now and regards our church as her spiritual home. We have come to love her for her generous nature and can understand why she is well-respected in her neighbourhood. We love it when she comes to the Elms Nursing Home because she knows so many of the residents and chats to all of them. Over the past few weeks we have discovered what a talented seamstress Evelyn is, machining perfectly all the cushion covers for us and yet frequently, in her self-effacing way, asking us whether she has got it right.
Tuesday, the 22nd April was a special event for us for it was that day when all the cushions were finally covered. Being in a variety of colours, the overall effect is most attractive. In addition to the comfort gained, there has been a fresh fellowship among the people working at them.
On 10th May our little church welcomed the larger churches in our Pastorate to a Day About Prayer with the intention of learning for ourselves and encouraging others. Rev. Sally Willett used her wide experience of leading such occasi0ns to take us through the various aspects of personal and private prayer times. She didn’t flinch from the difficult apsects; rather she helped us to face them, knowing how to deal with them. We need time with God as much as with anybody that is part of our lives. Sally related prayer to the Bible and to God’s Spirit. then she showed us how to check that words and images from God are truly from God. After lunch she helped us to deepen our praying with others as a prayer meeting, as eldership and as a church. Finally we were encouraged to try listening to God in our own groups.
The brilliant teaching was matched by the quality of hospitality, with drinks and cakes being available whenever we wanted them. We enjoyed welcoming our friends and praying with them. It was a lovely friendly and open atmosphere in which we could be honest about our problems and joys.
We enjoyed meeting our friends and worshipping God with the other churches of the Patorate at Middlewich Church. The service was certainly different, as we had been expecting. Rev Garry Wareham and his music group from Nantwich led us in worship songs, Harold Critchley led the hymns on the organ. Various people represented their churches as they led prayers or readings. We all enjoyed the pictures which had been created into a display, projected on screens by Middlewich’s new data projectors, of the different churches and their activities, but the highlight was the message from the Moderator.
After the service we simply went to the back of the church where a buffet tea was ready. The church had provided long tables so we could sit among our friends and some people we hadn’t met before. It was a high standard at the beginning of the pastorate relationships.
The funeral of Eileen Buckley on 9th June was a low point in our year. She had been a faithful member of the church for many years. Harold Critchley played the organ for a church so full of mourners that some had to stand. Rev David Spence told us what a full life Eileen had enjoyed with the school, family, dancing and the church. We prayed for Derek, Pam, Pauline, their children and grandchildren. Eileen will be missed by many people and we praise God that she is now with him, at peace in heaven.
Our church meeting was followed by a faith tea, which was followed by our service. We had combined a service, meal and meeting in March but this was different in that we had requested hymns, readings, a prayer and questions about our faith. Peter assembled them into a service in which we participated more than usual. We were pleased that Rev. David was able to stay for the tea and service.
It has been noticed that Minshull Church are blessed with good friends. We certainly had plenty of friends in the congregation and in the choir when we heard the augmented Union St. Baptist Church Choir sing Roger Jones’ “Apostle”, the conversion of Saul. There was a wonderfully friendly atmosphere enhanced by audience participation; not that we got it right but at least we tried. The musical started with the disciples afraid of Saul who was known as a persecutor, taking us through the full story of God changing him. By the end the disciples were rejoicing that God gives us a new start when we trust him with our lives. Wouldn’t it be great if each of the singers knew that new start for themselves!
Darren featured as Saul/Paul and Eric as Barnabus who was telling us the story. There were other soloists, all of whom were good, but for me it was Eric’s expressive narration which stood out. It was as though he was talking to us for the first time and with enthusiasm. The choir were excellent with clear diction, improving each time that they come, together and accurate in harmony and unison and the quality backing track encouraged them to sing confidently. Credit is due to their director David Greatbanks for training the choir to sing so musically.
Then it was the chance to renew friendships and welcome people there for the first time as we mingled during the buffet tea. Our friends departed happy and looking forward to the choir’s next visit as we look forward to theirs.
Our harvest service this year was led by Rev. David Hill. He focussed on the desirability to give thanks, not just to God which is important and what God wants from us, but to each other. Many examples and illustrations were given supporting the fact that it benefits everybody, those who are thanked and those who thank. It is good to thank God every day for something so we were encouraged to write on ‘post-its’ something we would thank God for and then stick the papers anywhere. Suddenly the church was decorated with colourful pieces of paper. Even in disasters we can find something to give thanks for. We gave thanks in singing several traditional harvest hymns and David sang a couple of solos.
The display was impressive once again, thanks to the many friends who came with their gifts. The produce was then offered to the congregation who generously gave donations to the Agricultural Chaplaincy. We have been able to support them with £60. As usual, the buffet tea was also impressive and the church received many thanks from the friends who enjoyed the service, the tea and meeting each other again.
We weren’t sure that our friends would come again so soon after the Harvest service but we needn’t have worried; the numbers were similar. We were treated to a feast of music, of understanding and of finger buffet well into the evening and enjoyed every minute of it. The Kipling Singers sang music from West Side Story, Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat, and Mamma Mia, and selections from the music of the Carpenters, Cole Porter and Andrew Webber. Seven of the eight singers sang solos, the eighth, David Greatbanks, their MD, played the keyboard and backing tracks for them.
The event was intended to raise money for the Crewe branch of the British Legion so we were delighted to have among us the Mayor of Crewe, Pam Minshall, and the chairman of the British Legion, Stuart Kaye. Stuart talked about his experiences in Northern Ireland and the work of the Crewe Branch helping servicemen and women. We were introduced to Philip Taylor who had served for five years in the second World War. Such was the generosity of the audience that a provisional estimate of over £200 has been given to the local British Legion.
8th November was a special occasion for the church building. Renovation of the windows has begun. Paul Bradbury removed the first of the three by the road and will renovate it in his workshop, replace it and remove the next. This work has been necessary because the lead is in poor condition, several of the small diagonal coloured glass sections have become damaged or gone missing, and the large panes were beginning to bow and therefore in danger of collapsing. Fortunately Paul has blanked the aperture left behind so the church can still be used.
As you can imagine, this all costs money, several thousand pounds. We would be pleased to receive donations towards the cost even though we are not yet making a public appeal or planning fund-raising events.
We were pleased to make our church available to the public for prayer on 11th November, one hundred years since the beginning of the First World War. Silence was held and prayers were said. All who came appreciated the opportunity to remember quietly the friends and relative who had died in conflict over the last hundred years.
Can you imagine the effect of having two active, driving personalities working together to achieve the same result? That happened when the Salvation Army Toy Appeal came to Minshull. Mim motivated the church and publicised the event widely, while Heather organised the Salvation Army’s side. The Army conducted a happy time of worship which was different. The congregation sang no hymns and yet felt fully involved; ‘Harmony’ sang several songs to us beautifully; the prayers were sincere and relevant; there were readings, most of which were about Christianity (although some humour was included about children’s nativity plays); and we were encouraged to think about the wood that Jesus was laid in as a baby and the wood that he died on. Each person was given a tree decoration to remind us that Jesus was born to die.
Of course, the highlight of the event was to see the incredible array of toys and gifts that had been donated. There were so many that they could not all fit into the van. Heather told us that the work was vital in Crewe area, as about 800 children received 12 gifts each last year. In addition we raised £136 cash for the Salvation Army to spend on tokens and vouchers for older children.
Our preparations for Christmas seemed worthwhile as we sang well-known carols and heard well-known readings again. We enjoyed hearing a poem about the chaos in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth and a reminder of the friendship extended between Germans and English soldiers on the battle-line in 1914. Thanks to David for preparing the event so ably and to the many visitors who boosted the singing. We treated them all to a good chat and refreshments after the service.
Then we all enjoyed the Christingle Service led by Andrew Taylor whose relaxed and friendly approach was just right for the families. He used the Christingle as a demonstration that we also need to prepare ourselves for Jesus coming into our hearts and lives.
The Christmas Day service that Elizabeth led was as inspiring and challenging as ever. We really appreciated the focus on the three Magi and their gifts.
The informal worship led by Claire Roberts was even more informal than we had expected. We watched videos, made prayer chains, ate and drank, sang and learned a lot about the gift that God gives us. A good way to end the year.