Staying Afloat

During the Soviet era in Russia many churches were put to alternative uses.  One that particularly stood out for me was a church that was converted into a swimming pool.  The dim lighting, the pictures of saints on the walls, the deep blue of a ceiling painted with stars, all contributed to an atmospheric swim.  The water in the pool was pleasantly warm.  Those swimming there commented on how rested and refreshed they felt after leaving.  Although I would not be pressing for our churches to become swimming pools (and that church in Russia has now been restored to its original use) I think that the image of the church as swimming pool is surprisingly apt.  At its best it’s a place where we can let go of some of our protective layers and take delight in allowing God’s love to bear our weight, just as water does when we swim.  Peace can seep into our hearts and minds, melting our worries and putting us in touch with a bigger picture where not everything depends on us.

Floating in God’s love requires practice in letting go.  We don’t necessarily trust the water to bear our weight.  We have to test it.  Someone may have to help us.  In the same way the church can encourage us to try out God’s love and to practise trusting in him as someone who loves us.  Our songs and prayers, our receiving bread and wine all encourage this.  They can lead us to experiment with bringing our whole selves to God, warts and all, trusting that he welcomes us as we are.

We can join with one of the saints, who addressed God as follows; ‘Dear Lord, you are a deep sea, into which the deeper I enter, the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek…my soul delights in you, Eternal Trinity, Sea of Peace’.  Catherine of Siena

May we, like St Catherine, discover that ocean of God’s love and learn to revel in it.


Christine Bainbridge

Photo courtesy of Jo White

Moments from a Life … The Stations of the Cross 2018

Thanks to everyone who came and joined in with our Stations of the Cross meditation for Good Friday 2018.

This installation was entitled ‘Moments from a Life’ and was intended to reveal a hint at both Jesus’ early memories, his mother, his father’s carpentry tools, sawdust everywhere; .. alongside these were his final moments marked by the stations of the cross.
Within that, paints and brushes allude to an artistic hand.. maybe the painter of the stations, maybe the artistry of our own lives.. the brush strokes, textures, hints and shades.. and the inevitable messiness and goodness of it all.

The music always provokes some intrigue… here is a list from which music was layered into the service… you way want to explore;

Samuel Barber – String Quartet in B Minor, Op 11
Dreadzone – A Canterbury Tale
Brian Eno – Lux
Brian Eno – Music for Airports
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Sea of Vapours
Gabriel Fauré – Requiem, Op. 48; 2. Offertoire
Henryk Gorecki – Totus Tuus
Hamlet Gonashvili – Tsintskaro
Jam & Spoon – Ancient Dream
The Late Late Service – Holy Space
Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares – Pritouritze Planinata
Opik – Travelling Without Moving
Arvo Part – Fratres
Arvo Part – Spiegel im Spiegel
Arvo Part – Cantus in Memorium Benjamin Britten
Jocelyn Pook – Desh: Hallelujah
Mark Pritchard – Beautiful People
Steve Reich – Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ
Hildegard von Bingen, Guy Sigsworth – O Beata Infantia Alio Modo
Hildegard von Bingen, Guy Sigsworth – O Virtus Sapienta
John Tavener – Song for Athene
John Tavener – The Lamb
TTU – One Thousand Years
Underworld – To Heal




Easter Services 2018

Please join us this Holy Week as we follow the Passion of Jesus’ last few days.

Sunday 25 March – Palm Sunday Service.

Thursday 29th March – Maundy Thursday – Holy Communion and Stripping of the Altar.

Friday 30th March – Reflective service on the stations of the cross.

Sunday 1st April – Easter Day, Family Service


Holy Week with the Existentialists: Easter Sunday – Resurrection

Easter Sunday – Resurrection
Mt. 28:1-13; Mk. 16:1-20; Lk. 24:1-49; Jn. 20:1-31

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!”
Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or: A Fragment of Life


Meditation – Make some space to think

The garden is so beautiful this morning… Early sunlight breaks through the trees warming the glistening grass, dawn’s expectant mist clings to the earth.. brooding, poised, waiting… The chorus of birdsong is vivid, spring’s colours come alive, the night exhales into day, the world feels different.

Shouts can be heard; women running away through the garden, in the distance, yelling or screaming – it’s hard to tell, but their is a flavour of excitement in their voices.

A surprise – a resurrection – but not as we expect; quiet, subdued, wiser, beautiful, and unexpected. The kiss of desire runs deep in the fabric of time and space, like a new light breaking through an eclipse.
A resurrection not by escaping this world, but by embracing it. Life and love combine in the stories of nature, seasons, people and G-d. Contours of hope and possibility weaving through each moment, each experience.

It had seemed like love was exposed, absorbed, devoured, contained…
But now we perceive that love itself is exposing, absorbing, devouring … beyond containing.

Tenderly embracing both anguish and transcendence, love overcomes fear, overcomes hatred, overcomes empire, overcomes war, overcomes death, overcomes racism, overcomes sexism, overcomes ecological destruction, overcomes indifference, overcomes boredom, overcomes greed, overcomes division.

Love wins.


Give thanks for life, for the gift of a new day with new possibilities. Resurrection is all around you, all the time.

Honour and treasure the gift of life, its kaleidoscope colours, its pain and joys, its light and darkness…

To celebrate something means to share it; reflect on how to make space for others – so that they to can enjoy the gift; spread love, offer hope, work for justice, remain discontent, challenge the powers, remember the other – be enriched by them … and release the joy!




I Believe In You by Talk Talk     (Gary’s path)
Home Sweet Home by Tommy Lee    (Vincent’s path)

All Holy week posts can be found here

Welcome to this series of Lent Reflections.

These reflections can be used in conjunction with the second Lent Album,
One Day Like This’, which is intended to evoke both space and mood.

Existentialist thinkers were concerned with how it feels to be alive. An awareness that we are alive—in any situation—reinforces a sense of identity. What do moments in time give to our awareness of who we are, where we fit in the world, in our communities, in the universe?

Holy Week is the most vivid and emotional week of the Church calendar. In it we see Jesus and his followers going through extreme human emotions; celebration, hope, doubt, fear, friendship, betrayal, isolation and surprise—emotions that we all encounter through our lives. The sharp contours of our lives, struggles and joys all contain the touch of divinity.

These daily meditations invite you to reflect upon your moments in time and place. They remind us that extremities of human experience can make us feel fully alive or totally isolated. Yet in sharing our experience, we realise that we are not alone; there is solidarity in humanity, and solidarity with the very human Christ.


Good Friday – The party at the foot of the cross

Music highlights (in no particular order)

Samuel Barber – String Quartet in B Minor, Op 11
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Sea of Vapours
Guy Sigsworth – O Virtus Sapienta
Arvo Part – Cantus in Memorium Benjamin Britten
Brian Eno – Lux
Jam & Spoon – Ancient Dream
John Tavener – Song for Athene
Gabriel Fauré: Requiem, Op. 48 – 2. Offertoire
Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares – Pritouritze Planinata
Tsintskaro – Hamlet Gonashvili  (extra points if you can identify where this song has been also used)

Sweden – A Green Link

A Green Link

Not long after retiring to Reading we discovered that our diocese of Oxford is linked with the same diocese in Sweden as the one where our daughter Anna had recently settled with her Swedish husband.   This led to my joining the link committee and going with them this month on a visit to our counterparts in Växjö (pronounced ’Vaykwur’ or ’Vaykshur’, depending on where you live), Småland, southern Sweden. The theme for our meeting was the environment and how our respective dioceses are responding to climate change. We arrived in snow and sub zero temperatures, apparently unusual so early in the winter. It generally starts snowing after Christmas. The preceding months had been exceptionally dry, resulting in low water levels in the many lakes and, for those living in rural areas, the drying up of their wells. We knew something of this already as Anna’s sister in law had been without water for some weeks and was having to collect it from her parents’ home. So, we were immediately in the middle of climate issues.

Dealing with extreme cold is part of the Swedish way of life. Their homes and public buildings are exceptionally well insulated and have triple or even quadruple glazing. Given the amount of heat needed in winter, they continue to explore alternative sources of energy. Växjö, with a population of 89,000, has a huge power plant fuelled by wood waste (that part of Sweden is covered by forest). This provides 90% of Växjö’s heating and 20% of its electricity. They are also building what is called passive housing where the construction is designed to retain body heat from the inhabitants and their activities. These too are wooden and our guide explained that it is only recently that the law has changed to allow blocks of flats and not just houses to be built in this way. Their buses run on biofuel generated by the sewage works. They aim to be fossil free by 2030 and already their carbon emissions are amongst the lowest in Europe. Members of the town council, of whatever party, are united in supporting the green agenda.

In nearby Alvesta the church has invested in a biofuel plant that converts cow dung into biofuel and manure. The biofuel is used mainly by lorries and buses. Its use in cars is less popular because the cars cost more. Our hosts felt that the government could offer incentives to drivers wanting to switch to biofuel. It was noted that in Norway the government has made plug in electric cars such an attractive option that they are driven by the majority.

The church of Sweden is responsible for all funerals, whether or not they are Christian. Everyone pays a funeral tax to the government which then pays the church. The majority of funerals require cremation. In Kalmar, a big city, we visited a beautiful woodland cemetery where the heating and the furnace in the crematorium are powered by rape seed oil, from crops grown north of Växjö. Coffins are much plainer than here, their lack of polished wood and trimmings hidden by an attractive cloth and flowers. Urns for ashes are made of biodegradable material.

In the residential church college where we stayed I saw some of our LOAF principles being practised. There are many farms and smallholdings in Småland. Much of the meat, dairy products, bread and vegetables we ate were produced locally. There were plenty of local apples too. We did, however, also try reindeer meat from the far north of Sweden!

On our side we spoke about the Creation season which is now a regular feature of the liturgical year for many Anglican churches. Dr Martin Hodson, director of the Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES) course based at Cuddesdon theological college, demonstrated how equipping even a small number of practitioners on this course can effect significant change at local level. Dr Joanna Laynesmith from my own church in Reading described how our church had become an eco church, and pointed to Reading’s impressive green network and our even more impressive buses which are mainly hybrid diesel or gas powered. I shared information about Green Christian’s Joy in Enough project with its focus on encouraging Christians to draw on deeper spiritual and theological roots as they form a movement for a new, more sustainable economy.

Our Swedish colleagues were particularly interested in our Creation season and in the importance we attach to equipping our members spiritually for tackling climate change. There is no tradition of spiritual acompaniment (spiritual direction) in their diocese nor does Småland seem to have convents or monasteries where church members can go on retreats or Quiet Days.

The aim of the link is to enable mutual learning. We noted the practical engagement in green issues at local level by the church of Sweden. We were also impressed by the theological lead given at national level by their bishops – see especially ‘A Bishops Letter about the Climate’, chapter 4, for a beautifully clear account of creation theology. (Check out Church of Sweden on Google. The Letter is available as a pdf)


The face to face contact between our committees was very enriching. I’m already looking forward to next year when Växjö comes to Oxford and the topic will be Refugees.

Christine Bainbridge                                 November 2016


Children meeting God through story-telling

Imagine 20 Primary School-aged children meeting during church. Your first thought might well be noise and chaos!

But once a month, the children gather for something quite different. There’s stillness and silence, there’s calm reflection and craft. It’s called Godly Play.

Invented in the US, Godly Play is a way of doing ‘Sunday School’. It’s less about teaching information, and more about the children themselves experiencing God through the ancient stories of the Bible.

Sat in a circle the children gather to watch a story-teller slowly retell a story from memory. Old Testament stories often involve wooden 3D figures, and a sand box – a little bit of the desert that surrounds Israel. Jesus’ parables are told with a golden box containing coloured felt and 2D paper cut-out figures.

There’s no hurry in telling the story. The story-teller’s slow enjoyment of the story rubs off on the children. After the story is finished, the teller asks the children to ‘Wonder’. ‘What’s your favourite part of the story?’ ‘Can we miss parts out?’ ‘Who are you most like in the story?’

After the children have explored their own responses the circle breaks up for craft. Godly Play sometimes ends with the children sharing a juice drink and a biscuit. Again this is done slowly, like Holy Communion.

This is the aim of Godly Play: to be less like a lesson, and more like Church for children. It’s great fun for adults, too.


Climate Matters!

As 2014 draws to a close, it looks to have been the hottest year on record (and one of the wettest). No wonder there is so much focus on next year’s international conferences on Climate Change.

So St John’s green team have decided it’s high time to renew our EcoCongregation award. It was in 2009 that we became the first Anglican church in Reading to receive the award. One step we took back then was to commit to buying green electricity from Ecotricity, who run the wind turbine at Green Park and are regularly reinvesting profits to create more renewable  generation capacity up and down the country.

Now we’re working on an action plan to help make more of the life and worship of the church as green as possible. As a first step many of us are measuring our weekly gas and electricity at home to discover our personal carbon footprints. We plan to share our findings and then try to reduce our use – a bit of competition should prove helpful encouragement. At the same time we’d like to shrink the church’s carbon footprint too (and its bills!)