Rich’s Midnight Mass Reflections

“This is going to be a great Christmas! I wonder what else we need.”

Nativity StarSuch was my five your old son Asher’s opening line in his nativity play at The Coppice school last week. If you don’t recognise the line, you won’t find it in the Bible – he was playing ‘Chef 5’ as he and his cohorts ‘cooked up’ the best Christmas ever, along with Mary, Joseph, Jesus and all the other more familiar cast members.

A few weeks ago he couldn’t have told you whose birthday Christmas Day was – he’d forgotten it all from last year. But the school’s nativity, Sunday school and his JAM after school club have all played their part in etching the nativity into his memory, and this time we think it’ll stay forever.

Do you remember your first nativity? Were you a chef, an innkeeper, a star or an angel, or were you Mary all in blue or Joseph with a tea towel on your heard? It’s all part of the magic of Christmas – the music we sing and hear and the words of the reading from Luke chapter two take us back to an age of innocence when all was well with the world. Or at least that’s how we usually remember it, anyway.

My faith has changed quite a lot since my first nativity memories, but this little corner of the Bible we know so well always takes me back to that childhood wonder. It’s as Christmas for me as mixed nuts and Slade and the World’s Strongest Man, and takes its place right at the heart of the season to be jolly. I’m sure it does for you too.

But it’s quite hard to relate to what we hear about Jesus the rest of the year. Do you find?

The other reading set for Christmas night is very different indeed. Paul’s words from Titus chapter 2 break into our culture of indulgence and self-realisation with a good old fashioned dose of sobriety and self-denial.

“The grace of God”, says Paul, “teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives”.

But this is no Bah Humbug to Christmas, it’s just where faith and real life rub together. The decision to stop short of getting blind drunk because it always brings out the worst in us. Staying our sharp tongue from an attack on a family member we find difficult. A faith which calls us out to live differently rather than just sprinkling a blessing on the life we were leading already.

This passage has memories for me too. Of the faith of my teens when I met Jesus for the first time – eager to serve God in all my life, content to give up anything that held me back. If me at 16 could see the me now I think I’d be disappointed.

So, which Jesus is the real one? The five year old’s nativity Jesus or the angst-ridden teenager’s firebrand Jesus? The one who welcomed outcasts and prostitutes or the one who turned his family away? The Jesus in the manger or the Jesus on the cross.

Surely it has to be both.

If there’s only room in your heart for the nativity Jesus then your Jesus is too small. Perhaps you’ve grown up but Jesus has never grown up with you. In the book of faith you’ve never got past the first chapter. Look a bit deeper and you’ll find Christmas is only the start of the story, and there are many less-thumbed pages to sustain you in the whole of your life.

But if your Jesus is only the Jesus who says no, then your Jesus is also too small. Hear again from the angels of the good news of great joy for all the people, no matter where they are and what state their heart is in. Be glad and merry and awestruck with the shepherds, just like you were five again, as they tumble giddily down to Bethlehem to gaze on the Christ child.

“This is going to be a great Christmas! I wonder what else we need.”

Only Jesus. But isn’t that everything?

Peace be with you this Christmastime.



Stained Glass Art Inspires Local Schoolchildren

Stained Glass Workshop Winners

Stained Glass Workshop Winners

St Mary’s Church in Wythall have been drawing on youth for inspiration for the stained glass window in their new church building.  And this week, as a fabulous prize for competition winners, pupils from The Coppice primary school and Woodrush High have had the chance to work as real stained glass artists for the day.

Standing proud on the South Birmingham skyline, the old St Mary’s Church in Wythall was a key part of village life for over a century.  But when cracks started to appear in the 1980s the building was declared unsafe and closed soon afterwards.  For the last 26 years St Mary’s have met for Sunday worship in local schools, most recently at The Coppice on Shawhurst Lane in Hollywood.  But all that is about to change as an ambitious and exciting joint building project will leave The Coppice with six new classrooms and a new hall, and St Mary’s with a brand new church.

The focal point of the new church will be a stained glass window at the front, and who better to consult for design ideas than local pupils on whose school site the church will be built?  Last term every pupil at The Coppice contributed a design idea for the window, whilst Year 12 Woodrush students submitted concepts and sketches as part of their BTEC coursework.  From this, judges chose winners from each class, the best of which have become part of the design brief for the artists who will be creating the finished window.

Stained glass is a rare and ancient craft, but this week in Hollywood it has acquired a new class of apprentices.  Alun Adams and Valerie Harding are here to put on a special two day workshop, enabling competition winners to work with real glass and traditional techniques.  As tutors of the only dedicated University course in stained glass they are used to working with aspiring young adults, but this week they’ve found a crop of younger but very talented volunteers.

Here pupils’ designs are being transferred to glass and in time will be fired in a kiln and assembled into a combined piece of art which St Mary’s intend to display in their new church.  Vicar Rev. Rich Burley says:

“Working with pupils from The Coppice and Woodrush on ideas for our new stained glass window has been inspiring, and their talent and application this week has been exceptional.  It’s been an honour to have a visit from Swansea School of Glass too, and we are eagerly awaiting the completion of their design ideas for the new window proper.  Our hope for our new window is that it will not only be the centrepiece of our new church, but also a focal point for the community which will be owned and celebrated by all.”

St Mary’s expect to commission the new window in September and October, ready for the opening of the new church and school block by Easter 2014.

Press Release, July 2013

Looking Backwards with Thanks, Looking Forward with Excitement!

View 0dr“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

Written in a time of great mourning, the book of Lamentations is a passionate and honest poem of sorrow to a God who seems to have forgotten his people. And yet despite the odds, their faith in God’s promises remains and they continue to hope in their return from exile into the promised land.

Those who have been part of St Mary’s in recent years will know the difficulties of holding fast to God’s faithfulness, not least as hopes of a new church building have come and gone. And yet, like the people of Judah, your faith in a God who brings “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” has been undimmed.

As contractors begin work at The Coppice School and we look forward to the opening of the new St Mary’s in 11-12 months, tomorrow’s hope is shining ever more brightly. Now is a time to rejoice in God’s faithfulness over the years and get ready for all that He has for us to do in the next chapter of our life together. In the last year, we have seen God bringing unexpected blessings in other areas too – the healing of a relationship with the British Legion, and an incredible response to our community choir at Christmas. Great thanks must go also to those who have worked tirelessly in sustaining and extending our ministries in a year where relationships with Care Homes and local schools have flourished and new families have joined our growing church. And of course all this is undergirded by prayer, from those who have never given up praying since the close of our old building in 1986 to the dozens who visited our 24:7 prayer room in October and March.

Our annual report is an opportunity to look backwards and review the last twelve months, but also to look forward with expectancy too! This year we adopted the Diocese’s “Transforming Church” programme which encourages us to set annual targets for us all to work towards. We adopted four targets in September, two of which we feel we’ve already met our objectives in (deepening prayer and expanding elderly care) and two remain with the addition of another related explicitly to the new St Mary’s:

• Double the number of families and children involved in our 10.30am Sunday service
• Institute an annual pattern of Christian nurture and discipleship courses
• Prepare for the transition into our new building – through prayer, vision and keeping the community informed

Please join with me in praying and working for God’s Kingdom in our community in what promises to be a very exciting year, using this prayer for growth and every other prayer your soul can muster.

“Father, we pray that you would grow your church of St Mary’s. Grow us in number, in depth of faith, in knowledge and understanding of your love. May we reach out and serve our community in Wythall and Hollywood, and call new disciples to journey with us, in the name of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Rich Burley (from the Vicar’s Report in St Mary’s 2013 Annual Report

Launch of St Mary’s Church Newsletter – Issue 1

animalmanEaster is a-coming, and we thought now would be a great time to launch the St Mary’s Newsletter.  It’s a brief round-up of our significant news and events over the last few months, and a chance to invite all you lovely people to our up-coming special services and events.  In this issue:

  • Find out more about the new church building
  • See how Jam Packed our half term holiday club was
  • Find out how you can be involved in our 24:7 prayer event
  • And much more…

 You can download the Newsletter on PDF here, and contact Cathy at to receive future issues via email.

Meanwhile feel very invited to our special 10.30am services on Mothering Sunday (10th March), Palm Sunday (24th March) and Easter Sunday (31st March).

Exciting times at St Mary’s as we unveil plans for a new church

A hectic last few months for St Mary’s church has been rewarded with some marvellous news: following negotiations with The Coppice School we’re delighted to be able to announce plans for a new church building to be built by Easter 2014!
Local people will remember the decision to close the old St Mary’s building on Chapel Lane in 1987, since which time Wythall has been without a parish church building. Whilst the congregation has survived (even thrived) we know many in the community miss having a church they can call their own, and for some the loss of the old building is still painful. It grieves us all at St Mary’s that a decision taken so long ago still causes distress, but our hope is that the new building will give us all an opportunity to move forward together and will be of benefit to the whole community.
Those expecting Victorian splendour might be disappointed – the new church is part of a joint building venture as The Coppice expands and will be in keeping architecturally with the school. But, with the centrepiece of a new stained glass window at the front, we expect the church to be attractive and inspiring as well as comfortable and flexible. The church itself will seat 50-60 people, but on Sundays and for special events will open up into the new school hall to hold around 300-350 in total. In addition St Mary’s will have its own entrance, foyer, toilets and kitchen, with two rooms upstairs.
With the new building we expect our ministry at St Mary’s to be transformed – reaching out from a permanent base we’ll be able to serve the community much more effectively. Our youth work and elderly care will be able to expand, and the new church will provide a beautiful and hallowed place for baptisms (christenings), memorial services and weddings, as well as busy festivals like Christmas and Easter. In addition the new school hall, equipped with new toilets and kitchen and ample storage, will become a spacious and much needed public space for community organisations to use.
Whether it’s for quiet prayer or wacky kids work, a midweek coffee morning or a Christmas carol service, we hope you’ll come and get to know the new St Mary’s with us. A big thank you is due to Mr Heptinstall and all at The Coppice for including us in their plans – among everyone in our community we hope they will be most blessed through this new adventure.