To all members of St Mary’s,
I hope that this letter finds you well.
These last 16 months have been extremely challenging for all of us. The impacts of Coronavirus have been extensive and wide ranging. I am very grateful to God for His overall protection and how He has sustained us. But I have no doubt that the effects of the pandemic will be with us for a considerable time.
This week has marked a specific point in terms of government guideline, so I wanted to write to you to outline some aspects relating to St Mary’s as we move forward.
Overall we want to ensure that our church is a place where people feel safe and comfortable. It is within that security we can worship God together. Here are the things we are putting in place:
- Use of hand sanitiser is encouraged on entry and exit and there will also be sanitiser available within the worship area
- People are encouraged to use a mask / face covering
- We will position seating such that people can sit together or sit spaced from others. We are happy for people to move chairs to a position that feels comfortable for them. We will have signs saying ‘Please leave this chair vacant’ which you can put on a chair next to you to create the space you find helpful.
- We are delighted to be able to sing again, this is such a wonderful part of our corporate worship, but we ask that people ensure their mask is in place when singing.
- We will have bread and wine at communion. Rev Manda (or a visiting Priest) will first dip the wafer into the wine before giving it to you. She will be wearing a face covering and will have sanitised her hands before distribution.
- The hall will be well ventilated with back doors being kept open.
- In order to respect people’s differing level of comfort with interactions with others we will not share the peace with any physical contact such as handshakes or hugs for the time being.
- Refreshments will be served following a robust risk assessment being put in place.
- We will continue to encourage people to be part of the ‘Test and Trace’ system through either scanning the church QR code or by completing a short paper form.
- Please do not attend a church services if you are feeling unwell
I feel that by following these things we are showing our care and concern for one another and creating the appropriate environment in which to worship.
In the following I want to let you know of the plans for services going forward.
Services in August – 10.30am for refreshments and 11am service
On each of the 5 Sundays in August we will have one service in the church building. It will start with refreshments at 10.30am. The formal part of the service will begin at 11am and will be around 50 minutes long. We will all worship together, children’s groups will begin in September, two weeks in August we will gather around the Lord’s table for communion. At each of these services we will be exploring an area of prayer looking at – praise, saying sorry, giving thanks, asking God, saying ‘yes’ to God. Prayer is a key foundation both for the present and as we move forward and this will be a great focus for our worship together in August.
There will be a short online service each week during August in which we will look at some of the miracles of Jesus.
Services from September onwards
From 5th September we will resume two services in the building.
9am Common Worship Communion Service with hymns
11am Informal worship with Children’s Groups
Monthly Evening Worship
Families on 4th Sunday at 4pm
You will notice in the list above that there is a change in time to the second service. Service leaders and worship leaders commented that less than 30 minutes between the end of the first service and beginning of the second service made set up time for the second service hurried and often stressful. This is a key time for being prepared to worship and lead others in worship as well as to greet and interact with others. The PCC have therefore agreed that we will trial the second service start at 11am and review in February 2022. We are aware that changes in service times may not suit everybody but we think being as prepared for leading worship as we can be is a good reason to trial this slightly later time, especially at this point of emerging from a pandemic. What we are proposing is that refreshments for the second service are before the service rather than after. We hope people will arrive from 10.30 onwards and this will therefore continue to give opportunity for people from the first service and people from the second service to chat to each other.
Sunday 5th September – Services re-launch and church picnic
We are very excited to be re-launching our two morning services on the 5th September. By then we will not have had two in-building services for nearly 18 months. This is therefore a cause for celebration and so we invite everyone to gather from noon onwards for a picnic – hopefully the weather will enable us to go outside.
I am aware that this is a lot of information so do read it through again and please contact me if you would like to be in touch and ask about or talk through any aspect of it.
A huge thank you goes out to many people for enabling us to continue with our worship services over this period of the pandemic and to all those looking to serve as we move forward. Please pray for St Mary’s and for the communities of Hollywood and Wythall at this time.
Rev Manda Featherstone
20th July 2021
We have now received the direction from the Church of England that the Archbishops have stated that ‘public worship is suspended until further notice’. This means that St Mary’s will not meet for worship services on Wednesdays or Sundays until we receive further information.
We have also decided that in line with the government advice around ‘non-essential contact’ to cancel all small group meetings and mid-week gatherings for children and youth.
BUT the spiritual life and mission and ministry of the church will continue it will just look a bit different for a while.
This is a new season for our church and just like our expectancy for the Spring and the warmer weather we are expectant for God to continue to be at work in our lives; speaking to us, helping us become more like Jesus and prompting us in ways to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves’.
Here are the current ways in which you can connect in prayer, worship and with one another (remotely):
- Pausing to Pray
There will be two opportunities each week to ‘pause and pray’. One will be on a Monday evening between 8pm and 8.30pm, the other will be Thursday mornings 9.15 – 9.45am. If you would like to indicate that you are engaging with this and you wish to receive some prayer pointers and the allotted Bible reading email email@example.com and if possible send your mobile number so that you can join a Whatsapp group
- Worship and teaching
There will be a slot of teaching and prayers via video posted on both Wednesdays and Sundays. I am still to determine the exact way this happens such as whether it will be ‘live streamed’ or a recording that gets posted. But look on the website and our facebook page tomorrow at 11.30am for the first posting.
- Love one another
We have an incredible opportunity at this time to show God’s love to others. For example do you know people in Nursing Home or who are self isolating? Can you write them a letter or card or ring them up? How might we offer practical help like shopping, dog walking, medicine collecting etc for others from church, our wider family and our friends and neighbours?
- Children, families and Youth Work
We are looking at ways we can provide specific resources for children, families and young people – watch this space. As a starter, you could follow St Mary’s Wythall Youth, Children’s and Families on Facebook to find out new things as they happen!
Thanks for your patience and prayers at this time. Please keep in touch. Although a very unusual time I truly believe God wants to grow us in our faith and to grow our church.
Rev Manda Featherstone
17th March 2020
Francis Abola was the student we sponsored to go to Kira Farm in 2018. Here is news about Francis which we received recently from the charity Amigos, who run Kira Farm.
Thanks to sponsorship from St Mary’s Church Wythall, 22 year old Francis has created a very successful carpentry business, and is working to bring restoration to difficult family relationships.
Francis says: ‘My business is growing by the week and I’m now looking for other trainees to come and join me as I have so much work. After all my outgoings I’m able to save around £90 per month, which I am going to use to buy my own land, a place I can call truly home.’
My mother died when I was two and I was given the name Abola, which means abandoned child. My father took me to live with him and his new wife, but they never wanted me as I was so young and of little use. Apart from a grass thatched roof over my head, I received no love and kindness as a child. My stepmum hated me so much, she made me eat my own poo. Whenever anyone visited the hut and talked of how I looked like my dad, she would beat me up after they left. My body is covered with visible scars from her beatings as well as the invisible, psychological scars that I carry.
When my stepmum had children with my dad, she would lock me in a hut for days so I couldn’t play with my stepbrothers and sisters. When I was nine years, I ran away from home and slept in bushes for almost two weeks. I was eventually found, weak and almost unconscious from not eating and taken back to my father by some well-‐meaning villagers. As soon as I started to recover my father gave me a torturous beating for shaming him and my stepmum. Life couldn’t have been worse.
My abuse reached the ears of the elders of our clan, so they paid a visit to my family. They warned my dad and stepmum to stop the abuse immediately and made them send me to school. Things cooled down for a couple of months before things got even worse, but I was at least away from home and in school for part of the day. My father only paid school fees for one term, so I had to work digging people’s land and collecting water. It was backbreaking work, but I could earn about £7 a month in the planting season. I managed to work my way to secondary school, which was a minor miracle, but eventually dropped out at the end of Senior 4.
All I ever wanted was to work hard and look after myself, but it seemed a hopeless dream until I heard of Kira Farm Development Centre. This was the opportunity I had longed for. I made sure I turned up to the interview on time, and just prayed and prayed I would be accepted. I couldn’t believe my ears when Joshua told me to get ready to come to Kira in January. No one will ever know the gratitude and excitement I felt!
When my family heard I was accepted for vocational training at Kira Farm, they were so angry that they burnt my hut down and threw me out. I was certainly living up to my name, after all these years I was still the abandoned one and they still never wished anything good for me. The only way I could save my life was to run as far away from my dad and stepmum as possible. Fortunately, I knew of a relative who was now living 300 miles away in Entebbe and who I was able to stay with before joining Kira Farm in the January.
No one will ever know how much I needed to be at Kira. All my life I have craved to be loved and treated as a valued human being. God must have known Kira was the only place I could find the healing I needed to fill the emptiness I felt inside. I laugh when I talk about God now because I hated God with everything in me. I questioned where He was when my mum died, why I had to suffer at such a young age, even why my dad and stepmum nearly took my life. I am so grateful I went through the Kira’s discipleship training. It helped me find peace and come to terms with some of the questions I might never know the answers to. I now see God as my loving father, someone who I can talk to and rely on, a real father figure. I am also so very grateful for the love Joshua showed me. I never knew a person could give so much love and strength to someone that they hardly knew, and that they were not related to.
From Desperation to Success
As my year at Kira sped by, I was getting very anxious about leaving. What would I do, where I would live? I was encouraged that God had a plan for my life and now I had a family that loved me and wanted the best for me. But when I look back, I realise how hard it was for my fellow trainees to make friends with me. I came to Kira damaged and broken, I found it hard to trust anyone, but things are different now. If I had my time at Kira again, I believe I would have an amazing relationship with everyone I feel so different.
Just like a true father, Joshua was also worried about where I was going to stay, and what I was going to do, knowing full well I couldn’t return home to Kitgum, so he fixed up a job for me a few miles down the road from Kira Farm at a town called Kasangati. I worked for 3 months in a maize mill but also did some building work for the same company earning £60 a month. Accommodation and meals were provided so I saved every penny, which enabled me to set up my own workshop back in Entebbe. My business is growing by the week and I’m now looking for other trainees to come and join me as I have so much work. After all my outgoings I’m able to save around £90 per month, which I am going to use to buy my own land, a place I can call truly home.
I am praying to God to help me fully forgive my parents because even now I can’t understand why they hated me so much, and why I deserved to be treated that way. The annual Strength programme that is run at Kira helped me beyond measure. I’m using everything I learnt to reach out to my dad to
try and heal the rift between us I’ve managed to talk to him twice, and I feel know that, with time, we will be able to heal our relationship so that I may forgive him.
I grew up abandoned and alone, in darkness. To have felt love from Joshua at Kira Farm and from Ria and Pam all that way away in the UK has shown me God’s favour and helped me be the person I am today.
Join us in the anticipation of Advent and the joy of Christmas!
Sunday 1st December
9am Holy Communion
10.30am Christingle Service – fun for all ages
Wednesday 4th December
7pm Community Carols, with local schools, churches & community groups
Sunday 8th December
9am Holy Communion
10.30am The Hush before the Rush
Sunday 15th December
10.30am Traditional Carol Service
Sunday 22nd December
9am Holy Communion
10.30am Crib Service – suitable for all ages
Wednesday 25th December
10am Christmas Day service