Sunday, November 6, 2011


After this morning's Worship Together Service Fish and Helen gave a talk about their work with Speak which the church has been supporting for the last couple of years. Speak is a network of young adults and students, supported by Christian Aid and Tearfund, focussed on praying and campaigning for social justice. Their campaigns include climate change, the arms trade, corporate accountability and trade justice. The proceeds from the meal afterwards will be going to support Speak too. Meanwhile Rosemary was running a very tempting major Traidcraft stall with lots of extra crafts and new items such as Christmas tree decorations from the Meaningful Chocolate company.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Laura just emailed me the link to a fun site on reducing and limiting consumption:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Forthcoming event reminder

"God's World": an evening with the Bishop of Reading exploring why and how to become an EcoCongregation.

At St John and St Stephen's Church, 121-147 Orts Road, Reading, RG1 3JN
Thursday 17th November, 7.30 - 9.30 pm.

Free entry, open to all denominations.

Bishop Andrew Proud will be speaking about his experience of the impact of climate change in Ethiopia.
There will be resources and stories from Berkshire EcoCongregations shared over fair trade refreshments.
Discover simple ways to help your church address the third and fifth marks of mission:
Responding to human need and safeguarding the integrity of Creation
Please e-mail for further details and to confirm your attendance so that we can provide enough refreshments.

Living Faith

Last Saturday St John's hosted the Oxford diocese Living Faith conference which was a really interesting day with speakers from Oxford's link dioceses and many organisations. I'm told the Christian Aid speaker mentioned in her workshop that it was good to see the notes inside our toilet doors explaining why we have recycled toilet paper! It's lucky the Co-op round the corner sells fairtrade filter coffee as it was so popular that we run out of our own supplies. The overrall message of the day was very much that social justice is an integral part of our mission as Anglicans.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Last Sunday was our harvest service. The food collected will be going to the Women's Centre and to Readifood. Vince reminded us that despite our apparent distance from food production in our town centre church, there are connections we often forget, be that meteorologists in the congregation or the network of shops that provide us with food at all hours that we were asked to give thanks for (I did feel challenged at the thought of 'giving thanks' for Tescos!).

The previous day a working party of three had made wonderful progress on tackling the garden ready for winter and liberating the bike racks from encroaching bushes - thank you.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Introduction to EcoCongregation

"God's World": an evening with the Bishop of Reading exploring why and how to become an EcoCongregation.

At St John and St Stephen's Church, 121-147 Orts Road, Reading, RG1 3JN
Thursday 17th November, 7.30 - 9.30 pm.
Free entry, open to all denominations.
Bishop Andrew Proud will be speaking about the church's role in caring for the environment. There will be prayer, resources and stories from Berkshire EcoCongregations shared over fair trade refreshments.
Discover simple ways to help your church address the third and fifth marks of mission:
Responding to human need and safeguarding the integrity of Creation in the face of Climate Change, Peak Oil and a growing world population.

Please e-mail for further details and to confirm your attendance so that we can provide enough refreshments.

Creation Time

Last Sunday we opened Creation Time with a worship together service inspired by an organisation we encountered at Greenbelt: Test of Faith. We had some reservations about the theology expressed but they do have a very useful service plan on their website encouraging people to think about science and religion and the astonishing immensity of the cosmos. We adapted these, including an interview with one of our congregation's many scientists, Rachel. She said that her work made her realise how much 'bigger' and beyond our comprehension God is and for her awe in Creation often came from the very tiny things. The Test of Faith website has videos accompanying scripture readings which had my children transfixed. It was a service which engaged all ages and provoked plenty of discussion afterwards.

We also handed out Cafod's Live Simply prayer cards.

Greenbelt 2011

As usual a large group from St John and St Stephen's attended Greenbelt this year, many camping with members of our vicar's former church.

Last year I was disappointed by the sudden disappearance of the climate change issue. This year, as a CEL speaker noted, it was still scarcely on the speaker agenda. Nonetheless, perhaps still rubbing bruises after Copenhagen, it was very much an issue in the G-Source tent and similar spaces: Cafod are getting us to sign postcards to George Osborne, urging him 'Don't drop the ball on climate change' ahead of the talks in Durban later this year. Unicef are asking us to persuade the Chancellor and Climate Change Secretary to 'Get Children Climate Ready' by using a Robin Hood Tax and a tax on shipping and aviation fuels to provide the money that has been promised to help poor countries deal with the effects of climate change. The Salvation Army had a very family-friendly tent where they explained some of the actions their international development organisation are taking to help the most vulnerable to make responsible use of their resources and to adapt to climate change as well as urging people to make changes in their own lives and support Stop Climate Chaos. The Christian Aid tent was a fantastic rainforest venue with lots for the children to do and very much more high-tec cafe than the one I used to volunteer in! The picture of Richard and Rosemary above is taken from Christian Aid's website. There was a display (with accompanying excellent harvest festival materials) highlighting the development of saline resistant rice and crab farming that was being introduced to help Bangladeshi farmers cope with flooded fields and my seven-year-old was very enthusiastic to join in the photo petition to David Cameron asking for more action on climate change.

There were of course lots of specifically environmental groups in the G-Source tent too. Christian Ecology Link's session there was well attended and entertaining as well as inspiring. They suggested that our response to the catastrophe facing the planet might be charted according to the traditional graph of the grieving process - awareness, reaction, denial, frustration, letting go, testing, search for meaning, integration - and that a lot of us were at the lowest morale point 'letting go', needing to move forward. As well as being persuaded to take the plunge and look properly at their EcoCell scheme, the principal message I took home was the importance of working with others. There was also a useful workshop on Transition Towns which was attended by about a hundred people.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Preparing for Creation Time

As usual at St John and St Stephen's we plan to celebrate Creation Time from 1st September right through October too (rather than stopping at 4th October) so that it leads into Kingdom Season. The night before last we had a rather small planning meeting to make sure the theme is woven into some of our preaching, prayers, meals and actions. There are some really useful resources at the ctbi website but we'll probably also be drawing on CAFOD's Live Simply material.

We were also planning a meeting to be held on 17th November which will be an opportunity to introduce Reading's EcoCongregations to our new bishop, Andrew Proud, to hear his thoughts on the issues and to encourage people from other congregations to become part of the movement. It'll be at 7.30 pm at St John and St Stephen's church and will include prayer, talks and an opportunity for questions and talking with those on the EcoCongregation journey over fairtrade refreshments. If you'd like know more or book a place, please e-mail Reading Christian Ecology Link are also involved in this event which is open to members of all denominations.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Green wedding

Jon and Rachel are back from honeymoon - they had a wonderful 'green' wedding (especially the cake, very green, decorated with wellies, chickens and other emblems of the Good Life) but I especially liked the idea of putting all our place names on plant labels in teeny pots of herbs to take home. I have photos but have lost my camera connector, hence failure to enter anything sooner.

The wonderful sunshine today meant it must have been a quarter of the congregation who arrived by bike (maybe not quite, but there were about 20 bikes).

I've been putting more general posts on the Reading CEL blogsite, having finally got round to setting it up, and am reserving this one specifically for St John's stuff.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Christian Aid Week and Sack Gardening

Christian Aid week has just finished. This year we finally decided to abandon the house to house collections that have become increasingly unpopular (I confess I've not done these since I arrived in Reading six years ago). Instead a dinner and auction of promises at the church was organised on 14th May. I couldn't attend but it was a great success and raised about £2,300 for Christian Aid thanks to some very generous people.

Next morning when we arrived for the service, the church was still decked with Christian Aid bunting and the flowers were beautiful in the CA colours of red and white. We had a visitor who is a conceptual artist working on a project which is tied in with Send a Cow. She is encouraging schools and other community groups to grow gardens in sacks and to communicate with others in this country and abroad with such 'bag gardens'. So, after the service we started our church bag garden - most of the work was done by the Exclaimers, especially the older girls who all attend St John's school and will be able to look after it during the week along with the school's own bag garden. (The photo above is from the Send a Cow site - hopefully I'll have one of our own to put there soon).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Easter Egg Hunt

On the Saturday before Easter we held an Easter Egg hunt for Scramblers/Climbers and Exclaimers in our garden followed by a picnic tea. It was so sunny I was worried the chocolate would have melted before they'd all arrived and decorated their egg boxes (we were using the Divine Dubble Easter Egg Hunt kits from Traidcraft). It was pretty chaotic and we were still finding missed eggs several days later in the garden but three of the Exclaimers reported this morning that it was the highlight of their Easter holiday.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

1st May - Outdoor Communion and cycle ride

For this year's 'green team' Worship Together service we decided to hold a traditional communion service but go outdoors. It must have been about the seventh gloriously sunny Sunday in a row and I couldn't quite believe we could be so lucky with the weather. We don't have a churchyard, just a courtyard at the front between the small garden and the church but this has low walls part way round mirroring the shape of the church itself and it worked really well with benches and a few chairs inside. We couldn't get the microphone system working but since we were much closer together than usual (and the double bank holiday had reduced numbers) it was fine. In fact it was rather nice to have a service not dependent upon technology (aside from the computer that prepared the service sheets initially).

We followed the usual Eastertide communion service with a couple of additions to keep the children's attention -
at the confession we asked the children to write 'sorry' in chalk on the ground and after the absolution we washed it away again, explaining that God had washed away our sins (many of the adults said they found that very powerful to witness)

while Richard was preaching - on the gardens that were the sites of fall and Resurrection - Emma painted a large picture of the garden with the tomb in (assisted by Ben the human easel). This kept my youngest son rapt, just as good as TV it turned out (for those more restless, chalk drawing kept them quiet still).

during the intercessions we gave them small flags to paint/draw what they wanted to pray for on and later stapled them to a string for waving at the end

during the offertory hymn (Thine be the Glory) I handed out bottles of bubbles - in my imagination these would be finished during the song but actually the bubbles kept coming right through the Communion prayer but this was fine

After coffee fifteen of us set out to cycle along the canal (including a couple of passengers). It was quite beautiful, all the leaves lush with the brightness of spring despite the very summery heat, damselflies flittering across the still waters etc. We arrived at the lock near 'The Cunning Man' just as the first of those who'd chosen to drive and walk did so - Dino on his crutches! Eventually our number was doubled and it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon, especially the sharing of homemade breads and cakes (plus homemade wine from Reading-grown grapes, albeit rather warm), while watching the orange-tip butterflies and the five-year-olds darting across the lock.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Easter approaching

This month's green tip from A Rocha is:

Have you ever thought about the market in Easter Eggs at this time of the year? In the UK we buy more than 80 million eggs, generating sales of around £200 million. Supermarkets use them as a 'loss leader': selling them as cheaply as they can in order to get customers in.

At this time of year it's easy to be attracted by the cheap offers, but let's not forget that behind every Easter Egg stands a farmer and their cocoa farm. Buying an Easter Egg made from fairtrade chocolate is the only way we can be assured that the farmer hasn't been poorly treated. So this month, make sure all your Easter chocolate is fairly traded.

Rosemary still has plenty of fantastic 'Real Easter Eggs' for sale at the Traidcraft stall. Or you can buy a range of sumptuous fairly traded eggs in the RISC World Shop or in the Oxfam book shop.

The plastic milk bottle top collection which had stopped can now be resumed as we have found someone else who is collecting them for a wheelchair.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hilfield Friary - baskets and desert fathers

I've just enjoyed a wonderfully peaceful and inspiring weekend away and would recommend any worn out eco-worrier/warrior to check out Hilfield Friary - a community of Anglican Franciscans in Dorset. It is lovely to stay somewhere where care for Creation is taken for granted and is quietly obvious in many ways. I was attending a weekend to learn about the Desert Fathers and how to weave baskets. I was especially struck by the story of an elder who was asked by a certain soldier whether God would forgive sinners. 'If your cloak was torn, would you mend it?' came the reply, 'But of course', 'Well then, how much more will God care for that which is His image?' - in part it struck me because we don't tend to mend things any more.
On our final morning the leader talked of the legacy of the Desert Fathers and their relevance today, picking up on the challenge of their call to utter simplicity and pointing out politicians' fears that simpler living will attack the model of economic growth that they cannot see beyond. He mentioned a fascinating sounding book by Bruce Wilshire called Wild Hunger which traces our addictions (be it to drugs or shopping) to a void caused by our lack of connection with nature and other humans.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reading Rescue

Last week Suzanne announced that she'd arranged for litter picking grabbers, bags and gloves to be delivered to the church for this weekend so that we could take part in Reading Rescue's clean up event. Unfortunately there were very few takers for Saturday morning but after church this morning several families joined in, incluing boys from each of the children's groups who seem to have found it the highlight of their morning! Matthew has announced he intends to be a litter picker when he grows up and James wants to know when we can do this again and can he have a grabber for use around home.

Christian Ecology Link

On 5th March Rosemary, Richard and I attended the Christian Ecology Link conference in London where there was a passionate call to Christian environmental action from Peter Owen Jones in the morning followed by sessions on practical actions and green economics. I've put a more detailed write-up of this event on a new site I've just started putting together for Reading Christian Ecology Link.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fairtrade Fortnight

Fairtrade fortnight began somewhat early at St John's with a Christian Aid Sacred Space service on the evening of 20th Feb - this was on their Trace the Tax campaign. I keep forgetting to ask how this went but hopefully I'll be able to report on it soon. In the meantime, this Sunday we handed out leaflets with a brief bit about Fairtrade (headed Fairtrade offers 7.5 million people in the developing world a more secure future) and then a collection of Fairtrade recipes to encourage people to bring Fairtrade puddings to next week's bring and share meal. I know Richard was planning to mention Fairtrade in the sermon (as usual I got to the file too late to pick up a copy so am waiting for it to appear on the church website). I was leading Exclaimers so we used the Fairtrade foundation's very useful downloads for a lesson about cotton and then made posters advertising our favourite Fairtrade products. These went up at the back of church afterwards to be admired by those queuing for coffee, surrounding an A4 sheet bearing John Sentamu's words "If you choose to buy the non-Fairtrade product, you are actively choosing to contribute to the poverty of others" which prompted some discussion in the queue. The children took various Fairtrade treats round to offer people afterwards and James was delighted when someone enjoyed the luscious Traidcraft yoghurt raisins he offered so much that they went over to the stall to buy some (thank you whoever that was!) Daniel meanwhile was encouraging people to sign a letter I'd downloaded from the Fairtrade foundation's website to Caroline Spelman regarding unfair cotton subsidies.
Also on the subject of Fairtrade, Reading University library has a display for Fairtrade Fortnight on its ground floor, organised by the chaplaincy with products from the World Shop and they will be hosting both a Fairtrade fashion show next Monday and, something I think looks especially interesting, an opportunity to hear from the Fairtrade Foundation and the Rainforest Alliance about their different approaches which is happening next Tuesday (8th) in Cafe Mondial from 7 til 9 (more info here).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Berkshire Save our Woods

I've recently been contacted by Berkshire Save our Woods who are protesting against the government sell off of woodland and in particular Sulham Woods on the edge of Reading. They're holding a protest on 5th March. Unfortunately I'll be away at the Christian Ecology Link conference that day but if you'd like to help out there's more info at the link above. It's a gorgeous place adjoining one of my favourite BBOWT sites so a lovely place to have to go for a demo!

Friday, January 28, 2011

"God on the Box": Peter Owen Jones

Last Wednesday Reading University Chaplaincy's New Year lecture, "God on the Box", was attended by a large number of St John's members, including two home groups who usually meet on Wednesdays. The speaker was Peter Owen Jones, presenter of Around the World in 80 Faiths, Extreme Pilgrim and How to Live a Simple Life. It was an inspirational and challenging evening with a lot that was relevant to the EcoCongregation journey. It will soon be possible to watch the lecture, although not the questions afterwards, on the university's tv website RU:ON.

Many of us were struck by his explanation that most television now is driven by 'jeopardy' - in order to keep viewers hooked they must be persuaded that the subjects they are watching face jeopardy. This means that many interesting and important subjects just don't make it into TV documentaries any more because there is no element of jeopardy. It also means that we have so much jeopardy thrown at us that it is hard to separate what really matters, eg climate change and 'the crime of extinction', from the fabricated jeopardy.

He also talked a lot about anti-consumerism - if you disagree with bankers' bonuses, take your money away from those banks! He said that his three months without money had 'de-toxed' him from the need to buy. He has enough possessions for the rest of his life. He will be talking more about this at the forthcoming Christian Ecology Link conference in London on 5 March which a couple of us plan to attend: End of the Age of Thorns-Surviving Consumerism.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jesus, the Earthly Powers and Us

On Sunday Hamish gave me a copy of a new Lent course that Reading Churches Campaiging Network have put together and it's really interesting stuff. It was Owen at Reading Christian Ecology Link who mentioned the course to me because he wrote much of the section on climate change. The course draws on the work of Rowan Williams, Steve Chalke, Walter Wink and Michael Northcott, looking at Jesus' political activity: how 'Jesus centred his ministry on subverting the "received wisdom" of his day and challenging the ruling upholders of the status quo. That is why, after a brief ministry, they had him killed'. The course is going to be used by several churches in Caversham but I don't think any decisions have been made about it at St John's yet.

On another note, I'd like to highlight the Church Urban Fund's Greening your church project which Paul at GREN has just drawn to my attention. Often it seems the 'green agenda' is seen as something of a distraction from the more immediately important church mission of ministering to those in need on our door stop. So, I was really pleased to find that the Church Urban Fund are encouraging people to see the crucial interconnections in these issues.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reading Transport

I've just got back from a good meeting with Reading's Lead Councillor for Strategic Planning and Transport, Richard Willis. I was part of a GREN delegation who had arranged to see him in the light of Reading's evolving Sustainable Community Strategy and Local Transport Plan (Reading Christian Ecology Link submitted a response to the draft of this plan which I put together, hence my involvement in this meeting). Within the confines of my hopes for the meeting it was a really positive experience - Cllr Willis was enthusiastic about promoting cycling, promising very positive developments in the near future and was able to assure us that the forthcoming 20 mph areas, while not as widespread as we would like, will be more significant than we were expecting. On the subject of buses he was able to tell us that the £1 to town scheme between some stops in Caversham and the centre of town has been a huge success (disappointingly I realise that the similar £1 to the hospital scheme has expired, but I can only hope that similar schemes might emerge for some of the poorer areas of Reading. This is a matter for the bus company rather than direct council intervention).