1st December: Advent Sunday
Partnership Service at Immanuel and Launch of our Christmas Tree Festival
Immediately prior to the start of our Advent service, the mayor of Swindon, Kevin Parry, was able to join us and formally opened the Partnership Christmas Tree Festival: across the churches of the partnership there was a wide variety of trees on display representing a huge number of groups and societies in the town.
Whereas at Christchurch, the brave decision was taken to encourage groups to place their trees outside – with luck, before too long I’ll manage a photo at night time with all the lights a-twinkling!
Being rather partisan, I have to say that Immanuel’s display looks simply great – congratulations to all the groups and individuals for creating such an impressive impact. It meant that our advent service was held in a church transformed with so many delightful trees around us. An augmented choir performed several pieces for advent and it was truly a most uplifting act of worship with all our churches taking part. Despite the bitter weather the turn-out was good and we nearly raised the roof with some rousing advent hymns .
30th November: Partnership Christmas Tree Festival – set-up day!
It took months of planning but finally ‘set-up day’ arrived and across our Old Town Partnership of churches frenzied activity was taking place as assorted groups and individuals set about erecting and decorating Christmas trees…..and what ingenious ideas people came up with!
left: members of the Women’s Fellowship busily working on their display of the myriad of activities and talks they’ve enjoyed over the past year.
By the end of the day there were more than 25 different trees in position around the church from groups and societies with links to Immanuel, and what a sight it was.
Right: The Young Mums’ contribution gets a finishing touch from Ceri as the girls look on.
During the preparation time it was agreed that as so much work had gone into the displays, that to have them in church just for a week wasn’t doing them justice. So although the church will only be open 1st – 8th December for official viewing, those with trees on display will leave them until Christmas – that way we can all enjoy them during our Christmas services.
Meanwhile, do spread the word and encourage family and friends to pop in over the course of the next week: the church will be open every afternoon from 2.00pm – 6.00pm and with extended hours on Saturday and Sunday….it will be well worth the visit!
As an added extra, (and thanks to Peter and Liz Gibney and friends) our Outreach Committee has set up a fun board outside the church to advertise Christmas, that may well appeal to the children and young at heart.
10th November: Remembrance Sunday
As has been our custom now for several years, in the lead up to the two-minute silence during our Remembrance Service, via the radio we linked up to the BBC broadcast and were thus able to join in with the whole nation in that solemn act. I am sure the whole congregation felt as moved as me when the bell of Big Ben resounded through the church and even more so when the buglers of the Royal Marines sounded out the Last Post.
One sight many of the congregation would not have spotted during our morning worship, was the glorious picture presented to the choir in the windows of the prayer corner as the sun in the most spectacular way filtered through the leaves of the copper beech tree out in the grounds of Charlton House.
Our evening service was once again an act of remembrance as we recalled those recently departed from our own congregation or whose funerals have been conducted by either Robert or Geoff over the past year. Candles were lit in a simple act of remembrance and we were all uplifted by some very moving music from the choir. Our thanks to Robert and Geoff for two very poignant services today!
13th October: Our harvest Appeal
Immanuel Harvest Appeal
Sunday 13th October was when we launched our 2019 Harvest Appeal here at Immanuel, and what a challenging event it was!
This year the charity we have chosen to support is ShelterBox, which some of you probably know about. Liz Odell shared the morning service with us and even brought a Shelter Box with her, except for the tent –which is heavy to carry, and not something we could set up as part of the service, otherwise she showed us the content of the Box, among other things tarpaulins, blankets, water filter, pots and pans, mosquito netting, tools, even a floating solar powered lamp which lasts 16 hours. She shared the story of ShelterBox and told us of the many times they have reached out to victims following natural disasters, hurricanes and to refugees – the lot!
Liz herself has been on many of these missions making sure the boxes reach the people in need, and told us how lives are changed, sometimes through a tent which becomes “home” while the destroyed house is being re-built with tools provided; even how the solar light helped a man in Peru, extend his day activities beyond sun set because he now had light.
Everybody felt challenged, and there was a time to ask questions over coffee/tea at the end of the service with the ShelterBox to be explored close up.
This charity carries out amazing work and we pray Immanuel’s Harvest Appeal can respond to this challenge, so that with the money received, a number of Boxes can be bought and reach the many people who year by year are affected in so many different ways and that these people may know there are many who care and help.
Thanks to ShelterBox for all they do, and thanks to Liz Odell for sharing her story of ShelterBox and helping us understand, in a very moving way what it does.
Please make sure you know about this and try to contribute to this year’s Appeal if you feel you can.
6th October: Harvest Thanksgiving
Once again the floral artists of Immanuel had worked hard to put on a splendid display depicting the bountiful harvest we enjoy. Under the watchful eye of our resident scarecrow the red, yellow and orange hues of the flowers complemented the colours of the fruit and veg that spread out from the communion table.
Whilst in the windows, matching displays picked out all manner of harvest crops.
Those who came into the church via the East porch encountered a striking display based on the theme of ‘wine’ – what our teetotal, non-conformist forebears would have made of that I dread to think, but it certainly made for a striking display!
It goes without saying that following a very long tradition at Immanuel our congregation brought their own gifts of God’s bounty to us that were later distributed to those in need: this year our Harvest donations go to the “Swindon Food Collective” (or foodbank) and the “Swindon Night Shelter” that provides not only overnight accommodation but a hot midday meal to the homeless of the town and others in need.
As always, bunches of flowers were taken out to friends unable to be with us to share in what was yet again a memorable service of thanksgiving, during which we were all reminded of the desperate need to care for our fragile world.
15th September: a wonderful celebration
A packed congregation from across our Partnership together with the Mayor and Mayoress of Swindon, gathered at Immanuel to celebrate both the 80th anniversary of the opening of the church on the site in Upham road and also mark the 50th anniversary of the formation of the partnership of churches in Old Town.
An enhanced choir led the congregation in some rousing singing that nearly raised the roof (I wonder, has the Vaughan Williams setting of “All People who on Earth do Dwell” ever sounded so magnificent?)
The service was led by the Moderator of the URC General Assembly, Derek Estill, who gave us a very simple but clear message to be mindful of the ecological future of our planet and urged us to listen to God, to each other and work out the way ahead. He reminded us in a challenging way, that discipleship in following Jesus is not easy and that our faith should never be a crutch but the very mainstay of our lives.
Afterwards in the hall, the Moderator joined Margaret Williams in cutting a celebratory cake while others of the congregation spilled out into the sunshine of the garden to enjoy what was a glorious day. It all made for a fitting end to a really great weekend that, as well as looking back, also looked forward to the challenges ahead.
It has to be said that Immanuel struck lucky once again in organising an afternoon event to celebrate both the 80th anniversary of the opening of the church and at the same time mark the 50th birthday of our Partnership of Churches in Old Town. Some fifty or so folk met up during to enjoy an afternoon ‘cuppa’ and a slice of cake (thanks are due to Liz Gleed for organising all the refreshments!) and at the same time were able to get to know the visiting Moderator of the General Assembly of the URC. Derek Estill had travelled down from Lancashire to be with us and lead our worship on Sunday morning but while he was here, took the time to visit Bath Road, Christchurch and St Mary’s and have meetings with Simon Stevenette and Mark Barrett. The afternoon session gave everyone who had turned out the opportunity to talk with him and appreciate both his interest and his gentle humour. (Right : Derek and Robert in deep discussion with Anne Doyle – former Ecumenical Officer of Wiltshire Churches Together)
Sunday evenings throughout August are traditionally a time when we hold joint services across the partnership and it was Immanuel’s turn to play host on Sunday 18th. Once again the decision had been taken to organise a “Summer Singalong” and give the minister a rest from preparing a sermon by arranging a service of favourite hymns. We are blessed at Immanuel in having such a fabulous group of musicians happy to turn up and accompany our singing, so along with Geoff on the organ we had Julie and Shelly on keyboards, Jenny and Kathy on woodwind, Andy on bass and Keith on drums…… and what a great sound they made!
Over 100 folk came along from our partnership to join in the fun, and with the sun streaming in on a glorious summer evening we nearly raised the roof in some of the really rousing hymns. Robert guided us through the background to the hymns and filled us in on a few interesting facts for each one.
We were particularly fortunate in that our ‘peripatetic’ tenor, Dr Mario was able to be with us and having performed a wonderful solo during the morning service (Schubert’s Ave Maria) he filled the church with his magnificent tenor voice in the ever-popular “I’ll walk with God”. It all made for a very moving service that was greatly appreciated by everyone; it was particularly good that so many felt able to stay behind to join in teas and coffees that were served in the church parlour. As several people asked…..”When’s the next one?”
Our hardworking Buildings and Grounds Committee organised a working party for Monday 5th to do some of the little jobs in and around the church and grounds that mount up over the year. Thankfully the weather stayed fine and most of the tasks were accomplished even by lunchtime. A team of fourteen turned out that included the minister (who, by the end, seemed to have more paint on him than on the fence!)
Roses and hedges were pruned, the shed roof was re-felted, lots of weeds met their fate, the cycle rack was repaired, the front garden tidied up as well as the far (west) side of the church. And inside the church itself, a lot of tidying, dusting and polishing went on.
We may have been a group of OAPs but we still managed to leave the place looking much better than we found it and as Myra proved, age is no barrier to weeding and tidying the front garden…. single-handedly she did a wonderful job and thoroughly deserved her half-time cup of coffee! A great team spirit reigned all morning and it has to be admitted there was much hilarity and laughter. If you’re free next time, pop along and join us – its great fun!
Farewell to Tom!
Tom Wheeler joined Immanuel choir as a little treble (well to be honest he was never really that small!) and transferred to the tenor section when notes in the treble clef became too high to reach; so it was with some degree of sadness that when the choir started its summer break on Sunday 28th July, we bade farewell to him. In September he starts a new and exciting phase in his life when he continues his studies in music at the University of Canterbury.
He has recently been awarded a distinction in his grade 8 singing examination by the associated Board of Music, so he can head off with our best wishes and an excellent qualification already under his belt! The choir gathered prior to our morning service to wish him well in this new chapter of his life and Geoff made a small presentation of a card and token which we are sure he will use sensibly! We know he will be back with us from time to time but the back row of the choir won’t be the same without him!
Despite being postponed because of heavy snow and other events which prevented it happening last year, at last we managed to hold our joint service with our Romanian friends this Sunday….. and what a time we had! The holiday season was already on us so congregations from both churches would have been somewhat diminished, but we still had a fairly crowded church to celebrate our ‘oneness’ in Christ.
During our time together we learned something of their background and how their church had come together in Swindon, and they learned a little about the URC, our history and way of thinking . The middle of the service gave everyone a chance to mix and get to know one another: so much chatter was going on that Robert and their pastor, Vio, had a major task in calling us to order. (see picture above)
With readings in both English and Romanian, some lively hymns and musical contributions from a male trio singing a Taizé chant in Romanian, a joyful song from their children and a rousing anthem by our own choir, it all made for a service that will long be remembered. Let us hope it won’t be the last time we meet in such a way. It has to be said that the language barrier didn’t exist!
30th June : visit of former minister
It is almost 30 years since Revd Bob Ellis preached his farewell sermon at Immanuel and set off to minister in Exeter. He was quite surprised to see that he recognised so many faces and old friends in the congregation (some had travelled to be with us for the day). From our point of view it was evident that he hasn’t changed much either – still quite capable to producing a challenging message (peppered with characteristic humour). It was also very fitting to take his photograph out by the foundation stones – laid on the day that he was born (18th January 1939).
29th June: Partnership Garden Party
We couldn’t have chosen a better day to hold our Garden Party (other than perhaps have asked for it to be a little cooler!) and there was a really great turn out to mark the 50th anniversary of our churches in Old Town working together. Today wasn’t about worship though, it was about socialising and enjoying each others’ company in the garden at Immanuel. That said, was only the bravest of souls who ventured out to enjoy the lovely surroundings of Immanuel’s lawn and rose garden – although the organising committee had thought to erect gazebos, most of us preferred to stay indoors and enjoy the shade offered by the church hall! Refreshments were served all afternoon and there was so much home-made cake, that the morning congregation the next day were able to enjoy the bonus of a slice of cake with their after service coffee!
An added bonus for Immanuel’s congregation was that former ministers Bob Ellis and Michael Hodgson were both in attendance and it was a real pleasure to be able to meet up and chat over old times. These events don’t happen ‘at the drop of a hat’ and thanks are due to the organising committee with its representatives from Christ Church, Bath Road and Immanuel. They had thought of everything it seemed – musicians to keep everyone entertained with gentle background music, all manner of games and activities for those who had the energy and for the rest of us a cooling ice cream that was really very welcome!
As well as thanking the folks who planned it all we ought to add a word of thanks to the stalwart members of our B&G committee who managed to get the grass cut and the garden looking lovely despite the issues of a broken mower to contend with!