Sunday, December 30, 2007

Have a fruitful 2008

Well hope you all had a great Christmas if I didn't see you at church this morning to ask in person. Exciting as The Xmas Factor in all its various flavours was (I'm not sure I'll ever forget the nativity factor drama for one) it was great to get back to doing 'normal' church again this morning.
For those not in the adult meeting I preached from Luke 13:1-9 on God's expectation that we shouldn't just be faithful but that we should be fruitful, and that sometimes that means us taking tough decisions to either chop out of our lives things that aren't producing fruit, or digging around them and giving them more time but then getting rid of them if they still aren't fruitful. My challenge for us is for 2008 to be a year where we individually and as a church prepare ourselves for fruitfulness, as we look to grow to 2,000. It was also great to have loads of first time visitors with us this morning with people from Zimbabwe, South Africa and Nigeria as well as the UK.
We've now all travelled down to Suffolk to spend New Year with our friends Jason and Tina who lead the NewFrontiers church in Stockport and used to be in Bracknell. We'd love to be at the Hope08 prayer meeting but decided we needed a break before 2008 kicks off - if you're going please make those from the other churches feel incredibly welcome.
Have a great New Year and hope to see you soon.
Simon.
Ps don't forget to get your copy of The Purpose Driven Life ready for the start of the 40 days of purpose on the 13th - cheap from the bookshop!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A slightly higher profile radio interview than mine!

Having had my own very small slot on Radio Berkshire on Sunday I was really interested to hear a bit of the Simon Mayo show on Radio 5 where Ricky Gervais (of The Office fame) and The Archbishop of Canterbury overlapped and had a short but very interesting conversation on a wide range of subjects. I thought The Archbishop did OK - you can see what you think by watching the YouTube video of it here. His interview afterwards was also quite interesting - you can find an audio version of that on the BBC website.

Talking of videos I thought I'd highlight again some of the amazing work our media team are doing. There are photos of some of the events around the celebration of Ben's 43 years in Bracknell here and a fantastic video summary here. You can also watch the video of Clive Challis being interviewed here - this has already been downloaded and watched 68 times with some very good feedback. I'll only hint at the video Paul Harker and others have done for Christmas Eve and say that it's outstanding - be there. Kerith Nooma here we come! No seriously video is such an important tool in our media savvy society - I heard somebody describe it as the 21st Century's stained glass window which I thought was quite an interesting image - it is inevitably a big part of our future although always only a tool to get the message across.

Keep reading through Luke - if you're on track then it will be Luke 4 today.

Hope to catch you on Sunday, if not then Christmas Eve or Christmas day.

Have fun!

Simon.

ps There is a possibility Canon Andrew White will be with us on the morning of the 6th January - still to be definitely confirmed but if we do have him that will be a morning not to miss - you heard it here first! Then 40 days of purpose starts the following Sunday - all exciting stuff.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Xmas Factor - The Unseen Side

For those of you who don't have the privilege of being around The Kerith Centre during the week you might not realise that our Christmas programme extends way beyond what happens on Sundays - excellent as that is. Some non Sunday events I can remember off the top of my head are The Festive Feast, There's More to Life Christmas Meal, Battle of the Bands, Konnections Social, Distribution of hampers given by Housegroups and Garth Hill College and toys from the Unique Women's Breakfast, Sparklers Christmas Parties as we as all the on going support into the community Catriona Mitchell, Andy Jackson and many others are providing. Please don't get upset if I forgot your event - just post a comment to remind us of it!

Well the last two days we've had two more outstanding events with the Brackenhale and Garth Hill College Secondary Schools Christmas Carol Concerts. I only made it into the Garth Hill one today but there were well over 1,100 people in the auditorium (oh for that every Sunday!) and the kids (probably not the right word) loved having the big stage with all the lights to perform on. The concerts are jointly lead by our Youth Team (headed by Lee Layton-Matthews) and the Youth Team from the Eternity Warfield Church. There is a fantastic freedom for them to declare the gospel in the front of all those teachers and pupils, and chatting with the head and other department heads afterwards they are incredibly grateful for all we do. It's also exciting to see our two churches working together - a great pointer to how with Hope08 we can look to achieve so much more together than we ever could apart. The head of Garth, Keith Grainger, invited Brian Meardon (Vicar of Warfield) and me to meet him in the New Year to talk about how Garth could partner with both Hope08 and possibly what we are doing in Zambia - more of that in the New Year but another example of the church being the head and not the tail.

I'm incredibly proud of our teams who have made all these "unseen" events happen - too numerous to mention but you know who you are :-) We are changing hearts and minds - keep asking God to break in through all that we do!

On the subject of Hope08 don't forget the New Years Eve prayer meeting. Details of that and other aspects of Hope08 are on the fledgling Hope Bracknell website - check it out and register for future updates!

Off to pick up Jacob and his friends from Bracknell Sports Centre before a rehearsal for Christmas Eve tonight - roll on Boxing Day!

Simon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Fear of God

A quick post before I go off to work!

I spoke on Sunday morning that the fear of God which Mary sings about in her song in Luke 1. I said that it had more to do with us holding God in awe, revering him and receiving his word to us as being definitive as opposed to being advice to be considered, rather than fear as in the sense of us being terrified of God. I realised afterwards that I didn't give a scripture to back that up, but this morning was reading Hebrews 12 and 13 and found a passage that speaks straight into this - Heb 13:18-24.

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear."
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (NIV)


This is important stuff as Proverbs 1:7 says " The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." We want to be wise and not fools! So fear God in a right way but don't be terrified of him.

Why not stop right now and read Luke 2 if you haven't already - here is is again online from The Message.

Finally to say Alice's nativity last night was brilliant - congratulations to Caroline Hanbury and everyone else putting it on (and everyone else in the church involved in school productions this Christmas). It was based on a Russian story called Babooshka and was an excellent retelling of the Christmas story. I'm still not sure why Alice was an American tourist though!

Simon.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Xmas Factor - Another Great Weekend

We're now three weeks into our Christmas Programme - The Xmas Factor - and so far it seems to have gone really well.

This weekend saw "The Battle of the Bands" on Friday night. The turnout of bands (4 bands plus Ethos) was a bit disappointing but the feel of the night was excellent. I was upstairs for quite a bit of it and chatted to a number of parents who were very impressed by both the quality of the event and that we would do something like this as a church for their youngsters. Lee and all of our youth did a great job of organising it and the technical team took things to another level with the lights, live video mixing from multiple cameras and audio teams, plus all the car parkers, security etc who make it all possible. A big thank you to everyone involved and certainly something to repeat again later in the year with all the lessons we've learnt from doing it this first time.

Then on Sunday evening we had "Christmas Unwrapped" with J John. He is such a fabulous communicator - makes me feel like giving up! - and it was such a privilege to have him with us. I've already heard of four first time commitments which is fantastic - I'll post more when I get to hear the full stories in the office tomorrow. That's added to one person who responded to the appeal I made on Sunday morning - God is on the move. Let's be asking God to break in at the other events, plus in the conversations we have with people outside of the building.

I'll try and post up some photos of all that has gone already when I get a free moment - some time in 2009 the way things are going currently!

I mentioned on Sunday morning the idea of reading a chapter of Luke every day through Christmas starting today, as a way to make sure we don't lose our connection with God over what can be any incredibly busy time. I was reading it from The Message translation this morning (which I often find helpful as I can get over familiar with the NIV text) so thought I'd post a link to it here so you can read it from The Message if you don't have a copy. Why not stop right now and read chapter 1, and then add a comment if what you read speaks to you.

Finally to say I came through my Radio Berkshire interview, which you can listen to here if you're really interested! Just follow the listen again link and go about an hour into the Clare Catford show.

Off to Alice's school show tonight - she's an American tourist which I don't remember from my school nativities :-) Should be fun.

Simon.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Way outside my comfort zone

I feel that I'm currently living most of my life outside my comfort zones. In the last 2 months I've done my first TV interview, first newspaper interview, first stint as Senior Pastor, first funeral, so many firsts that I'm losing count! Well Sunday morning is another one with my first radio interview. I don't know how it looks on the outside but on the inside

I'm going to be on BBC Radio Berkshire from 8-9 am on the Clare Catford Show. You can find more details and I think listen to an archive of the show up to a week later here.

Ben Davies and Janine Jackson are both past masters at doing this show but for me it's a first and feels quite scary. Please pray for me that it will go well and that I won't say anything I shouldn't!

After that back to The Kerith Centre for our Sunday morning meeting with the children in their parties from 9:50 and then J John on Sunday evening - should be very exciting. A number of people have asked me if there are still tickets available for Sunday night. Be assured that it isn't a ticketed event so just turn up, but do remember to park at the Avis car park.

I'm going over to Reading with Steve Scott who is not only an amazing guitarist but is also doing an incredible job doing more and more of our interactions with the press. It was Steve who got ITV here for the October handover events, Steve who has handled all the recent press releases with the local newspapers and Steve who organised for me to be on the radio on Sunday morning. He's to blame for many of my scary firsts! Another one of our incredible army of volunteers who brings his unique gifts to help us do what we do.

Hope to see you all on Sunday,

Simon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Graham Hardeman


Today we had the funeral of Graham Hardeman. I first met Graham and his wife Sue when about two and a half years ago we had a phone call at the church office to ask if we could help with a couple who needed their house refurnished from top to bottom after a house fire. Beds, wardrobes, tables, chairs, carpets, white goods, the lot. Ken Bothamley normally dealt with those sort of requests at the time but he was on holiday so the request came to me. I'd only been on staff a couple of months and felt completely baffled as to what to do. Anyway, a "please help" prayer and a bit of research found a furniture warehouse in Reading who could supply all the secondhand furniture we needed to refurnish the house for a few hundred pounds. All we needed to do was get over there and pick it all up! I had no time to do that but then Gareth Phillips who is in my housegroup said he would happily sort hiring the van and he and Keith White then drove over to Reading and brought all the stuff back over to Graham and Sue's house in Wildridings. It took them hours longer than we initially thought to do the job but they did it anyway with genuine joy and enthusiasm - stars.

I honestly thought that was the last we'd ever hear of Graham and Sue so was amazed when they turned up at church the following Sunday. They only really came to say thank you, but were so impressed by the welcome they received and the life in our meetings that they kept coming back. Not long later they both went on an Alpha course, became followers of Jesus Christ and were both baptised in one very memorable Sunday meeting. Keith White was a star in this whole process, regularly giving Graham and Sue lifts to and from church. They also joined two different housegroups, first of all joining up with Steve and Ann Hart who did an amazing job of helping them both practically and in their spiritual growth, and more recently with Matt and Gloria Wicks.

Well in the last few months Graham's health went down hill and he sadly died on the 20th November 2007. I was away in Zambia at the time but Andy Jackson did a magnificent job of being with Sue in hospital during Graham's final hours, and then Ken Bothamley gave amazing support to Sue in all the practical arrangements of planning the funeral. The funeral today was truly a team effort with a number of the church family there to set up the rooms, control the flow of cars in and out, prepare the food after the cremation and generally be there to support Sue and her son Lyndon.

It is just so great to see the church in action. When the church works well there is nothing else like it in all the earth - it's so great to be part of a family like this.

Finally to say how amazingly God has worked in Sue's life. She's a totally transformed person from the lady I first met two and a half years ago. If I ever looked for an example of God taking someones heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh then Sue would be it - God has truly changed her from the inside out and you'd only have to spend a few minutes with her to see the power of God to change a life.

Simon.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Final day of the Willow PTP leaders gathering

Hi all. Well I'm sat here in Chicago's O'Hare airport with my starbucks latte (happiness is a latte!) having just done the next draft of my talk for the Xmas Factor on Sunday night (which I'm feeling very excited about) waiting for my flight home. I never enjoy travelling on my own - I'm always worried that I'll do something stupid like get on the wrong plane - but at least this trip has felt like its been well worth while.
We finished today with an all day question and answer session with Bill Hybels, very similar in style to the one he did a few weeks back when he was in Bracknell. Fortunately there was very little overlap between the questions asked at the two different sessions which was great. There were too many questions to list them all here but needless to say the answers were fantastic!! Ask to see my notes if you'd like some examples.
So what have I learnt this week? First of all just a reinforced belief that we are on the right track and that the dreams God has placed in our hearts need to be pursued with energy and passion, along with a deep assurance that God is with us. Then lots of specific things I feel God spoke to me about which we'll hopefully be putting into practice over the coming weeks and months.
Can't wait to see you all again on Sunday for Don Smith in the morning and the Xmas factor in the evening.
Simon.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Day four at the Willow PTP leaders gathering

Hi again all. We're sat around waiting for our meal with Bill Hybels so thought I'd do todays update now rather than tomorrow morning.
Most of today was with Greg Hawkins who is executive pastor which means he works alongside Bill Hybels as senior pastor to do the day to day running of the church. He spent most of the day talking about an analysis tool they've developed called Reveal which is a questionnaire a church does to find out where it is at, which of its programmes are working and which don't. One of their most powerful findings has been that the most powerful thing a church can do is equip people to read their Bibles and encounter God for themselves. Food for thought and we'll definitely look at whether we do Reveal in the New Year.
The other but of the day was a tour of Willows incredible facilities. I've attached some photos of the back of their stage and video editing facilities. Hopefuly they'll come out better than the useless picture I posted in my previous entry! Catrina told me The Kerith Centre is starting to look amazing with the decorations and stage going up - huge thanks to everyone giving up time and energy to make all that happen - can't wait to see it on Sunday morning and use it for The Xmas Factor on Sunday night.
Hope you all slept well!
Simon.
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Simon's BlackBerry, BlueArc Engineering

Day thee at the Willow PTP leaders gathering

Hi all. A bit of a slower day yesterday but still very interesting. All about the governing structure of Willow Creek where the elders very much oversee the church, looking at things like the churches doctrinal position on divorce and remarriage and trying to see where the church will be 3 years out and then having another team of people who work out the day to day implementation of that vision. Certainly some food for thought for me and the other elders if we want to be 2,000.
Then in the evening we went to New Community which is their midweek believers meeting. At the end they invited all of us on the course onto the platform - so I can now say I've been on the Willow platform!
This morning we've got Greg Hawkins speaking who is their executive pastor - in charge of the day to day running of the church. A good friend of Matt and Susan Errickson who moved to us from Willow - I'll see if I can persuade anyone else here to come to Bracknell and join them! Not sure about this afternoon but tonight a meal with Bill Hybels - how cool is that.
I've tried to attach a photo of last night but not sure whether that will work with these email blog updates.
Love to you all - keep inviting people for Sunday night!
Simon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Day two at the Willow PTP leaders gathering

Another great day.
For most of it we were with Gordon MacDonald who some of you may remember spoke at a Willow event in our building earlier this year. It was quite a different session in that the focus was on our personal lives and doing life well rather than anything to do with building great churches. Lots about making time for yourself and friends and not being consumed by ministry and having people around you who do you good. Ask me when I get back how I'm doing implementing any of it as that's always the challenge. Gordon is coming to do a mens day for us on Saturday 10th May 2008 - put it in your diaries guys as he's a very good speaker. I also chatted with him about whether his wife who is a very accomplished speaker would speak to the women on the Friday night which he was very up for so we'll try and make that happen.
The other speaker was Nancy Beach who has been at Willow since day one and is involved in their creative arts ministry. One of my passions is that we would be a place where the creative arts (music, dance, drama, painting, sculpture, writing, video and all the technical stuff that goes to support these) flourish and are used in our gatherings to create moments of awe where people connect with God. She spoke very practically about some of the issues and problems they've had and how they overcame them. Looking at the programme for Sunday evening which I've been helping plan from a distance we should have some moments of awe there - don't miss it!
Hope you all have a great day - more tomorrow.
Simon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Day one at the Willow PTP leaders gathering

Hi from a very cold Chicago. - although so far no snow. They told us yesterday not to pray for snow as if it does snow there will be complete chaos on the roads - sounds like fun to me!
I'd love to be able to bring all of you to visit Willow. There is something about it that gets in your spirit. There is the bigness with 155 acres of grounds, huge lakes, a 7,000 seat auditorium, 700 paid staff and over 25,000 attending on a weekend. In comparison our ideas of building over the car park to give us more space seem very achievable and leave me thinking let's just do it. But more than the bigness it's the stories of changed lives that really speak to me and leave me with a deep longing as a leader.
In many ways 2 of yesterdays speakers reflected those two things. First their operations manager and top finance guy Brian McAuliffe. The complexity of administrating somewhere like Willow is unbelievable. A 25 million dollar budget, something like 200 paid admin staff, thousands of volunteers and numerous management groups to report to. My worst nightmare!
But then we had a lady called Kyndra Singer speak to us. She is involved in all their support ministries. Divorce recovery, marriage courses, bereavement counselling, overcoming drug and alcohol addictions, depression, sexual abuse, debt counselling, the list just went on and on. They all meet on a Monday night in their various groups. Then we heard from some people who's lives have been changed through going to those groups. And I'm sitting there in pieces thinking this is it. This is why we do what we do. That broken people (which is all of us) can encounter a God who loves them and can put them back together again. That's why we want to grow, because every person added represents a life changed. And as a bigger church we can reach more people in more different ways. And the new building will just be a tool to allow us to reach the community in different ways. Why not pray right now for the people on your invite list and phone one of them today and arrange to meet them.
Today we've got Gordon MacDonald who came the The Kerith Centre earlier this year speaking - should be good.
More tomorrow.
Simon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Greetings from Chicago

Hi all. Well it's 5.20 am here in Chicago and due to them being 6 hours behind the UK and 8 behind Zambia I've been wide awake since 4 - the joys of international travel!

I'm here for what they call 'Partnering to Prevail' which is a week long opportunity to see behind the scenes at Willow Creek and meet with their senior leadership team including Bill Hybels. It's all a bit crazy coming straight off the back of Zambia but I just felt coming here was too good an opportunity to miss as we look at what it will take to grow us to 2,000. A huge thankyou to everyone who has been praying for me and our family - I so appreciate it. I came here with a cold and an upset stomach but feel loads better now.

I've heard great reports back on the weekend in Bracknell. Sounds like new day local with the youth on Friday went well and that Sunday was full of life with great worship, preaching and personal stories from Clive and the Zambia team. Perhaps I'll stay away a bit longer!

I'm so looking forward to the start of the Christmas programme this weekend. I've been working on my talk for Sunday night this morning, as well as praying for the people on my invite list and for lives to be changed at every event. Can I encourage you to do the 3 things I spoke about 3 Sundays back.

1. Pray for the people on your invite list.

2. Do something socially with them.

3. Invite them to one of the events.

You just don't know what God will do. Can I also encourage you to come the next three Sunday evenings, even if you don't have guests - it makes such a difference to have a crowd of our people there. Or phone Susannah and offer to serve - we can never have enough smiling faces to welcome people and break all their stereotypes of what church is!

I'll try and post updates on what's going on here every day. Have a great rest of your day and be expecting God to surprise you!

Simon.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Photos of Zambia

I've uploaded Catrina's photos of the Zambia trip to an online web album. There is a preview in the top right hand corner of the blog, or you can click on the link below and get the pictures with Catrina's subtitles, which might help them make a bit more sense.

Zambia Trip 2007

At Lusaksa aiport

Well we're sat at Luskaka airport waiting for the flight home, all except for Ben who is flying on to Johanesburg and then Soweto. The team will be sharing some of their experiences on Sunday morning and evening so I won't say too much here, other than that you must ask Lee about eating catepillars!

The big take away from the trip for me is that with knowledge comes responsibility. Having seen that family starving to death in their huts I'll always live with the knowledge that although I'm going back to my nice comfortable life there are people waking up with that as their reality every day of their lives. The question now is what am I as an individual and what are we as a church family going to do about it in order to be part of the solution even more than we are at the moment.

Well whilst here we've been talking with TearFund and one of their partners in Zambia about what our involvement might look like. I need to sit down and discuss it with the other elders but it seems very exciting in that it's a model which other UK churches that want to engage could copy. Hopefully I'll be able to say more on the morning of Sunday 9th.

Keep praying for and inviting people to the Christmas events (hard to imagine from the sweltering heat here) and I'll look forward to seeing you all on Sunday 2nd.

You're a masterpiece of God - go out and live like it.
Simon

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Day 5.

I guess in a trip like this there are always going to be a few defining moments. Well it felt like we had one today. Jean who is the 55 year old grandmother whom we're staying with in the village took us to see one of the 50 families she and two other volunteers support as aids volunteer worker. When we got to their home we met a mother, her mother in law and her 5 children. The mother was lying on the floor of the hut motionless. She's getting the ARV drugs which should counteract her HIV but due to malnutrition they're not working. Her husband died of aids a week ago. When that happened his relatives came and took most of their posessions including their food. The eldest son was 20 and wanted to finish school but thought he was going to have to give up. None of the family had eaten that day and none of the neighbours had any spare food to give them. We just sat there in the hut for about 10 minutes not feeling able to say anything. We gave the family what little money and food we had but knew that would only buy one or two meals for them. We just felt hopeless. But then as Catrina and I (we were in the village together with Ben) reflected we felt the positive was at least we were there to see the what was happening rather than just being in Bracknell doing normal life.

Bill Hybels talks about feeding your holy discontent and letting that motivate you - for me that moment in the hut will stay with me forever, and hopefully motivate me to be at least a small part of the solution. We must do something. The plan is that the team will talk a bit about their experience next Sunday am and pm, along with an interview with Clive challis in the evening I'll be really sad to miss - can we film it Colin? Then Sunday 9th am I'll talk about what our proposed response to all we have seen. Simon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The post entitled Monday 19th November

Hello everyone. Sorry but that message was actually sent on Friday-I fished it out of my junk mail. I think the team are actually separated and visiting families now so Simon may not have juice for his phone-he has now resorted to sending me texts as the Internet connection is so poor. Anyway I will continue to post up anything I get in whatever medium as soon as I get it....perhaps he will try pigeon post next....maybe not. Let's keep praying for them. Jacqui Webber-Gant

Day One (delayed in Jacqui's junk email)

We arrived in Zambia at 6.20 this morning after an overnight flight with little sleep, although I did get to watch Oceans13 (poor) and the new Die Hard (predictable but fun). There are 8 of us here from Kerith - me, Catrina, BenD, Sam Fairs-Billam, Lee Layton-Matthews, Zoe Hayes, Edward Olugbile and Alex Moon. In addition Lindsey Reece-Smith from TearFund is our guide. The aim of the trip is to get first hand experience of the impact of HIV/AIDS and start to work on our response as a church.

Monday 19th November

We did two visits today. The first was to a clinic which serves a community of 84,000 people. Out of that community 9,000 people are being supplied with the Anti Retro Viral drugs which delay their HIV becoming full blown AIDS. They reckon there are far more people in the community with HIV who refuse to be tested. The church has a large part to play here because much of the stigma attached to being HIV positive is the message churches have preached that having HIV means you have sinned. So many people here are HIV positive through no fault of their own, but don't want to be tested for fear of being rejected. It's the same message of acceptance we need for everybody we encounter, regardless of their past history.

In the afternoon we went to a village that was so remote the people here couldn't find it! We met an elderly widowed lady there who lost all 14 of her children to AIDS. She had 5 grandchildren living with her when her mud house fell down and they were left homeless. The local community and churches in Lusaka got together and built her a very solid 3 room house where all 6 of them now live. She was so proud showing us round. I cried!
That's it for now. Have a great day and technology permitting I'll try and get you another update tomorrow. Simon

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Day 4 Sent 18.11.07 by text

Church this morning with pastor Moses. I was asked last night if I wanted to preach, although it didn't feel like I had much option! There were about 200 people there including children. A group from the village we visited yesterday came - a walk of about 1.5 hours - never complain about the walk from Avis! It's amazing how at home you can feel in church in a different culture. Worship is still worship - although styles differ (all the group apart from me and Ben did a performance song - very brave). Notices are still boring! You just see the reality that we truly are all one in Christ. As I write this we're on the minibus on our way to the villages we're staying in tonight. Praying that God will meet with people at the KC today. Simon.

PS Good on Israel beating Russia. Hopefully we can find a TV showing the game on Wednesday. Shame about Scotland - I really hoped they'd qualify.

Day 3

Travelled north from Lusaka today to the copper mining region of Zambia. Once there started by visiting a church with a large number of aids orphans. They've organised them into a singing / drama group who go round performing for other young people teaching them about the realities of HIV/aids. All peer led. Pastor Moses who leads the church has a huge vision for reaching people with both practical demonstrations of God's love and preaching the gospel - sounds familiar! Then went to a village where a local witch doctor got saved and the impact was such the church grew from 2 to 200 in the space of a few weeks. Again many aids orphans. You really notice there are loads of young children and old women but very few others. We go off individually to live in villages after church tomorrow. I hear unique breakfast went well - Catrina is very pleased. Praying for tomorrow. Love, Simon and the team.

Day 2 Sent by text on 17.11.07

Met about 50 pastors today in Lusaka. So encouraging to hear how over the last 4 years they've gone from preaching that HIV is Gods curse on sinners to preaching Gods heart for people with HIV and how that has transformed the attitudes of people to getting tested and taking the ARV drugs which can transform their lives. At lunchtime was very humbled when the ladies who had spent all morning preparing a feast for us told us they had no food at home for their children. Very hard to come to terms with. Have a great weekend - hope you enjoyed the DVD if you were there Sunday morning. Simon.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Report from Zambia

We met some incredible people at the clinic battling against the odds to change peoples lives. In particular a lady called Mavis who is HIV positive and who has one child who is HIV positive and one who isn't. She's an incredible voice of hope, encouraging people to be tested and that even if the results are that they are HIV positive there is still hope.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What's in a Name?

Hi again, and a big thank you to everyone who turned out for the Church Vision Night on Sunday night - there was a real buzz about the place which was fantastic, although still no lattes :-(


One of the things I spoke about Sunday night was us changing the name of the church. Why would we want to do such a thing you might ask? Well for me there are three reasons why changing the name seems like the right thing to do.


Firstly in order to recognise that we are no longer just a Bracknell church. At the vision night I asked all the people who don't live in Bracknell to stand. At a rough estimate between a quarter and a third of the people there stood. For years Ben resisted us being confined to an area of Bracknell and being thought of as say Bullbrook Baptist Church or Priestwood Baptist Church. That was why the town centre location for the buildings was so important, it stopped us being confined to a particular area but allowed us to be a town wide church. Well the reality now is that part of the fruit of that is we've become more than a town wide church and now gather people from as far afield as Camberley, Maidenhead, Reading and Windsor. So on that level losing the Bracknell part of our name just seems like a recognition of that.

Secondly if you talk to people outside the church they almost never refer to us as Bracknell Family Church. We always seem to be referred to as "Kerith" or "The Kerith". It's a bit like Acts 11:26 where it says "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch". That was a name the community chose for them rather than them choosing it for themselves, and Kerith seems to be the name the community has chosen for us so why not use it. We've also recognised that ourselves in the way we've used the name Kerith in http://www.kerith.co.uk/, Kerith Kids and Kerith in the Community amongst other examples.

Finally we're in the process of becoming a charity which will probably happen early next year, so now would be the logical time to change the name if we wanted to as doing it later would mean us having to give lots of money to the lawyers!

So what to change the name to? Our first thought was "Kerith Family Church" which has a ring to it until you take a look at the initials:

Finger Lickin Church!
Next we came up with "Kerith Community Church" which seems to be where we've stuck. I think it conveys the idea that we are a community, and that we seek to serve a community which is good. Somehow "Kerith Church" seems to short so we didn't go for that. In reality I think people will still call us "Kerith" or "The Kerith" but at least that really will be in the name of the church rather than just the name of one of our buildings!

So early next year we'll have a competition to design a logo. Personally I think the word "Kerith" needs to be big in the logo and the words "Community Church" small so that Kerith is what people remember, but let's see where we go with that. If you have any ideas for designs before we launch the competion just email them in - you'll still win the prize if your design is chosen!

So there you have it. On of our core values is to be Kaleidoscopic - always willing to change to create things of beauty which glorify God and are relevant in society. Well I think this is just part for outworking of that core value.

As always all comments are very welcome.

I head off with the team to Zambia tomorrow, so the next blog entry may well be from Zambia via the BlackBerry! Have a great day and be praying for the people you want to invite to the Christmas events.

Simon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The God of all Comfort

A number of people have commented on how my talk on Sunday morning on God being the God of all comfort in all our troubles, and that we are called to comfort others with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:3-7) spoke to them. If you missed it on Sunday or want to listen to it again then it's here on our website.

After the talk Jacqui Webber-Gant, who does such a fantastic job with both our website and our growing media production team, sent me a link to a Mosaic YouTube video which so well sums up what I was trying to say. You can watch it here, but don't watch it whilst anyone else is around as public crying can be embarrassing!

God wants us to be a people prepared for the fact that trouble is part of life for us as followers as Jesus Christ, and that when it comes we can have confidence that not only is God going to be faithful and give us all we need to be more than conquerors in the face of the issues, but also he will use what we lean in our troubles to help others going through the same things. Romans 8:28 is a verse I am growing to understand more and more - "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.". Not that all things are good but all things work together for good.

If you have any stories of how God is working in you and through you in this way then why not add a comment so that others can be encouraged.

Have a great week and be looking out for those others you can comfort with the comfort you have received.

Simon.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The spot on my forehead :-)

Any of you who have seen me in the last week may have noticed that I've got a big spot on my forehead. Well so many people have asked me about it (and I've been so touched by everyones concern for my well being!) that I thought it might be worth clearing up what happened here. The bottom line is that I haven't been assaulted by Catrina or anything like that, but at about two o'clock in the morning a week last Monday I was woken up with a mosquito buzzing in my ear. When I woke up in the morning I had about five bites on my forehead which developed into the lovely spot I've now got.

The worst bit was when ITV came to film Ben's celebration event last Thursday and wanted to interview me. It's the first time in my life I've ever considered wearing makeup and they didn't have a makeup person with them! I don't know if they used the interview I did (has anyone seen the programme as we don't get Meridian) but I'm sure if they did use it all anyone will notice is my spot :-)

So now you know!

Simon.

The church we see

Hello again after a 3 week break! No seriously the last 3 weeks with the CAP conference, the Willow Creek conference and the handover from Ben to me have been so busy that I've barely found time to read my email, let alone write any blog entries! Anyway, with all that now in the past I'll hopefully carve out a bit more time to update anyone who may be interested with my thoughts here.

On Sunday I spoke on the process I want us to go through over the next 6 months, agreeing a set of statements on "The church we see". The intention is that these will outline the vision for what we feel God wants our church to become over the next few years. On Sunday I went through a list of statements we came up with amongst some of the ministry team members who happened to be in the office at the time (not a very scientific process I know!). Over the next few months I'd like us to refine these statements, remove any which we don't feel apply to us and add any extras. I've already had a load of very positive comments and ideas for additions / changes which is great. My aim is to try and meet with every housegroup and ministry group over the next 6 months so we can all have our input. Once we've done that then we'll have the statements made into a huge display in the reception area as well as putting a copy in every meeting room, so that we are constantly reminded of the vision of where we are going.

So here is the first draft of the statements. Let me know what you think by emailing me, adding a comment to the blog (which always encourages me as then I know at least one person is reading it!) or bringing your comment up at one of the meetings over the next six months.

Thanks for reading,

Simon.

------------------------

The Church we see

Is a church of thousands, so large that its influence stretches throughout the nation.

Is a church that reaches up to God with extravagant, heartfelt, life giving worship, birthing songs that are sung throughout the nations.

Is a church that reaches out with practical demonstrations of the love of Christ, locally, nationally and internationally, such that it would be missed in society if it ceased to exist.

Is a church that so effectively reaches out with the life changing news of the new life that is offered in Jesus that every day people are being saved and added to their number.

Is a church where we learn to laugh, cry, grow great friendships and do life together, and where ‘fine’ isn’t an acceptable answer to the question “how are you”.

Is a church where people are discipled to understand who they are, and whose they are, in Christ, to fulfil their God given potential and live life in all its abundance.

Is a church where we grow first class leaders who will take the lead in the worlds of politics, economics, business, media, the creative arts, education, sports and the church.

Is a church where people can come as they are, which is not a refuge from the world but a refuge for the world.

Is a church that embraces young and old, rich and poor, men and women, people from all nations in one family under one head, Jesus Christ.

Is a church marked out by its creativity and relevance, which uses the internet and other means of communication to gets its message to the nations.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Another Great Weekend Coming Up

We really are spoilt as a Church with all that comes to us. Last Friday and Saturday was the Willow Creek Global Leadership DVD Summit - a huge thank you to everyone involved in serving at that event - the feedback we've had so far seems to be that it was the best Summit we've hosted so far. I'm very keen we focus on Bill's questions from his opening session - "What does God want our church to look like 5 years from now". I'd be very interested in anyone's thoughts about the answer to that question - email me here with your thoughts.

This Saturday is the Christians Against Poverty (CAP) Inspire Supporters Event in The Kerith Centre. Not too late to register to come along - or I'm sure they'll let you in if you turn up on the door - but you didn't hear that here :-) I heard a great story yesterday from Andy Jackson who runs our CAP centre. Someone was driving through Bracknell and saw all the AA signs that are up directing people to the event on Saturday. They were so intrigued that they looked up CAP on the internet and then got in touch with Andy to find out what it was all about - very cool.

Then on Sunday morning John Kirkby, the founder of CAP, is speaking at our morning meeting. John is one of the most inspiring people I've ever met. His passion for the poor is is just infectious - not to be missed! You'll also get to see the latest video testimony which Paul Harker has produced - the quality of what Paul and Jacqui Webber-Gant are producing as the heart of the media team is just going up and up so look forward to that too.

In the evening we've got Lyndon Bowring of CARE - another speaker of international repute whom we're so fortunate to have with us.

Ps 92:13-14 says "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God." Choose to plant yourself in the house of God this weekend!

Hope to see you at some point over the weekend.

Simon.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Time and a Place

Sunday morning was one of those mornings I love when God breaks in on to our well crafted plans and schedules. Not that there's anything wrong with having a plan, it would be presumptuous not to plan, but that moment as Amanda Wolfram sang of God's love for us and our response to him you just knew God was in the house. Let's ask God for more of those moments, not only on Sundays but also when we meet in our small groups, at Starbucks (the new Costa Coffee in Bentall's is very cool by the way!) and in our times with friends and family, that we would be constantly encountering him.

Anyway, I just wanted to remind you (or let you know if you weren't there) about what I said at the end of the meeting. That all of us need to daily find "a time and a place" where we can meet with God. To do what Jesus said in Matthew 6 - "when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen". It's incredibly simple but I know in my life when I've carved out time to do this, taking that time to connect with God, just has a profound impact on the rest of my day. Not that I've been through some 'religious' process but that I've spent time talking to God about my day and connecting with him.

Well two days into the week and I'm doing pretty well. Got up at 6.30 (ish) both days and spent half an hour, on my own with a cup of tea and my Bible and the door shut talking and listening to God. Of course shortly after that Zak, Jacob and Alice wake up and the pace of the day changes slightly but that's another story.

So today if you haven't already why not carve out "a time and a place". Talk to God about what is going on in your world, take off all the masks because he knows it all anyway, and see what difference an encounter with him can do for you.

If you do that and it makes a difference I'd love to hear from you. If you're feeling very brave then why not leave a comment. Otherwise why not send me an email here.

Hope you have a great week and to see you either at the Willow DVD conference on Friday / Saturday or at church on Sunday - Ben's last Sunday morning preach as Senior Pastor - be there!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Leaving Comments

A couple of people have said to me that they wanted to leave comments on the blog but didn't know how to create a Google account which was required in order to be able to leave comments. I've now changed the settings so that anyone can leave a comment without having to have a Google account. So now there are no excuses! Why don't you leave a comment, especially if you've got any ideas for anything you'd like me to discuss on the blog.

On another subject there are now over 85 people coming to the Alpha Launch event with Michael Ramsden on Saturday night. Should be a great evening - it's not too late to get your tickets if you want to come. If you can't make it Saturday night then be sure to be in church on Sunday morning when Michael will be speaking again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Back in the Groove

Well now back from Willow, walking Hadrian's Wall with my son Zak and then a week in a beautiful cottage in the Lake District with the rest of the family. All in all a fantastic time in so many different ways, but it was great to be back again on Sunday after three Sundays away. I thought Matt Price lead us excellently in worship both morning and evening (I love his new song) and it was great to have Zoe Hayes preaching for the first time on Sunday evening - well done Zoe.

This weekend Michael Ramsden is with us. If you want to get a feel for what he's like as a speaker have a look at the video clip of him on our website here. He's speaking at the Alpha launch event on Saturday night (tickets available from The Kerith Centre Reception priced £5) and then again on Sunday morning. I want to commend Jonathan Davis who first recommended Michael to us and then has pressed through in making all the arrangements for him coming - I'm sure we're in for an excellent weekend.

Other highlights over the next few weeks are the formal launch of "Kerith in the Community" on the morning of Sunday 16th September, John Kirkby of Christians Against Poverty with us on the morning of Sunday 7th October, Lyndon Bowring of Care with us that evening and then on the 14th October the celebration of Ben Davies's 43 years as Senior Pastor of Bracknell Family Church and me moving into the role of Senior Pastor. All very exciting.

Simon.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

It's All Over

Two more sessions this morning.

First of all a pre-recorded interview with ex US President Jimmy Carter which was excellent. The central theme was that peace is something that all Christians should aspire to, and that war should only ever be seen as a last resort. He seems quite an amazing guy in that since finishing being president (and being perceived as having failed in the role of president, particularly after the Iran hostage crisis) he chose not to spend the rest of his life playing golf but trying to make a real difference in the world. He's done that through both the Carter Centre, which attempts to resolve conflict wherever it is happening in the world, and Habitat for Humanity which builds homes for people that can't afford them and so break down barriers between rich and poor. He also continues to teach a Bible study in his church every Sunday.

Finally a session from Bill Hybels on the power of inspiration. Really a call for leaders to take responsibility for inspiring and motivating themselves, with some very practical ideas on how to do that, and then to motivate and inspire the people around them. Hopefully I can do a good job of putting this into practice over the next few months and do as good a job as Ben has done at inspiring and motivating the rest of the church. Look forward to seeing this session if you can make it in September.

One other thing today. Before Bill's talk they showed a video of a boy called Patrick who was born blind and paralysed in his arms and legs. Despite this he was able to play the piano from the age of one, and then later learnt to play the trumpet. Patrick's dad took a job working nights for UPS so that he could look after his son during the day and get fully involved in his life. We saw film of them in a marching band where Patrick was playing the trumpet and his dad was pushing him along in his wheelchair in time with the rest of the band. Well while the lights were off and the video was playing they wheeled a grand piano onto the stage. As the lights came up Patrick was sat behind the piano and he began to sing and play. It was one of those moments when you can do nothing but cry, and at the end of the song (which he performed brilliantly) he got a standing ovation. Bill Hybels then spoke to both Patrick and his dad, who in many ways is just as amazing as his son. I couldn't think of a better inspiration for me to be the best dad I can possibly be to my children, or a better demonstration of the unconditional love God as a father has for us.

So that was it. It's been such a privilege to be here. If you've been inspired by anything I've written then I really want to encourage you to come to the conference at the end of September, either in Bracknell or one of the other worldwide locations - you won't be disappointed.

For those of you in BFC I'm praying for the two meetings tomorrow. Ben and I get back into the UK at 6am on Monday morning (Craig flies back in 4 hours later), then on Thursday I travel up to Newcastle with Zak to walk Hadrian's Wall (and watch Newcastle play Aston Villa - we're top of the league, at least until tomorrow!) and then a week in the Lake District with Catrina and the rest of the children - can't wait. Hope you've enjoyed the blog so far and it will hopefully return in September when I get back.

Simon.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Day Two

Another excellent day at the Leadership Summit.

The day started off with a guy called Michael Porter. He's a Harvard professor who advises big companies and even entire countries on strategies for doing what they do better. He spoke into the whole area of churches wanting to make an impact in society and made the observation that in his opinion churches get involved in all sorts of projects which end up adding little real value to society. We must use the time, relationships and money we have to do the most good and be constantly asking ourselves what are the things we are uniquely placed to do. I actually think in Kerith in the Community we're pretty good at doing this, especially with things like the Respite Club, CAP and Hilltop where we are able to provide services which are very high quality and pretty much unique in the community. It wasn't the most entertaining session, but was full of insights and wisdom. I think we'll need to get the DVD and watch it several times to start to really get what he said into our thinking.

Second up was a pre-recorded interview with Colin Powell. He has the most amazing leadership insights based on all his years in the military and in government. As an example one thing he said that spoke to me was that often as leaders we spend ages talking about and planning something, and then only at the very last minute tell the people who will actually do the work what is happening. He said in the military they work on allowing one third of the available time for leaders to plan, and then two thirds of the time for the followers to do their plans and preparations. If you're a leader look forward to seeing this interview in September as it will undoubtedly speak to you.

After lunch was John Ortberg, who used to be the main teacher at Willow and now leads a church in California. I'd never heard him preach before, but have read several of his books including "If You Want to Walk on Water You've Got to Get Out of the Boat" and "Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them". He has an amazing ability in his books to take Bible stories you've heard a dozen times before and bring them to life and make them relevant to today. He's just as good when he preaches! Today he took the story of Esther and showed how she fulfilled her God given mission to save her people, rather than what he called her "shadow mission" which was to be a trophy wife. We individually and as a church have a choice to either fulfill our God given mission, or our shadow mission which may sound similar but will ultimately be self centred and self serving. You'll know what I mean when you see the DVD!

Finally we had an interview with the English film maker Richard Curtis. He's made some of my favourite films including "Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Notting Hill" and "Love Actually", even if they don't have any car chases in them! He's also a driving force behind "Comic Relief" and "Make Poverty History" and has had huge impact in both raising hundreds of millions of pounds for poverty relief in Africa and the UK and raising the awareness of the issues around poverty and debt relief. Like the Bono DVD last year it raised again the issue the issue of our response to the poor and HIV/AIDS, and that to do nothing is simply not acceptable. I'm not ashamed to say I cried through much of this session - I think God wants our hearts to break with the things that break his heart. I've got so far to go but I know God has me on a journey from being detached and uninvolved to wanting to live a life that makes a difference. You might want to check out his latest film "The Girl in the Cafe" which addresses many of these issues (through a love story of course!).

Two other things you might like to check out from the conference. We heard an amazing guy called Erik Mongrain play guitar today in a way I've never seen before. Hear him out on youtube here - incredible! Secondly we heard from a guy who'd given up his very successful career because he felt God had given him a dream to make a movie. We saw a clip of it and it looks fantastic - although again no car chases! You can see some trailers of that film, Bella, here.

Better go to bed now as Ben and Craig will be waking me up for a run in just over 6 hours time!

Simon.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Day One of the Conference

Just got back from the first day of the conference proper which was excellent. One thing I love about the Willow conferences is that you get such a variety of speakers, from church leaders to business leaders to politicians to rock stars! Well today was no exception with four very different speakers.

First up was Bill Hybels on 'Vision to Die For'. All about the importance of vision, and that the vision must not just live with the leader but must be owned by the people, such that if necessary they would be willing to die for it. He challenged churches to ask themselves "What does God want our church to look like 5 years from now" and to take the church through a process of asking ourselves that question, such that everyone owns the vision. Very relevant for us and an exercise I'd like to kick off once we've all had a chance to see this talk at the DVD summit in Bracknell (if you're not going to be there at the end of the September then why not!).

Second up was an interview with Carly Fiorina. She was the CEO of HP, until she was sacked by the board, and at that time was the first woman CEO of one of the top 20 US companies. She spoke very candidly about her whole life journey, from the impact her parents had on her to how it feels to be publicly branded a failure. Lots of stuff about overcoming our fears in order to get into all that God has for us. One other quote I loved from her reflecting on her experience of being sacked - "There is a gift in everything if you can only see it". Very Romans 8:28. I really hope this is chosen as one of the sessions at the DVD Summit (only 8 of the 10 talks we see here make it to the DVD event) as I think it will speak to all sorts of people. She was also very good on women in leadership.

After lunch we had Rev. Floyd Flake who leads a big church in New York which is heavily into urban regeneration; running schools, building retirement homes, helping people to buy their own homes and getting involved politically. He spoke about identifying the problems in society and then becoming part of the solution, persevering even though people will oppose you along the way. Really made me think about what we are beginning to see with Kerith in the Community, reaching out to unchurched people through the respite clubs that we're running over the summer, through Christian's Against Poverty, through Lee's schools involvement and through Oakwood. There's so much potential there for us to have huge impact. Floyd said that the estate agents in his area now put in the details for houses they are selling how close they are to his church as the impact of the church on its neighbourhood is seen that clearly.

Finally a talk from Marcus Buckingham, an Englishman who used to work for Gallup (the market research organisation), and who invented the StrengthsFinder tests which we first came across when we went to Mosaic (Erwin McManus's church in LA) and quite a number of people in the church have now taken. The basic message is that most of us think that to succeed we need to grow in our areas of weakness, whereas what we really need to do is to grow and concentrate on our strengths. For me the whole StrengthsFinder thing has been so helpful, showing me what I'm good at and helping me to build around my strengths and manage my weaknesses. If you haven't done it before then I'd encourage you to get a copy of the StrengthsFinder book and do the online test. You should then get much more out of this session at the conference in September. If you do the test then I'd love you to email me your results, as we're building up a spreadsheet at church of all the people who have taken the test.

So a great day, no tornadoes and a real expectancy about tomorrow. Hope you found all this helpful (why not leave a comment if you did!), book into the DVD version of the conference if you haven't already and I'll see you again tomorrow for an update on day 2.

Well done for getting all the way to the end!

Simon.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Welcome Meeting and New Community

My first impression of Willow Creek as Ben and I turn up for the welcome meeting, only having been here once before over 10 years ago, is how big everything is. The campus is set on 155 acres of land with dedicated dual carriageway to take you from the public roads to the enormous car parks. Their new auditorium (which wasn't here last time I came) seats over 7,000 people and there are huge reception areas, eating areas and bookshop. It's all very high quality with beautifully maintained grounds, plasma screens displaying information everywhere, leather sofas and a real attention to detail. As we leave there's even a police car stopping the traffic on the main road so that we can get out of the exits as there are so many cars leaving. We may never have 155 acres but let's believe God, first of all for developing the excellent facilities we already have to the utmost, and then for the new facilities we will need as we grow towards being a church of 2,000 and beyond, and God adds new ministries to us. Projects such as air conditioning the auditorium, upgrading our PA and making more space for children and youth on Sundays must be priorities for us.

The second thing I notice is all the volunteers they have. People maintaining the grounds, welcoming you, serving food, serving in the bookshop, waving light sticks showing us the way to go as we drive out of the car park after the meeting - as J John would say "they're everywhere". It's been so exciting for me the last few weeks in Bracknell to have all the new car parkers and welcomers serving. I do believe that God wants The Kerith Centre and K2 on a Sunday to be "the most welcoming place in Bracknell", and that means teams of volunteers updating the website, working on the grounds midweek, getting the building ready for Sunday, car parking, welcoming on the door, meeting visitors in reception and showing them where to register their children and answering their questions, manning sign up desk for Alpha and other courses, running the Connect event for newcomers and fully staffing our youth and childrens work. Loads of hard work but so worth it when we see the lives of people who don't know God being changed.

One bit of excitement today was that as we were about to start our welcome meeting someone came in to say there had been a tornado warning and we all needed to go to the ground floor. We were then taken to a room on the ground floor with no windows to wait for the all clear. I've seen those films before where they go chasing tornadoes in cars but apparently no one thought it would be a good idea for Ben and I to take the rental car out to try and find the tornado - no sense of fun!

The conference proper starts tomorrow. Bill Hybels came and spoke briefly to the overseas delegates today and in about 15 minutes managed to say enough to have made it feel like we'd have come all this way just for that. I'll let you know how it feels after a full session from him tomorrow!

Sorry not to have time to write in detail about the New Community meeting (which Craig who arrived today got here in time for - great to have him with us) but I need to get to sleep now as we're leaving early to get to the conference and I'm not good at mornings!

Simon.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

We've Arrived

Well it's now after 10pm in the evening Chicago time (4am UK time!) and just about time for bed. Our hosts Mark and Nanci are great - they became Christians 17 years ago through a neighbour who went to Willow Creek and have been in the church ever since. They're now planning to move out to Durban, South Africa, to offer hospitality to people there. Mark and Nanci's house is quite spectacular too!

On the way over one of the films on the plane was "Amazing Grace", the story of William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery. There are so many inspirational lines in the film - if only I could remember any of them through the fog of tiredness :-) Seriously, I do love the way Wilberforce grapples with the dilemma of whether to pursue God, or his desire to be an MP and change society, and God says to him (in various ways) that he can and should do both. It's so easy to try and split our lives into the secular and the sacred when God just wants to be in all of it.

I also watched "War of the Worlds" with Tom Cruise - I got nothing spiritual out of that whatsoever, although it did help make a couple of hours of the flight pass more quickly!

Ben and I are off to a welcome reception at Willow tomorrow afternoon and hopefully Craig will be meeting us there.

Thanks for reading this and hopefully get you another update tomorrow.

Simon.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Off to Willow on Tuesday

Next Tuesday I've got the privilege of going to the Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. I'm going with Ben Davies, our Senior Pastor, and Craig Mills who is the Technical Director for the DVD version of the Leadership Summit which we host in Bracknell at the end of September.

I've only ever been to Willow once before and that was for a Sunday morning meeting on my way back from an electronics show in Las Vegas. I was in turmoil when they opened the meeting and said it was Mother's Day. We'd just had our first child, Zak, and my first reaction was that my wife Catrina wasn't going to be too impressed with me when I got home for having forgotten! It was only about 15 minutes into the meeting that it dawned on me Mother's Day is on different dates in the UK and the US. Boy was I relieved.

Anyway, Bill Hybels and Willow Creek have had a huge impact on us as a church. Their emphasis on God's passion for lost people, their longing to present the gospel in ways that communicate with ordinary men and women without watering down the message, their use of the creative arts, the quality of the preaching and their quest for excellence that honours God and inspires people have all affected us deeply. Last year an interview with Bono on the church's response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic spurred us to take action on that front - more of that in a blog at some point in the future.

I'll try and post updates on the blog during the conference to let you know what is going on. If it inspires you the why not book in to come to the DVD version of the conference in Bracknell in September.

Off to church now for an exciting morning of worship, thanksgivings, baptisms and Ben preaching.

Simon.

Friday, August 3, 2007

My first ever blog

Well hello, and welcome to my first ever blog.

For those who don't know me my name is Simon Benham and from October 14th I'm going to be the Senior Pastor of Bracknell Family Church, following on from Ben Davies who has been senior Pastor for 43 years and has seen the church grow from a handful of people to over 500 on a Sunday morning - a very hard act to follow! I'm married to the beautiful Catrina and have three children, Zak, Jacob and Alice - I love being a husband and a Dad.

One of the big challenges in a church our size is communication. How do we let people know what is going on, how do we keep the vision clear, how do we communicate the reasoning and thinking behind the the decisions we make.

Well one key seems to be communicate as frequently and in as many different ways as you possibly can. To that end I thought I'd start a blog. Mostly a blog about my thoughts as Senior Pastor to be, with perhaps the odd family thing thrown in to keep it all real.

I'm not sure when I'll go public with this, but presumably if you've found this I've now gone public! So let me know what you think. Good idea, bad idea? What would you like to read about here. All comments (at least the one's the take me up in my lift!) gratefully received.