Month: March 2009

Join a Gospel Choir!

So often we tend to think of organising events from scratch using our own ideas and resources. We threw out our plans for our own Girls Night Out event when we saw that our local theatre had booked the London Community Gospel Choir to come and do a one-off concert.Fantastic! I had heard the choir years before and knew that their blend of upbeat music, strong visual performance and gentle faith would have a wide appeal. The tickets were expensive so we contacted the theatre and negotiated a group discount, the theatre were delighted that we were palnning to bring a big group.

Then we went to our church leadership and asked that they subsidise the tickets further. We bought 50 tickets and emailed all of our regulars and anyone else who we felt might be interested. As always, we had a rush of keen girls who bought a few, then a complete lull when we thought we would be seriously out of pocket with lots of unused tickets! We contacted the choir and asked that one of them could come after the show and chat to us and the director Bazil said that he would. We then sent out a reminder email with this new information and an invite to meet at the next door pub for a drink before the show. This brought the ticket sales up a little. The week before is always a flurry of phone and text messages with people needing extra tickets just as often as others are cancelling.It always brings us to a point of desperation where the only choice is to hand the whole evening over to God, wondering why we hadn’t done it earlier!
On the night about 20 of us gathered in the pub for a drink then made our way over to the theatre where another 37 were ready to go in. The tickets, money and seating worked out perfectly just as the curtain raised.
The choir were amazing, uplifting and fun with a strong worship thread. There was lots of audience participation and I noticed that my nonchurched guests were the first on their feet to join in. At half time loads of people queued for cds and a chance to chat to the choir members.
When the performance ended Bazil came up to the balcony and spoke to our assembled group for a few extra minutes, sharing some of his own faith story with humour and no jargon – just perfect!
One of the best nights we have had as a group, with very little effort and supporting our local community theatre too!
Look out for the LCGChoir on their tour of small theatres, or maybe other choirs and similar theatre groups that you could tap into. Sometimes we don’t have to invent the wheel all by ourselves – keep your eyes open for what the local community is already doing.

Beyond Bunnies- getting to the heart of Easter

Q: What do Christians celebrate on Easter Sunday?
A: (1) Chocolate
(2) When he rowed into Jerusalem waving palm trees
(3) Christmas
The above true children’s responses to a recent survey by the Jerusalem Trust would be funny if they weren’t so scary! But it’s not just our under 14s who have some wacky theology. Last Easter, Somerfield’s PR team had egg all over their faces in its attempt to sell more chocolate eggs.
The major supermarket said us consumers were, “set to spend a massive £520 million on Easter eggs this year — but many young people don’t even know what Easter’s all about. Brits will on average be enjoying over 3.5 eggs each over the Easter weekend alone, but over a quarter don’t know why handing them out symbolises the birth of Jesus. . . .”
An amended version changed this to the “rebirth” of Christ. Finally, a third press release accepted Church teaching that Easter celebrated the resurrection of Christ.
We can leave the hand- wringers in our wake as they lament the death of Christian Britain, while we seize this tremendous opportunity to set the record straight with our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours.

A couple of years ago, my son and I were driving past our local Christian bookshop, when we saw this fantastic Easter poster, so good I wanted to dash back and barter with them for it! It featured a hoard of vacant, pastel coloured Duracell- type bunnies thronging round the cross, the bigger ones almost obscuring it. Underneath the slogan read, “Don’t let the bunnies hide the true meaning of Easter!”
That phrase has really stuck with me as, with my friends and small group, we seek to work out how best to reach others with the message of the cross at our most important festival.

Perhaps you have seen earlier Activate articles on reaching people in our workplace, school place and neighbourhoods? Many of these ideas can be used or adapted in the context of Easter.
In the workplace- how about taking in some Easter- themed baking, or just some hot cross buns (from Somerfield, bless ’em?!) if your inner domestic goddess has deserted you? Cookware shops have a variety of Easter- shaped cutters to make some lovely spiced biscuits (very easy), or that childhood favourite, the Easter nest (shredded wheat or cornflakes in chocolate, with a couple of speckled choccy eggs in the middle.) These went down very well in my workplace last year and brought waves of nostalgia to some.
Among your neighbours, how about a pancake party to start the season off? My friends Dave and Kate will be inviting whole roads around the suburb they live to pop round with their children, another neighbour and a filling or something to drink again this year, while flipping madness descends on their kitchen! Apparently even that is a great ice- breaker and chance for chatting.
Other mums I know whose focus is more on the school place will be inviting families their kids have become friendly with over after school for a fun- filled (or chocolate sauce filled) tea time, offering ready- made or pre- prepared pancakes to save stress with sweet and savoury fillings. This was really well received last year and created a great opportunity to deepen those relationships during a follow-up craft event before Holy Week.

My own experience with school mums has been really positive. Last year, my friend Geraldine and I organised a really well- attended “New life” style and colour evening as a PTA fundraiser, and related it to the new life Jesus brings, complete with eggs to take home. This year we’re thinking of one of Activate’s favourites, a chocolate tasting party for the mums. Or maybe we will have a “Make an Easter basket” event with nests and yummy things to eat after a Friday assembly for the little ones to join in while the mums chat, like the head teacher has offered before?
For your families, think about how many texts you received wishing you a happy Christmas or new year. Now, how many folk texted you about Easter? I got none last year, but I texted loads of people to say “Happy Easter- Christ has risen today. Hallelujah!” (and had a really favourable response!)

Ideas by Faye Smith, from an earlier article in the Activate magazine.

New book – ‘Confessions of an Unfaithful Heart’

One of Activate Your Life’s new team members was featured in a recent article in The Daily Mirror. Alison Tinsley who has written her first book ‘Confessions of an Unfaithful Heart’ was contacted by the national newspaper after they heard her on local radio. Read the piece via the link below.

Chocolate – the recession buster

Chocolate has been a favourite subject of the Activate team for many years! We have written articles on it in our magazines, waxed lyrical about it in our books and enjoyed chocolate tasting events at our conferences, training days and even national executive meetings. From cream eggs to champagne truffles, with a move towards organic and the fairly traded ‘Divine’, we are all big fans. This week it has been announced that Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars are going to be ‘fair trade’ by the end of the summer – a step in the right direction.
We have been talking about the unifying and peculiarly feminine draw of the beautifully processed cocoa bean for a long time and encouraging our supporters to use chocolate for events and gatherings. We all remember Mel Gibsons words of wisdom that what woman really want lies somewhere between conversation and chocolate. What could be better than combining the two?

In the present days of economic uncertainty, redundancy and hardship, is there still a place for such a hedonistic pleasure? The research out this week suggests that people are turning to chocolate more than ever. Cadbury says its worldwide global pretax profits were up 30%. The chief executive, Stitzer said the group had seen a particularly strong second half of 2008, helped by the re-launch of its Wispa bar and its new Creme Egg Twisted product. Mars and Nestle are similarly up by 25 and 16% respectively.As consumers face tighter finances they tend to stay in more and seek the comfort of chocolate to boost their well being.
The recommendation to include chocolate themes to your event planning may seem old hat, but it is just as relevant as ever. If your friends and neighbours are struggling to afford nights out, then this is the perfect time to organise a fun and non-expensive treat. Borrow a chocolate fountain or two and try out some different flavours of fairly traded chocolate flowing over fresh fruit. At the Activate November weekend away we experimented with Divine orange flavoured chocolate alongside the traditional milk: it was very popular. Perhaps you could combine a quiz, themed round the cocoa bean and finish the evening off with a short message that includes some chocolate recipes and a recipe for life in all its fullness, as laid out by Jesus. Maybe you could gather a few friends together in your kitchen and try melting and moulding chocolate truffles together as cheap Mothers’ Day gifts.
Here is an internet recipe –

Chocolate Cream Truffles:

8 ounces (227 grams) dark or milk chocolate, cut into small pieces – the better the quality, the richer the taste

180 ml double or whipping cream

2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter

2 tablespoons alcohol (Cognac, brandy, Grand Marnier, kirsch, rum, bourbon, or Kahlua to name a few) (optional)

For Truffles: Place the chopped chocolate in a medium sized stainless steel bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir with a whisk until smooth. If desired, add the liqueur. Cover and place in the refrigerator until the truffle mixture is firm (this will take several hours or overnight).

Place your coatings for the truffles on a plate, (cocoa powder, coconut or icing sugar are suitable). Remove the truffle mixture from the refrigerator. With your hands, or else a melon baller or small spoon form the chocolate into round or mis-shaped bite-sized balls. Immediately roll the truffle in the coating and place on a parchment lined baking sheet or tray. Cover and place in the refrigerator until firm. Truffles can be refrigerated for a couple of weeks or else frozen for a couple of months. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Makes 30 small truffles.

If you have given up eating chocolate for lent, then apologies, just enjoy planning an event now to make the Easter celebration all the more special this year!

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