October 2012

Christmas crafts – a weekly blog

It’s October. I have just put my flipflops and vest tops on the top out-of-reach shelf and dusted off my winter boots. It is time to start thinking about Christmas. Not because I like the early jingly shop music or being super organised with my cards but because it is the best time to do outreach events. People do like Christmas, there is something about mulled spices and warm fires and carols that even non-church goers associate with positive memories and they are happy to go to church, even if it is for a once-a-year visit.
Last year we did a Christmas crafts event for women – we sold out all 150 tickets within the first week! So we are getting geared up again, starting today!!
First job- book the church, the kitchen and the conservatory without offending the local brownie troop and the Choir master, who were hoping to use our space. Note to self – book it earlier next year!
Second job – find, contact and enthuse helpers. Women who are confident with crafts, good at chatting to newcomers and are enthusiastic about their faith – or one of the above. This year we hope to have two helpers on each table, with the aim being to have at least one Christian. There is a healthy debate about including those outside the church in our team. But ‘belonging before believing’ is a valid concept and we go with the team idea.
Third Job – source the crafts…more to follow next week
Crafts are chosen- ten !
Guests will pay £3 for a ticket. That will include a mince pie( the mini ones are the most popular) and a glass of mulled wine. Then they can make a cranberry heart for free. This is a really simple and popular craft- a piece of galvanised garden wore , cut up with wire cutters. Shaped into a heart ( or a star for the really clever) and threaded with fresh cranberries. Finished off with some vintage looking ribbon.
The next table will have felt matchboxes- red, green and white rectangles of felt cut out to fit large matchboxes. Ribbons, buttons and sequins available to stick on.
Then we have a table for wreaths. We have sourced some dried willow wreaths from the local floristry wholesaler for £2 each. Then we have available cinnamon sticks, dried orange slices, little straw bows and ribbon for people to glue, wire or tie on.
Next we have table centres, one of our helpers is a florist and she excels at helping people here. Start with an oasis cuboid and have lots of green foliage, holly, rhododendron and berries to add. Two or three red candles and a few ribbon accessories finish it off. There is always debate about whether a feather robin is cute or naff!
This year we are trying a new craft- decoupage Christmas tree ornaments. Sixty polystyrene balls have been ordered and decoupage papers, sticking with a red and white Nordic Christmas theme. The papers need cutting out and the tops need notches cut in so that they will wrap round the globe shape and then have a little red bead and a ribbon glued into the hole at the top before covering it all with Uni glue or decoupage varnish.
Rustic garlands- hessian type string is available with little salt dough Christmas shapes pierced at the top, cinnamon stick bundles, ribbons and pine cones to tie on. Each one about a metre long, very pretty!
All of the crafts are available for a small charge- between £1 and £4 . We aim to cover costs and any profit to go to Tear fund, but we don’t want to put anyone off coming and enjoying the evening. Most importantly we want them to feel welcome with a lovely atmosphere when they come in. Last year someone said- ‘ wow, I never thought a church could be so warm and pretty’ when she came through the door.
The rest of the crafts to follow next week…
Paper stars- pretty patterned papers are cut and folded origami style into three dimensional stars.
Christmas bunting – we had a popular event in the summer making fabric bunting for the Jubilee and Olympics. We are planning on adapting the idea and using red and green fabric this time as well as Christmas printed fabrics. We cut out the triangles beforehand so that our guests just have to choose and pin onto the red bias-binding tape. Two sewing machine enthusiasts will be on hand to advise or actually do the sewing.
Vases- we have bought 40 clear glass cuboid vases from Ikea. Tissue paper strips and PVA glue will be there and guests can build up layers in shapes or random ripped strips. Leaving them to dry near a radiator before putting them in the back of a car is a great idea, or you can bring a hairdryer to finish them off. Tea lights or battery operated fairy lights look great inside.
Gift tags- last year cards were not so popular so more simple gift tag cards, ribbons and stamps will be available this year.

Ten crafts ready to go, in boxes at our table leaders houses. Gathering , buying, cutting and preparing happens during the next three weeks.
Tickets are about to go on sale…
Three days after going on sale, we are sold out!! Five sell at a breakfast event, 40 at church on Sunday, 20 get handed to the preschool, 20 to the local first school and then word spreads and texts arrive…150 sold. All year we struggle on with well thought out, carefully planned events with about 15 to 20 coming along. This Christmas crafts gathering now has a reputation and life all of its’ own! How exciting! And how difficult to explain to the grumpy people already lining up to complain that they should be allowed tickets, as they came last year and they are regulars at church. Actually we have tried very hard to emphasise that this is an outreach event and that the idea is to all invite at least one friend. The hall should be filled with at least 50 to 60% guests who don’t normally come to church. So if someone comes along telling us about their neighbour who they would like to invite we will try hard to find a ticket for them. Maybe we should increase the numbers to 180 this year???
Phew! We did it! Two hundred mini mince pies, thirty bottles of mulled wine, one thousand fairy lights,forty tea lights, ten craft tables, one obliging keyboard player to jazz up carols and worship choruses, thirty helpers in Christmas aprons and one hundred and fifty women with smiling faces! They queued up in the fairy light foyer, with festive refreshments filling the air with spicy aromas. We opened the doors with party poppers when 7.30 arrived and in they streamed, some of them so keen to start their crafts that they hardly had time to chat as we collected tickets and handed over goody bags. Inside we had put a chocolate nativity tree decoration and an invitation to our Christmas services.

The table leaders awaited with tables, covered in red and green cloths full of felt, greenery, dried orange slices, paper, glue, glitter, ribbons, buttons and raffia. The felt matchboxes were very popular, as were the decoupage baubles and the wreaths. The Christmas bunting was a bit quieter but there were no empty tables and people worked at different paces and were happy to move around. Our helpers moved between the tables, topping up the wine glasses and handing out more mince pies.
Half way through I stepped up to welcome everyone, thank the helpers and invite one of the other team members to chat about where any profits would go. She managed to weave into her story about the local churches together Food Bank the love of Jesus and the full life that He offers through relationship with Him. No hard sell, no corny jokes- just a simple explanantion of faith.
By 9.30 we made efforts to look like we were tidying up, but it took another hour for the keen crafters to actually leave. Some handy husbands then arrived and we shuffled chairs, hoovered raffia and washed wine glasses until 11pm.

Was it worth it? The atmosphere, the welcome, the comments such as ‘I never knew church could be like this’, the sense of the prescence of the Holy Spirit made all our efforts seem worthwhile. Our prayer is that some of these women will come back to more events, will come inside a church service this Christmas and will discover who Jesus is for the first time.
And next year’s craft event is in the church diary already – we are going for 175 spaces next time.

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“Jesus is the Answer” “But what is the question?”

I was thinking recently about that well known passage in Acts 3 where Peter and John are on their way to worship at the temple only to be accosted at the entrance by a crippled man in need of help.

What this man wanted was not a religious formula or thought provoking meeting, but simply he wanted help for what had been his greatest need.
I thought about all the people who, like this beggar, struggle to see our services or hear our gospel because their need shouts louder. Until this man could see that this faith, this message, proclaimed by these apostles, could meet his disability, he wasn’t interested in it reaching his soul.

It is interesting to see just what Peter did not do in response to this beggars appeal. Peter did not begin to unpack the whole gospel message, taking the man through decades of prophetic witness and scriptural evidence. What they did do was address his need and apply everything they knew to everything this man truly cared about.

You’ve all heard of the graffiti message “Jesus is the Answer”, one time I heard that in one place someone had scribbled under it, “But what is the question?” I’ve often wondered which of the two are more revealing. I’ve been as guilty as the next person in answering all the questions my non-churched friends are not asking.

I, like Peter, have squatted down next to an equivalent beggar asking for silver and gold and explained the struggling economy, the inevitable consequence of cut-backs, and whether he knows that, despite this, Jesus could save his soul. It all sounds wonderfully correct, but it’s all just a long winded way of answering a question he’s not actually asking.
Peter’s answer on the other hand is quite insightful: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you…” I love this. Peter could have lamented the fact that he didn’t have the relevant resource to help this man or even the correct knowledge to change his situation, but instead he used what he had.

If I am to make an impact on my community I must remember two key things.

First I must recognize that where I am is where God placed me. I’m not there by accident or default, neither am I there to simply carve out a successful and comfortable life for myself. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves” and such needs to become my own conviction and habit.

The second thing I need to remember if I am to make an impact on my community is that I have been given a unique set of skills. Impacting my community is not about trying to be what I’m not, or wishing I had more of this or less of that. But it’s about acknowledging what is in my hand, and then offering that to those around me with love, empathy, compassion and grace.

Have you ever thought of all the things Peter could have said but didn’t? He could have become quite arrogant and said, “Sorry sir, but I don’t actually believe in begging. People ought to work for what they get”. Or he could have taken a more diplomatic approach and said, “Sorry sir, but I don’t think I am qualified for this level of assistance, but I do know of a professional agency that might be of better help”. He could have chosen neither of these and become more introspective and said, “Sorry sir, but I’m not a great one with strangers, I find it very difficult to connect to new people, so I’m afraid I can’t really help you”.

It’s not that any of the above three are particularly wrong responses, they all have their context, but in the case of this beggar, they would all have been an adventure in missing the point. The man in Acts 3 wasn’t asking for Peter’s political persuasion or John’s social perspective. He wasn’t interested in cataloguing various agencies. And he especially wasn’t interested in hearing their confession of social awkwardness.
What he really needed, if I can put it bluntly, was for someone to actually give a rip! He needed one person to care enough to stop, listen and give what they could.

We are all susceptible to the danger of faith become too ‘me’ orientated; where it becomes simply about my faith, my quiet time, my church etc, we effectively privatize faith to a degree Jesus never intended. Peter and John still challenge us today. It’s seldom about how much you know or have, but about whether you care enough to notice, to stop, to become vulnerable, by allowing another–even a very different other–into your space.

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Interview With Jenny Baker

Here’s an exclusive interview to whet your appetite for the ‘Love Actually’ weekend away, at the fabulous Four Pillars Hotel near Cirencester in March (1st-3rd).

Our key note speaker Jenny Baker shares with Fiona Castle what she’s passionate about; plus her thoughts on how genuine friendships can be vehicles for God’s unconditional love…

So Jenny, could you tell us what your work entails with the Sophia Network and your hopes for women in ministry?

“I set up the Sophia Network in 2007 with a couple of other people, with the aim of encouraging women in leadership to grow in confidence and to develop their gifts. We started out focusing on women in youth work as that is where our experience lay, but now the network caters for any women who want to develop their leadership gifts. Over the years I had met so many gifted women who had so much to contribute to the kingdom of God, but who weren’t encouraged to use their gifts and had nagging doubts about whether they were ‘allowed’ to lead. I believe that God made men and women to work in partnership together, and if one sex or the other is missing from the table then the church suffers as a result. I stepped down from the Sophia Network earlier this year but it’s being ably led by Sharon Prior and others, and I look forward to seeing it go from strength to strength.”

What do you think of our ideas for “friendship evangelism”?

“I wonder if there is any other way to do evangelism! Of course there are lots of ways of people encountering the gospel through events, or courses, or services, but I think it’s relationships with others that are at the heart of drawing people to Jesus. People long for genuine friendships, to know and be known in a way that goes beyond the superficial. When people get to know us, they can see the hope that we have in Jesus and the difference that he makes to our lives. There’s something very attractive about that.”

What are your hopes for reaching people for Christ in the 21st century and the best ways of going about this?

“It’s perhaps a very obvious thing to say, but we can’t assume that people have any knowledge of Jesus or the Bible, or any experience of going to church beyond the occasional wedding. But people are hungry for authenticity, for real relationships and for meaning in their lives. We need to remember that it is the work of God’s Spirit to draw people to himself, but we can get involved in that by praying and by being ready to share the hope that we have. We can also make the most of opportunities when people might be more open to talking about spiritual things – at the birth of a baby, when a crisis or disaster happens, when someone close to them dies, when a relationship breaks down, or at a time of change.”

Finally, how can we, at Activate help to enable this to happen?

“I think you do a great job of reminding us that we need to all get involved in sharing our faith and of highlighting the opportunities that arise in the lives of women, or that we can create. I’m not a natural evangelist and I need to be reminded and encouraged to share my faith!”

Come along to our weekend away, ‘Love Actually’, where you will be able to hear more of Jenny’s encouraging and challenging words, which help us to relate Jesus’ compassion to those around us.

Book now

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Concrete Faith by Matt Wilson

This is a page-turner of a book with story upon story, tracking through the growth of a movement that started in the 90s, in response to the needs of the hardest to reach young people. Matt does a great job of joining up the dots for the reader, as he shares his heart for urban mission and the theology behind his thinking.

Concrete Faith serves as a handbook for urban missionaries, illustrating the many pit falls and challenges you are likely to face when diving head first into a new community with the best will in the world. A gentle prod in the direction of thinking long term and sustainability, rather than going in with an escape route or plan B up your sleeve.

I know there are many movements like it across the world and Eden Network is not the first to talk about urban mission or incarnational faith, but the combination of raw honesty, down to earth reality and humour is a powerful mix. We are not all wired to do youthwork (some of us should definitely stick to our day jobs!), but I reckon there are more of us out there that could get involved and do what these guys do as a volunteer or full-time.

Whilst urban mission may not be on your radar, if you live in the UK or have a heart for the least and the lost, find yourself a copy of this book and peek through a window into the inner city, from Matt’s perspective. As far as I’m concerned it is vital reading if you want to keep your finger on the pulse of our nation.

You can also see the story continue to unfurl online through their website and Facebook page. Follow Matt’s continuing journey on twitter too… @mattwi1s0n

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