Category Archives: CMS

CMS Link Visit @ All Saints, Luton ❤️

It’s 7:00 am on a cold, dark Sunday morning and I’m walking around the streets of Luton, thinking and praying about the day ahead. This is the parish of All Saints, Bury Park, where I was visiting this past weekend. It stretches all the way to the M1 motorway, so there’s the noise of the M1 traffic and occasional rumblings as a flight takes off from Luton Airport, but the streets here on the edge of town are otherwise quiet. Here, the detached and semi-detached houses are quite substantial, big in fact, and many have their front gardens concreted over to allow parking for 3 or 4 cars. There are cars everywhere, but fortunately the streets and gardens here are wide enough to accommodate them all. Further down in the inner suburbs it’s a different story. As I get to the top of the hill, I see a steady stream of older men, most with long beards and dressed in traditional clothes, coming out of a house in groups of 2 or 3. It’s right next to a bridge that passes over the M1, but none of the men cross over the bridge. Within a few minutes, they’ve said their goodbyes and disappeared into nearby homes; until I’m the only one still walking along the street.

Luton Central Mosque

Google maps tells me that the building where the men were serves as a mosque for Suffa-tul-islam UK, with prayer times listed on its facebook page. There are plenty of other mosques in the area, some purpose-built, others in houses, all meeting the spiritual needs of the ever-changing local community. And yes, it has changed a lot, even in the 30+ years since I first came here. When I first visited the area in the mid-1980’s, there was still a large Irish community dating from the 1920’s; later came people from the Caribbean, many working for Vauxhall Motors. The older people from both those communities are still living in the area, plus others from West Africa, but as their children and grandchildren have grown up and made money, so they choose to buy homes further out of town. As they moved out, their homes have been bought up mainly by families of South Asian origin, many with links to Kashmir. Official reports show there are now about 50,000 Muslims in Luton, many living in the Bury Park area….

The local churches have adapted over time too. The vicar of All Saints is Rev. David Kesterton, who also serves as area dean, and only a few weeks ago was made an honourary canon at St. Alban’s Abbey. The congregation see it as a real honour and are delighted; David does too, but he’s very modest and prefers to give credit to others for all their hard work in making All Saints what it is today, and for so many coming along to support him at the Abbey that day. He tells me he regularly gets phone calls from churches of all different denominations asking if they can rent his church or hall for their services. After the Sunday service at 9:30 am at All Saints Church, the ‘Presbyterian Church of Ghana, North London District’ move into the main church to hold their service at 11:00 am, while another church, the ‘Land of Grace Ministries’, whose members are mainly West African, hold their service in the church hall.

David took me on a walkabout on Saturday, and we called in at the local Roman Catholic Church, Holy Ghost Parish, just across the road from All Saints, hidden behind a hotel. So hidden, in fact, that despite my many visits to Luton over the years, this is the first time I even knew of its existence ~ a little oasis in the inner city. We met Fr. Kevin, who had just finished hosting a Swahili Mass for the Kenyan community and was about to start a Malayalam Mass, with Polish ones planned too. Until 2002, his church was staffed by priests from the Diocese of Dublin, on mission to Luton, but in response to changing needs over time, so it now comes under the local Diocese of Northampton. With so many cars in the area, and street parking limited, Holy Ghost Parish faces challenges of ensuring they have sufficient parking for those coming to their services; their huge carpark is now being run by NCP, the national car parking company, which is working well so far. It’s wonderful that Fr. Kevin, David and several other local clergy have joined together in many outreach projects serving the local community through their life and witness.

Over the road at All Saints, David and his team of lay leaders also face similar parking problems. Here in the inner suburbs of Luton, the streets are lined with terraced housing and the only parking is on the street. The roads are largely one-way, but there are constant problems with cars driving the wrong way up and down, and near-accidents are common.

All Saints Church

Just down from the church is the Luton Town Football Ground, where David was formerly the chaplain, and which I visited last time in 2018 (see that report here) when I had the honour of watching Luton Town beat Plymouth Argyle 5-1, ah that was such an exciting and unforgettable game!

The road by the church leading to the football ground

Over the years, the congregation of All Saints Church has declined and aged, reflecting the ever-changing local community. Some of the Caribbean families have been coming to All Saints since they arrived in Luton in the 1950’s, and they faithfully continue coming week after week. They are so lovely, and I remember them well from previous visits, Rachel, Grace and Sheila in particular. Each time we meet, we talk about their homeland of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has formal diplomatic links with Taiwan. In 2019, I was involved in hosting a group of young men from St. Vincent (proudly calling themselves the Vincy Boys!) who came to Taiwan for 3 months, so it was great to share that with the ladies. The All Saints vicar, David visited St. Vincent as part of his sabbatical earlier this year, and shared with me his photos and experiences this past weekend, ah it was great!

When All Saints Church celebrated the 70th anniversary of Windrush in 2018, the Caribbean members put together a beautiful display to mark their history and heritage, and it is still on display around the church. Each panel is really colourful, I love it!

In the last few years, All Saints Church, even in the midst of the pandemic and despite such a small congregation, have also opened up a new ministry, that of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers. The church has become a centre for the whole community working together to welcome those people newly arrived in the UK who have fled oppression, persecution and discrimination in their homelands and are now seeking asylum. Many have arrived on boats across the English Channel, and have temporarily been assigned by the Home Office to stay in Luton, housed in hotels or other government-run accommodation. The arrival in Luton of 400 asylum seekers in the last few weeks means that centres like All Saints have become particularly busy.

All Saints Church

The centre, in the church hall, is open two mornings a week, and groups of asylum seekers come through the doors seeking clothes and toiletries, help with filling in forms, English classes, advice, and often just a friendly face. Despite the cold, we had about 30 on Saturday, often there’s more. The volunteers are from the whole community, Christians and Muslims, men and women, some are former asylum seekers themselves, while others have lived here all their lives; all have chosen to volunteer their time and energy to help. The centre – and the running of it – is highly organized, with the actual church being the place where stocks of second-hand clothes are on display, while supplies of new underwear and toiletries are stored and sorted, all available for the volunteers to find and distribute as needed, depending on the request. The supplies come from local community donations, as well as charities working in this field, and the project is now formally registered as All Saints Luton Asylum Seeker And Refugee Support. A few years ago St. Alban’s Diocese made an introductory video about this ministry, featuring David the vicar and their curate Jo. It’s well worth watching….

That video was a great introduction, but things have moved on a little, and Jo has since left All Saints for her own parish. The project is now run by vicar Rev David Kesterton with his wife Susan, and churchwarden Sandra Miller. Susan works virtually full-time on the project along with her role in charge of safeguarding, and churchwarden Sandra also serves as lay reader and treasurer, among many other things. As a nearly-lifelong resident of Luton, I asked Sandra where she was all the years of my previous visits ~ it turned out she only came to faith in 2014, through David leading her father’s funeral, and she’s been coming along to All Saints ever since. What a testimony she has! The three of them are incredible, and are on hand for every session, helped by all the volunteers. Games are set out for the children, there’s an English class, tea and coffee are served and help is provided for those applying to get clothes, shoes, toiletries or other help.

David and Sandra

When I visited on Saturday, I met asylum seekers from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iran and Georgia, nearly all young men, some older men, and a few women and children. All were polite, modest and keen to participate. I took a group of 8 to practise their English, so I got them to introduce each other. In that group was a professional footballer, a biomedic, a chef, a teacher, a factory worker, a builder and a young man from Sudan who had studied to Masters level in Mainland China on a scholarship and so could speak Chinese. All had come on boats across the English Channel in the last few months and attributed their safe arrival to the hand of God. They’re not allowed to work while their asylum applications are processed, which could take up to 5 years, and they survive on fairly basic financial allowances and barely adequate or often unsuitable food. With so much time on their hands, their big challenge is to learn English, and for those who are struggling with even recognizing the English alphabet, it is a particular burden. I spent much of the English class trying to encourage a young Syrian man with no English to go up to the counter and ask for tea or coffee, and then cake or biscuits, for us all. With some encouragement from others in the group who went with him for moral support, he did it – and he was so happy!

Many churches in the UK doing similar work among asylum seekers are blessed with resources like having lots of people who are willing to volunteer their time and energy to help. All Saints, Luton has a very small core group, and it is so wonderful that David, Susan, Sandra and others in the church have taken the lead in this ministry. Nearly everybody running the church service and refreshments on Sunday is also volunteering to help with the asylum seekers ministry. Special mention to Sam and the refreshments team who do both the asylum seekers’ refreshments as well as for the Sunday service. They are all so dedicated!

The Sunday service is also in some ways an extension of this ministry, as I saw for myself. David had asked me to send my sermon in advance for translation (Google Translate to the rescue!) into Farsi, and he also includes notices and some of the prayers in Farsi too. Some of the asylum seekers do speak good English, so they can help with some of the translation requests.

On Sunday, about 20 asylum seekers from Iran came to the Sunday service, one woman, the rest were men, and a few others too came from other countries; in total they made up over half the congregation. Some of the Iranian men have been baptised, and others are taking Bible Studies. It is no secret that being baptised can help with an asylum application, but there are also many who are genuine seekers and we hope and pray that they stay the course. They all listened intently to my sermon, and during the Holy Communion, all came up for a blessing, followed by them all going to the high altar for the monthly prayers and anointing for healing. It was great to see such a full church and so many young people. After the service, I shared my PowerPoint of Taiwan in the Lady Chapel, which some also attended. As I left, one of them was volunteering to wash up the cups and saucers from the refreshments. It is just such a worthwhile ministry.

A big thank you to David, Susan, Sandra and all the saints (yes there’s so many of them!) at All Saints for their amazingly warm welcome this past weekend. Over the years I have been mightily blessed to have been linked with All Saints. The original link was between my home church in Heighington, Co. Durham, where the then vicar, Rev. Philip Thomas knew Rev. Sam Prasadam through Sam’s role as CMS (Church Mission Society) Area Secretary for the NE of England. When Sam then became vicar of All Saints in the mid-1980s, along with his wife, Rev. Jemima Prasadam, so he suggested a church link between Luton and Heighington, a north-south, urban-rural connection, with exchange visits and prayer. That was my first visit to All Saints, and I remember Jemima taking us on a tour of Bury Park, going into a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Sikh gurdwara, and meeting all the people there. When I joined CMS in 1989, All Saints offered to support me as I went to Tanzania, and they’ve supported me ever since. Thank you! All Saints celebrate their centenary next year and they are already looking forward to welcoming Jemima back together with her daughter, Rev. Smitha Prasadam, now chaplain of St. Alban’s Anglican Church, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Sunday service at All Saints

David, Susan and Sandra kindly entertained me to a lovely meal on both Friday and Saturday evenings, although on Saturday at the vicarage, the vicar’s dog ate the quiche before we did! They also very kindly hosted me to stay the weekend at a local hotel chain, which is how I really came to be walking the streets of Luton at 7:00 am on a Sunday morning, building up an appetite for the buffet breakfast that was to follow! It was truly a great weekend, in fact this was my last CMS link church visit of this home leave, and what a way to finish. I am really grateful to everyone for their warm welcome, their hospitality and their kindness over the years. Thank you David, Susan, Sandra and all the saints of All Saints ~ and please do pray for them and their really incredible ministry among the asylum seekers of Luton. Thanks be to God for His many blessings, and long may they continue to be poured out on the wonderful people of Luton!

CMS Link Visit @ South Hartismere, Suffolk ❤️

Visitors like me who come to South Hartismere Benefice, not far from the town of Eye in rural Suffolk, are awed by all the quaint pink buildings. I just love walking round these lovely Suffolk villages looking at them all ~ can’t get enough of ’em!

Pink ones, and white ones too…

And quirky telephone boxes..

And arty village signs…

And most beautiful of all, the thatched church of St. Mary’s, Thornham Parva, one of 8 churches in the benefice. Isn’t it gorgeous?!

Rev. Julia Lall, assisted by Lauren, NSM priest, and Debbie, brand new pioneer curate – who did her pioneer training with CMS, are blessed with a large and very talented lay leadership team and all are doing a great job of leading the benefice. Their 8 churches cover 11 communities, and all of the communities are small, but hey, small is beautiful, and they are all places humming with life and energy. The streets are filled with people jogging or walking their dogs, even in the rain and the fog. I was there this past weekend for my CMS (Church Mission Society) Link Church visit, warmly welcomed by everyone, and was very reluctant to leave the area on Monday morning! These are the 3 benefice clergy – selfies with Julia, Lauren and Debbie…

My link with S. Hartismere goes back to 1987-1996 when my father was rector of 4 of the parishes that now make up South Hartismere ~ Gislingham, Mellis, Thornham Magna and Thornham Parva. I made sure I visited each village in turn, including checking in at Mellis with another highly-esteemed member of the clergy…

Gislingham, a long winding village of pink and white cottages, lots of modern houses, a shop, primary school, a silver band, a variety club, and an interesting church with box pews, and which is definitely lop-sided when viewed from inside – which adds to its quirkiness…

Mellis, a large wide village built around a huge common (the largest area of unfenced common land in England) which stretches so far into the distance on both sides that you can hardly see the houses, with the main railway line to London passing through, marked with a level crossing, plus a primary school, care home, a lovely small church with beautifully displayed kneelers, and possibly a whole lot more – it certainly looks like a place with lots of secret buildings, hidden in the deepest areas of the common…

Thornham Magna village is mainly one road, ‘The Street’, and pink is the colour!

Thornham Magna is also home to the Thornham Estate, where Lord Henniker (1916-2004) did so much to open up the Thornham walks to the public and showed his support for the local community by converting his estate buildings to workspaces for small businesses. The estate also has a field centre, a campsite for disadvantaged children, a charity for those with learning disabilities running the walled garden, a cafe, and plenty more. He was such a great man, and his wife Lady Julia Henniker continued the work after his death. I was able to visit her, and it was wonderful to catch up. The car parks for the Thornham walks were packed out all weekend, it’s very popular!

Thornham Parva is also part of the Thornham estate, with its delightful thatched church, ancient wall paintings, a famous retable behind the altar, and Basil Spence’s grave in the churchyard, plus a new seat made for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee…

I stayed for the weekend in Gislingham with Ann, Gislingham churchwarden, her husband Peter and Daisy the cat, who all gave me such a warm welcome, and Ann also hosted a magnificent Sunday lunch for a whole group of us – Rita, Jean and Christine, all friends for years, it was so good to catch up. Christine is the benefice administrator and helped organise my visit, while Ann also keeps bees and gave me a jar of her honey, ah so delicious! Thank you!

Rev. Julia Lall, her black labrador and black cat also welcomed me to a yummy meal on my arrival on Saturday, and she also organized the benefice service on Sunday, in honour of Advent Sunday. We all gathered for the one service of the day, at 10:30 am at Thorndon Church…..

The Advent wreaths from the different churches were all brought along, and lit during the service, to be returned to their respective churches.

I preached the sermon and they kindly had a collection in my honour, and the service was followed by coffee when I also showed my powerpoint of Taiwan. It was great to see all my old friends again, and to meet new ones – including some visitors from the USA. Check out all these smiling people!

A few weeks ago on All Saints Day at St. Andrew’s Church, Tudhoe Grange, Spennymoor, Co. Durham, I had met Fr. Michael Thompson, who had recently retired to that area but had originally been rector in Suffolk, in the next-door North Hartismere benefice. On All Saints Day, he had said we must take a photo together to send to Betty Wells in South Hartismere, who he had known through Deanery Synod – so now, in return, this is me and Betty taking a photo for Fr. Michael!

And so to Monday, and the final event of the weekend was a school assembly at Mellis Primary School on Monday morning. The head had prepared a map, photos of Taiwan and a YouTube video to introduce Taiwan ~ and we had such a great time together. Check out the special welcome sign posted outside the school!

What a great weekend! A big thank you to Julia, Ann and everyone in South Hartismere for your amazing welcome and hospitality, it was all so lovely. Leaving with oh so many happy memories!

CMS Link Visit @ Beccles, Suffolk ❤️

Charming, quaint, quirky, peaceful and popular are all words you find on tourist websites used to describe the lovely Suffolk town of Beccles ~ all true of course, it’s a really great place! According to Trip Advisor, the top No. 1 attraction of ‘THE 10 BEST Things to Do in Beccles – 2022‘ is, guess what, the most unlikely sport of parachuting ~ not the first thing that came to mind when I arrived in Beccles on Saturday for my CMS Link Church Visit over the weekend – I wouldn’t like to try, even off the bell tower, the highest building in the town…

When I ask my London friends if they’ve heard of Beccles – yes they have – and what comes to mind, they mention ‘cakes’, though the cakes turn out to be Eccles Cakes, which are actually from Lancashire. Beccles and Eccles sound just a bit too similar, I guess! Of course, Beccles does have plenty of delicious cakes, biscuits and flans, and we enjoyed some of them on Saturday night at our Bring and Share evening. Check out this delicious and very beautiful cherry flan, yum yum!

My first challenge on Saturday though was just finding the town! The satnav took me on the scenic route across Suffolk which wound on and on, while signposts along the way all gave distances to Norwich, Ipswich, Lowestoft and then Diss ~ Beccles hardly gets a mention until you’re nearly there. Apparently only one of the main roads into the town has a large ‘Welcome to Beccles’ sign ~ though there’s another smaller one for those arriving by boat…

Yes, my conclusion is that Beccles is a very modest town, almost shy in fact, and happy to sit quietly on the River Waveney, marking the border between Suffolk and Norfolk, and the people who have chosen to live there seem to enjoy that quietness too. Saturday afternoon was certainly quiet (I hardly saw anyone!) but it was also sunny and bright and I could wander around taking photos of the streets and quayside…

I had the honour of staying with Barry and Faith Darch, long-time members of St. Michael’s Church, Beccles, where Faith is a lay reader and also in the bell-ringing team. Barry is serving as Mayor of Beccles this year, so I was delighted to have a tour of the town hall on Sunday morning, including a visit to the chamber, where the Beccles Town Council meets, and also to see the chains that the mayor and mayoress wear on special occasions. Despite all the grandeur, they are very down-to-earth, humble, kind people and such wonderful hosts!

On Saturday night, we met at St. Luke’s Church, Beccles for food – and sharing about Taiwan. It was freezing outside, their first frost of the winter, but inside it was lovely and warm. I was very warmly welcomed by the rector, Rev. Rich Henderson, in charge of Beccles Parish, which now has 5 churches; fortunately he is helped by a wonderful team. Keith is the chair of the mission committee, and on Saturday, he and Rich kindly presented me with a new and very large Chinese – English Bible, a gift from Beccles Parish. Thank you!

We had a fun evening – and check out all the amazing food….

And so to Sunday, which was St. Edmund’s Day, November 20. St. Edmund, who died on November 20, 869, was King of East Anglia, and is also the patron saint of plagues and pandemics. The tradition is that the St. Edmund’s flag is flown from all towers in Suffolk on St. Edmund’s Day, and so I accompanied Barry the Mayor to the town hall to meet Tom, the official flag-raiser – and to find the St. Edmund’s flag….

And as the flag went up, we went up to see Faith and the bellringers in the tower, where they ring every Sunday morning. Very impressive…

And so to St. Michael’s Church for the 11:00 service, where we had coffee before and after the service ~ it was great to see so many of those who had come the night before, and who I have known for many years. That includes Bishop Gavin Reid and his wife, who retired to Beccles many years ago – they had come straight from taking a service in a nearby village, and also Rev. Peter Langford, famous for cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats to mark his 75th birthday, then again for his 80th, then again for his 85th – and next year he’s 90, and thinks he may try again! Such energy! I see I mentioned them in my blog post after my previous visit to Beccles in October 2018 (see here). Also, Rachel, retired from CMS after serving many years in Asia, and now living in the area, lovely to see her again. Anyway, I did the sermon – and took a lot of selfies with lovely people…

As we came out of the church, there was this horse and cart driving around Beccles, what a great sight…

Faith and Barry kindly cooked us a splendid Sunday lunch, and then we went off to Bungay to visit an elderly church member in a care home there. Afterwards we walked around Bungay Town – it has lots of old houses painted in beautiful colours, and the ruins of an old castle…

And finally back to Beccles, where the St. Edmund’s flag was still flying, another great sight!

So a big thank you to Rich, Keith, Barry, Faith, Rachel and everyone in Beccles Parish for such a fantastic weekend, and such a warm welcome. It was great, and your ongoing support is so much appreciated. Thank you, and thanks be to God for all His many blessings! ❤️

😊 CMS Oxford ❤️

The great city of Oxford, once romantically described as the ‘city of dreaming spires’ 🤨 is now more accurately a city of 650 fast-moving electric scooters, that zoom in and out around all the streets ~ trying hard to avoid people furiously peddling along on ordinary bikes or struggling to push themselves on ordinary scooters, all trying to keep up. They go so fast, I have yet to get one in a photo – only the ordinary bikes stay in focus! Such is Oxford’s morning rush hour as students head for lectures and others head for work. It’s busily bustling out there!

Last time I was in Oxford, in October 2018, I wrote this in my blog post, “I admit, I’m not an Oxford person. I can’t recognise any college or building or landmark, haven’t got a clue what the colleges are, nor why they’re famous, other than just being part of Oxford University. So all I can tell you is that the buildings and colleges are beautiful, and spires are many. Spires and steeples and towers and gargoyles and churches and chapels everywhere.” That much is still true.

And so today I ambled around Oxford looking at lots of old buildings, wandering here and there, trying to stay outside in the beautiful sunshine as much as possible and mostly avoiding anything that required me to pay to enter. So don’t ask me what any of these places are, just look at the photos!

The real reason for being in Oxford was to visit CMS (Church Mission Society) Headquarters, located south of the city in CMS House – it also lets office space to other mission agencies and church-related organizations. I was there all day yesterday, and, well, it rained most of the day. Hey, if the day is going to be wet, then the CMS office is the place to be, it’s so warm and welcoming! And by lunchtime, the rain was stopping and there was even a rainbow coming out….

Most of the people who work for CMS either work overseas, or if they’re based in Oxford, then since the pandemic, they work partly there and partly at home – so you never know who might be there in person on any given day. Ah, I love surprises! I took along my Taiwan teapots and tea, and was delighted to share them with all the people at CMS, along with a few smarties, chocolate money and a few other goodies – well I do want people to remember Taiwan and my visit 🤣🤣! I was so happy to finally get to meet Alastair Bateman (CMS CEO since May 2019) ~ he smiled all day long, he’s just so lovely!

And I saw lots of my other good friends at CMS too. These people are just so dedicated, cheerful, humble and kind, every single one of them. Some have worked there for years and years, and a few even worked in the London office before CMS moved to Oxford in 2007. Some I have only met on email, but now I realise who they are, wow, it’s so wonderful to meet them. My biggest encourager and supporter, Anne organized the whole day’s itinerary, arranged all the meetings, and kindly prepared a delicious lunch too. Thank you Anne – and thank you everyone!

After a morning of fun meetings, then at 1:30 pm I had 30 minutes to do a WOW ‘Window on the World’ session, sharing about Taiwan with pictures on a PowerPoint, and also with several people attending online ~ while CEO Alastair sat right at the front and wrote lots of things down as I spoke! 🤩 These are the action shots taken right at the start…

Meanwhile the online people could only gaze longingly at all those teapots and tea, and dream of the chocolate money and Quality Street as we munched away in Oxford! 🤣🤣

Thanks to Camilla for taking these photos – I discovered she’s often the person putting together my link letters, so I’m really grateful to her for so much! 😊😊

During yesterday’s meetings, I did invite Anne as Asia personnel manager to bring along her colleague to come together to visit Taiwan sometime in the next year or two. Neither of them have been to Taiwan, in fact nobody in CMS has come to visit for a good few years, so it’s about time! They were both so excited, and are making plans already ~ and since then Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang in Taiwan has sent me a message to welcome them to visit. Can’t wait! 😊 This was the WOW session…

Ah, it was such an amazing day! In the past, I have stayed at the CMS House in Oxford during my visit, but this time it was full. Thanks to recommendations from friends, I was able to stay instead at the guest house of the ‘All Saints Sisters of the Poor‘, located further along the Cowley Road. They have an amazing history of serving people in need, and within their grounds they have both a children’s hospice and nursing home. It’s an oasis of quietness and beauty in a busy area of the city.

The whole area around there is small narrow streets, which are now bollarded off, to stop cars going through, so although it’s much quieter, it’s also much more difficult to get from one place to another. Check out the local area…

There’s even a big mistletoe tree, looking spectacular, and located in the middle of the main roundabout there…

After my visit to CMS, so off I went to explore Oxford after dark….