Kitchen Complete and Upcoming Screenings

Kitchen Complete and Upcoming Screenings

It’s taken nearly a year, but our new kitchen has finally been completed!

With our busy weekly schedule and limited funds, it’s been difficult getting this project completed, but I’m so glad we now have a functioning, modern kitchen installed in the Church that will be able to keep our Church functioning for decades to come. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the handful of volunteers that have pitched in over the course of the last year. Although we may well have a somewhat ageing population here in Ayl’s Ham, it turns out that we have no shortage of handymen!

The completion of the kitchen renovation has come just in time too, as this week we started our series of screenings of World War II films.

With Remembrance services just round the corner, I felt that it was a good time to bring together the congregation to watch some movies depicting the tough times that the people of Great Britain had to get through during the World Wars. There are very few people alive now who lived through World War I, but a great many of our congregation have memories of the Second World War. Although I was initially concerned about the reaction of some of these members’ response to this new series of programming, I’ve been really encouraged by the amount of tickets that we’ve sold and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing the pews fill up for a different kind of evening service.

In recent years, there have been a handful of movies released based around the events of World War II that have really helped shine a light on the great sacrifices that were made by so many during these difficult times and whilst some have accused these movies of potentially glorifying these events for financial gain, I believe that the intentions of the majority of these productions was pure. In the last year alone we’ve had three such movies that have attempted to depict the events of the Second World War without resorting to the cloying kind of heroism that was so common in the past.

We’ll be kicking off our series with Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge – a film that has been criticised for it’s excessive violence (much like his controversial Passion of the Christ) but commended for it’s depiction of a pacifist character, struggling with his faith in the midst of War.

The next few weeks will offer my congregation a chance to get out of the house and experience some new cinema, as well as to jog some old memories and pay tribute to the friends and family members that they lost during the Second World War. As we approach Remembrance, I’ll be collecting together the experiences of the audiences and bringing together our thoughts, with the aim of summarising the general sentiment of the community.

I hope to see many of you in the upcoming weeks!


Improvements Being Made…

Improvements Being Made…

There comes a time in every Church’s life when improvements simply must be made.

Our wonderful building here is reaching its 130th year, hardly ancient when you compare it to some of the other venerable Religious buildings that dot the landscape around us, but still old enough for more than a few surface details and cracks to start appearing.

Of course, the building itself, which was built in 1888, has survived a great deal. Two World Wars and one World Cup, that’s how morally questionable men of my generation refer to things that have survived the large majority of the 20th Century.

I might not see my Church in the same way, after all it’s simultaneously my place of work and worship, but I still hold a huge amount of respect for the building having provided shelter and support to all members of our community over the time that it has stood here. From Charity Bakesales to School Productions, the Weddings and Funerals, this place has been the focal point for the community for generations. Such is it’s magnetic draw, pulling in men, women and children for decades, providing them with counsel, company (and cake!) in equal parts.

Back in the late 19th Century, when this building was being designed, the installation of a fully-functioning kitchen and dining area was seen as radical and rather excessive. After all, this was the Victorian Era, a time of philanthropy, to be sure, but hardly at a point where society was fully committed to the notion of creating services that would aid poor people, let alone assist the process of  social mobility.

The architects and the Church’s benefactors however, held strong in their beliefs and, as such, Ayl’s Ham Parish Church was built with the purpose of providing hot food on a large scale.

These facilities have proved to be incredibly useful over the years. From it’s early days, serving teas and cakes to the small congregation that first walked through the doors of the church to the bread and bowls of soup that fed the local lads who had lost their jobs during the mining collapses of the 70s, despite have fought through Word War II to get there. Ayl’s Ham Parish Church has always been proud to help the good people of it’s community in their time of need, regardless of their religious beliefs or social background.

However, there is a draw back to having helped so many people over the years. The kitchen in the church has only been refurbished once during it’s near 130-year service to it’s community. Back in 1985, one of the miners remembered receiving aid from the Church during those troubled times. On top of donating a large sum of money, he was also kind enough to design and fit the brand new kitchen himself, complete with industrial extractor fans and, what were then, top of the range ovens. This kind addition to a building, that otherwise remained untouched for nearly a hundred years, was much appreciated. Unfortunately it is now starting to seriously betray it’s own age.

Thankfully, over thirty years later, we have been fortunate enough to receive a fresh batch of donations which has served to help cover up some of those telling cracks and also completely refurbish the kitchen. Although we’ve all got fond memories of the distinctively retro mustard coloured work tops and cupboards gave the room, they will now make room for something equally fresh and far more modern. I can imagine the original designers of the church might will be turning in their graves at the thought of such a modern kitchen being installed, but it must be done regardless.

The work will be taking place over the next two weeks, so any activities that required the use of the kitchen will be rescheduled or moved to the Village Hall.


Is Cleanliness really next to Godliness?

Is Cleanliness really next to Godliness?

CleaningI’d like to start this week’s blog post by thanking all of you for the help you gave me for our Christian Movies article. I knew that you’d all pitch in with some ideas, but I had no idea how varied your suggestions would be! It turns out that I have quite the congregation of movie buffs and I had a wonderful time working my way through all your faith-affirming movies.

Now, onto this week’s subject: is cleanliness really next to Godliness?

This is a saying that has been uttered by many a school master, no doubt many of you will remember. For those of you who didn’t have to suffer the endless chores that came hand in hand with boarding schools, I’m sure your parents would often use the saying as a reason for you to clean your hands, or your hands or clothes.

It’s easy to accept this saying blindly as it is so well-worn – but why should we? Is it’s source from a Holy text? If God really does want us to be clean, what does this say about those who do not prize cleanliness so highly?

Firstly, I think it’s important to make one thing clear. This popular, religious based phrase does not appear in any version of the Bible that I could find. By all means, you could take the words of the Gospel out of context and twist them to fit a similar notion but that could about many other things. I know you are all too familiar with my feelings towards those who turn the words of the Bible to suit their own needs.

So if the source of this saying isn’t Biblical, then just where does it come from and is it a mantra that we should still be living by? After all, it’s a good thing to be clean, right?

Well that was certainly the thoughts of John Wesley, prominent 18th Century Cleric and founder of the Methodist Church. In a sermon given in 1786, later recorded in his book The Works of John Wesley, he said:

‘Slovenliness is no part of religion.’Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.’

Wesley makes a good point here. It’s hard to think of any religion that openly encourages slovenliness. Still, it would appear that Wesley is paraphrasing from yet another source. Deeper and deeper, the rabbit hole goes!

I’m no Historian, but it would appear that the earliest recording I can find of this phrase comes from the 14th Century. This is where the pieces of the puzzle start to fit into place. During this time in England, the Black Plague was running a bloody scythe throughout the population. With limited medical knowledge, the clergy and politicians could only fall back on one logical notion: filth breeds disease, so it would follow that disease is evil. Reverse this thought pattern and you find the conception that cleanliness is akin to good health. So that, logically, with good health comes goodness or godliness.

black-death-alaNow this is all very well for the 14th Century. They were trying to save lives and it was easier for the ruling classes to openly criticise the suffering poor for being so filthy. But is this a notion that we should be living by in the 21st Century, especially considering that its etymology is very much rooted in the Zeitgeist of 14th Century England?

Let’s take this idea and force it into a modern day scenario. You’ve been invited to a dinner party. When you arrive you’re given a tour of the house and it culminates with some drinks in the kitchen. You notice, as your host is checking on the food, that the oven is filthy. Completely covered in food residue and baked on beyond reprieve, the food you will be eating is being prepared in that oven. Should you think less of these people? Should you apply Wesley’s favoured doctrine and declare them slovenly?

Far be it for me to tell you how to think. But maybe it’s not entirely fair to damn your gracious hosts with criticisms, least of all declare them unclean and therefore far from ‘Godliness’. After all, maybe they are less fortunate than you and cannot afford the oven cleaning service that they so desperately need. Perhaps they are simply too busy dealing with other things to even consider the cleanliness of their oven.

maputoNow consider the Third World. Consider Maputo in Mozambique. This is a country that has long been devoted to the Christian faith. Indeed we support them yearly with our Beetle Drives and Cake Sales. Here is a country that cannot afford to clean its streets, or clear its refuse in an orderly way. Who are we to claim that they are far from Godliness, simply because they don’t have the resources to focus on cleaning as well as feeding themselves?

Let us all remember that strength and faith in God is not something that can be assessed by the state of our cleanliness. It’s not the 14th Century anymore however, there are still those that live in similar conditions suffered by our forebears. The state of our dress, no matter what John Wesley said, does not dictate our faith. Our homes, our skin, our bodies. These are physical manifestations of our being that have no effect on our ability to praise God.

This week, let us think on how we view and judge others, including those that are not of our faith. Let’s remember to thank God that we are clean. That we live good and honest lives. Most importantly let us remember that:

To be devout is not to be better than someone else, simply more fortunate.

The 3 Top Grossing Christian Movies You Should Avoid (and 3 Alternatives which will Reaffirm your Faith)

The 3 Top Grossing Christian Movies You Should Avoid (and 3 Alternatives which will Reaffirm your Faith)

the-passion-of-the-christAvoid: The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Grossing over $611m, Mel Gibson’s 2-hour depiction of the last days of Christ caused an absolute outrage when it was released. Accusations of anti-Semitism were abound, with Gibson’s own inflammatory comments not helping matters, still thousands of devote Christians flocked to cinemas to see what all the fuss was about.

Although famed critic Roger Ebert awarded it his highest score, the film was mostly savaged by the critics with major outlets labelling it as a ‘pornographic bloodbath’, likening it to a horror moving. Unless you’re willing to sit through scenes of extended violence and torture, avoid it at all costs.

Instead watch: The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Scorsese’s underrated gem is often overlooked when Christian films are considered. With a human performance from Willem Defoe at its heart, there may still be a little gore but it’s balanced with solid cinematography and a well told story.

narniaAvoid: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (2005)

Disney’s effort to revive C. S. Lewis’ proto-Christian fantasy novels ultimately failed after the disappointing performance of the third installment in 2010. Hot on the heels of the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Christians were excited to see a CG-filled parable that could entertain as well as educate.

Grossing a whopping $745m, the film was well received by critics for its visual effects and its young performers. However, the subtext of spiritual redemption, which was subtle in the books, was treated callously by the screenwriters giving the film an overly preachy tone.

Nausicaa_ARS_setup_3Instead watch: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

The breakthrough Miyazaki fantasy that led to the formation of Studio Ghibli, Nausicaa is a sci-fi mash-up that captured the imaginations of children and adults alike upon its release. Its themes of War, Sacrifice and positive environmental message make it a must-watch movie with enough depth to not feel like its pandering to anyone.

Avoid: God’s Not Dead (2014)

god deadDespite being universally panned by every major critic, distributor Freestyle Releasing somehow managed to score the biggest box-office success of their 10-year tenure. God’s Not Dead took nearly $60m, taking pretty much all its money at home in America.

God’s Not Dead patronised the demographic it was targeting and alienated anyone else. A sequel made on the back of its success was released this year, to similar critical reception, however it didn’t resonate as well with America’s Christians – so don’t expect another!

Instead watch: Magnolia (1999)

If you’re looking for a film that artfully balances moral dilemmas, and the consequences of our actions, then Magnolia is right up your street. This 90s ensemble piece features a stellar cast, playing characters all linked through varying forms of personal tragedy. Start it up early, as it runs up to 3 hours long but prepared for a faith-affirming conclusion!Magnolia

Faith in Architecture – Matthew’s Parable

Faith in Architecture – Matthew’s Parable

There aren’t many Christians who aren’t familiar with Matthew’s classic parable of the Wise and the Foolish Builders. We’re often told this particular bible story as children, its easy to grasp and the lesson is important. However, it is so rare (and also tragic) that a child would ever need to draw from its teachings at such a young age. Even the most destitute of kids find a way of discovering joy in life, no matter how miserable their existence might be. No, Matthew’s tale is truly meant to calm and ease the adult mind in the face of adversity.

lighthouseFor those not fortunate enough to be familiar with the classic parable, I will give you a brief overview. Narratively, it is a lot simpler than Jesus’ parables, but as a result its message is much more succinct. Matthew asks his listeners to heed his words (the inherited words of Christ) and by doing so they will be like the wise man who built his house on rocks. A sturdy home, it withstands the floods, rains and winds. For those who do not heed the gospel, they are likened to the foolish builder; whose house built on sand is blown away by the same adverse conditions.

This might seem like a rather logical conclusion to draw, but its important to pay attention to the wording of Matthew so we can discover why this parable holds more weight for the adult mind;

‘The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock.’

sandcastleIn this story the man’s house is battered by the elements in three different forms. Are we to take the story literally, like the child, and assume the weather is particularly bad this time of year? Or, rather, should we read these weather signs as a metaphor? The rains, floods and winds are the troubles of life. Death, grief, pestilence – in varying forms these are the forces of nature that assault the adult existence. The realities of death and hunger might glance an unaware child, but their faith is not put to question, for their concept of faith is yet to be formed.

When we reach adulthood, we must be prepared to face the elements of life. When we choose to build our homes, we don’t start by throwing bricks at the ground in a pile. To build our faith we contact Architectural Emporium, we learn from other wise men. Once we have learned, we can choose our materials carefully and start building our homes on a bed rock of belief. By following the gospel’s teachings and fortifying ourselves against the flood we can best imitate the Wise builder, safe and secure protected by our faith in God.…

To listen or not to listen – Christians online

To listen or not to listen – Christians online

In the wake of the recent tragedies that have taken place around the world, it can be easy to want to retreat from the wider world. After all, if it wasn’t for the internet, we wouldn’t be aware of these awful things. By just turning off a switch and burying ourselves in a good book (I know of at least one that comes to mind!) we have the opportunity to completely detach ourselves from the greater conflicts that exist in our world. Is this a viable option for us, as good Christians?

Our congregation here is a small bird_goes_online-12114one. Ayl’s Ham, for those who don’t know, is a small village situated in the county of Worcestershire. The people who live in this village have all the amenities that they require. A huge variety of local produce, sold in our independent Village Shop, can keep them fed; whilst the Church and the Village provides them with the social interaction and discussion that all humans need. We have a local school, sports teams, book clubs and amateur dramatics society. If a few thousand people can happily subsist together in good camaraderie; is it necessary for us to taint our every day lives with the sad news of violence and hatred from remote corners of the globe? sschoolNow there are those in our country who have made a conscious decision to push out their hands, and reject the companionship of our fellow man. I will not get into international politics now, because this is not the place for it, but I will say my peace on the matter. The works of Jesus, and all the good deeds that we have read of in the Bible, come as a result of a coming together of people. Nothing is ever achieved by isolation or exile, we are all stronger together; regardless of race, religion or nationality. That is why I believe it is necessary for us to talk with the outside world.

We have the opportunity to reach out and help our fellow man. Whether its by consoling him through social networks, or organising a fund raising event to bring him a glass of water. If an opportunity to act in a Christian manner presents itself then it is our duty to do so. We cannot ignore the internet, and the opportunities that it presents. When we turn off our computers, the suffering and hatred that is fuelling the world’s conflicts does not die with it. So let’s start using the technology that we’ve been presented to become better Christians and help the world become a better place.

See you Sunday!


Hello readers, true believers!

Hello readers, true believers!

Hello readers, true believers and parish members of Ayl’s Ham Parish Church, Worcestershire!

At last, thanks to the younger members of our flock, our church has been dragged kicking and screaming on to the internet! Better late than never, I suppose, and as our leader here I’m honoured to post the first of (hopefully) many posts. I’ll try and keep it relatively short and not make it too much like my Sunday Service, but as Bruce Willis says, old habits Die Hard!

kids-around-a-computerIts a little hard to draw parallels with what’s happening in the world of technology today and our friend Jesus’ stories, but I shall make an attempt nonetheless! What I believe the internet does, which Jesus would appreciate, is bring disparate groups of people together in safe, measured discussion. Even though we have wonderful ways to communicate via video chat, most people use some form of messaging or posting system; this gives us time to read and appreciate our partner’s message and formulate a response. Now, a lot could be said for negative uses of internet communication, but as this is a positive space I’m going to remain that way.

In real terms, having an online hub for the Parish will mean that topics of our Sunday and mid-week services can be posted in advance; giving you a chance to reflect on issues before they are discussed by our wonderful speakers. Any materials needed by our Sunday School students can be posted for download, so your little ones can best prepare for their weekly lessons. Of course, the church’s whole schedule for the year can be published, so you can plan ahead and make sure you don’t miss any of our big events!


Ayl’s Ham’s internet presence can also help us get in contact with other churches within our wonderful county, as well as other establishments throughout our whole world. The sky really is the limit, and I’d like for us all to use this a jumping point to get in touch with our brothers and sisters from different countries and continents. In a year that has so far brought us plenty division, lets start fostering unity with our fellow man by using this new medium and spreading the love of Ayl’s Ham Parish Church!

See you Sunday!