Off to India again!

On Friday this week Jo and I are off to India: a return visit for me; a first time visit for Jo. We would so value your prayers for our trip, and for the kids left at home, and do look out for updates via Twitter and Facebook. I am so pleased that Jo and I get to go out together this time.

Why India?

Our ongoing friendships and connections with India have come about because we are a part of Commission, which now has more works in India than in the UK. John and Mollie, from our Bognor site, lived and served in India some years ago, and they opened some doors of friendship for us that it has been our privilege to push wide open. I have been out to visit in the past, as has David Thompson and also some others. We have a growing number of friendship connections with this incredible country.

Steve Petch Trip to India | Commission | Steve Petch BlogVinu & Julie

Many of you will remember Vinu and Julie coming to us from India at the end of Westpoint last year. Vinu’s time with us helped to reshape our approach to multisite, including moving our Midhurst Sunday meeting to the morning. By the way, in case you missed the news, that site has grown and is now meeting in a new and larger venue each Sunday morning at Rother College.

Sydney & Cheryl

Last October we also had Sydney and Cheryl with us. This wonderful couple blessed us in so many ways, not least their demonstration of some ‘mighty fine’ barn dancing skills. These Indian friendships are so valuable to us!

Steve Petch Trip to India | Commission | Steve Petch Blog

So on this occasion Jo and I are going to Mumbai to spend time with them. We look forward to experiencing some Indian culture, developing further friendships and seeing first hand what is going on with all the various things they do.

The trip is certainly going to be very busy, and I have had to spend time preparing. As well as the usual things you might expect us to be doing there, we will also see their work with children in the slums and with sufferers of Hansen’s disease (Leprosy).

Pray for us

A trip like this to India is a great chance to renew old friendships, to make new ones and to bring them encouragement. We will also undoubtedly learn a lot and be blessed by them in return. Sometimes these trips can be challenging, especially health wise, so do pray for our wellbeing, our fruitfulness and our safe return.

I’ll try to let you know next week how we’re getting on.

Summer Is here!

Apparently summer is now here, although just a week ago you wouldn’t have been far off saying the weather was much more like late September already!

Christian Books | 2016 | Steve Petch BlogThe weather may not always be quite as reliable here as it is in Greece or Spain, but this time of year is a great chance for many of us to take a break and get some time with family rain or shine!

Church life usually gets a bit quieter at this time of year, although all three of our sites will still be meeting every Sunday (except for August 28th when most of us are away at Westpoint). Many of our ministries and events will take a well earned rest until September. There are no planned dates for Life Groups over the summer, although many groups get together anyway to eat and have fun.

Of course this quieter season doesn’t mean that God has gone on holiday … as someone will usually tell me at some point along the way! (I know! I really do! Honestly!)

This season is a chance to take things a little easier for many people, and whilst I appreciate that some will be working flat out all summer long, here is my suggestion for those who can take some sort of break: don’t just take a holiday, make it a Sabbath.

A Sabbath

God took a Sabbath rest after the work of creation was finished. He designed our lives to have holidays and regular breaks – we function best that way.

So don’t just lie by the pool … lie by the pool and pray. Talk to God about your life, your family, your walk with him, your disappointments and your plans and hopes for the year ahead.

Don’t just sit in the garden … sit in the garden and meditate on God’s word and his creation. Take time to pause and give thanks.

Don’t just go for a walk … go for a walk with your kids or your friends and ask them how their own walk with God is. Ask what’s going in their hearts and how you can pray for them and encourage them and support them in the next year.

Read this summer…

And don’t just read trashy novels and magazines … read something that will speak to your soul and build you up in your faith. So with that in mind I have four book recommendations for the summer with a brief description of what the book is like and why I found it useful to read.

Whatever you’re doing this summer – enjoy!

4 book suggestions for summer

(All available on Amazon)

  1. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – Peter Scazzero

Peter Scazzero - Emotionall Healthy Spiritually | Christian Books | Steve Petch Blog

 

This book looks at the importance of handling our emotions well. As the author says, “You can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”

It’s helpful stuff, especially if you ever find yourself avoiding conflict in the name of Christianity, or if you are sometimes affected by unexplained sadness, anger or fear.

I hope it does you as much good as it did me.

 

  1. What Good is God? – Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey - What Good is God? | Christian Books | Steve Petch BlogThis book is built around ten challenging situations where the author was required to speak or preach as a Christian minister, bringing truth and encouragement, after times of great trauma, challenge or tragedy.

In each situation he talks around the issues that were stirred up by the scenario or situation he was facing, and then tells us what his message was:

  • What can you say to students after one of their number has shot dead his fellow students and them himself in a senseless campus massacre?
  • What can you say to sex workers and those who minister to people trapped in this lifestyle?
  • What can you say to Middle Eastern Christian pastors experiencing intense persecution?
  • What can you say to a room full of recovering alcoholics?

These and several other challenging situations were faced by Philip Yancey, and he does a great job of communicating how God is good news to all people. I loved this book.

  1. Gaining Heaven’s Perspective – Julian Adams

Julian Adams - Gaining Heaven's Perspective | Christian Books | Steve Petch Blog

 

Julian Adams has a well respected prophetic gift and was a huge blessing to our church in the early days, bringing some influential prophetic input to us.

This is by far the shortest of my four book suggestions, but not necessarily the simplest.

Julian encourages us in this book in how to enjoy God’s presence in our daily life and hear from God daily. The impact will last beyond reading the book! 

 

  1. The Road to Character – David Brooks

David Brooks - The Road to Character | Christian Books | Steve Petch BlogMy final recommendation was not written by a Christian at all (as far as I know!) According to Wikipedia the author is Jewish, although I don’t know if he practices this faith.

This challenging book looks at how various different people have developed character through the trials and pressures of life. It also brings a very helpful perspective on how our society has strayed down some very unhelpful dead ends in terms of our life goals and the things we praise and desire.

I guess I should warn you that it contains one occurrence of bad language (I’m sure most of you will cope!) – but it also contains a lot of helpful truth.

Chapter 8, about St Augustine, is especially helpful, and clearly this author has a sharp understanding of what the Christian gospel is about, though I have no clue if he has accepted it for himself.

This helped me personally more than any other I read this year, although it is the one on my list that would take the most commitment and brain power to read.

 

Enjoy.

The Grace to go to Prison

One of the reasons for writing a blog is to keep everyone informed of the things we are doing as a Church, especially things that not everyone may be aware of. One of those areas is our “GraceWorks”. We use the name GraceWorks as an umbrella heading for the various ministries we do to serve our community.

Early Days

In the very early days of Grace Church, when I was laying out a vision for our Church’s future in a talk, I remember using ‘prison ministry’ as an example of something we would probably never do … simply because there is no prison in Chichester. Little did I know!

Fast forward a few years to now, to a time when our Church has a larger footprint than we ever imagined it would, and one of our key GraceWorks is serving the prisoners at Ford Prison.

HMP Ford – Our Prison Ministry


HMP Ford
is an open prison with around 500 adult male prisoners. A team from Grace Church, which includes people from all three of our sites, is actively involved in various activities at HMP Ford including:

  • Regular Sunday evening services in the Chapel at HMP Ford, with worship, preaching, prayer and fellowship
  • A Monday evening Life Group covering all sorts of topics and led by both Grace Church members and prisoners. This provides an informal time for teaching and fellowship, and also some social times, for example we held a quiz night that had around 50 people taking part
  • A prison Alpha course
  • A follow up Beta course

Well done Grace Churchers!

HMP Ford Christian Prison Ministry | Grace Church | Steve Petch Blog

Andy Nicholls runs our HMP Ford prison ministry

A few Grace Church members are also now part of the chaplaincy department at HMP Ford helping provide pastoral and faith related support to those prisoners. The need for this should not be underestimated! I want to say a personal, “Well done!” to the Grace Church team, and feel free to add your well done to mine everyone else!

Outside of the prison environment we’ve been working to look after a few ex-offenders who have connected with us on the inside and have now been released from prison and are living locally. The support and help needed in each situation is very individual, and we now have ex-offenders regularly attending Sunday meetings with us. What a privilege! We are truly blessed and I hope we are a blessing to them too.

Why minister to prisoners & ex-offenders?

In the parable of the sheep and the goats (see Matthew 25) Jesus said that, in the final judgement, he would say to his followers,

“I was in prison and you came to visit me.” 

They will answer him, Lord, when did we see you in prison and go to visit you?”

Jesus’ answer: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” 

Our prisons ministry, led by Andy Nicholls, is a great chance to put that parable into practice, remembering that it is Jesus we are serving. If you want to get involved then do let us know, and in the mean time let’s all be on the lookout to welcome and bless anyone who visits our church week by week, remembering that each person is precious to God, whatever their background.

“All welcome! Come as you are!”

And let’s remember that in some cases the only difference between those in prison and those who are not is this: they got caught.

So let’s make sure that we, ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’.

Spontaneous Baptisms!

I was really thrilled that we had baptisms planned for our recent Grace Church 10th birthday party. I love it when we baptise people; it’s a great sign that God is at work in both them as individuals and in us as a church!

A watershed moment

If you’ll pardon the pun, baptism is a watershed moment:

  • It’s a public declaration that we belong to Jesus and our life is now in him. “If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor 5v17)
  • It’s a sign that our old life has died with Jesus and that we have a new life in him now, “We were buried with Jesus by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6v4)

Lots of fun, lots of water and the thrill of a life changed forever!

Extra trunks…

In the run up to the party David Thompson made a suggestion: “Why don’t you publicly ask on the day, after you’ve spoken, if there are any other people who want to get baptised right now?”

I’d never done that before, but I don’t mind taking a risk so we came up with a plan: spare towels, extra swimming shorts and some Grace Church t-shirts … and I would make the ask at the end of the talk. Would there be that extra person who would respond right there and then?

On the day I was delighted with the response. Two baptisms became six baptisms in the space of three minutes. God must clearly be doing something among us.

So here are some photos of those baptisms:

Going under

And Rob’s was more eventful than the others (bottom left photo). As David and Andy baptised Rob, David somehow slipped down the slope towards the deep end. Rob came back up fine, but David somehow disappeared under the water … which got the biggest cheer of the whole day!

I’m sure it was nothing personal, and I’m pleased to say we now have David back safe and dry!

And if you want to get baptised next time, just let us know! We’ll try not to follow you under …