REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2023
Well, here’s a reasonable question for you at this festive time: Did you have a good Christmas?
Some will say “yes” but others have had an awful one. I’ve had some pretty bad and sad times over the last few years. How should I respond to this?
And what about PRESENTS? Did you get what you wanted this Christmas?
Let’s widen out this question: How about your year? As you look back over 2023, was it good? Maybe that’s a bit of a wide and general question. So – how was your work, what about your relationships, how did you manage with your money this year, did you get a lot of pleasurable experiences – rest and holidays and hobbies, and how has your health been this year?
The answer to some of these questions will be “pretty good!” but to others it will be “pretty awful!”.
It’s time to remember again that none of these temporal things that I have mentioned ever last. This is why the writer of Ecclesiastes declares:
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.’
3 What do people gain from all their labours
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains for ever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1: 1-9)
As we come to the end of 2023 and look back over the ups and downs of the year, I want (and encourage you) to have the attitude of Paul who declared towards the end of his life:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4: 11-13)
As the song goes:
“My life is in You Lord, my strength is in You Lord, my hope is in You Lord – in You, it’s in You”
My present troubles are, in the grand, eternal, scheme of things, merely momentary – they will pass.
Jesus is the only hope.
Christmas is about Jesus.
The year is about Jesus.
REVIEW OF THE “VISION 2023”
Our “Vision 2023” was to see our church family stand strong and firm in the face of a veritable storm of society assaulting our beliefs and our values. Our “Vision 2023” was to see our church family standing firm and strong on the truths of the Bible – upon which we base our faith – filled with the Spirit. So we faced up to some pretty “Tough Questions” throughout the year – looking at the big issues of gender, sexuality, race, religion and doctrine – the “Big 5” challenges to the church today. I believe that we stand stronger today as disciples of Jesus than we did a year ago – and so I believe that our vision has gone a long way to being fulfilled – though there is still a long way to go. We then went on to look at our calling to be “Kingdom People” as we studied Jesus’ “Manifesto for the Kingdom” as proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount. Our year finished with reflecting on the true Hope that we have in Jesus – our judgement was that the world promises Hope – hope for now and hope for the future – but cannot deliver Hope – only following Jesus can.
So, bearing this in mind, let us look back over a year that is now ending. Let us give thanks to God. Let us learn from what we have done and what we have experienced, so that as we go forward into the new year of 2024, we might draw ever closer to the One who is our only Hope.
THE “SHEET LIGHTNING” – OUR NORMAL EVENTS THAT LIGHT UP THE COMMUNITY
We review the year to give thanks to God for all that He has led us into. Some things have been very hard. Some things have been very encouraging. But, in all things we believe that God works for the good of all those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8: 28).
We believe it is good and right to look back at what has happened – in like manner the Hebrews were told to place 12 stones on the bank of the Jordan as a lasting memorial to God’s goodness and blessing in bringing them into the Promised Land (Joshua 4: 1-8). When future generations saw these stones, they would ask what they meant and would learn of the love of God for His people. In this same way, we review what has happened this past year to remind ourselves of the love that God has for us.
We begin by thanking God that we have a church building – that we want to be used more and more and more for His glory. Yet, this year has shown us, as never before, that WE are the church and we have continued to be together as church whether in the building or on-line.
And we thank God that we are a church family who care for each other and for those around us in the community. Oh, we are not perfect, and we regret with great sorrow that there are some who have lacked care during the year. However, through our Housegroups, through hospitality that so many of you have shown, through a structure that has continued to make sure that the most vulnerable are contacted and looked after, we have ensured that our church really is part of the family of God – that we love one another as He has loved us.
This has been a year of change in the Eldership and management of the church. After a period of prayer and seeking God’s will, Jim decided that it was time for him to step down from the office of Elder after many years of faithful service. The process for selecting new Elders began in September and successfully concluded in December. In the new year it is expected that two new Elders shall be formally commissioned to the office. The church shall be stronger as a result. Gill, Brian R, Linda and Ernest remain as our Deacons and have served the church so well over the past year – doing more work than most people realise – as so much of it is done “behind the scenes”. Together, this group forms the Leadership Team of the church. Regular meetings (once a month formally for Elders, plus lunchtime meetings too, and monthly Deacon breakfasts) have meant that work to ensure that the church is well-managed and directed has been very effective this year.
We thank God for the regular meetings that are held amongst us and remember them now –
- I have been part of this church family for 6 1/3 years now. We thank God for our Sunday services – our “showcase” of God’s love and presence within the community. Numbers of attendees were affected by Coronavirus but since returning to services in the church building we have seen between 50 and 60 people each week meeting in the Main Hall, watching in the Middle Hall (for those who wish or need to remain socially distanced and “masked”), or joining us on YouTube and TEAMS. Numbers in our church have been steadily rising – and although this is not the be-all-and-end-all, it is an indication of God’s blessing on our church. We thank God for the technology that has allowed us to maintain our worship so effectively on a Sunday. We continue to broadcast our Sunday Services on our YouTube channel. This gives the opportunity for those to watch “live” or “after the event” who have been unable to attend the meeting in person. We know for a fact that people from around the country and abroad take delight in regularly watching our services. With viewers sometimes numbering over 60, the biggest audiences this year have been when Ladi and Sasha have been preaching and when Maureen and Barry presented their sketch on the Lord’s Prayer…but I won’t get jealous or hurt…LOL.
- WORSHIP – Praying, singing, preaching and teaching. All these are aspects of our worship on a Sunday. Our beautiful Prayer Room is now fully functional – with a powerful Prayer Team who are available to meet with people at the end of the service. Our Worship Team has seen the loss of Claire B – who has moved to a church closer to home – but has been augmented by the blessed addition of Leigh and Catherine.
- TEACHING SERIES – The focus of teaching this year, as already seen, has been to face up to “Tough Questions” on what we believe so that we can “stand firm” against the tide of societal change which is demanding that we accept things that we do not believe in.. This naturally developed, after September, into a series on Jesus’ “Manifesto of Kingdom Living” as expounded in the Sermon on the Mount. The year ended with a month-long series on “Christmas on Trial – where is the Hope of the Nations?”
- Although Peter led most of this teaching, we have been blessed by many internal and outside guest speakers this year as well. Chris spoke to us powerfully on four occasions. Jim presented two passionate messages. Dudley shared his wisdom with us twice. Brian C brought one message. Tristan shared with us in May. Then we heard mighty preaching for the first time from Ladi and Sasha in October. Barry and Maureen showed us their writing and acting skills in both September and December. Outside speakers included Stephen Fouche who spoke to us on the work of the Hospital Chaplaincy in January. Chris Watkins told us of his calling to full-time study with MAF in March. James Tredgett of the London City Mission returned to us in April and led us on door-to-door evangelism. And in June, Colin Mills spoke to us on the work of “Good News for Everyone” (formally known as Gideons). We thank God for the central place that teaching plays in the life of the church.
- SUNDAY CLUB AND CHILDREN’S WORK – It has been wonderful to see the Sunday Club growing this year. Led by Linda and Diana H, a rota of willing and able helpers have begun again to teach and guide our small band of children – firstly in the middle hall but latterly in a move back into the larger rear hall. Numbers have been increasing and who will forget their wonderful Nativity Presentation at the end of the year.
- U3A – have been using the church for play reading.
- OPEN ARMS – this organisation has grown almost weekly in their outreach to the homeless and vulnerable this year – we are privileged to work alongside them in the church.
- WARM SPACES – With the crisis in energy prices in the second half of 2022, it was mooted that we could setup our building as a “warm space”. Anna was asked to progress with this idea and had quickly applied for a grant from Ashford Borough Council – which was successful. She worked hard on a practical plan to make this work and was able to begin this service to the community in December of 2022. The church was a “warm space” on a Tuesday afternoon between 1 and 5 pm and offered soup and rolls, games and fellowship, as well as warmth. A good number of people made use of the facility and thanks go to her and the team of volunteers who help. This work continued up to Easter.
- CONNECT – takes place on alternate Tuesday evenings – providing a social venue for those in the community, aged 16+, who have learning difficulties. Although it has been slow in uptake, this is an outreach to the community that we believe is going to go from strength to strength.
- WEIGHT-WATCHERS – continue to use our building on a Wednesday morning.
- SUPACOOKS – In co-operation with Ashford Together and Pneuma Church, we have set up a basic cooking course for the needy in the community. Courses, running for 6 weeks at a time, have been supported throughout the year.
- HOUSEGROUPS AND MONTHLY SUPERGROUP – We now have 2 groups – known as “Early Birds” and “Night Owls” that meet in person and online. The last Wednesday of each month has been set aside for our “Supergroup” in the church building where we have been studying the “Seven Signs of John”.
- A section of the East Kent Chorus have often used the building on a Wednesday night.
- BIBLE STUDY – A committed group meet fortnightly face-to-face and have enjoyed a number of studies as well as social time together.
- The “Ukrainian Singers” have begun to use the church on a Thursday to rehearse their wonderful music.
- EKC – What a blessing it is to continue having this wonderful choir practicing in our building on a Thursday! Small sections of the EKC have been using the building to rehearse on a Wednesday as well.
- WORSHIP PRACTICE – this remains open to not only the Worship Team but all who would like to come along and sing.
- REVIVAL PRAYER – I remain in awe of the tremendous turn-out week-after-week to this prayer meeting – proof of our belief in the power of prayer to bring revival to this area. Now driven by “Prayer Points” we meet both in person (in the church) and on TEAMS.
- U3A – sing their hearts out on a Friday
- LADIES’ FELLOWSHIP – well…I can’t say too much about this…as I am not allowed to attend! But I understand that it continues to be a time of great joy and challenge for our ladies.
- PIZZA AND HOT TOPICS – The young adults in our church meet together at Church House on alternate Fridays. We completed the “Disciple” course this year and have moved on to looking at Hot Topics. We continue to talk openly together while enjoying pizza.
- Increasingly the Ukrainian community have been using our church building for socials on a Friday evening.
- STREET PASTORS – Three of our number are full-committed to this good outreach of care to the community during often very-cold Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.
- CHARIS CHURCH – We are delighted to be now have Charis Church – a national movement – meeting in our rear hall on a weekly basis. They work hard to bring the Gospel to the unchurched through their street evangelism.
Thank you to all those in the church family who have helped in church activities and have committed themselves to church-based tasks over the past year. Without you, ACC could not function or exist. As we go into 2024 look into your own hearts and ask if there is anything that YOU can be doing to serve God through serving the church. There is no job too small or too menial for you not to make a big and profound difference.
THE “FORK LIGHTNING” – THOSE SPECIAL EVENTS THAT HAVE MADE A “BIG NOISE” IN ACC
The year began with a new hope – and a new birth – as we welcomed the arrival of baby Evaleigh, born to Lauren on the 13th of January.
Churches Together in Ashford has worked closer this year than ever before and many of us joined at Bright City Church in the middle of the month to listen to the vision that is sweeping the nation in the wake of the Pandemic – brought to us by Steve Uppal of All Nations.
Fiona, Ricky and young Poppy left Kent for the not-so-sunny climes of Northumberland at the end of the month. While there, they got married and found a church to call “home”. Later in the year Claire Bracegirdle moved church to Bright City South in order to worship at a church closer to her home. We thank God that more have moved into our church than have left (for all the right reasons) to go elsewhere.
In the Israel/Palestine area we began the year by supporting Jess Workman and a team distributing Bibles and talking to Moslems.
Closer to home Peter achieved his 100th official Park Run this month while Tristan really got down to some serious medal-achieving runs (he is now preparing to do a marathon cycle ride from London).
In the wake of a serious “hike” in fuel prices, Anna and her team continued to weekly provide a “Warm Space” for the community – with some of the most tasty soup you can ever imagine. This continued till Easter – and we thank her and all her helpers for the amazing work they did.
Sue and Pat started “Supacooks” in January providing cooking-with-what-you-have-in-your-fridge to the vulnerable and needy. This has continued for 6 week courses throughout the year.
On the first of February we received a call to say that the church was on fire! A dust sheet left over a heater had caught fire! Thank God that Weight Watchers arrived at the church just as it began to establish itself and that the fire brigade was able to get two units to us in double-quick time. Damage was minimal but led to us reassessing our fire procedures.
At home, a new bicycle rack was installed.
Abroad, we received the news that our Shoeboxes – full of goodies – had reached Moldovan children.
A “Pro-Life” coffee morning was held in our church hall this month – testimony to our commitment to the sanctity of human life.
This was followed by the joy of dedicating baby Evaleigh on the 26th.
Sasha, meanwhile, was in Turkey, in the wake of the awful earthquake that had devastated the region. His team provided tents and other supplies to those of all faiths who had suffered so terribly in this tragedy.
Ibrahim, meanwhile, had returned to Sierra Leone to oversee the development of a much-needed medical centre there. The work is still on-going.
In our church building, the new Prayer Room was completed and was ready for doing spiritual battle. How beautiful the finished result was.
Later in the month we welcomed Chris Watkins who works for MAF. He spoke to us about his sacrifice to go to college in Scotland to train as an aircraft engineer for MAF. As a church we pledged ourselves to help support him in fulfilling this vision.
James Tredgett, of the London City Mission, revisted us at the start of the month – encouraging us to have the courage to share our faith and then taking a group of us on a door-to-door knocking outreach.
This was prior to a very busy Easter. 1500 Easter cards were distributed to the local community and a service on Good Friday was followed by many of us attending the “Sonrise Service” on the Wye Downs prior to a packed-out Easter Day service at church.
Immediately after Easter, a small group of us attended “Spring Harvest” in Minehead where we were challenged to be part of God’s “Flipped” Kingdom – a week that inspired our sermon series towards the end of the year.
Peter had been working hard on the Freedom in Christ course for leaders entitled “Transform 22” since September of last year. Weekly ZOOM seminars and study was concluded towards the end of April with a “retreat” at High Leigh Conference Centre to complete the course.
This was the month that the new King was crowned Charles III. We celebrated with a lovely picnic in the park on the day after the coronation.
But this was also the month that started a “deluge” of members ending up in hospital! First it was Maureen after her fall in Thailand, later she was followed by Anna, Barry and lastly Aaron. Thankfully all are now out and on the mend.
This was as busy a month as ever, but the one event of note was the starting of the “Men’s Clothing Bank”. There are many women’s clothing banks around the Ashford area and this one filled a very large gap. Well done Zandra for pioneering it! It quickly proved its worth with the influx of refugees to Ashford who arrived with little or no clothing of their own.
Throughout the year Ernest and others have been unsung heroes – keeping the church building in a good state. With parking in the community becoming more and more of a problem we have sought to bless the area by allowing people to use our carpark overnight…but have to work hard to get many to remove their cars in the morning!
On the 9th of July we were blessed with a second dedication of the year – this time of little Reuben.
At the end of the month we had the first of our “Summer Picnics” in Victoria Park – followed by a month of “Summer Conversations” in various venues as we rested from normal housegroups for the summer.
This month – usually so quiet in church life – was a momentous one for us.
On the 13th we had a key service when the Mezzanine floor was dedicated to the memory of Bob Adsett and the Johnsons who had funded much of the work; and when the Prayer Room was commissioned as well. At the same service we were blessed by the baptism of Lauren.
As part of the legacy money, we took possession of a complete set of new chairs for the church – and was able to bless another church by giving them all our old chairs.
The long-awaited defibrillator also began to be installed this month.
At the end of the month a hard-working team carried out the annual clear-up and hedge trimming of the outside areas.
On the 2nd of September passionate church members attended the Pro-Life “March for Life” in London.
On the same day more foolish members of the church just-about-completed the Pilgrim’s Hospice 27 mile sponsored walk on the Folkestone Downs. Will they have the strength to ever do it again!!!
Our second Summer Picnic in Victoria Park took place on the 3rd September. It is always good to get together socially – and such fun is had!
Back at home Mark worked with others in adding nice, useful, shelves to the main hall and lobby.
Each year Linda brings us the opportunity to support MacMillan cancer care with a coffee and cake morning. This year it was hosted on the 30th September and was as delicious and as well-supported as always.
On the 7th October the church hosted the Big Quiz in aid of the good work of Tearfund. A good turn-out and a good time was had by all.
This month also saw the start of periodic social gatherings of the Ukrainian families in Ashford – led by Juliya and Natalia and Sasha. They have been well-attended and the food (I know!) has been superb!
It was during this month that our incredibly successful collection of Shoeboxes for the Samaritans’ Purse Christmas appeal took place. Our church was also a collection point ready for sending boxes out. What an incredible work, again headed up by Linda.
We are building up relationships with all the churches in Ashford but particularly with the one that is closest to us – Christchurch CofE. We may worship differently, but we worship the same Lord. And so it was good to join with them for their fireworks on the 4th of November – even the inclement weather did not dampen the fun.
On the 12th of the month it was with great joy that we baptised Emeka. What a testimony he brought to the church!
Bad weather blew down one of our sign boards at the front of the church. Cue Ernest and Brian J to repair it – and to complete the hanging of new blinds for the main hall.
Church members joined a peaceful rally in London in support of the Israeli hostages being released and for an end to antisemitic marches.
In this month our Christmas programme got into full swing and another 1500 Christmas cards were delivered to the local community.
Once again this year our Christmas festivities got off to a swinging start with a magnificent concert by the East Kent Chorus on Saturday the 9th. This year they were joined by the beautiful voices of the Ukrainian singers.
Our Carols by Candlelight followed – and was well-attended – on the 17th December.
After this, on the 20th December we again went carol singing around Victoria Quarter. For once it was not raining and we were delighted to be joined by members of the public.
Finally, on Saturday the 23rd we joined other Ashford Churches for a Carol Concert at the central bandstand.
With Services on Christmas Eve, and a midnight communion service and a Christmas Day service, a very busy year came to a very satisfactory end.