The First Corona Christmas Stories

My daughter Harriet Colton has written 3 stories that we, at The Stowe Church, are using in our local neighbourhood during Advent to explain something of the message of Christmas. They are set in the present day in a context of the pandemic and called ‘The First Corona Christmas’.

The stories have been beautifully illustrated by Chloe Hill who is our intern at The Stowe this year. They are happy to freely share them more widely if they are of interest to others in sharing the message of Christmas. It’d be lovely to credit them if you do share and feedback any encouragement!

The First Corona Christmas 1 is about God Unmasked. We are also watching them each week when The Stowe Gathers, and I tied this in with a reflection on 2 Cor 3:12-18.

The First Corona Christmas 2 is God who is not (socially) Distant

When we gathered we tied this into ‘Immanuel – God with us’ and thought about how Jesus touched people. We contrasted what it felt like to touch a screen compared to touch flesh and imagined Jesus being God’s hand coming through the screen to actually touch us. My Co-Minister Owen Green led a reflection on Jesus washing the disciples feet. The children drew round their hands and we found 5 stories where Jesus touched people. We then used our fingers to remember the 5 words ‘Jesus is God with us’.

None of this is rocket science! But thought I’d share if it’s of interest.

We have not filmed film 3 yet but will post when it is released after next Sunday.

You can view the videos at


A dream, a candle, a patchwork quilt and an invitation…

A Dream

Just over two years ago I had a dream that called me to lay down my paid job and step out in faith to follow a call to inspire and equip people to share God’s love in every new housing area. [for more info about the call see the previous blog post] That dream has now become reality as I seek to inhabit the call God has laid on my heart.

This week I articulated a different sort of dream – a dream that emerged from prayer that encapsulated what’s on my heart.

I have been at a National Fresh Expressions Gathering entitled ‘Dreamers, Poets and Prophets’ where together we dreamed, prayed, listen and wrote, as we sought God’s heart for our context, our nation and beyond.

I arrived feeling both excited about all that God was doing and laying before me and overwhelmed. The space to dream, pray, and hang out with like minded disciples was a gift.

During a time of silent dreaming, in which I reflected on Martin Luther King Jnr’s iconic phrase, the following piece burst from me. It begins to capture the vision God has placed within me.

I have a dream; a dream where we work together as the body of Christ in this country and beyond to share God’s love with every new housing area.

Where Christians are known for their welcome rather than protest, where they campaign for a greater number of social and affordable houses rather than fewer, where Christians selflessly speak up for the needs of not yet residents ensuring the community infrastructure is robust to support a fragile new community.

I dream of being part of a nationwide community of followers of Jesus taking seriously a call to discipleship embodied in laying down our lives and agendas, taking up our crosses and serving our estates; a community who share God’s unconditional blessing; a community of free and forgiving people seeking to be guilt free and permission giving; a community confident that God is acting in all places and has a place for us join us whatever the apparent limitations; a community who see the face of God in others who might not even recognise that face themselves yet.

I dream of seeing a diverse array of new communities of faith being birthed led by local people

I dream of an end to soulless new estates and nations transformed by God’s Spirit in and through disciples in new housing areas and beyond.

A Candle

That evening back at home in my local context, a few of us met to pray. There were simply some pictures and objects, some background music, a sheet of prayer possibilities and a fire pit. After an hour of silent prayer we shared our thoughts.

My husband shared about candlelight. The light of one candle can be seen for a mile – that’s 6 squared miles in total he informed us – you don’t need many single candles to light up a huge area.

The image struck me powerfully. A few of us could – and are – making a significant impact locally; the dream to share God’s love in every new housing community (in fact every community) covering the entire country could be a reality once we grasp the impact of a single ‘candle’. Already we are seeing people accidentally and strategically lighting ‘candles’ from individual churches, local Churches Together and other ecumenical groups, denominational regions and even whole counties, which are beginning to light up our nation.

Candles can light candles; 6 square miles can become 12 and 18 and beyond. Pools of light can meet other pools of light bathing vast areas in the knowledge of God’s love.

A Patchwork Quilt

Later as I prayed alone I sensed a picture of a knitted patchwork quilt. I saw the UK before me with knitted squares on different parts, gradually more were appearing. I was helping to nurture the knitting, placing squares on new housing areas and sewing them onto neighbouring squares to build a whole quilt.

The following day Jade – a partner in both the local and national new housing ministry – and I met with a couple who have a vision for a county and have been working for years with small rural isolated communities. They were becoming increasingly aware of small new housing areas being planned and built and wanted to explore that with me. We had never met together before but, as we talked, it was clear we shared a similar heart. It was interesting that we had all sensed a renewed call to prayer both personally and for the contexts we were leading and were reading/rereading Pete Grieg’s books.

I felt prompted to share about the candle and patchwork quilt and it resonated with them feeding into a significant picture from years before about pinpricks of light all over the country.

Other things emerged. God seemed to be at work. Perhaps we were knitting different parts of a quilt that would be sown together.

An invitation

Whilst my inbox is still full, messages remain unanswered and there is plenty to do, my feeling of being overwhelmed is starting to subside. Lots of other people are knitting and lighting candles. I’m getting a sense of God having called others to be part of this specific dream. I’m not alone in this! There are others who are waiting to be invited.

Maybe as you read this – you know that’s you.

Maybe the dream resonates with you but you aren’t sure how to be part of realising it. Maybe you have been praying and waiting to bring your knitting skills to a team.

As I said in my previous blog post there’s no budget or salary, no pension scheme, attractive employment conditions or essential equipment for me or anyone else. There’s simply the King of Kings inviting us to join in his mission.

If you want to join me in realising this vision in a small or large way, please get in touch. (If you are feeling really engaged you may want to read the previous blog post if you haven’t already.)

You may feel a call to commit to pray and listen to God for me and/or the vision in the dream above – again do let me know. I don’t have the capacity to write a prayer letter right now but I’ll try to do that as soon as I am able and in the meantime will try and do blog posts.

You may not feel a call to new housing but resonate with the vision to see this whole nation and/or world bathed in the light of the knowledge of God’s love. Like me you may be someone nurturing knitting and sewing together squares to ensure no community is left out of the warmth of the blanket. Let’s join our squares together!

This is an in invitation to join me.

I thank God that he invites us all to be part of his mission and that he equips us for our specific calling. I pray that God will equip a community of disciples sharing God’s love with every new housing area and communities beyond. May the dream become a reality. 🙏

A call, a dilemma and a prayer…

A Call

Some of you will know that I have recently laid down my paid job as a baptist regional minister to follow a call to further a vision of seeing God’s love being shared intentionally with every community in this country – and maybe beyond.

Within that vision I particularly feel called to inspire and help equip people to missionally engage with every new housing area – Penny Marsh and I birthed The New Housing Hub to serve this part of this call.

I also feel called to glean what God is doing in the new housing context firstly in order to equip others to serve and secondly to see if there is anything we are learning which would be useful to those engaging in other contexts. I have committed to Doctoral research and to work as part of the Archbishop Commission for Housing, Homes and Community – ABCHousing- to glean and share learning.

Along the way I also hope to learn about how people are sharing God’s love in other contexts which might inform practice in new housing.

A Dilemma

It’s a huge vision! And I’m aware that my part within this work of God is tiny but nonetheless I want to be faithful in the small task God has called me too.

The call and task is inspiring and invigorating and I’m humbled and excited to be part of it, but in the midst of the excitement a dilemma has emerged. It’s too big! A tiny piece of work to God is, of course, massive for me!

I had an idea that in laying down my regional work, space would open up before me, but so many individuals and organisations have been in touch wanting me to work with them that already my diary is full. I have had a number of prophetic words saying that God would bring the work to me that he wanted me to do – and that has been the case, I haven’t gone out looking for any of this – but it feels too much! Surely I can’t do all of this!

A Prayer

So amidst the busyness, I have been praying and asking God the way forward. I have known from the beginning that God was not calling me to develop a franchise I could control, but to grow a vision I could give away. And I know that to grow the practical embodiment affectively, a team needs to emerge – just like it has locally. We already have a small team of 4 of us committed to the New Housing Hub [NHH] vision, and others involved in supporting the ABCHousing work, but even finding the capacity to arrange to gather with the NHH team is difficult! Already I need a PA to help manage the diary, emails and messages and arrange dates and times for meetings and events. If this were a business I’d have an exciting recruitment drive in full swing to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding work. But this is different. There’s no budget or salary, no pension scheme, attractive employment conditions or essential equipment for me or anyone else. There’s simply the King of Kings inviting us to join in his mission.

Aware of my own limitations to solve this dilemma and inspired over the last few months by Pete Grieg’s call to prayer and the way God led the 24/7 prayer movement, I thought I’d share something of the dream I have and – grand as it sounds – what God seems to have been saying about a bigger picture that is emerging this week as I have prayed with people locally and nationally. I’m wondering if it resonates with things God has been saying elsewhere to others. If it has, maybe together we might begin to solve the dilemma; to join in with God’s big call – without being overwhelmed.

If you have read this far and you have a sense of excitement about what God might be doing amongst us, and maybe even what your role is in it, join me in the next blog ‘A dream, a candle, a patchwork quilt and an invitation…’

Encounter beyond words…

In the evening of the third day of our camping trip we headed into the local town of Uzerche to watch a piece of street ‘entertainment’.

We had little idea of what we were going to see. I don’t speak French so it was hard to access the information: What were we going to see? What did ‘cooperation’ mean on the poster? Was it primarily aimed at children? Would I be able to understand enough language to access it and enjoy it when we got there? We weren’t even sure where the performance was taking place.

But we love theatre and the arts and engaging in local culture, and we didn’t want our uncertainty of the unknown to get in the way of what could be a unique and special experience.

So we drove to the town and parked the car in a car park we had used 2 days before. Surmising that the performance would be in the old town – a cobbled area of old buildings and open squares surrounding a central old church overlooking the rest of the town – we began to ascend. Some people, we realised were driving up the hill through the narrow streets but we had no way of knowing the way or the parking. We had to walk, but this afforded us the opportunity of looking and listening for signs of where the event might be taking place.

Using these clues and our previous experience of the town on our arrival day, we found an area with 2 stage lights, two wooden boxes with a child’s wooden chair on top of each. Surrounding this area were chairs, ranked wooden benches and a large carpet at the front. We were quite early but already some people were assembling – children on the carpet chattering and laughing and adults on the chairs. This was clearly an audience of local people. There was much kissing and greeting of friends and running of excited children towards known playmates.

We were both excited and uncertain. We wanted the option to slip away if we had misjudged this, if it were to be a children’s performance in incomprehensible French. Being early we had a choice of where to sit, so we choose a place on the end of one of the benches, nearest to the exit from the square. We waited and observed the growing and expectant crowd.

During the time we waited we gave up our seats to a family with children so that they could see, settling instead for higher seats, less comfortable as my feet would not touch the ground. If we had not wanted to remain on the edge we could have moved to better chairs. However our commitment to engage wasn’t strong enough to move into the centre.

Half an hour later after an introduction in French which we did not understand from a third party, two men dressed identically in jeans and black tee-shirts, took their places next to each wooden block.

They began to move simultaneously making percussive and musical noises. They used their bodies as both percussion instruments and to perform athletic ‘dance’. To begin with it was simply a performance, then the men began to acknowledge and imitate the crowd. A child made a noise, the men repeated it, sung it, improvised around it; then someone coughed, that too was imitated and became the basis of percussion.

The crowd were uncertain at first. There was something pleasing about what was being demonstrated but it wasn’t clear how it would develop. Then having copied us there were gestures from the performers that we should copy them; a simple clapping rhythm. Hesitancy at first. But then, as security and confidence grew, we too began to use our bodies as percussion and our voices as instruments.

We were drawn in to the co-creating of a performance ( the meaning of a ‘cooperation’ became clear), which drew on the the few props, the wooden stage blocks and chairs and a bottle of water (for slapstick and then musical gargling) and the crowd.

The two performers led us, weaving their set pieces of music, slapstick and physical theatre in and our of our participation.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t speak French, or that we weren’t part of the local community of known relationships, we had become part of a shared experience transcending language, age and culture. It was beautiful.

The performance touched me deeply. For me it also went beyond the beauty of the actual performance and pointed towards to a deeper truth.

Back at the tent I was reading a book by Janet Williams entitled Seeking the God Beyond. The book explains and explores apophatic spirituality. Apophatic stems from the Greek for away from words. The book leads the reader into a tradition in which deep encounter with God is found beyond words. Post-Reformation Protestant spirituality is rooted in a kataphatic tradition (towards words) and whilst kataphasis has its place, Williams exhorts us to dare to go beyond what may be expressed in language into a place of intimacy with God who is beyond words.

For me the theatrical piece was in itself an apophatic experience. The parallels between the performance and a spiritual gathering and encounter are mostly obvious, but there were also some specifics to the apophatic tradition, that particularly connected with me.

Firstly it illustrated the apophatic characteristic of Ascent. In scripture, deep apophatic encounters happen on mountains – Williams particularly notes Moses on Sinai and the disciples witnessing the transfiguration. Committing to walking up the hill, to seek out the place of encounter was part of the experience.

Secondly, there was also a certain degree of hesitancy and uncertainty about committing to something we couldn’t fully predict. Will I understand? Is this just for children? And yet there was a desire not to miss out. It holds a potential to be wonderful..

For those schooled in a kataphatic approach to Christianity, there may be a hesitancy to engage in a less defined spirituality – although for others this will be the very thing that entices them forward – this may lead to something wonderful. The apophatic way is also, by its very nature, one of unpredictability. We can live in openness to God encounters, but only the Spirit can enable the encounter, at a moment of God’s choosing. The disciples ascended many hills with Jesus; yet suddenly (a key word on apophatic encounter) on one occasion, of God’s choosing, they witnessed the transfiguration.

Thirdly there was a need to be vulnerable, to strip away a desire to be in control. To begin with we wanted to ready to slip away so we sat on the edge. If we had been prepared to lay down more, strip away more of our need to be in control we could have sat in comfier chairs in the middle, with an excellent view. And so with apophatic way. We are invited to take Jesus’ words of discipleship seriously,

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

Mark 8:34-35

In stripping back and laying down we find life. If I had been less eager to keep control, with an option to leave, I could have had a even richer experience.

And finally the joy of the experience was for all, children and adults, those who spoke French and those who didn’t. No previous knowledge or learning was required. We were simply invited into an encounter. An encounter beyond words. And so it is with the Apophatic way. We are invited to simply encounter God beyond words…

New Adventure and Commissioning

At the end of the month I will be laying down my paid Regional Ministry job, living by faith to follow a call to engage nationally, particularly inspiring and equipping people to missionally engage in new housing areas. I’m still a baptist minister recognised by the Baptist Union but a lot of what I am doing and will continue to do is ecumenically inclusive – much of it is as co-founder/co-director of The New Housing Hub. See

Prayers very welcome for this new venture. Thus far it has been very encouraging and there are lots of exciting things coming up in my new calling. I’ll still be living in a new housing area and pioneering locally too.

I’m having a Commissioning event which includes my SCBA farewell on 7th September 2.30-4.30 in Swindon which includes a shared meal and info about the different things I am involved with. It won’t be all sit and listen much will be chatting and engaging with stands (exhibits).

Harriet Colton will be overseeing this, let her know if you’d like to come – RSVP details are in the invitation.

Thank you to everyone who is supporting me on this journey. Do get in touch if you would like more details.

🙏💜#newadventure #calledtobless #everynewcommunity

Laying house..

I have had some amazing people in my house this week: amazing groups of women around 25-30yrs younger than me sitting at my table tonight and on Tuesday all being prepared to share life with me; inspiring people from the other side of the world humble enough to want to hear what I have to share; local smiley, lively people young enough to be my grandchildren who choose to share their smiles and stories, triumphs and challenges (and constant hunger!) with me after school, despite my great age!; special new friends hoping to meet with God who allow and invite me to pray for them; beautiful people on a spiritual journey going to deeper into faith; sacrificial people mentoring me on my journey; and loyal, loving and long suffering Stowe family journeying together with me working through the complexities and messiness of life, faith, authentic discipleship and the thing we call church.

Ten years ago when I moved to this house I had to adjust to a spiritual call to ‘lay down’ my right to keep my house as a private space, and have an open house. There have been challenging moments but these have been outweighed by the huge privilege. It’s been a massive example of laying down something – denying myself – and then gaining life in abundance

“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

‭‭Mark‬ ‭8:34-35‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Thank you to everyone who has been in my house this week (month, year, decade…!) it’s great sharing my life and house with you. 💜🙏