Last Sunday, for our second Sabbatical Sunday, we visited Brookside Church in Lower Earley. Originally part of what was known as the King’s Church, Brookside became an independent church in 2001. Essentially an evangelical, charismatic church, Brookside is known for its close working relationships with the churches and charities of what is now known as Transform Reading (formerly known as Reading Christian Network), and for its wonderful work within the local community (in association with other churches in Earley) through the Earley Help Hub, reaching out to families, young people and children. When Julia and I first came to Abbey Baptist Church, Reading, four and a half years ago, we were particularly appreciative of the kind, gracious and loving support freely given to us by Steve Prince (who leads the Brookside Church team, and who is also Chaplain at Reading Football Club) and his wife Anita (who as well as serving on the leadership team at Brookside is on the Management Team for Reading Street Pastors). Visiting Brookside was an opportunity for us to say a ‘thank you’ for standing with us in those early days in Reading.
We just about made it in time for the start of their 10.30 a.m. Worship and Teaching Service (even though we also live in Earley we still managed to get lost on the way there – our Satnav proved totally useless). We were warmly welcomed at the door, offered a cup of coffee, and lovingly greeted by another friend from Transform Reading, Alan Magness and his wife Eileen. In contrast to the very ordered structure of last Sunday’s Service at St Giles-in-Reading, the Service at Brookside was somewhat ‘free flowing’ shall we say. One of the church leaders introduced the theme of our time together – ‘Transition’ – by pointing us to Jesus and reading a lovely passage from Colossians 2 about the spiritual fulness that is available to us in Christ. The ‘Worship Group’ then took over and led us in an extended time of sung worship, interspersed with various ad hoc Bible readings, prayers, pictures, etc., from the floor (so to speak). There were about 50 or so people present by the time we got into full swing – mostly white ‘baby boomers’ I guess, but with a smattering of other ethnicities. The singing was enthusiastic, and everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves … but there were also times for silence and reflection … it was all ‘easy paced’. After about 30 minutes the children left for their own groups, we sang another song, and then Steve Prince shared some thoughts with us for another 30 minutes or so.
Brookside Church is (like many churches, I guess) going through a period of transition. The halcyon days of yesteryear (when the Kings Church setup was at its zenith) are long gone, and Brookside are prayerfully seeking where the Lord wants them to go from here. Steve’s remit for this Sunday was to wrap up a mini-series on the theme of ‘Transition’ (that the church have been considering for a few weeks) by looking at some of the things that can hold us back, as well as some of the things that can help us move forward as church. The title of Steve’s talk was: When everything is transitioning – including leadership. We like Steve Prince. He is a good communicator, and without actually pinning his talk down to one particular Bible passage, managed to draw out a number of biblical principles in a winsome and interesting way – often involving the congregation in discussion along the way. We felt a great infinity with Steve, his fellow leaders, their predicament as church. Abbey has been going through (and is continuing to go through) a similar period of transitioning.
Indeed it would appear to me that – right across the world, and in every area of society and life – God is pulling out the rug from under our feet via pandemics, lockdowns, war in Ukraine, governmental failure, economic problems, etc., etc. It is as though God is saying to us all – from Presidents to paupers – ‘Stop all the nonsense! Take a long, hard look at yourselves. Stop doing all the awful things you are doing to one another and start doing the right things – the godly things!’ It was lovely to finally visit Brookside Church – a first for us. It was all a bit chaotic perhaps … but that is surely ‘par for the course’ when God is in the house and calling us to transition from what is (however ‘precious’ we may think that is) to something else, something completely different, new, unexpected perhaps! Will we visit Brookside Church again … I think we just might … even if its just to show solidarity with fellow travellers along the road of transition.
After church we went for a short walk around Dinton Pastures Country Park. It is a delightful place with a beautiful lake. The weather was great – clear, and dry, and bright – and there were hundreds of people doing the same as us. Is ‘exercise’ the new Sunday morning ‘worship event’ we wondered? It had to be a short walk because we had booked in for lunch (we learned our lesson from last Sunday) at the Lower Early Toby Carvery and they only hold the table for so long. The advertising blurb suggested that there was something ‘timeless’ about this particular Toby Carvery – well I guess not … if you are late for your booking?! Fortunately, we were not too late, and were allocated a nice table in the restaurant with a nice view over the surrounding countryside. It was not simply a repeat of last Sunday’s visit to a Toby Carvery (the one by the Thames at Caversham Bridge). This Toby Carvery was much better … even the food seemed much better! The welcome, the efficiency and friendliness of the serving staff, the warmth of the plates (and therefore the food) … even the size of the Yorkshire puddings … and the fact that you didn’t have to join a rugby scrum to get your food. The only failure was that (once again) I failed to eat everything on my (admittedly) overloaded plate.
We have plans for next Sunday’s visit to a church … I won’t tell you where just yet … but Julia has already suggested that we need to find out where the nearest Toby Carvery is for after the Morning Service?! Abbey Baptist Church (along with many other churches and institutions) may be in a ‘time of transition’ but it very much looks like (as far as future Sunday lunches are concerned) we are in ‘groundhog day’ – a foody timelessness trap!