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This weekend we are staying local once again and visiting our Parish Church, Trinity Church in Lower Earley, for our latest Sabbatical Sunday.  Established in the mid-1950s as a partnership between the Methodist, United Reformed and Anglican church, Trinity is situated next door to the large Asda Supermarket complex in Lower Earley and is therefore affectionately known locally as St Asda rather than Trinity … but more about all that later!

In this blog I am reversing the normal order of my reflection – ‘spiritual food’ followed by ‘literal food’ – because Julia and I have decided to forego a large Sunday Lunch this Sunday. ‘Shock! Horror!’ I hear you say in amazement – a couple of ‘foodies’ like you two forsaking an opportunity to visit yet another ‘eatery’ to sample its wares?! Well, we haven’t suddenly repented of our love of good food … its simply that we went out last night, with my son David, his wife Amy, and their boys, George and Luke, to celebrate David’s 50th birthday. We went to the Horse and Groom, a Harvester Restaurant at Bracknell, halfway between where David and his family live in New Haw and where we live in Reading. We had a great evening, really good food, great service from the staff, and so nice to spend quality time with David, Amy, George and Luke … and they picked up the bill as well!? Well I also have a significant birthday this year. I will be 80 come November, so perhaps they are already into ‘help the aged’?

David’s story is a great one. He was born with a number of serious heart defects and we were warned to expect the worst. At the time he wasn’t expected to reach 5 years of age leave alone 50. A lot of prayer was offered up for him from all over the UK and beyond. His medical records report that quite unexpectedly ‘a spontaneous correction’ took place, and (obviously) he has survived for a good number of years. His healing was not complete – he has subsequently had heart surgery to close replace a dodgy valve and close the hole in in his heart – but at the time we felt that the Lord was saying that that would be the case because David himself would have (at some point in the future) to respond personally to what God was doing in his life. For me this has such a ring of truth about it. As per the testimony we heard last Sunday at All Nations Christian Centre, God is always more interested in us finding him to be present and true and with us in times of adversity than in the shallow triumphalism so popular in too many churches today. David still enjoys good health today, and has become a fine (youngish) man of whom (as his father) I am very proud. He is a good guy, a loving husband, and a great father to his two boys.

So … back to Sunday morning and our visit to St Asda. Although drawn from three denominations, Trinity worship together as one congregation. Anyone, with or without any kind of church background, is very welcome. They are a family church and seek to be truly international and intergenerational. They share a range of Christian experiences and church backgrounds and, as a church, believe in living life to the full – showing and sharing Jesus. An outward-looking church, working within their neighbourhood enjoying strong relationships and partnerships with other local churches, they see themselves increasingly as part of ‘one church’ in Lower Earley and Reading. Amongst their commendable core values are: loving God with all your heart, body and mind and loving your neighbour as yourself. As such they seek to serve the local neighbourhood usefully, practically and spiritually to that end.

St Asda have three Services on a Sunday. A more traditional Service at 9.30 a.m., and Family Service at 11.00 a.m., and a Cantonese Service at 2.30 p.m. We opt for the Family Service, a) because we don’t speak Cantonese, and b) opting for the 11.00 a.m. Service gives us the opportunity for a rare lay in on a Sunday morning (and a leisurely soak in the bath for Julia)! We arrive in good time and join the chaos in the Sanctuary as they dismantle the formal rows of chairs from the earlier Service and set up a more informal layout (with chairs grouped around small tables) for the Family Service and attempt to serve coffee and cake at the same time.

The Family Service starts roughly on time and is very informal. It is led by the Vicar, Jon Salmon. We like Jon. He is another of our fellow Pastors who has been so supportive of us since our arrival in Reading over fours years ago. We are pleased to also meet up with Rod and Laura Eades, two of our equally supportive friends from Transform Reading (formerly known as Reading Christian Network) who have also been so kind to us. There must be around 80 people there, with lots of kids, very mixed in age and nationalities. The Service is very informal but it has all the ingredients we hope for in a Service. There is lots of prayer, and some good songs (but not too many) and a great pianist to accompany them. There is a slot for the kids which they seem to enjoy. There is Communion (with grapes for the kids) and a mix of alcoholic and non-alcoholic wine (for the adults) to go with the bread (we are worried that since we are sitting towards the back of the church all the alcoholic wine will have gone before the servers reach us). There are Old Testament and New Testament Bible readings, and an excellent sermon (20 minutes long) by the Associate Pastor responsible for Youth and Young Adults, Sam Ruck Pender based mainly on Psalm 121 but drawing on John 1:1-5 as well.

The theme is God being our ever-present helper on a day-to-day basis. It was well preached and well-illustrated. I will certainly remind myself of what Sam shared on Monday morning when I get back to trying to write up my doctoral thesis again. At the moment I feel rather like God must have felt at the beginning of creation – surveying the chaos and hoping to create something positive out of it (Genesis 1:1) – only God managed to do just that and I am not God! Hopefully I will discover the reality that ‘My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth’ (Psalm 121:1) as I return to the chaos of books and papers everywhere and a mind full of chaotic thoughts and confused directions. There is time to reflect together in our small groups (gathered round our small tables) on what we learned from the sermon … and there is intercessory prayer for the church and for the world (if we Christians don’t intercede for our broken and hurting society who will?).

The whole Service lasts about an hour and a quarter and we enjoy it very much. Everyone is very friendly and we are pleased to see St Asda thriving and growing in numbers. We feel something of a kindred spirit with them because their journey in some ways mirrors that of our own church at Abbey with a recent upturn in numbers and a sense of positive change on the wind (the wind of God’s Spirit we trust).

So after Service it is a short drive to the University of Reading for a coffee in the sunshine and a walk around the marvellous Harris Gardens to see the snow drops before returning home for a light lunch … and an afternoon sleep. How pleasant it is to actually live a fairly ‘normal’ kind of life for a change?!

Jim Binney    

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