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South  American Nativity"Prepare for Christmas"
St Mary's Church,
Forest of Dean

African Nativity sceneAdvent 2008 in St Mary's Church, Hewelsfield, was celebrated with an exhibition of Nativity Scenes, gathered from all over the world.

Visitors were prompted to record their personal response by naming ....

  • the set which is most like your family
  • the set which you would most like to take home.
  • the set which would cheer me up if I was sad.

Knitted Nativity SceneThe whole exhibition, and some of the responses sheets can be viewed at




The Tree of Life Project, Knowle West, Bristol

Picture of a Beech TreeThe Tree of Life Project was established about 18 months ago on the Knowle West estate in South Bristol where I live and work, an estate with very high levels of social and economic deprivation. The seed idea came from Chris Sunderland of AGORA (see

There are four questions or elements to the project: representing deep felt human longings:

  • Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? (The search for our roots; for a sense of identity and belonging)
  • What are we doing to the planet and can we help save it? Can there be justice for the habitat? (responding to the environmental crisis – i.e. to global warming, climate change, habitat destruction, species extinction, resource depletion)
  • Can people be reconciled to each other at all levels of existence? (peace and justice)
  • Is there a deeper meaning to human existence? ( exploring Christian spirituality)

The project was initiated by a small group of local Christians from St Barnabas Church. One of the prime movers is Tracey who has lived on the estate for 30 years and married to Barry who has lived here all his life. Tracey has recently been employed part-time as the project development worker thanks to funding success.

The Tree of Life is for the residents of Knowle West and their families and friends. The idea is to create space for people to explore how to live wisely, simply, sustainably and creatively in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of a rapidly changing world marked by over-consumption, violence, unjust distribution of wealth, human and planetary exploitation and environmental overload. The Tree of Life title comes from Revelation 22 verse 2, ‘the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’ It is about human wholeness in relationships – the reign of God.

We launched the venture in the Summer of 2006. We began in a small way by offering local people assisted search of their family tree. We rode on the popularity of the ‘Who do you think you are?’ TV series. We were given a couple of surplus-to-requirement computers and several of us joined so that we could access and search the census, birth, marriage and death records.

Some amazing things were revealed to the people we helped about their roots. It’s a very special way to get to know people. One woman found out about her Irish ancestors who came to Bristol during the potato famine. A brother and his two sisters discovered they had family roots in the village of Cottisford, which was the focus of Flora Thompson’s novel, from Lark Hill to Candelford. You can find out more by going to our website at As individual family tree stories unfolded so too did the story of our community. Knowle West is a garden city working class estate and has a relatively short history going back to the 1930s but in that short time much happened. Ancestry search does much for people’s sense of identity and belonging.

An opportunity arose for people to tell part of their family story using digital technology. We were helped in this by a staff member of the Knowle West Media Centre. This is an amazing resource in our community. It was fascinating how people not only learned how to tell a story digitally but also how they mastered the computer at the same time: a fascinating indirect way to develop such skills.

Cedar TreeA writing group was next to form. They call themselves the Cedar Writers. None of the members are churchgoers. The group began with just four participants; now there are twelve. They meet in St Barnabas Church hall on a Thursday evening for two hours. A local resident and gifted teacher of creative writing offered her services free to help the group develop their writing skills. It has produced amazing outcomes. Each evening, some time is set aside for meditation, reflection and prayer. Tracey leads it, making use of the creative arts. She’s a felt-maker and story teller by the way. This time of stillness has become an essential part of each evening. Several members have recently expressed a desire to explore Christian spirituality in greater depth.

On Tuesday mornings we hold the Cedar Café. People drop in for coffee and a chat. Ancestry search is available and various creative activities are available as well. Yesterday, someone brought tomato and lettuce seedlings to thin out ready for planting. Plenty of dirty hands.

Earth Connect takes place in mid May ( and a community Arts trail in September ( We have acquired an allotment from the Local Council and will soon be ploughing the ground using a horse drawn plough. We have offered to do the surrounding new allotments at the same time. This links in with the work we are developing around sustainable communities and transition to lower non-renewable energy use. Permaculture is firmly part of our plans as we seek to encourage a total system approach to sustainability and move towards a lower non-renewable energy dependent way of life. There is a big challenge ahead of us all as we attempt to encourage relocalisation and the re-skilling of the community in many lost skills such as gardening, preserving food and repairing rather than discard household goods and equipment.

We also hope to begin some educational development work with children aged 0 to 5 and their parents. Our electoral ward is 7th from bottom in the country in terms of educational achievement. It represents a major injustice and we want to address it. At the heart of this dilemma lies the need for parents to be empowered to participate in their child’s learning in positive ways. Again, it seems God has brought someone across our path who has a passion for just that.

In all that we do at the Tree of Life, we seek to create and maintain a warm, friendly, inclusive and welcoming environment where ideas can be explored and dialogue can be had in a non-dogmatic, non-threatening, non-judgmental and non-proselytising way.

We seek to create opportunities for young and old, people of faith and no faith to meet and explore the deeper questions of human existence and the longings of the human spirit, a place where spirituality can be explored and Christian faith can be nurtured.

The project engages the creative imagination by making use of a wide range of creative arts and computer technologies, attending to the diversity of individual learning styles, and identifying, developing and using individual gifts and talents.

We seek always to be open to the leading of God’s Spirit and are getting used to strange twists and turns as the Spirit weaves things together. We are finding ever-deepening networks within the community. Our approach is very organic as we walk together along the ‘edge of chaos’.

For more information about the theology that underpins this venture see my workshop paper on ‘Mission on the Edge’. Do feel free to use it with your Christian community. We simply ask that you acknowledge the source in any printout.

Alister Palmer

Easter in the Forest of Dean

Picture of Hewelsfield ChurchHow to raise the profile of an often overlooked festival and celebrate Easter in a new way, was the challenge for the Christian community in Hewelsfield.

The solution was to host an Easter Breakfast for the whole community in the Hall; chosen because it is more central to the community than the church. A feast of juice, cereal, porridge and then bacon or egg rolls followed by tea or coffee was provided. All the food was purchased locally and the bacon was produced only 2 miles from the hall (as the pig trots).

A contingent of walkers from a neighbouring parish reached us at 8.30- just as the snow began. They had set out at 6.30! People from Hewelsfield and St Braivels churches and the Moravian church in Brockweir, together with others who have no church connection, joined together in this Easter Morning Celebration. Much of Jesus' ministry took place over meals in public places and this new Easter event followed that old tradition.

There was no shortage of help to set up and decorate the hall and the clearing up afterwards was all done in an atmosphere of fun and community spirit. People gave generous donations and although it was not our aim we made over £40.

The whole event was such a success that we were asked to do it again next year.

Peter & Carol Stickland

A Winter Reflection from Rural Somerset

Journey to the east of the Diocese of the Diocese of Bath & Wells, and you willPhoto of Weston Bampfylde Church find yourself in rural villages where church life can appear to be on the edge of extinction. One Church Warden tries to do the work of two, CD players substitute for organists, clergy dash from service to service and the attendance register will show 5-15 people gathering for worship week by week.

But take the extra steps that the Magi had to take, from Herod’s Jerusalem to ‘backwater’ Bethlehem, look beyond the expected and there you will find the Spirit bringing new life to these places.

An Advent Bonfire party in Sutton Montis becomes an act of worship as 30+ people gather in the dancing firelight, to the tune of crackling twigs. They feast on hot-dogs and mulled wine and as the fire dies down they stand in silent groups imbibing the spirit of the occasion, moving occasionally to toss unburnt sticks into the middle of the fire in the hope of prolonging the moment. Such loving care has gone into this celebration, a tractor-drawn trailer provides safe transport across uneven fields in the dark; chairs are ready for the infirm, nothing overlooked in creating generous open hospitality for everyone.

Drop in on the long running Cam Vale Fellowship Group one Thursday evening and you will find signs of new life there too. Taking a small, almost insignificant step has changed their life; instead of studying the previous Sunday’s Bible reading, they now study next weeks reading. Now, instead of falling back on what the preacher said last week, they have to work it out for themselves so real-life experiences are exchanged, everyone’s theology gets shared and new understandings lead to changed lives.

At the Reader’s home in Weston Bampfylde, you will find a box of books, resources for worship leaders across the Benefice, ‘Eggs & Ashes’ Easter worship from Iona, David Adam celtic prayers for Intercessors, “Multi-sensory Church” ideas for Family Worship.

In three communities, the Nativity figures make their journey from one end of the village to the other, Nazareth to Bethlehem, moving from house to house, stopping overnight in each and arriving at the packed church for the Christmas Services. Newcomers are drawn into this process and given a gift of a decoration for their Christmas tree.

Slowly, quietly in ‘mangers’ hidden away in ‘nowhere’ places God’s Kingdom is being renewed, by generous, thoughtful ‘shepherds’. It doesn’t hit the headlines, but the angels rejoice in heaven.

Stephen Rymer



Building Kingdom-shaped communities
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