Friday, 30 September 2011

Young People at St Paul’s – It’s Not All Sweets and Coffee Shops!

StPaulsCamberleyYouthJumping Youth Director, Sarah Percival, has been at St Paul’s for over a year now. A good opportunity then to interview her, and get an update on what activities are on offer for young people.

Sarah on Sarah

Sarah is full time staff, backed by a tremendous team of volunteers. She said her first year as Youth Director had been pretty intense, hitting the ground running, but had been fun. Personally, she has been experiencing life at Sandhurst RMA and had done a coastal photography course.

What’s Been Happening?

Sarah has been meeting at coffee shops with a group of year 7-8 girls, to chat about the bible. I asked her how do you chat about the bible in a coffee shop? She says: “You just sit down, have a coffee, have a chat about the bible, and pray. It’s great, I’m all for coffee shops”.

Rock (for 13-18 year olds) has met at Starbucks and St Paul’s, alternate weeks. So one week it’s chilled out coffee, and the next it could be table tennis. We call it “Rock@Bucks”.

Evening Cell is for young people who have a Christian faith, and want to explore it further. They have started to take more of a lead planning and running and the group themselves, with discussions and worship.

Youth Alpha at Freezone was an experiment this year, integrating the Youth Alpha format into Freezone. Talks, a chilled out discussion zone and free puddings were the essential ingredients to make this a success. Freezone is a Thursday evening outreach group for year 6-8 young people. Youth Alpha is an introduction to Christianity, which includes a talk, food and discussion.


What groups are available for young people at St Paul’s?

You don’t have to be a Christian to take part in the young peoples groups. Sarah says: “A great place to come if you aren’t yet a Christian is Freezone or Rock. They are just really chilled, and not intimidating. Come along and get to know people, and if you enjoy that, come along to Cell.”

  • Freezone (year 6-8) meet at St Paul’s on Thursday 7-8.30pm for manic fun. There is a bible talk, then sports, games, activities or crafts, and lots of fun.
  • Rock (13-18 year olds) is on Friday evening, in town or at St Paul’s. A time to hang out and chill, have fun and chat about God and the bible. Nice place to go and meet new friends in the evening.
  • Youth Alpha (Secondary school age) at St Paul’s on Wednesdays from 6-8pm is a great place to have a meal together. There will be a short talk about the basics of the Christian faith, then a chance to have your say.

At church on Sundays, there are:-

  • Morning Cell (year 7-9) at St Paul’s at 11.15am for bible study, worship, young peoples talk and jellybeans!
  • Evening Cell (year 10+) 6-7.30pm hang out in the kitchen at St Paul’s with tea and coffee, then watch a DVD, pray, worship and check out the bible.

CamberleyYouthSt Paul’s work closely with Camberley Youth for Christ (CYFC), along with many churches in Camberley. CYFC run self-esteem programmes, anger management, listening programmes and activity clubs.


What Would Sarah Change at St Paul’s?

A cappuccino machine would round things off nicely she said. I guess that should be no surprise, given the amount of times she mentioned coffee in our interview. But it’s not all coffee and sweets at St Paul’s. It’s a great place to explore more about what life is all about, alongside chilling with friends.


Sarah says the vision for young people for the next year is: “for young people to be met by someone at St Paul’s, to hear to gospel, a nd to know Jesus loves them, and to learn how to live in a way that reflects that, and to go out and change the world because of it.”

For more information on youth work at St Paul’s, Sarah may be contacted at or telephone 01276 700210.

To hear more, listen to the full interview…

Friday, 23 September 2011

Camberley on the Frontline of Debt

Frontline in Reading explain how the charity works

Frontline, a successful free debt and benefits advice service in Camberley, is finding it tough to engage local organisations, despite a list of happy clients they have helped over the last 18 months. Although the team are trained volunteers, and Frontline is registered with the Office of Fair Trading, sadly they are not receiving any referrals from local agencies. 

Unemployment has risen across the UK (up 80,000 over the quarter to 2.51 million), the largest increase since the three months to August 2009. In Surrey Heath, which covers Camberley, there were 1,282 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance. Despite this, Charles Bruce, from Frontline says: “Most of our clients are coming from leaflets left in churches, personal references and references given by existing clients. Sadly there have not been any clients referred by local agencies”.

In previous posts, we have highlighted who Frontline are, and the valuable work they do for people in need in Surrey Heath. Many of the 18 clients the Camberley branch have advised continue to require ongoing support due to long running legal cases. Now we can report on the real success stories they have had.  One client wrote: “Just a note  to thank you so much for all the support you have given us over the past weeks. We felt very much less alone after we had our first meeting with you, and do now feel that at least every avenue has been explored . I'm sure there will be the odd darker moments. Still, I think we both now feel quite positive about the future, that perhaps it all might work for good, so to speak. I wish we could find the words to express our thanks for someone who has been willing to give such time and effort to help us see the way through. Thank you”. One extreme case of financial distress was a client evicted from rented accommodation, with no job, and sleeping in their car. Since Frontline got involved, the client is receiving the benefits to which they are entitled, back in rented accommodation, and attending job interviews. Another case was a single parent and teenage child,  who had been sleeping on the floor for fifteen months. All their white goods were about to be repossessed. With the help of St Vincent de Paul in Camberley, and the Lions, they now have sufficient furniture, including beds and appliances. Negotiations are in hand with their creditors.

If you find yourself in difficulties, and need advice, you can contact Frontline in Camberley for free advice in any of the following ways:-

07880 711730 (24 hour message line)

Camberley Frontline, St Paul’s Church Centre, Crawley Ridge, Camberley GU15 2AD

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Besom In Camberley – Food by Faith

Besom Logo “Run by local Christians, on behalf of local churches, to meet the needs of local people” – Diane Marlow, Camberley Besom.

Surrey Heath is often thought of as an affluent area, but there are pockets of poverty too, as the Surrey Heath Coalition Against Poverty are at pains to point out. A survey, in March 2010 by, into credit card debt showed that Camberley, at £2001 per resident, had the highest in the UK. Fortunately there are local charities that can provide help, such as Frontline, and the Besom.

The Besom are a local charity who specialise in providing food packs and other items to those in need, in Camberley and the surrounding area. They work with local churches, who provide a support network of collection points, where various items may be dropped off. Demand has increased over recent months, and the concern is that as we head towards winter, some people are going to have to make a choice between eating, or heating.

St Paul’s, along with a number of other local churches, will be giving its harvest festival offerings to the Besom charity as a gift to help those in need. St Paul’s harvest gifts on Sunday 18 September, will be used to support vulnerable individuals and families in the Camberley community. Reverend Mark Chester says: “We know it’s nice to receive, but it truly is great to give; especially when it’s from the heart”. Everyone is welcome to come and join us on Sunday 18 September at 9.30 am or 11.15 am.  We’ll be gathering items to pass on to those in need to help bring them comfort, a healthier living, and essentials for equipping them at home.  You can help play your part by bringing food (with long expiry dates), toiletries, cleaning products and kitchen items.

I spoke with Diane Marlow, one of the volunteers from Camberley Besom. They are a national organisation, but each branch is unique, run by local Christians, on behalf of local churches, to meet the needs of local people. They help people of all ages and situations. They have created a series of packs, which can quickly be dispatched to those in need. For example food packs, new mum packs and kitchen starter packs. The Besom have a specific ethos when it comes to donated items used to make up the packs. A food item with “value” on the label makes people feel that’s all they are worth. Diane says: “the clients we work with have very low self esteem, very little self confidence and very little money. When they go shopping they have little choice, they have to buy the basic items in order to survive. We want them to see that their value is greater than that. So in a small way, when we take a gift to someone, we want them to feel it’s a small reflection of the way in which God values them”. This ethos means anything donated should be of the very best quality, not from a value or basic range, but of a standard that shows that people are valued.  People on the poverty line have very little choice, so we need to make them feel special.Camberley Besom Leaflet
One example of the help the Besom has provided in Camberley was a young family from Staines with a 6 month old baby. The family were required by social services to move into temporary accommodation in Camberley, as they had a relative in the area. The father lost his job because he didn’t have transport to travel from Camberley to Staines. With the resulting delay in benefits, they found themselves unable to feed themselves or their baby. Besom were able to support them over a number of weeks with food and other essential items until their financial difficulty was resolved.

Another example was a young mum in difficult circumstances, who had given birth earlier than expected and was unprepared. The Besom were contacted with a request for a baby bath. They went out with the bath, a new mum pack and a food pack. Often people need a selection of items, and the Besom try and meet all those needs.

I asked Diane what motivates her as an unpaid volunteer to work for the Besom. Diane says “this is God’s direction for me, it’s what I sensed him wanting me to be doing. Also in my normal work [with young people] I had one girl who was made homeless, and it was a real eye opener, just how difficult it was to find sources of help for her, and how much need there was for people in this area”.

Demand for the service that Besom provide is growing, with an unexpected increase in August. Diane forecasts with the current economic pressures, that it will get tougher as people have to choose if they spend their money on fuel or food.

The packs are their primary focus, but the Besom can also help in other ways. For example, from time to time they can organise a group of volunteers to help with gardening, painting and decorating or cleaning. The Besom take referrals from recognised organisations such as a Doctor or other health professional, local school, social services, or housing associations.

For more information on Camberley Besom, or to get in contact with them, you can email or phone 07543 319921

You can hear the full interview with Diane by clicking on the play button below.

Interview with Diane Marlow from Camberley Bessom who provide food packs to those in need in the local area (mp3)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Back in the Fold – Rev Mark Chester Returns from Afghanistan

Collage of people in Afghanistan. Thanks to Michael Foley and lafrancevi  for their library shots

“Prayer really does work, it makes a huge amount of difference”

In April, I interviewed the Vicar of St Paul’s, Rev Mark Chester, as he prepared to deploy to Afghanistan to spend 3 months ministering to the troops, as a unit Padre. Whilst there, he reported about Easter in Helmand. He has now returned home, and I spoke with him about his time out there, and the impact it has had on his life.

He found his time in Afghanistan very demanding, but very rewarding. One of the more light-hearted moments was when 500 soldiers dropped to the floor in the cook house at Camp Bastian, after hearing an alarm alerting them of incoming fire, only to find it was the smoke alarm triggered by burning toast!

Most locals in Helmand are simply trying to live out their normal daily lives as best they can. The lack of infrastructure, and poverty out there makes this difficult. Added to that, there is the ongoing fight for control between the insurgent forces and the international security assistance force.

Soldiers work a 7 day week, typically starting about 8am and ending around 10pm. Sunday is a day of rest, so work starts late at 10am. Long days, and a lot to keep up with. However, Mark found morale was good, with a positive upbeat feel. The soldiers feel they are well trained, and getting on with what they joined the army to do.

Recently it was reported the town of Wootton Bassett is to hold a special service marking the end of military repatriations there. The bodies of 345 service personnel have passed through the Wiltshire town in the past four years. As a Padre, Mark was fortunate in only having to deal with one fatality, but several injuries, and soldiers dealing with traumatic experiences. However, in the thick of it all, he found the power of prayer shone through. A lot of people, in Camberley, and elsewhere, have been praying for Mark, and the soldiers. He said “I was amazed how time after time people would escape from difficult situations, where really they should have died”. Examples of such situations include improvised explosive devices that didn’t go off, or grenades bouncing out of vehicles. “That whole environment makes you aware of your mortality. What is normal out there is entirely different than back in the UK”, says Mark.

Rev Mark Chester Marks Message for the Parish

“Prayer really does work. I was aware of being upheld by prayer, and operating in situations where God had gone first. I just want to encourage people to pray about other things. It really does make a huge amount of difference. I am personally grateful for [your prayers] and I know the lads were grateful. God is interested in every detail of our lives”.


Coming home to civilian life after three months in Afghanistan must take quite some adjustment. Life is very narrowly focused out in Helmand, concentrating on the job in hand. Mark has been back about a month, and is now thinking about life in the parish.  In Camberley, he can start to think about family, work, catching up with friends and his administration backlog!

Reviewing his time out in Afghanistan, Mark has learned from his experiences. The most important thing was “that we are spiritual people, who want to know the meaning of life, and survive, and make a positive difference in the world, often at great self-sacrifice”. Soldiering, he pointed out,  is selfless, being prepared to pay a high price for people they hardly know.

One soldier that paid the ultimate price, was one of the most difficult situations for Mark. Whilst checking his next of kin details, he discovered the soldier had been killed on the birthday of that soldiers eldest son.

Mark has been well supported by St Paul’s, receiving cards, letters and welfare parcels for the soldiers, which were very much appreciated. However, even with modern day communications, he still felt fairly remote from the UK. In a sense, that is quite helpful, allowing one to focus on the situation out there. He said “You can’t look in two directions at the same time and expect to see clearly. You are totally absorbed in the immediacy of your task. You really don’t know what’s going to be going on in your life in the next couple of hours. Life is very immediate.”

There is no such thing as a typical day in Afghanistan. Mark had two routines, depending on his location. 

Padre Mark Chester on Patrol At a forward operating base, it takes some time to get kit together, before going out on an exhausting 3-4 hour patrol. After that, it takes some time to recover and rehydrate, experiencing 40 degree C temperatures.

Back at Helmand, it’s up at 5.30am and in the gym for an hour, to beat the morning heat. Following breakfast, it’s time for morning prayer, before heading off for the morning conference. Marks responsibilities at the conference were thought for the day, followed by joke of the day. I believe the thought went down much better than the joke! Then he went on to hospital visiting, or visiting troops who had returned to base, or were about to go out on patrol, and completed some of his admin. His day ended around 8 or 9pm. One thing he really missed was a bedside light to help him read in bed, and find his way around in the dark. I guess it’s the simple things in life we all take for granted.

The first interview we did before Mark went out to Afghanistan was featured on AudioBoo and has been heard by over 2900 people. I think this is a tribute to all the Padres that are going out into war situations, and ministering to soldiers. Mark found it encouraging. Knowing that people care means a lot to him. You can listen to this full “back in the fold”  interview on AudioBoo by clicking on the player below.

Return from Afghanistan. Rev Mark Chester back in the fold after 3 months ministering to the troops (mp3)

You can hear more about Marks experience in Afghanistan, and see a slideshow this Sunday 4 Sept, at 6pm at St Paul’s.