St Bartholomew and All Saints

Royal Wootton Bassett


Dear Friends,

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.

This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria…

So begins the story of the birth of Jesus as told in Luke’s Gospel. It is a story which will be heard in countless carol, Christingle and crib services next month. In the glow of the candle-light and the glitter of the Christmas tree decorations however it is easy to forget what a grim world it was that hosted this birth. Israel then was ruled by Herod the Great, an unjust tyrant appointed by the Romans, whose empire reigned supreme. Rebellions by those who sought to get rid of this oppressive rule were dealt with quickly and savagely. And new-born infants that seemed to threaten Herod’s power were, Matthew’s Gospel tells us, murdered. Hence Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt. Jesus’ early life was as a refugee in a foreign land. The holy family, were they here today, would be deemed vulnerable, and would join a growing number of families similarly labelled.

Back in 2012 the Children’s Society, in conjunction with NSPCC and Action for Children, mapped the number of vulnerable families and children living in the UK. They estimated what the numbers would be in the next few years, suggesting that they would rise significantly. And they were not wrong. Too many families today struggle with a mixture of factors making them vulnerable, including unemployment, poor quality housing, lack of educational qualifications, maternal mental health problems, long-term illness or disability, low income and material deprivation.

Many charities and organisations are here to respond to this need, the Food Bank amongst them. But so too the RISE Trust, which started as an initiative from a local church in Chippenham back in 2004. It supported work in the community in three areas – the under 5s, youth and seniors. And in 2008 it opened its first children’s centre.

The aims of the Trust and its children’s centres today are to Reach, Include, Support and Enable families with at least one child under the age of five, accessible to all. They provide courses for parents and families, facilitate a family visiting service, operate wraparound services for schools, run sessions for children and their carers daily, offer advice, and much more besides. They work to support parents and carers to give children aged 0-5 years old the very best start in life.

I am writing about the RISE Trust and its children’s centres this month because at our Toy Service early next month (Sunday 3rd December at 10am) we are once again asking people to support the work of our local children’s centre by donating gifts of new toys, toiletries and gift cards. Deb Skilton, who is the Children’s Service Lead for the RISE Trust locally, will be coming to say a few words at this service about how our gifts will be used. Once again however they plan to give our gifts to the families who are supported through 1:1 outreach and to those identified in need who are on low incomes, many of whom are struggling with just putting basic food on the table.

In an email Deb wrote:

 “Last year all the toys were very gratefully received and enjoyed by the children and their parents who were often overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers. We also received Boots and Argos gift cards which have been used over the year to buy emergency baby supplies and essential safety equipment for families who have found themselves in financial crisis e.g. nappies, wipes, baby milk, sanitary products, safety gates etc. We also received cash which has been used to buy fresh fruit, veg, bread and milk to supplement food parcels and on a few occasions has helped provide electricity and gas. Please share with your wonderful generous congregation that their kind actions have made a huge difference to families locally, we can’t thank them enough.”

Christmas might still be a few weeks away. But as we prepare to marvel once again that in the darkness of night God’s majestic glory became vulnerable humanity – so that we might know God once more, turn to him again, and believe in his overwhelming love – so may we remember others around us, similarly vulnerable, and support the work of the RISE Trust with our gifts.

Canon Jane Curtis