Seven and a Half Churches: The Legacy of St Thomas in South India

When 16th century European priests arrived in southern India to introduce Christianity, they were told that a more famed Christian missionary had been there many years beforehand.
As they travelled in and around the regions of Travancore and Cochin, the priests found that there were indeed a long-established community of Christians, and the man who first converted them was none other than St. Thomas the Apostle (the “Doubting Thomas”), who it was said, arrived in India aboard a Roman trading vessel in 52 AD.
Now, whether St. Thomas himself actually preached under the palm trees of Travancore and Cochin more than 1900 years ago, in the end come down to an act of faith. One thing is certain though and that is that Indian Christian traditions predate any in Europe, and for the more than 2 million Christians in the region there is no doubt.

Indian Child at prayer

However, just like St. Thomas, it is easier to believe when you can see and touch things for yourself, and so to trace these historic roots and traditions for yourself I am inviting you to join me in discovering these in depth first-hand on a comprehensive trip next year from Monday 17th September 2018 to Thursday 4th October 2018.

Together, we will explore these unusual stories, the “seven and a half” churches founded by Thomas, and the Christian traditions of south India. Our journey will take us along the south west Malabar coastline, through the backwaters of Kerala to the very southern tip of the subcontinent, before travelling on to the Coromandel coast in the east, where, tradition tells us that St. Thomas met his end at the hands of an angry king on a hilltop just outside modern-day Chennai (Madras).

Southern Tip of India (Kanyakumari)

Along the way we will visit a modern-day legacy of St Thomas’ Christian influence, as we visit the Donhavur Fellowship, a community founded by the late Anglican missionary and spiritual writer Amy Carmichael.

Simple church at Dohnavur Fellowship

As well as experiencing and participating in the Christian traditions; we will also take the opportunity to visit the magnificent Hindu temples in Madurai and the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mahabalipuram – all with plenty of time to relax, shop for gifts or handmade clothes, eat well and to enjoy all that India has to offer.

Revd Mark being ‘blessed’ by an Elephant in Madurai

This tour really does offer something for all, whether you have travelled to South India before, or a new to the region or country, this tour will enable you to meet the real people and explore those places overlooked by tourists – allowing you to become a pilgrim instead and to follow in paths once trodden by saints.

I very much look forward to travelling with you.

The Revd Mark Woodrow

For more information or to book your place:

Seven and a Half Churches, September 2018


Lent Course 2018 – The Long Road to Heaven

Join the Revd Mark Woodrow as we explore the Christian understanding of Salvation in a five-part Lent Course based on the film The Way.

Starring Martin Sheen as a bereaved father, this soulful and uplifting film observes a group of pilgrims walking the Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela.  As it follows their journey of inner transformation, we examine the Biblical accounts and images of salvation – past, present and future – and address the questions:  What are we saved from? What are we saved for? Who can be saved? What do we have to do to be saved? How are we saved?

The informal sessions will take place from 9.30am to 11.30am (with time for coffee and prayer) at St James’ Vicarage, Bear Street, Nayland CO6 4LA on 16th & 23rd February, 2nd, 9th & 16th March.

It would be helpful if you could let The Revd Mark know if you were intending to join him (01206 262150 or     You may wish to purchase a copy of the accompanying book ISBN 978-1-78279-274-1

Christmas Tree Prayers

If you would like your Christmas tree to mean more this year, why not try this beautiful and thoughtful prayer idea?

Children love to help with decorating the tree. This idea is an easy way to let them
get involved, and helps them pray at the same time.

• Buy some pretty gift tags (sparkly stars work well) – or make some by cutting
up last year’s Christmas cards.

• Write on the plain side the names of people or situations that you want to pray

• Hang the gift tag prayers on your tree as a sparkly reminder – just as your
tree lights shine in the darkness, so your prayers are like a candle that lights
up the lives of those in need.

• Christmas is a particularly difficult time if you are sad, or ill, or lonely or
worried. Keep a few spare gift tags so you can add to your tree when you
think of others who need your prayers.

Tip: If you know someone needs your prayers, but it’s best if others don’t know
they’re in need, why not just write their initial on the tag, or draw a heart shape – God
will know you are thinking of them.

Carols at bedtime

Christmas is great time of year to learn songs – many have been passed down the
generations for hundreds of years. And singing together is also lovely way to praise
God, whether at home or in church. Try these well-known songs with your child.

As Christmas draws near, why not include a verse or two of Away in a Manger in
your child’s bedtime routine?

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head;
the stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky,
and stay by my side until morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay
close by me for ever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

When it’s dark, you might enjoy singing just the chorus of This little light of mine.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

A really simple song that you could use in night time prayers goes to the tune of
Frere Jacques:

Light a candle, light a candle,
God is here, God is here.
Bless our friends and family,
Bless our friends and family,
Far and near, far and near.

Safety first:  Small children love to watch a candle flame, but you must never leave
a lit candle unattended or within a child’s reach – you might prefer to use a battery
powered candle for night prayers.

For more information about our Christmas Services – Click Here

Remembrance Services 2017

This week we remember all those, both military and civilian, who were wounded or have given their lives in the hope of a better world.

Join us at one of our services:

Saturday 11th November 2017
10:45am      Nayland War Memorial

Sunday 12th November 2017
9:30am        Leavenheath Church
10am            Wiston Church
10:45am     Nayland Church
10:45am     Stoke Church (incorporating Polstead)

“family@polstead” our benefice family service continues

Across the benefice we have a wide range of service styles, and now to complement our existing monthly “Messy Church” for families with children we are delighted to have introduced “family@polstead” a service for the young (or young at heart!) held in St Mary’s Church, Polstead.

Everyone is welcome to this short service (about 35-40 minutes) which is then followed by refreshments.     Car Parking and Toilets Facilities are available.

Why not come along for our next one on Sunday 19th November 2017 at 10am.

Share a little light this Halloween

Some parents aren’t sure quite what to feel about Hallowe’en – is it just harmless fun, or are there aspects of it that don’t fit in with how we want to see the world? A child’s christening service is very honest about the reality of good and evil, and Hallowe’en can be a good time to talk about those things and how the love of Jesus can be a ‘light in the darkness’ for everyone.

The word “hallowe’en” actually means “the eve of all hallows’ day” – in other words, the night before the church’s festival celebrating All Saints.  A Saint is sometimes thought to be an exceptionally holy person – someone really special, who did extraordinary things because of their faith in God.

The famous saints are all amazing examples of what it’s like to live God’s way. But in the Bible, St Paul calls all Christians saints – a saint is simply a friend of God, who seeks to live their life according to God’s purposes. When someone is christened, they truly become a Saint, so All Saints’ day is a celebration of the whole family of God.

If you’d like to mark Hallowe’en, these are some ideas that will bless others as well as being fun too.

What’s happening in church?
In St Mary’s Church, Stoke-by-Nayland on Sunday 5th November at 4pm we have a special service for All Souls day – a time when we remember our loved ones who have died. There will be an opportunity to go and light a candle to remember someone – even small children grieve in their own way, and may find comfort in this simple action.
Why not join us, or simply pop into your closest church (all of the churches in our benefice are open during the day), and say a prayer or light a candle.

Carve a pumpkin
Did you know that gargoyles (the scary looking faces carved in stone on churches) were originally made in medieval times to scare away evil spirits? The pumpkins with scary faces carved into them at Halloween are a bit like that. But nowadays most  people believe that you can’t fight evil with evil – you can only fight evil by doing good, and that good will always win in the end.

So why not see if you can carve a friendly looking pumpkin this Halloween, as a sign  that you and your family are going to be a force for good this Halloween? (And you can always use the offcuts from your pumpkin to make delicious soup!)

You can do the same with Halloween costumes: superheroes make a great, positive  alternative to scary witches and ghosts.

Give a treat
Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of children going round to neighbours’ and
just asking for treats (although Revd Mark at the Vicarage in Nayland will have sweets available for any callers!)     But if you don’t want them to miss out on something their  friends are doing, why not have a family baking session, and take a tray of biscuits
with you if you go out with them? Even little children can help stick a smiley face on
an iced biscuit. That way, you have something lovely to give away to your neighbours, too!

Safety first
Many children’s fancy dress costumes are highly flammable. Please, don’t ever use real candles around your front door or in your pumpkins – use the small battery powered candles instead. If you can afford to buy a multi-pack of these electric candles, you could lend them to your friends and neighbours.

Something to watch
A great video that reminds us about the real meaning of Halloween.

Say a goodnight prayer
Even if you’ve steered clear of scary costumes, and even if your child has loved the  evening, it can be reassuring to have a goodnight prayer that reminds them that love,
and light, and good, are always going to be stronger than fear and evil.

The ancient service of Compline (Night Prayer) has been used as this reminder for centuries, and many of its prayers are still well known today:

“Visit this place, O Lord, we pray
and drive far from it all snares of the enemy;
let your holy angels dwell with us
to preserve us in peace;
and let your blessing be upon us always
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Or, in a simpler children’s version:

“Be with us, Lord,
and take away all fear,
may your angels protect us
and give us peace.
And bless us always.  Amen.”

You can use these lovely prayers any time when you need a reminder that God is with you – especially at the end of a difficult day, or when something sad has happened, or when your family is worried about something.

Special Services to Remember those who have died

Child looking at candle

Love, loss and remembering

Autumn has traditionally been a time when Christians explore the big questions
about life and death. Watching the leaves fall and the nights draw in is an opportunity
for all ages to think about love and loss and remember in special ways.

Children ask questions about death for all kinds of reasons. It may come from seeing
a local war memorial, or closer to home with the death of a pet. Or maybe your child
has lost a great-grandparent, grandparent, a family friend, a teacher, a neighbour, an
aunt or uncle.

For some children, the impact of loss has huge consequences, especially if it’s the
death of a parent or a sibling. However and whenever those questions come, there
are good ways to remember those we see no longer with family at home:

• Light a candle on important days and say a prayer. “Loving God, thank you for_________ and help us to remember them well. ” This is a simple prayer to say together.
• Gather some items that remind you of that person – letters they wrote, photos of them, items of clothing – and keep them in a nice box. Children can add
things to the box.
• Taking part in charities connected to the person who died; Race for Life is a family friendly event that can honour people who died from cancer, for example.
• Children can help taking care of a gravesite – pulling weeds, choosing flowers or
other items to bring at special times, washing a memorial stone, etc.

The church also has ways of remembering those we love who have died. This
happens at the start of November, at All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. A week
later, at Remembrance Sunday, we remember those who died in wars, and pray for

At All Saints’ Day (November 1st), we remember those Christians who have died,
who we don’t know personally. A “saint” is someone whose life shows us how to
follow Jesus.

There are all kinds of saints – teachers, artists, scientists, social reformers,
troublemakers, writers, and many more. Is there a saint who shares your child’s
name? Their birthday? Think of well-known saints, like St George for example, and
discover together who they were and what they did.

On All Souls’ Day (November 2nd), the church remembers all those we know who
have died.

In our Benefice we hold a special service, this year it will be on Sunday 5th November 2017 at 4pm in St Mary’s Church, Stoke by Nayland, and all invited to add any names
they would like read out to a list – we can hear the names that mean something to us
and light a candle to remember them.

We also hold special Remembrance Sunday Services on Sunday 12th November 2017 details of these services can be found here.  Why not join us and with your child we can remember along with the whole church family.

If your child is struggling with a bereavement, there are resources available:-
• Child Bereavement UK, (
Grief Encounter (
and Winston’s Wish (, are all charities which
offer support to bereaved children.
• SANDS ( is for anyone coping with the death of a baby,
including siblings.
• At A Loss ( can help you find the right
services for bereavement in your area.
• Your child’s GP may also be able to offer help and support.

Benefice responds to those affected by Hurricane Irma

Devastation in wake of Hurricane Irma

Following the devastation that has been wrought throughout the Caribbean Islands and the United States, the benefice have decided to offer those across the benefice the opportunity to make a donation to help those in some of the poorest islands who have lost everything.

Please do encourage friends and neighbours to give what they can.  Collecting boxes have been place at the following points in the Benefice,


  • St Mary’s Church
  • The Village Store and Post Office
  • The Cock Inn


  • St Matthew’s Church
  • The Hare & Hounds Pub
  • The Lion Inn


  • St James Church (then at the Post Office during the week)
  • Kerridge the Butcher’s
  • The Village Stores Bear Street
  • The Anchor Inn


  • The Church of St Mary the Virgin (c/o Nicola Thorogood)

Stoke by Nayland:

  • The Church of St Mary
  • The Village Store and Post Office
  • The Crown Inn
  • The Angel Inn
  • Eaves Garage
  • The S-b-N Hotel & Golf Club

The collecting boxes will be in place for another week until about 18th or 19th September.

If you would like to donate online, directly with Aid Organisation helping those affected please donate to:

Oxfam Hurricane Irma Appeal

World Vision Hurricane Irma Appeal

Care International Hurricane Irma Appeal

USPG Rapid Response Caribbean Appeal

We continue to pray for all who suffer as a result of this catastrophe, and what is to follow, as well as those having to abandon and flee their homes, and homelands, through persecution, tyranny  and other disaster.

Stoke by Nayland & Nayland proudly flies the Red Ensign for Merchant Navy Day

Once again this year we are proud that the Red Ensign, flag of the Merchant Navy, will fly atop Stoke by Nayland and Nayland church towers to mark Merchant Nay Day (3rd September).  Since 2000, Merchant Navy Day has honoured the brave men and women who – vitally – kept our nation fed and fuelled during both World Wars, and celebrates our dependence on modern day merchant seafarers.

September 3rd happens to be the day Britain went to war in 1939 and is now Merchant Navy Remembrance Day in Canada, too.  On the very first day of war in 1939, the unarmed Donaldson liner Athenia, Liverpool to Montreal, was torpedoed 200 miles northwest of Northern Ireland with the loss of 112 lives including 16 children, the first sign of what has become known as the Battle of the Atlantic, and the first hostile act of war between Britain and Germany.

Britain’s Merchant Navy – or mercantile marine – has played a significant role in our nations history.  It is much older than the Royal Navy which was brought into existence to protect our vital maritime trade.  Merchant shipping suffered severe losses from German U-boat and surface raider attacks in both World Wars, during which approximately 32,000 merchant seafarers were killed.  However, with the protection of the Royal Navy merchant ship convoys imported enough supplies to allow an Allied victory.

Nowadays the merchant marine and its seamen are responsible for 95% of UK imports, vital to our well being and economy, including half the food we eat, as well as a similar share of our exports.

Our nine foot Red Ensign – or Red Duster, as it is affectionately known – which you will see flying on the church was generously supplied by Seafarers UK (formerly King George’s Fund for Sailors), following a request by Richard Channon.

There could be few better places for such a flag to fly in Suffolk, as Stoke church tower is in line of site of the North Sea off Clacton as well as the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich.  If you feel able, please give to Seafarers UK ( or one of the several maritime charities which dedicate themselves to the welfare of present day merchant seamen and seafarers’ families.

See for local councils and other organisations recognising Merchant Navy Day by flying the flag.