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Our President's Story

Following his retirement from Sheppey Evangelical Church, Joe Gregory was delighted and honoured to be appointed as The Connexion’s President. Below is an opportunity to read about his fascinating account of his journey from boyhood to Pastor.

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Firstly, I’d like to say that no one was more surprised than I at being asked to serve as President for the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, especially at the 200th Annual Conference! Now working in this prestigious new role, I thought that it would be good to provide some autobiographical detail with my first ever article.

Early years

Growing up I was raised as a Catholic by my Irish parents in Harlow in Essex. It’s changed a lot now, but believe it or not Harlow was a good place to grow up in the 1960s. There were lots of green spaces and cycle paths linking different parts of the town. I remember growing up spending hours running around with my friends, and later spending the summer holidays playing football all day at the field which was only five minutes walk away.

Even as a youngster I always believed that there was a Creator God, that everyone is here for a purpose. I also believed that we had a soul which would continue after we died, I could not accept that everything about me would die along with my earthly body.

My best friend and I learned to read very quickly at Primary School and we found ourselves volunteering (or was that being conscripted!) to read the Scriptures at Mass each Sunday. It was quite a large church, a couple of hundred people or so, and Gerard and I would get dressed up in our cassock and surplice feeling special, having the best seat in the house, serving as altar boys each week.

Terrible Teens

I didn’t realise it at the time, but my father had a problem with alcohol, which was why my mum had to do several cleaning jobs to help put food on the table. My dad’s abuse of my mum got worse and I retreated into the world of rock music. I became introverted and in the early to mid-seventies lived for the next Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd or Bob Dylan album to come out. Needless to say, I stopped going to Mass each Sunday at that time. 

Unsurprisingly, I also struggled with Secondary School. At Primary School I was one of the top pupils, then at the Catholic Comprehensive I attended I found that there were loads of people with more ability than me. In addition to this I couldn’t concentrate on doing this newly introduced thing called homework. I considered it an affront and a waste of time, when I could be listening to Stairway to Heaven on the headphones. This would also help me to block out the noise of my father shouting at my mother downstairs.

Eventually my father left home, and I remember my mum and I celebrating with a bottle of sherry that night! I think we were most of the way through the bottle, when I persuaded her to pay for us to go to the Black Sabbath concert taking place at Hammersmith Odeon the next evening. It was great, and she loved it too!

Teacher Training College

Despite my failure at A-levels I was able to enrol at a Teacher Training College, just down the road from High Leigh Conference Centre, at Balls Park College in Hertford. Feeling euphoric from seeing two incredible Led Zeppelin concerts at Earl’s Court and then Pink Floyd at Knebworth, I was ready for a fresh start in my life. I was lucky, 1975 was the final year in which one could enrol at Teacher Training College without A-levels. Of course, I can see now that luck had nothing to do with it. Now I look back and see that Jesus was coming for me!

A New Beginning

I arrived at Balls Park Teacher Training College in September 1975 ready for a fresh start. It was a small college, with almost a family feel to the place, where everybody knew everybody else.

I remember being interviewed by the Principal, Paul Sangster, son of the great 20th Century Methodist, Dr W E Sangster, for a place at the college. I didn't know who he was at the time, but he immediately put me at ease, and although he was searching in his questioning, there was something Godly about him.

The social life at Balls Park was good, I grew in confidence and had a great circle of friends.


My Irish-Catholic upbringing had left me with a sense of God as a being who was distant. He had created an amazing world and universe but was generally aloof from everything that went on.

In late October 1976 the Christian Union organised a visit from Youth With A Mission, YWAM. There was a promise of fireworks and hot drinks, so I went along. The fireworks were brilliant, but the words of the speaker lit a fire in my heart as well. She told us about Jesus, how He came to live on earth to provide us an example of how to live with compassion and justice. She told us how Jesus died in order to reconnect us with our Father in Heaven. Shockingly, God wasn't this distant figure who created the Universe, He was a good Father who wanted to be involved in a personal way in our daily lives. After Jesus conquered death on the Cross, He sent His Holy Spirit to be with all those who believed.

I remember crying in response to all this and I then prayed with someone, and my life was forever changed. I had a Father in Heaven who loved me with all my fears and imperfections.

A Second Chance and Renewal

I moved to the Isle of Sheppey in 1979 to take up a teaching post in a middle school and started attending a local Baptist church. There would be many challenges in the coming years. My first marriage came to an end and that was a particularly difficult time. I remember lonely hours spent in a cold damp bedsit in Sheerness questioning God's plan. 

Then He sent a student to Danley Middle School. Elizabeth Russell wanted to help out on an Activity Week. I was organising a week in France, and I duly snapped her up as an extra member of staff. We had an instant connection.

I remember Elizabeth's parents agreeing to let me tag along with them (and Elizabeth!) for the first ever New Wine week down in Somerset. It was an amazing time of worship and teaching and an opportunity to listen to God in a spirit-filled environment, it was as if He was saying, "See, trust in my plan. I am the God of the second chance".   

We were married a year later in July 1990, and I feel truly blessed having had her in my life for the last 34 years.

Elizabeth and I started attending Sheppey Evangelical Church in September 1990, and we have been there ever since.


The Salvation Army got in touch with me asking if I knew a Thomas Gregory. Apparently he was my father and living on the Isle of Man. I really struggled about how to respond because of the way he had treated my mother while I was growing up. Whenever I thought about him, I would be filled with anger and bitterness.

However, Jesus taught us to forgive. If I was to be serious about my revived faith as a disciple of Jesus I should agree to be contacted by my father and see what happened.

I then discovered that he was being treated for liver cancer in Liverpool hospital. I went to visit in the school summer holiday and Elizabeth came with me to offer support.

A short while later my father was taken into a hospice on the Isle of Man. I travelled across the Irish Sea to visit him in the October half-term. I took along New Wine worship tapes, and I was able to pray with him. He came to accept that Jesus loved him and enjoyed the worship songs which gave him comfort at night in the weeks ahead. He died on Christmas Eve.

I truly believe that if I hadn't been able to forgive him, I would have been left bitter and resentful. Forgiveness is good for the mind and the soul. Jesus knew what he was talking about!

God's Plan

I spent nearly thirty years as a primary school teacher and then fifteen years in ministry at Sheppey Evangelical Church. I retired last September and as I reflect, I can see that God is sovereign and has a plan for our lives and a plan for His church.

In September 1979 in my very first teaching class, was an 11-year-old boy called Trevor Jones. Over the years we became good friends. He got to know Jesus in a powerful way as a teenager, and in the time since we have supported one another and prayed with one another. 

It's awesome that he has now taken on the role of Pastor at Sheppey. I look forward to seeing what happens next.


Retirement has been very busy so far. Elizabeth and I are looking forward to visiting churches around the Connexion during the next couple of years. My diary is filling up, so Church Secretaries or Ministers, please get in touch if you would like me to come and preach. You can email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

God bless!



The Voice - Spring

Welcome to the Spring edition of The Voice!

This issue contains plenty of news from our churches, including a Testimony of Coming to Faith by Olivia from Bolney Village Chapel, and a cheer-giving song from South Street Free Church, which brilliantly manages to include every one of our Connexion churches - quite the feat!

There's an inspiring Bible Study, God of the Here and Now, by Hannah Burrage, from Rosedale Community Church, as well as an account of Rosedale's Warm Welcome initiative, helping those who are struggling with rising energy costs.

Joe Gregory, our new President, brings us Part 2 of his enlightening article about his Christian journey, and Paul Woodbridge updates us with his article, Crying out to God with Psalms - Part 3.

As always, huge thanks go to The Voice editor, Esther Burrage, for bringing the edition together - and continuing to engage and entertain us!

To read, click on the link below - and enjoy!

The Voice - Spring 2023

Dads n Kidz!

The Countess Free Church in Ely is running a series of Dads n Kidz mornings throughout the year.

Dads have a chance to relax and spend time other dads, whilst the children are happily playing together - at the same time giving mums a well-earned break!

Dads n Kidz takes place from 9 to11am on Saturdays, approximately six times a year. 

It's a fun and friendly occasion for both the children and grown-ups. There are toys and games laid out for the children to play with, a selection of newspapers for the dads, and delicious bacon rolls served throughout the morning.

Last weekend dads and children enjoyed spending time together on Saturday 4 March.



Dads n Kidz - upcoming dates for 2023

Saturday 20 May: 9-11am

Saturday 22 July: 9-11am

Saturday 16 September: 9-11am

Saturday 18 November: 9-11am

The morning is free of charge to attend and everyone is welcome!

To find out more about what goes on at the Countess Free Church, visit their website https://www.countessely.co.uk/

King's Club 2023

The King’s Club team from Goring Free Church will be ready for action again this summer with a beach-themed holiday club Seaside Rock.

The club will be running from Monday 24 July to Friday 28 July from 10am to 12.30pm, and is open to all Primary-aged school children (5–11 year-olds) free of charge.

Seaside Rock is based around the story of Peter, Jesus’ disciple. Every morning, through fun, games, video-clips, stories, songs, drama and colourful crafts, the children will be introduced to Jesus through the stories and experiences of Peter.

Registration for King’s Club 2023 takes place on Sunday 5 March from 4 to 6pm in the Goring Free Church Hall.

Places are limited and will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

For further details visit the contact us page on Goring Free Church's website


Click on the YouTube clip below to see a slideshow of highlights from last year's King's Club event, God's big plan for the world!

Welcome to Rosedale!

Rosedale Community Church certainly lives up to its name! Welcoming people of all ages and catering for a wide variety of needs and interests. 

Led by Pastor, Bethany Burrage, Rosedale not only reaches out to the local communities in Cheshunt as a lively, family church, it goes far beyond in supporting national and overseas causes, including Tearfund, Open Doors and the Sierra Leone Mission.

Back at home, Sunday morning services are held each week at 10.30am, with an open style of praise and worship. Later on Sunday at 7pm, there's a zoom evening prayer service, and on Thursday evenings at 7.30pm, the church offers zoom Bible study sessions.

A Sunday School for children operates alongside the weekly morning services, enabling the young ones to have their own time of fun, whether that's taking part in activities, trying their hand at various crafts or listening to Bible stories.

(The image shows part of Rosedale's lovely community garden, completed last year)


Welcome to the warm

We are all aware that the current cost of living crisis and rapidly increasing costs of energy, are causing many people extreme financial difficulty. In response, Rosedale is opening its doors to welcome visitors into the warmth of the church every Wednesday from 10am to 3.30pm for hot drinks, a simple lunch and a chance to chat and make friends in a warm, cosy environment.

Group fun for all 

Rosedale has also invested in a variety of groups to accommodate different ages and interests as closely as possible - and they are always open to discuss new suggestions!

For the little ones, a Parent and Toddler group meets up every Monday morning at 9.30am. Parents are welcome to a cup of tea, children are welcome to enjoy a snack, and everyone is welcome to play and have fun!

For young people, the youth group, No Limits, congregate in the Youth Hut on alternate Sundays, and have a once-a-month Youth Club. Each year they go away on camp and have an incredible time. All of the content is Christian-based and free from pressure, allowing the young people to increase their understanding and encounter Jesus in their own way.

The not-quite-so-young are also catered for with a Young At Heart group, which meets every Wednesday from 2pm. The programme is varied, ranging from quizzes, guest speakers, craft sessions and day trips out, with tea, coffee and biscuits to round things off.  These meetings are open to anyone who'd like to come along to the church and enjoy an entertaining and friendly afternoon! 

Church gents too are not overlooked. On the first Saturday of each month, from 8 to 9:30am, the Men's Prayer Breakfast offers a chance for chaps to get together in a local cafe for an informal prayer meeting and a full English breakfast - or just a slice of toast for those with a smaller appetite!

As you may have gathered, Rosedale Community Church is quite the place! To find out more about what's going on, visit their website: www.rosedalechurch.org  

Sunday service sermons are uploaded each week onto YouTube, for people to dip into as and when they wish. To visit their YouTube page click here.

To watch Bethany's sermon on 'The Beatitudes' click on the link below.


Wormley and Churches Together

Wormley Free Church recently joined forces with Churches Together for a special evening service.

The aim of the service was to celebrate the unity of local churches from Hoddesdon, Broxbourne and Wormley, and explore the theme of caring for God's creation, praying also for unity amidst injustice.


Wormley is a growing and diverse community of people committed to exploring and living out the Christian life.

Questions they ask are, do you want to:

* Express your faith with others?
* Explore what it means to live a spiritual life in the 21st Century?
* Learn more about Jesus?
* Be part of a caring, open and honest community?
* Worship God with others?

If this sounds like you, check out the Wormley Free Church website to find out more about their services, meetings and activities: https://wormleyfreechurch.org.uk/

Everyone is welcome!

Matthew Mouse is Growing!

Matthew Mouse Bible stories began as an idea halfway through 2020 when the Lockdowns were in full swing. Cindy noticed that although her church had zoom church on Sundays to replace ‘actual’ Sunday services, the children were joining in less and less, and were definitely not as involved.

Starting out

Cindy’s husband, who taught at Sunday school, also noticed that the children didn't really know their basic Bible stories very well, which prompted the decision to start the Matthew Mouse project. 

Initially, the idea was to offer stories on a subscription basis, where children could sign up to receive a letter from Matthew Mouse once a month, telling them of an exciting adventure he’d had, whilst hopping through the pages of the Bible. Cindy wrote the stories and illustrated the letters, which attracted a few regular subscribers.

Building on this promising start led Cindy to decide to expand her service and send Matthew Mouse letters out to more children - in particular those who would not have easy access to children’s bibles. Cindy kept Matthew’s language easy to understand and deliberately steered clear of ‘church language’ to aid understanding for children, parents and carers who did not attend a church. Instead, the stories were told simply from a witness's point of view.

Being originally from South Africa, Cindy felt prompted to try sending the letters out to South African children first, but this proved to be extremely problematic due to postal difficulties. In light of this difficulty, she approached her Minister at the Countess Free Church, Ely, who suggested sending the letters out to children at The Connexion's Bethesda Orphanage, in Sierra Leone, where postal deliveries are more reliable.

‘This turned out to be the best thing I did,’ says Cindy, ‘I even received photos of letters they had written back to Matthew Mouse. It was just amazing!’ 

And following on from this success, Cindy began sending Matthew’s letters out by email to a children's orphanage in South Africa, together with a colouring page or a fun sheet, which could be printed off and shared with the children. 

New narrations

Up until this point, Matthew had been hopping around in the Bible, telling stories from both the New and Old Testaments. However, some useful feedback revealed that this was confusing for some of the little ones, because one moment Jesus was featured in a story and the next minute he wasn't there! In response, Cindy decided to produce a series that concentrates only on Jesus' life. So far, this includes a set of 13 stories, to which four more will be added. The next step has been to have the stories narrated, which has been blessed by help from Cindy’s church. One lady edits the stories for Cindy and another narrates them beautifully.

Matthew’s first Christmas letter included the Christmas story in the form of a poem, which based on the well-known classic, ‘The Night Before Christmas’. Cindy then decided to turn this into a colouring-in book, containing a link to the narrated poem and a video. This initiative has been hugely successful, and this Christmas, Matthew Mouse sold 400 copies in the UK and 100 in South Africa. In fact, the narrations are proving to be even more popular than the letters, as the children seem to love receiving the stories in this interactive format. 

Going forward

Looking forward to the coming year, Cindy has begun working on a new Easter book, and is planning to send the Christmas book out to churches, playgroups, ministries and as many organisations as possible, in readiness for Christmas 2023. She also has someone who is working alongside her in South Africa, to help to spread the colouring books to children there as well.

Selling more books means that more can be given away to charities that can reach children in the UK, Africa and hopefully across the world. 

'One book at a time!' says Cindy.

To visit the Matthew Mouse website click on the link https://matthewmousebiblestories.com/

The Voice - Winter

Welcome to the new look Winter edition of The Voice!

This issue is filled with Christmas delights, plus news and updates from Sierra Leone and the UK. There's a first-time article from our new President, Joe Gregory, a feature about Matthew Mouse at Christmas, as well as updates from Sierra Leone and the annual SLM Golf Day, held at Horne Park Golf Club in Godstone.

Simon Allaby brings us news about how Bolney Village Chapel has been 'breaking out' following Covid, and Rev Robinson Valsalam includes an interesting report about the Gigal Mission in India.

Huge thanks to the editor, Esther Burrage, for bringing the edition together - and including something for everyone!

To read, click on the link below - and enjoy reading!

The Voice - Winter



Christmas Carol Services

The Connexion's group of 22 churches span the country from Middleton in Manchester to St Ives in Cornwall. Over the coming weeks leading up to Christmas, many of these churches will be providing opportunities to celebrate Christmas and Advent in a variety of ways.

To name a few

Rosedale Community Church in Cheshunt are holding Christmas Carols by Candlelight on Sunday 11 December at 6pm. Visit their website http://www.rosedalechurch.org/

Wormley Free Church in Broxbourne are running a number of activities including parties, Christmas Carols and a Nativity Trail! To find out more visit https://wormleyfreechurch.org.uk/

South Street Free Church in Eastbourne hold their Christmas Carol Services on Sunday 18 December, at 4.30pm and 7.30pm. Visit their website https://www.southstreetfreechurch.org/

Goring Free Church have a Carols by Candlelight service on Sunday 18 December at 6.30pm. For details visit https://www.goringfreechurch.org.uk/

The Countess Free Church in Ely are holding an All-age Nativity (with a World Cup Twist) on Sunday 18 December at 10.30am, as well as a Christmas Eve Crib Service on 24 December at 4.30pm. For more details visit https://www.countessely.co.uk/christmas-at-countess-free-church/

Copthorne Chapel have a Carol Service on Sunday 11 December at 10.30am. See their website https://www.copthornechapel.org.uk/

Ote Hall Chapel in Wivelsfield are holding their Carol Service on Sunday 11 December at 2.30pm

The Chapel at Mortimer West End are providing a range of activities and services, starting with a Christmas Good News Workshop on Sunday 18 December at 10.30am. Young people can try their hand at making reindeers on Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 December between 2-4pm, and the Chapel Christmas Carol Service takes place on Friday 23 December at 7.30pm. Check their website https://www.thechapel.org.uk

Check our Connexion Church Network section to help to find a church near you: https://www.cofhconnexion.org.uk/networks/connexion-network.

Everyone is welcome! 

Renaming to Equiano Bridge

The Riverside Bridge in Cambridge is to be renamed the Equiano Bridge on 31 October, in honour of Olaudah Equiano, the slave abolitionist, who was actively supported by the Countesss of Huntingdon.

Olaudah Equiano (c 1745-1797) was known for most of his life as Gustavus Vassa 'The African'. Equiano himself was an enslaved man who bought his freedom and went on to write compellingly about the horror of his experiences, becoming a prominent figure associated with the campaign to abolish the slave trade.

Equiano was born in what is now Nigeria, and was sold into slavery aged 11 to a Royal Navy officer. He was sold twice more, before becoming a slave for the prominent merchant, Robert King. While working as a deckhand, valet and barber for King, Equiano earned money by trading on the side. In only three years, he made enough money to buy his own freedom in 1766.

As a freedman in London, Equiano supported the British abolitionist movement. He was part of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group composed of Africans living in Britain, and he was active among leaders of the anti-slave trade movement in the 1780s.

The Countess of Huntingdon helped to fund Equianio in writing and promoting his 18c memoirs. Equiano also went on to do extensive work in Sierra Leone, the colony for freed slaves.

The renaming of the bridge will take place on Monday 31 October at 10.30am.

Below is a link to Equiano's work: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Chapter X gives an interesting and wonderful account of his conversion to the Christian faith.

Life of Olaudah Equiano

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