22nd December 2016

"You can't have one without the other", said Baroness Thornhill addressing the congregation at the Stanborough Park church Annual Toy Service on Sabbath 10 December for what may be her last time as Watford's Elected Mayor. As a practicing Catholic she was referring to the joy of children, giving and receiving presents and the spiritual aspects of the Christmas season, that 'Jesus is the reason for the season'. It was important to remember both aspects of Christmas.

In presenting the toys to the Mayor, organiser Pat Walton, whose father started the tradition more than half a century ago, stated that for some of the children coming up to the platform to place their toys in the sacks it might be the first time that they had given a present and not received one. Christmas is the time to recognise Jesus as the most amazing gift from God and by giving we learn to give to others and be equally blessed in return. She said that the toys would be distributed by staff from local Children's Centres, social workers, a group catering for refugees and be received by some of the families who used the church's welfare centre. Representatives of these groups were in the congregation waiting to pick toys to take away.

Also on the platform were gift boxes produced by the church's teens who wanted to help other teens less fortunate than themselves and spent a Friday evening filling and wrapping them. There were also some boxes filled by mothers in the church to be given to the mothers of the needy children.

Surveying the large collection of toys which she said grew bigger every year, Baroness Thornhill expressed her appreciation for the generosity of church members assuring them that their donations would be very much appreciated by the disadvantaged children in Watford.

She started by saying that the Christmas season for her always began with the church's Toy Service which she has attended for many years. As Pat Walton pointed out, she has been a friend of the church for a long time. However, she departed from her usual speech to give a picture of the current situation in Watford.

Three years ago there were about 50-53 families in the council's temporary accommodation. Since then it has practically quadrupled with 191 families being in temporary accommodation at the present time. In addition to this, following a survey, the council officials estimated that there were around 400 additional families affected by the cumulative impact. According to the Mayor the single biggest cause for eviction was by tenants falling behind with their rent to private landlords who were easily able to find replacement tenants willing to pay a higher rent.

Baroness Thornill also commented on two things that had happened this year that pleased her. First, the church was known for its work but not widely recognised for this and she was pleased that she had been involved in talks with senior pastor Jacques Venter about how the church can make a big impact in the community. Also, she was pleased that the church had become involved in the 'Christians Across Watford' group; it was good to have "such a strong church as this batting on the team", she said.

In his sermon, Pastor Venter reminded the congregation of the late Nelson Mandela's words that you can judge a society's soul in the way it treats its children. We need to redress the value of our children and place them at the core of Jesus' heart.

Pat Walton summed up the day in the following words: "I was thrilled with how many toys came in either before the event or during the service. It was a new idea for the teens to make boxes for the teens in the families who will receive the toys. They all went out yesterday along with the majority of the toys. We were delighted to have Dorothy Thornhill with us again and her willingness to take part in the service. Also for the mothers in the church to be invited to give bags for the mothers of the children who will receive the toys. We have made up bags for the mothers for a few years but it was great to involve the mothers in the church to be a part of the Toy Service."

[June Coombs]


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