Archive for the ‘Daily Duties’ Category

Did I mention that we are in another interregnum? Not sure I did. It is my second in 3 years. After our lovely Rev Fred departed to become a hospital chaplain (a role he finds really challenging, but fulfilling), we survived a thankfully brief six months unscathed.

The Rev Keith when he arrived was a very different sort of Vicar. To start with, he was evangelical. Shock! Horror! Or do I actually mean… How refreshing?! Most of us loved his full-frontal attack. My favourite atheist was outraged at the idea of a country parson actually talking about Jesus Christ.

Anyway, very sadly, a bolt out of the blue came down and took him away. His lovely wife was hit by a serious illness and he had to stop being a part-time, badly-paid vicar, and become first a full-time carer, and then a full-time better paid bread-winner out in the wider world.

So, since last autumn, we’ve been in interregnum again. We are very lucky to have had the regular support of a retired vicar from the nearest market town to come and take our twice-a-month services. That continuity has been very helpful: no scrabbling around from week to week to find someone to plug a gap. He has had time to get to know us, and our congregation has got to know his little foibles too (we all have them). And do you know what? We’ve been fine. Not lost a single service, nor a single member of the congregation.

I was panic-stricken when the Rev Fred departed, and didn’t know how we’d cope. When Keith dropped his bombshell I was sad for him, but not devastated. I had already learned that it is the people who ‘own’ the church, not the vicar.

That may not be quite how it happens in a single parish set-up, but I can tell you that in the countryside, where a vicar has the ‘cure of souls’ of four, five, six, or even more parishes, it is the congregation, the PCC and in particular the Churchwardens who hold it all together. Vicars come and go (as I now know) but Churchwardens remain.  Again, this is particularly true when your vicar lives in the one remaining vicarage that the Benefice clings on to, and it is in the next-door-but-one village.

Because as far as the non-church-going villagers are concerned, I AM ‘the Church’ in the village.  It is me (and the Churchwarden’s Terrier of course) who they see trotting off to church clutching the big key each morning. It is me they see putting the bin by the gate once a week. It is me they see leaning my not-inconsiderable weight on headstones to see if they’re still safe (!) and me they see stuffing leaflets about our next fundraiser through their letterboxes.

So for the last few months we have been back in interregnum.  But again, a thankfully short one. (I fully appreciate that year-long – or longer – interregnums can be really challenging.)

We already have a new vicar on the horizon, who will join us in the summer. I am pleased, but also fairly sanguine about how long this one might last. He’s stepping down from a high-powered role in another Diocese and he is sort-of-semi-retiring to our Benefice. It may be that we have him for just a year or two. But if that is how it is, then we’ll be fine. I’ve learned that. Because it is always ‘our’ church. The people’s church. Not the vicar’s.



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Can’t believe it’s more than a month since I posted. The village is slowly getting over our bereavement, and a lovely Indian summer has finally given way to proper autumn…

I’ve just written a bit in the parish news about lead theft, because this is a huge problem now and one of our sister churches has just lost its lead roof for the second time in 12 months – in fact they’d only just put the new lead sheets back on. How dispiriting.

I’ve always felt that the best protection that our little church has is that it is in the very heart of the village, standing on a triangular island, fronting onto the main ‘street’ and with one side bounded by Church Lane and the other side of the triangle formed by School Lane. (How classic and timeless are those names: how perfect they are. I love the fact that so many of our roads bear names that ‘does what it says on the tin’.)

So, as these lanes are lined by stone cottages which overlook the churchyard, and these stone cottages are lived in by our largely elderly population (for elderly, read ‘nothing to do all day but mind other peoples’ business for them’), I have always felt that the lead on our roof is pretty safe!

But now, even I am worried. The recession seems to be driving those who have a pre-disposition to steal to steal more, and steal more boldly. We are around 10 miles from a town with high unemployment and a drug problem. (Indeed our villages are not immune from drugs, as I’ve recently learned.)

So this month’s parish magazine includes a paragraph exhorting those who live around the church “not to hesitate if you see or hear anything untoward during the night: dial 999 and tell the police – and ring me too – as I’ll probably get there before the police”…

But as Autumnwatch Unsprung ends on TV, I realise that I’ve forgotten to lock up the church tonight, so I hot-foot it up the road with my trusty terrier (a good opportunity for a bedtime pee) to make all secure. And as I crunch noisily up the gravel path, I find myself praying that no pensioner is going to take me at my word tonight and dial 999 ….. it would be embarrassing, wouldn’t it?

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Phew. Have passed the test. Got up at 6am Saturday morning and turned the pencilled list of stuff in the Church into a nice, legible Word document on the computer, in time to show the Archdeacon at the Visitation. I presented it as a sort of ‘addendum’ to the formal Terrier originally compiled to a strict format in the 1980s, and got away with it.

The Churchwarden's Terrier

Actually, I think I could have got away with quite a lot, as the Archdeacon (a charming old gentleman) was very distracted by the other Terrier, the small tricolour doggy version, who pranced around and acted cute in a very supportive way. Worked wonders!

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Hello! I’ve been ‘away’ for a while, juggling builders, plumbers, sparks, decorators and landscapers as my own personal project comes together: the total renovation of a cottage in the village, a real home of our own for the Churchwarden’s Terrier and me… And now, I’m happy to say, that we’ve moved in!

All the usual stuff has been going on in the meantime, but there’s no point in talking about it: every other Churchwarden in the country has also been reporting at Annual Parochial Church Meetings, getting re-elected (probably because nobody else put their hand up!), filling in forms, planning for Easter services, making sure the right colour frontal is on every day in Holy Week, creating Easter gardens, decorating the Church and handing out Easter eggs…. At least, that is what I’ve been doing in the last 6 or 7 weeks.

This weekend ought to be a breathing space with back-to-back Bank Holidays, but there’s still Church on Sunday and before that, the Archdeacon’s Visitation to get through on Saturday morning.

What’s an Archdeacon’s Visitation? Well, we get visited in person every three years by the lovely Archdeacon. In between times, I have to fill out a form and send it off to the Diocesan office.

I remember when the Archdeacon came three years ago. I was brand new in the job and didn’t really know what to expect. I knew he wanted to see the Log Book – in which churchwardens record the month by month maintenance issues, from clearing out the gutters to re-plastering the porch. I also had a vague understanding of the Terrier – the inventory of Church property and ‘stuff’ in the church… this is basically a list of all the things the Church owns. For some churches, this includes glebe land and property – or at least it did in the old days… But for most churches now it is a simple list of items of furniture, lists of altar linen, a tot up of the cruet sets, the candle-sticks, the chalices, the Bibles, flower pedestals and all the rest.

Our Terrier is a pencil list created by someone with far too much time on their hands and an obsession for detail. Every individual piece of linen, every hymn book, every flower vase had been counted and described. The record was last ‘properly’ updated in about 1995, judging by the notes. I recollect telling the Archdeacon that, obviously, the Terrier needed re-working and putting into a spreadsheet on the computer. He agreed and suggested, kindly, that I could stop counting individual purificators and hymn books and list ‘a quantity of’ instead. And that was three years ago.

And have I done anything about it? Have I heck. I am faced with meeting the Archdeacon on Saturday morning with exactly the same pencil list, knowing full well that since then I have ‘retired’ a number of purificators and other threadbare linen, not to mention chucked out mildewed hymn books last used in 1980. What am I going to do? Is there time between now and then to put the Terrier onto the PC or is the Royal Wedding simply too distracting? Help!

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Our little village in middle England received the first snow of winter almost a week ago, last Friday night/Saturday morning. We now have an accumulation of around five inches. Not a lot compared to the north-east and Scotland. But enough to make negotiating even the gentle slope from my cottage to the main street a little difficult; likewise the incline to reach the main road to head off to work.

Each morning and each evening since Saturday I have scuffed through the white stuff, the Churchwarden’s Terrier at my side, to unlock and re-lock the Church door. On Saturday afternoon, mine were not the only prints, as Suzy joined me to put together our Advent wreath, with five new candles: three purple, one pink and one white one in the middle. It was not our turn to have a church service on Advent Sunday, but I went in early in the morning, changed the altar frontal from green to purple, lit the first purple candle and read the Collect for the day to myself (and God).

Since then, my own footprints have been smoothed out by each new fall of snow, but I’ve left a trail of new ones twice a day. But mine are the only prints: no other villagers have come to pray in the frozen church; no visitors have been foolhardy enough to come sightseeing. Tonight the temperature has dropped to around -7 degrees and I decided to snuggle down on the sofa, using the Terrier as a nifty hot water bottle, and not bother to slip and slide on the ice to lock up. Fingers crossed that this is NOT the night for vandals to go looting, or vagrants to look for a pew bed. Goodnight!

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The phone rang one Spring Saturday morning.  A volunteer cleaner had just discovered a pile of rubble in the church porch. Oh dear. It had been looking a bit dodgy for a while, but now it was clear to see that the old plaster had almost entirely parted company with the wall around the main opening, with gaps you could put a hand into.  I decided this was one occasion when Health & Safety was a real issue, not a nanny state pain in the bottom, so I knocked off a whole lot more with a broom handle, until I was confident that what little plaster still clung to the wall was going to stay there for a while.

So, after securing our Church Faculty over the course of the Summer, the plasterer made a start.  He has already removed all the old plaster, including a section of grey 1950s concrete used to patch a large area under the lancet window in the left side wall.   Crumbly bits have been raked out from between the rather rubbley walls and now the first layer of lime plaster has been applied, and hatched ready to accept the next stage.

During the process, we discovered that a second lancet window once pierced the right hand wall.  I wonder why it was filled in?  And when?  And over the rounded Norman arch of the main door, a huge stone lintel was revealed, apparently now cracked in two places, but a massive four feet long and two feet deep.  It was almost a pity to see these bits of ‘archaeology’ disappear under the new plaster!

The noticeboards lean forlornly against the wall inside the church.  I suspect they’ll look a bit tatty when put back up in their old place in the porch, on the nice, smooth plaster.

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I have just tidied up the bell tower, because this afternoon a bell-ringing team from ‘oop north’ is coming.  As in many churches, the space under the bells, at the bottom of the tower, usually houses numerous spindly always-getting-tangled-up-in-each-others-scrolls wrought iron flower pedestals; the hoover; boxes of oasis flower foam; brooms that people can’t be bothered to put back in the cupboard; the odd chair and side table.  In other words, there is not usually enough room to swing a cat, let alone a couple of dozen yards of rope.

The village does not have its own ringing team.  Our six bells are rarely rung, except for weddings, and then by ‘scratch’ teams picking up pocket money on Summer Saturdays, or – like today – by visitors.  I have left a little note warning them that the stays on our bells are quite easy to bash and not that robust: I don’t reallly want the expense of a broken stay.


After another bath


The Churchwarden’s Terrier did NOT accompany me to the church while I did this little chore.  She is in disgrace.  I gave her a bath on Saturday night as she was whiffing a bit after a month or two’s gambolling (spelling?!)  in the fields without a shower.  And what did she do this morning, as we broke our round-the-village constitutional to unlock the church?  She found a pool of wet and stinking bird poo and rolled in it.  Swiped it, like an expensive eau de cologne down each side of her neck, from ear to shoulder and then rolled on her back in it, her legs waving like an over-excited dung beetle.  Back home it was back in the belfast sink for bath number two.

Our bit of middle England is bathed in Autumn sunshine today.  Far too nice to stay indoors, so when the big brown eyes had softened me up, the Terrier and I headed off on our favourite walk, which is a green lane just outside the village, along a ridge.  The newly-ploughed fields fell away on either side; the hedges were full of blackberries so ripe, that for every one I could pick, another dropped into the long grass as I reached for it.  Overhead, a red kite wheeled and screamed.  The other side of the valley, the newly-guilded weather-cock on the spire of our sister church shone in the sun.  Beautiful.

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