Archive for the ‘Sunday Services’ Category

Our new Vicar, the Rev Adrian, has been in post about four months. I like him a lot. He’s in his late 60s, and approaching this as a halfway point between being a senior cleric in a big city, and retirement to the countryside. He’s intelligent, experienced, energetic, witty and willing to learn about us and our lives.

He’s been having one-to-ones with lots of people, starting with Churchwardens and those who are on the church electoral rolls, but also Joe Public in the pub. It’s great to see his enthusiasm, but a few eyebrows were raised when he first used the S-word.  The S-word? STRATEGY of course! I don’t think any of our parishes has thought of developing a strategy before, so some churchwardens were taken aback.

The first part of Adrian’s strategy is to look at how the parishes can work together as a Benefice. Hhhhmmm. Another lovely Church of England term that is mystifying to lay people (we’re good at those). Here’s one definition: http://www.churchofenglandglossary.co.uk/dictionary/definition/benefice

But as far as my experience is concerned, Benefice is just the word that describes a group of parishes under the responsibility of one Priest. Here in middle England, the days of a village having a Rectory where its own Rector lives are long gone. In rural Britain, villages share a Priest who has responsibility for four, five, six or more parishes. One Benefice in our Diocese has 10 churches in it, all to be looked after (and driven around) by one Priest.

So here we are in our Benefice: half a dozen rural parishes and 2000 souls spread across 25 square miles of England’s green and pleasant land. The Rev Adrian thinks we should work as a team, as a Benefice, and that is a good idea, because he can’t get round us all every Sunday, and we need to look at having a critical mass for things like prayer groups, or sick visiting or youth work.

But the reality is that each of our villages is very different. The largest parish has a population of more than 600. There are mellow stone farmhouses, Georgian mansions, converted blacksmiths and former wheelwright and carpenters workshops, plus a lot of properties that were once farm labourers cottages, now worth £400K! Most notably, there are some new Affordable Homes on the edge of the village. The village is therefore big enough to sustain not only St Peter’s church, but a pub, a GP’s surgery, a shop with cafe and post office, a village hall and umpteen clubs and groups. There is no school now, but plenty of children. St Peter’s has a reorganisation project on the go, that will allow them to have underfloor heating, an integrated kitchen and take out almost all the pews so that a flexible space is created for wider village use. There is a bell ringing team, and a music group. The congregation is mixed in terms of age, education and outlook and has diverse views.

Our smallest parish has a population of just 80, most of whom have retired into redundant barns ‘done up’, while a handful live in ‘tied’ cottages on the farm and work on the land. St Luke’s church sits all alone by the river, reached via a rough track running through the farmyard and out across the fields. It has no electricity, which makes candle-lit Carol services enchanting (and standing room only). There is an organ, which the brave volunteer has to ‘pedal’ while playing. The congregation is tiny but faithful. They like to sit in their ‘own’ pews. They cling to the Book of Common Prayer and King James bible for all their services. Poetic, but not necessarily understood. But as their Churchwarden always says “we’re all older than God and we like it this way”….

So you can see that we’re a diverse group, and Rev Adrian has got a challenge on his hands. His first question is why don’t we go to each other’s services? Tiny St Luke’s out in the fields has one service a month, as does one of the other villages. My own church (we are the middle child in this family) has two services a month, and the larger churches manage (with the help of a Lay Reader) to have a service every week. So each Sunday there is a service to go to if you’re prepared to get in the car and drive two, four, or five miles…

But I confess we’re really bad about this. It is rare for me to attend another parish’s church, and I am a Churchwarden. Sadly, our religion does not travel well. I am not proud of this. I make an effort on those Sundays – the so-called Fifth Sundays – when our four-week service rota means that there is just ONE service in the Benefice. I go to that to support the Rev Adrian. But I have to say I cannot remember the last time anyone from St Luke’s ventured ‘abroad’ to another church!

All this sounds a bit depressing, but Rev Adrian is determined to challenge us as a Benefice. One of the first steps is his desire to have a website for the Benefice, carrying details of all our churches. Whether St Luke’s embraces this – a village without broadband or mobile phone signal, whose parishioners are never seen in any other church – remains to be seen!


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The Diocese has kindly sent its Churchwardens a link to something called Shrinking the Footprint, and exhorted us all to take part in a national energy audit with a view to reducing the Church’s impact on energy use. The carrot is that we might shrink our electricity/gas bills too.

I hasten to say that this is all good stuff, in principle. But I do want to share a paragraph that made me smile.

“In a new CofE videocast published today (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdDk2icT7tQ ) the Revd Ruth Lampard, Associate Vicar at St Mary the Boltons in London Diocese shows how regular meter reading can lead to energy saving initiatives with significant long-term benefits. The church, which has made energy and financial savings, even has a thermometer in the pulpit to make sure the congregation is warm enough but not overheated.

… NOT OVERHEATED ?!?!? I did not need a thermometer to gauge the temperature at this morning’s service. I simply looked at the breath rising as white steam from ten mouths as we sang. Despite the overnight rain that has washed away most of the snow, and the accompanying leap in temperature to double figures, inside our Norman church it is still about 3 degrees. The Rev Fred DREAMS of the congregation getting overheated. But it’s never going to happen.

We are currently taking lots of meter readings to monitor our electric wall-mounted radiant heaters (installed circa 1980). But not so we can reduce our carbon footprint. No, it’s because funeral directors are insisting that we justify the PCC’s charges for everything, including heating. And given that I had to put the heaters on five hours prior to the funeral last week, just to take the chill off, I really don’t think we’re going to have any trouble justifying the cost. Indeed, we may well find we’ve been under-charging!

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A blustery afternoon, but at least we didn’t get rained on during our special Rogation Sunday service. As it was a 5th Sunday, this was a benefice – or group – service. It was held at the smallest church in the group, which is set in the middle of farmland at least half a mile from all that remains of the village it once served.

You can drive to the church, but it helps to have a 4×4, because the single track lane peters out into the farmyard that makes up the principal residence now, and then turns into a rutted track that heads out across the fields. The churchyard is carefully UNtended as a wild-flower meadow, with a mown path around the church and up to the door, but the rest of the grass and flowers allowed to grow up around the old grey headstones. The whole is ringed round by a stout stone wall that keeps out the sheep, with a kissing gate at the only entrance. (The sheep have just been shorn, and were bleating like mad in protest at their drafty new hairstyle….)

Inside, the tiny church has no electricity and seats 50 at a pinch. The plain lime-washed walls are damp, but the church is light and friendly-feeling, without any Victorian stained glass to darken the mood. The organist has to pedal like mad when playing the harmonium-style organ, and the poor chap gets quite out of breath if it’s a hymn with more than five verses!

Anyway, a windswept congregation of 30 or so (six times bigger than the usual number) followed the Rev Fred around the outside of the churchyard wall, blessing the crops and livestock, praying for good weather and thanking God for our natural environment… and then we dived into the church to sing a couple of hymns, the organist puffing away at the harmonium like someone out of a Thomas Hardy novel.

A lovely, timeless service. And let’s hope the rain that we prayed for comes soon. Earlier in the day this churchwarden and her Terrier took a walk through the rape field (flowers finished, thank goodness) and had to watch our footing over cracks about 10 inches deep in the hard-packed earth. I could put my entire hand inside the cracks and still not reach the bottom.

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We’ve having a special service next week, to celebrate the wonderful language of the King James Bible. It was my idea, but thankfully, everyone else has run with it and I have very little to do except cajole people into providing refreshments after the service.

We’ve decided to make it a Benefice service, one that all the parishes in our group will come together for. The Rev Fred is planning the detail, creating a one-off version of Evensong (a form of service we no longer use) and turning it into what he calls a Hymn Sandwich.

So, a little like the Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas, we’ll have five or six memorable passages from the Bible read, in between some of our finest old hymns. We’re choosing readers from around the villages, and are fortunate to have some wonderful performers including a Churchwarden from ‘next door’ with a deep, fruity voice like Donald Sinden – I’m really looking forward to that reading – though I’m leaving the selection process to the Rev Fred, who is aiming for passages containing phrases that have passed into the English Language and that resonate wtih us all.

At one point the Rev Fred got a bit over-enthusiastic and suggested we all dress up in 17th century garb, and ate and drank authentic refreshments. Perhaps he was winding me up, but we’ve settled for hot savoury bites (mini sausage rolls and quiches) accompanied by some good old Herefordshire cider (the best). I’m in charge of the cider (being an afficionado) and ‘the ladies’ will bake.

Is anyone else marking the 400th Anniversary in a similar way? I’ve heard a few things on BBC radio, and visited the excellent website for the King James Bible Trust but I haven’t seen much locally. I am hopeful that some of our older residents, including those who have never darkened our door since the Book of Common Prayer was abandoned, will come just for the poetry of the occasion – and then discover that today’s church isn’t so bad….

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Pancake Sunday

Scotch Pancakes, require no tossing!

I don’t think Pancake Sunday is in the Lectionary of official church festivals, but it is in ours now.

A few weeks ago I suggested that we liven up the March Family Service by cooking pancakes in church. “It will be a great way to relate Pancake Day to Lent and stuff,” I said. “And it will be fun.” Always up for a laugh, the Rev Fred agreed at once.

Fun? What was I thinking of. Our church is not exactly equipped for catering. We don’t even have hot water: just a cold tap and sink in the space under the tower. And what were we going to cook on?

Genuine paella pan on 'guitar' burner

The answer turned out to be a paella kit, consisting of a guitar-shaped gas ring with a little gas bottle, and a huge steel paella pan – great for kids to drop their individual scotch pancakes onto, so each could cook their own – and no-one would be tempted to toss them! But it is definitely NOT non-stick and I’d got no idea how hot it could get.

Did I say fun? When I was brillo-padding the pan yesterday, I was less convinced. And when my super-dooper cordless stick-blender seized up 15 minutes before service started, I was sure it was all going to be a dis-a-a-ster.

I legged it across to Joyce’s house to borrow her electric whisk and found her in a smoke-filled kitchen, slaving over a hot Aga, flipping pancakes on the hot plates, in preparation for feeding everyone after service.

Thankfully, all went well. Don’t ask me about the Rev Fred’s sermon, because I was fiddling with the gas ring and trying not to set fire to any small children, so I couldn’t concentrate on it. Together, the Rev and half a dozen brave children (the rest were rightly worried about third degree burns) made scotch pancakes from scratch, AND COOKED THEM in front of an audience – er, I mean congregation -of 35.

Afterwards, everyone stayed for Joyce’s melt-in-the-mouth-still-warm-from-the-Aga pancakes, slathered either with maple syrup or butter.

Excellent! Pancakes may not be very biblical, but I’ll warrant those kids will remember what they did in church today.

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I skived off this Sunday, going back to my roots 100 miles away for a friend’s birthday party. David and Elizabeth (retired Churchwardens and my usual ‘reserve’ team) were also away, so I had to second Harriet to deputise for me.

She was really worried about it, poor thing – but it is good for other people in the team to keep their hand in – after all, I could be run over by a bus tomorrow… well, I could be if it’s a Thursday (market day) and it’s 8am or 3pm – about the only bus service we have!

I have a prompt sheet that covers how to set up the altar and where all the switches are – which I originally made for me, but now is laminated and hanging on a hook in the vestry just in case. So Harriet clung to this to make sure she got it all done in the right order and – of course – everything went smoothly.

You see? I’m not indispensable. Other people can do it too. Now, I wonder if I could persuade Harriet to stand for election as the second Churchwarden at the AGM this year? It’s time we had someone else on the team, I think.

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Thankfully, today’s Remembrance Sunday service went really well.  This week’s volunteer clock-winder re-set the clock to the correct time (it gains 10 minutes over the course of the week) so that the Rev Fred and I were able to time the start of the service pretty accurately.

This meant that the Chairman of the Parish Council read out the names of the Fallen of both World Wars (an all-too long list from WW1, and just one name for WW2) and we promised ‘to remember them’ …  then the two minutes’ Silence started, into the middle of which the full, round tones of the clock struck 11 times – perfect.

The first lesson was beautifully read by the village’s own member of today’s armed services, Simon, resplendent in his RAF uniform and whose steel-capped shoes rang out on the old floor tiles as he marched to the lectern.  The four children, who had especially asked their parents if they could come, behaved impeccably and a goodly sum from the collection is heading its way to support the work of the Royal British Legion.

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