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Because I lose this number every year I thought I’d put it on the blog. And I thought you might need it too. If you are doing a Child Tax Credit return and you are an Anglican clergy family (or, I’m told, a spy or other sort of strange profession, but I’m also told it only applies to Anglican clergy – a perk of the established church, perhaps), you don’t call the number they have on the Child Tax Credit form. That would be too obvious.

You have to call their special secret number: 0345 302 1493. And unlike the main number, it is only open Monday-Friday from 8.30-5pm. Today it is experiencing ‘high call volumes’. And you only have until 31st July to call them. But at least you won’t spend hours on hold to the wrong number first….

Our plaster disaster is taking a while to sort out. I think we’re at 5 weeks meeting in the church hall on Sundays now. The builders have been busy removing great chunks of plaster and replacing it, and have been putting protective epoxy on some of the woodwork (I think, I wasn’t taking in the detail very well). They’ve had a lot to do – it all needs painting to match the existing decoration too. A much loved saint from our congregation went on to glory a couple of weeks ago and it would be lovely if the church could be ready for her funeral next week. I spoke to the builders as they finished yesterday and I think we’re going to be on track for finishing in time.

In the meantime, there is an enormous scaffolding structure occupying the whole of the front of the church. Our building is a great space, and pretty flexible as Victorian churches go. But getting scaffolding and builders sorted out is a lot more complicated than when there’s a bit of plaster coming down in the bathroom at home. Various brilliant members of the church have been involved in finding, contacting and appointing the contractor and organising diocesan architects and what not. The Vicar has had a hand on it all – including a trip to the top of the scaffolding. And I’ve been letting the contractors in and out for the last few days. There’s been a fair few people involved.

Next week could be a bit tight and is sure to require all hands on deck with the mops and dusters once the workers have left. We love our building, but it can be quite a lot of work. The photos are pretty rubbish, I’m afraid – but you can get an idea of the scaffolding size at least. The work is going on at the junction between the main roof (painted a shade of orange) and the wall between the nave and the chancel (a version of magnolia). Damp and ants were our problems. Hopefully the epoxy should stop the damp and the lack of damp will discourage the ants and we’ll not have anything more fall from the heights for a few years. I’m staying optimistic on this.

This is a fabulously fresh, easy and tasty recipe. It uses ingredients I nearly always have in, so is great if extra mouths need feeding, or if I’m not feeling up to fancy cuisine. A perennial Vicarage favourite, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Ingredients

  • Potatoes – 2-3 medium per fairly hungry person, peeled (if not new) and chopped into large chunks
  • Greens – cabbage (white, sweetheart or Savoy) or Spring greens are fine – finely sliced – a good handful per person
  • Bacon (2-3 rashers per person – I normally use smoked streaky), or leftover gammon, chopped
  • 1 lemon (for up to 4 people)
  • Olive oil

Boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes, then add the shredded greens for 3-4 minutes in with the potatoes. Whilst the potatoes are cooking, fry your bacon in its own fat or gammon in some olive oil.

Once the potatoes and cabbage are cooked, drain & place in a serving dish and pour over bacon or gammon in its oil. Add the finely grated rind & juice of your lemon and perhaps some extra-virgin olive oil, and lots of black pepper. Serve immediately. Help yourself to seconds.

Lemony Greens

 

On Hospitality

We’ve not been feeding people all that much lately. I got a nasty virus after Christmas and seemed to lose steam all the way to Easter. Sunday lunches (our usual slot for planned hospitality) were confined to the Vicarage household plus Dreamer. And I almost began to think that it was too much hassle to have anyone else over on a Sunday at all.

But then, just a couple of weeks ago, we had a sunny weekend. And I was overcome with a desire to barbecue. And that seemed like an easier Sunday lunch to organise. So we invited a family we’d been meaning to invite over for ages. And then we thought about another family who we’d seen a lot over our Easter mission and the Vicar called them but they didn’t answer the phone. So then we invited someone else. And then the second family rang back. And we invited them too. And so it was that we ended up having 18 people for Sunday lunch.

And you know what? In the garden, with the old church hall trestle tables from the shed, lovely sunshine and lots of laughter, eighteen people seemed like a perfectly normal number. And after that, inviting a family of five for Sunday lunch this week didn’t seem like a big thing either. It was actually very lovely to talk to people and enjoy eating with them. Of course I knew that, but I’d forgotten. And then this week I read this lovely post about Scruffy Hospitality by Wesley Hill, and it helped me to remember that the purpose of hospitality is the cultivation of friendship, the sharing of lives. And cooking a bit of extra food is really not that much trouble. It really isn’t.

So I’m grateful this week for a renewed vision for hospitality: scruffy hospitality, messy hospitality, doable hospitality, just inviting people anyway hospitality, hospitality for the saints, hospitality for the stranger, hospitality without grumbling, hospitality that is a welcome and a blessing. And I’m praying that we’ll keep on getting together with the saints and with strangers, we’ll keep on inviting others into the Vicarage for laughing and talking and growing community, building the body. That’s my prayer this week.

The Vicar planned to take a couple of days off this half term to hang out with the family. Today however, he has been talking to insurance people and building people about a little incident in church on Sunday. In the morning the early birds arrived to a bit of plaster dust on the floor of the chancel. We’d had a problem with ants in the roof last year, so we assumed it was the same thing, and the area where the plaster had landed was taped off. It seemed appropriate timing, since the Vicar and our PCC Health and Safety rep had only just attended a Health and Safety training event on Saturday.

Our Sunday services (10.30am & 6.30pm for us, 12.30am for the other church that shares our building, plus our 4.30pm SOUL course) all went along without a hitch. Then, as the final folk were milling around at the end of the evening service and the organist was playing a closing voluntary, there was a massive BANG. And plaster showered down over the chancel and into the nave. A huge chunk had broken off the decorative plasterwork in the ceiling and it dropped down, breaking into pieces and damaging lights and a microphone in its descent.

We are very thankful that the plaster disaster happened after everything had finished. If it had exploded when communion was happening on Sunday morning, there could easily have been injuries. As it is, the Vicar’s holiday has been a little disrupted, and there’s a bit of work ahead to sort out (and pay for) but otherwise we’re fine. Things falling off our church, inside and out, happens almost annually. We love our old building, but sometimes it gives us a bit of a fright. Who’d have thought they only made the plasterwork to last 173 years, eh?

The hazards of Victorian plasterwork

The hazards of Victorian plasterwork

Here’s a couple of photos I took last week – one with a sofa & an armchair out on the street (a la James Turner Street) and another as I went, rather surprisingly, for a run in our local park, where the bluebells were magnificently spread under trees as I plodded round on my Couch to 5K route.

People move house a lot round here, so we often see mattresses or other furniture out, as things are left in the hope of collection. Many don’t have cars to take stuff to the dump so it just sits there until – until I’m not sure what – they get a friend to take it away perhaps? Recently we’ve been wondering where some lovely kids who were regulars in church and in our Kids Club have got to. Sadly it looks like they moved after Easter some time. We didn’t get to say goodbye, which makes us sad. We’re praying they’ve ended up in a place where they’ll find a welcoming church to join.

Some of the things we see on our streets are reminders of the brokenness of our area – the poverty and the mobility which breaks community. But the bluebells helped me remember the Lord’s kindness and generosity. There was no need for him to make bluebells so shockingly beautiful. But he did, and they have been gladdening my heart since I saw them.

 

I was just noodling about to see how the local churches I mentioned a while ago had got on with finding new vicars. And the news is as follows:

  • St Matthew’s Walsall are still on the hunt – if you’re quick you could still apply to be vicar of the main Anglican church in Walsall. The deadline is 28th May so you’d better get a move on!
  • It rather looks like St Matthew’s in Tipton also failed to appoint – they are suggesting that you contact their patrons for further details.
  • And Holy Trinity Heath Town’s website doesn’t say and neither does their Facebook page, so it’s not clear whether they have a new vicar or not, but [edit to reflect comment below] they *have* appointed and the new vicar is being licensed at the end of June.

If you are looking for an incumbency, or know someone who is, do consider the Black Country. We’d love to see more good gospel work in our neighbouring tow-uns. Pray for us in this neck of the woods – that visionary ministers would make the move to come and lead our churches.

The Black Country flag – bet you didn’t know we had one, eh?

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