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It can be hard to imagine what a Vicar does all day, particularly if you watch Midsomer Murders, where the clergy mainly seem to skulk about looking sinister and then getting murdered. Or doing something nefarious.

So to give you a glimpse of what the Vicar does in our parish, here’s a set of pictures from a couple of days ago, showing you what the Vicar does on a Monday after leading a school assembly and meeting with church staff to plan the week ahead.

He’s got the pump that we’re using temporarily to drain down the basement where the boilers for the church heating are located. The old pump has been broken for a while and this is actually the one from the birthing pool we used to use for baptisms (we now have a shallower, wider heated paddling pool). The old pump worked automatically, but this one has to be switched on when the basement gets flooded. And it can get a bit clogged and mucky. So after draining the basement down following some recent heavy rain, it was brought into our back yard for cleaning, and for making an amusing fountain.

They don’t give you lectures on drain pump maintenance at theological college. Or on boilers for that matter. But they probably should.

A Walk in the Tow-un

On Wednesday mornings I meet with our Families and Community Worker, Dreamer, to pray. We often start our time together by walking Freddie the dog – we get a lot of pre-prayer chatting done, and a bit of healthy exercise into the bargain.

This week Dreamer had a parcel to collect from our local sorting office, so instead of our usual round of the local park, we walked along the Metro line and up to the industrial estate where the Royal Mail are based. We rather enjoyed this bit of graffiti on a unit on the estate. Freddie was not so amused.

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So today we launch into Lent. I already have a couple of disciplines on the go this year – Doing the Next Thing and the February declutter (just about up to date, I’m pleased to say, mainly children’s books that my kids have now grown out of).

So my main focus this Lent is going to be something partly inspired by the 40acts initiative – we have the family wallchart up in the kitchen. And it’s partly inspired by the door to door visiting that Dreamer and I did in the new estate in the parish. Before Christmas, we went to every house with a paper lunch bag containing a home made Christmas decoration, a bag of chocolate coins, details about regular church activities and invitations to our Christmas events. People were surprised and pleased to be given something with no strings attached. We called them Bags of Blessing.

So this Lent my plan is to take 40 Bags of Blessing round to people in the parish – houses and shops and other places. I began today with a family who live opposite us. I often talk to the mum and admire her as she shepherds four lively boys down to the school gate every day. So today I knocked on her door and handed over the bag, which was almost immediately ripped open by the 3 year old, who identified it as containing goodies. Tomorrow I’m going to visit the pharmacy on the High Street with a bag. I’m enjoying planning who I could visit. The next few will contain a few sweeties, a bargain Lidl daffodil plant, a homemade heart decoration and few leaflets about church activities that might be useful. I’m going to adapt them as Lent progresses and depending on who I’m visiting.

What are you up to for Lent?

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Wednesday was quite a cluttered day here in the Vicarage. Jolly left for a new safe home, and the Vicar spent the morning with him, the Hope for Justice team, and CID. As you do. Meanwhile, I was with the team running our monthly soup lunch. For a chilly February day we served Melrose lentil soup and an approximation of Spiced Root Soup. There were also whole orange cakes for afters. And then our dear friend Song came to spend her day off with us and so Wednesday disappeared with rather a lack of attention to the mess.

Pleasingly, today’s rummage in the boys’ bedroom meant I could knock out 3+4 items easily. Look! Lots of picture books that haven’t been read for quite some time. And I’m not even going to hold some of them back for later in the month – I’ve barely started with the book shelves in there.

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Today has been pretty busy in the Vicarage. The Vicar spent most of the day helping Jolly, who’s been staying in our shed. He’s been at the police station about it and has met the team from Hope For Justice, who have been brilliant. With their help, we expect Jolly’s story to improve immensely from now on. He ate supper with us this evening and he told us some of his story, which has had some amazing twists and turns along the way. We are glad to have been a part of it.

I’ve been cooking for our community soup lunch tomorrow. But I’m not sure that the mountains of vegetable peelings properly count as decluttered objects, alas. But when I was in the bathroom this morning I realised that a couple of bath lilies were really quite scraggy. So they’ve gone out. And I’m going to chuck some more bathroom debris as I go to bed tonight. I need to get some control over that collection of almost empty shampoo bottles…

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I am terrible at throwing stuff away. I can always see a use for it (the curse of creativity) and so the clutter slowly covers all surfaces and occupies all cupboards. So when a vicar’s wife friend started a declutter “game” on Facebook last February I joined it. The idea is to declutter on each day of February, starting with chucking one thing on 1st February, two on 2nd February and working up to 28 (29 this year!) things on the last day of the month. In a non leap year, that gives you a grand total of 406 items disposed of, and 435 this year, if you keep going to the end.

There are no formal rules, so today I chucked a load of out-of-date pulses out, and I’m counting that as one item. Later in the month I might have counted each individual extra wizened chick pea to make the total for the day (sometimes I found myself needing to stretch the numbers last year).

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No counting rules!

Last year I managed about half the month, and it was definitely worthwhile. Obviously you get most done in the second half of the month, but I still managed some fairly effective clearing out. I found the focus of getting rid of something every day very helpful. Counting is a good way to Do the Next Thing. This February I’m giving it another shot, and if you’d like to join me, I shall be posting progress on here.

My distractibility and butterfly mind can be a creative strength. What they are not, however, is an aid to focussed prayer.

Reading my bible and devotional material is one thing, but a concentrated session of prayer often seems too much to tackle. It has recently, at least.

Do the Next Thing Prayer

A prayer meeting is fine, getting together with my prayer partner is great, but me, praying on my own, that’s too big. So in this year of Doing the Next Thing, I need to learn to commit to doing prayer as the Next Thing.

And so last week I was prompted to return to the best aid I’ve found for reducing distraction in prayer – the most excellent PrayerMate App (also available for Apple products). I have my PrayerMate sorted out so that I start with reading things – a psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, the Church of England Collect for the day. Then I pray for family, friends and further afield. I’d forgotten I’d set my prayers up like that, it had been so long. It wasn’t as scary as I remembered, nor as difficult to do.

I was gently eased into prayer, and I was reminded of the Puritan injunction to ‘pray until you pray‘, which I first read about in Don Carson’s terrific book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation. I’ve found this to be wise advice. Prayer takes work and it takes time to find the focus required. So beginning my prayer time using written prayers I don’t have to think about too much helps me to start praying. And once I start praying, finding my own words to keep praying seems easier.

PrayerMate got a shiny new update just a few days ago, making it even better to use and prettier to look at. One of the lovely teenagers from my dorm at our summer holiday venture bounced up to me on Saturday to tell me that she’d downloaded the app. And she’d even used it a bit too. So if a distracted 13 year old can use it, so can I. And maybe you too? Do the Next Thing – Do It with Prayer.

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