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Archive for September, 2009

Ive not yet worn my hat indoors...

I've not yet worn my hat indoors...

Cold vicarages seem to be a hot topic for discussion. Since I posted last week I’ve also remembered a couple of other techniques that we use to keep the frostbite at bay.

  • Our electric blanket. Not yet on the bed but absolutely essential for later in the season. With cold feet I cannot get to sleep at all. The poor man’s alternative is the good old hot water bottle. My mother has bought a large selection to be set aside for visitors. The children like them too, especially when they have covers in the shape of racoons.
  • My teasmade. I have a hot cup of tea every morning (Roiboos, without milk, so much less hassle than having to fetch semi skimmed). This is also a great encouragement to prayer and bible reading. What else to do whilst tea-drinking first thing? It’s sometimes a battle to switch off the Today programme, though.

Quite a few commentators have mentioned the ‘sell the vicarage and buy something warm and modern’ option. This is appealing in many ways but also has its downsides. The expectation is that a warm modern vicarage is a pleasure to live and work in and doesn’t cost a bomb to heat or to maintain. However, not all modern vicarages are chosen well – it seems that some are poorly located away from the church or community, and houses that are not specifically designed as vicarages can lack rooms of the right size or configuration.

In our diocese cold vicarages have been identified as a source of clergy stress and there are plans afoot for double glazing. In the meantime, please continue to share your warmth tips.

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I was listening to Radio 4’s ‘The News Quiz’ on BBC iPlayer earlier this evening. As usual, it was laugh-out-loud funny, but I especially enjoyed a section about 12 minutes in. It was about the dear old Church of England and some of the activities of bishops in the run-up to Back to Church Sunday, especially the Bishop of Reading’s remark that Jesus would be more likely to shop at Aldi or Asda rather than Marks and Spencer.

Jeremy Hardy summed up the English experience of cultural Christianity quite well:

I was raised in the Church of England. I can’t say I’m lapsed. You can’t really lapse if you’re an Anglican. You don’t lose your faith, you just can’t remember where you left it.

Another panelist remarked:

He would shop at Aldi…. Jesus saves.

If you want to listen for yourself it will be available on iPlayer until Friday 2nd October.

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Living in a vicarage is an enormous privilege. Ours is a seven-bedroomed three storey detached Victorian house with a large garden, outbuildings and a cellar. It’s wonderful to have so much space to live in and to share with parishioners as we offer hospitality.

Big houses can be freeeeezing

Big houses can be freeeeezing

Vicars tend to have big houses so that they can have meetings and offer hospitality (well, I guess that’s the reasoning). I think there are even some minimum size stipulations for living rooms to ensure that you can fit the entire PCC in. So we have a big house. And a stipend of about £20k. The size of the budget is not at all proportionate to the size of the house and the associated heating bills. In fact, if we hadn’t made careful provision, I’m sure we’d fall into the government’s ‘fuel poverty’ bracket (more than 10% of income spent on heating).

We have a boiler that’s 20 years old, single glazed sash windows and 10 foot ceilings. Beautiful but freezing. The diocese is poor and doesn’t have the budget to ensure modern levels of comfort in every house.

So what techniques do clergy families use to keep warm in their huge and unheatable homes?

  • Clothing layers and slippers. As I type this up I am wearing my fleece gilet. Essential clothing for a vicar’s wife. At our last church, the vicar’s wife had a down-filled one which she wore nearly all year round.
  • Limited room use. We stick to the kitchen and one family room most of the time.
  • Baking. And porridge in the mornings. It really helps if you have the cooker on.

Before we moved here, we also decided to use some savings, our harvest from working as engineers in the Far East before we had children. We decided that we’d spend it on being warm in the vicarage. So we’ve installed two wood-burning stoves in the main reception rooms and underfloor heating in the bathrooms. We reckoned that this way we could be warm in the mornings and evenings without having to pay for the boiler to heat the whole house.

This seems to be working very well so far. We’ve managed to remain very comfortable without the heating until now and are hoping we can last until half term this way. The vicar is getting very skilful with the wood-burning stoves, but I’ll save all that for another post.

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Today I’m beginning a little series about Sunday lunches in our Vicarage. I’m planning to post some recipes and photos and everything. But for today I want to just talk about who comes to lunch.

We have found that Sunday lunch is a great opportunity to offer hospitality and get to know people in the congregation. Although folk in the inner city don’t really do dinner parties, people are very happy to come over for a meal after church.

I can't promise beef every Sunday

I can't promise beef every week

Ever since I lived and worked in Cambridge in my twenties, my Vicarage Sunday lunch model has been the amazing meals served up by Fiona Ashton, (wife of Mark, vicar of StAG). Every week (it seemed) about 15 people joined the family for lunch, with a full roast and at least three puddings. I only went a couple of times – in a church of over 700 people I was just delighted to be asked. I’m not sure how Mark and Fiona organised their guest list either, but it was wonderful to be able to meet a real mix of people, as well as spend time with the Ashtons.

When we moved to our Vicarage, we decided we would try to be vaguely systematic and invite (over time) everyone on our church’s electoral roll (71 people). So far (six months in) I think we’re about a third of the way through. Of course, we’ve had a few Sundays off, a few with local friends, a few with visiting family and a couple of Sunday afternoon open houses (with tea and cake) when we first arrived. And yesterday the bishop came over with his family. We also try and invite newcomers if we can. One of the reasons that we settled in our church in Malaysia was the wonderful hospitality offered to us on our first Sunday there.

Sometimes it’s just one family who comes over, other times we manage a mix of people. Our table is not quite large enough for Ashton-sized gatherings but often there are ten or more people squeezed in. We can have more folk when the weather is good and we can sit in the garden.

I love our Sunday lunches and our kids enjoy meeting a wide range of people. The Queen is great at being hospitable and specialises in taking snacks round as I panic with the gravy at the last minute. The boys specialise in eating up quickly and wanting pudding. I hope they keep enjoying them as they get older, as I see these lunches as an important part of our ministry here – one that all the family can share in.

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So the kids are back at school and everyone is busy catching up on the local gossip. The neighbourhood drug dealers are a popular topic of conversation. Chattychap thinks that some of the teenagers in the area are being recruited to make the actual drug deliveries. This distances the dealers from the deals. And sadly some of the local kids don’t have very clear moral frameworks and would find the idea of making easy money very appealing.

Everyone knows who the dealers are, even the local police (I had a chat with them the other day about it). But to nick them, they need to catch them with the stuff, or in the act. This is extremely tricky, with a single PC and two PCSOs covering an area a good bit larger than our parish, which is home to nearly 3,000 souls.

The PCSOs told me that the best way that local people can help to get rid of these guys is to note any deals or activity that we see happening and pool them together to give to the police. But mostly it feels like nothing is being done, even though everyone knows what’s going on.

I saw the dealers just the other day, hanging about with some other guys at the top of our street. I couldn’t see a drug deal, but they were just standing around looking suspicious, maybe waiting for a deal or a delivery. Can the police use that? I doubt it.

Recently an elderly lady in our congregation was badly hurt when she was mugged very near to the church. The thief stole her handbag in broad daylight. Most people agree that it was probably a drug addict. We need to rid our neighbourhood of the dealers, but it seems an almost impossible task. I believe in the transforming power of the gospel, but we need to know people first to tell them of the forgiveness Jesus can give and how he can change lives. And I’m a little nervous about introducing myself.

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I’m not sure how many people is a crowd, but we did have 15 children in our garden on Saturday afternoon. A sunny day always draws the masses, but after the 20th (I am not exaggerating) ring on the doorbell, I did begin to get a little hysterical.

Thankfully, some of the kids were there with their mums, which meant I was able to sit outside and enjoy a coffee with them and not feel that I had sole supervision responsibility. The bigger kids who were after bike mending spanners did not gain garden admittance. But they rang at least four times.

The trampoline can get a little crowded

The trampoline can get a little crowded

We have the largest garden in the neighbourhood, a trampoline and a monkey swing and sociable kids, so it’s no surprise that they all want to come and play. Folk don’t arrange playdates or invite their children’s friends over for tea in the inner city – the kids seem to arrange the social diaries themselves. If I’m feeling up to it I’ll let most of them in, but I’m feeling a need to reapply my Vicarage and garden entry rules. Am I missing any?

  1. No entry without me seeing you come in.
  2. No entry if my kids are not in the mood.
  3. No entry if I haven’t met your mum/nan/carer (I didn’t apply this rigorously enough yesterday).
  4. You go home when I say.
  5. Shoes off indoors.
  6. Be kind to everyone.
  7. Speak in a way that pleases God.

We want to be hospitable to the local children – we have a hospitable God who invites us to eat at his table, and we want to reflect his character. It’s a challenge for me to be graciously inviting all the time though. And so on Sunday I lacked grace with a doorstep caller. I am praying that I will remember God’s welcome more and more so that I am able to share it in increasing measure.

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Although I am sadly unable to attend myself (and my theological expertise may not be up to it) I would like to encourage my more expert readers to check out this training opportunity.

I know both the speakers well and have learnt much about the Lord from them both – they are godly Christians and wonderful communicators. I am sure that the day will be both stimulating and fun. You can check out both their websites.

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