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Archive for May, 2010

One day earlier this week saw me strolling up to tow-un (you have to use the Black Country pronounciation, or it’s just not right) just before lunch. The Vicar had run out of printer paper. Both he & Happy needed some and they had others coming over for a meeting an hour later.

So, seeing the sunshine, I offered to head into Wilkinsons for their very cheap paper. Happy needed his paper to print out parts of his application form for a BAP. For those of you who are not up with all the Anglican jargon, a BAP is a Bishop’s Advisory Panel also often called a selection conference. None the wiser? Well, it’s a two day roasting interview where candidates for ordained ministry for the Church of England are put through their paces. Happy has one coming up in July and needs to get his forms in soon.

He has been away house-sitting for a few days in order to think through his forms and fill them out in peace. The Vicarage is not the best place to be if you want silence to work. Especially not on Sunday when local kids were availing themselves of the tap in our outside loo to fill up water pistols, bottles and buckets for a monster water fight that went on all afternoon on our street, accompanied by raucous squealing.  So Happy came over for this meeting, some lunch and to print out his forms. And for proofreading, which I love to do. I can usually spot a spelling or grammatical error at 50 paces. Although not always on the blog. Sorry.

We need it!

The forms are still a work in progress, but we’re very pleased to be supporting Happy through this process. God (and the CofE) willing, it will mean that Happy goes off to training in September. So we’re praying for someone equally servant hearted and easy-going to come and live with us and serve in our church next year. It’s a great way to explore if ordained ministry is for you, and our diocese are very supportive of the scheme. You can check out the ad on the Vicar’s blog.

If there’s anyone you know who might be interested (they don’t have to be considering ordination, just be keen to have a year or two in church ministry) do please refer them to us! I don’t promise to do their ironing, but they can have homemade cake on a very regular basis…

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I’d been getting all excited about our gooseberry bush. It is bursting with green berries. I had visions of gooseberry fool and pickles and pies and all sorts of yumminesses. And then this afternoon I saw it. MOULD. On the end of nearly every fruit-heavy branch.

What a sad waste - I hacked off about 100 berries

It seems that we have American Gooseberry Mildew. Just like the Yanks, coming over here and ruining our traditional summer desserts. So I went and hacked the plant back, following advice on websites, although it looks like I might be a bit late – you’re meant to do that in the winter. I don’t know if this will stop the spread this year, but I’m going to watch it like a hawk now. Mostly the advice said to plant resistant bushes. Not much good if it’s already there.

Anyone else inherited a gooseberry plant that was mouldy? Will I get any fruit this year?

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The Rector’s Wife is a regular commentator on this blog, and recently she made an aside remark about her experiences collecting charity envelopes which made me want to find out more! I asked her to send me the whole story so I could share it with you…

You know how when you knock on someone’s door, then you sometimes see a little face peeping out through the window to see who is there?  Well there I am, knocking on doors to collect Christian Aid envelopes, and I see the vertical blinds at the window twitch and there’s a little monkey.  First of all I think it’s a toy but then I look a the arms pulling back the blinds and I think – hey it is a real monkey!

Fortunately for my sanity my 8 year old, Thomas, was with me, and a boy he knew from school was playing on the street and chatting to Thomas, and it turned out he lived next door.

So I asked the boy if there was a monkey living at the house – and he said yes, also two porcupines, a snake, a pig… and I think there were some others.  Apparently they own a pet shop.

Strangely Thomas wasn’t bothered about the monkey, but he thought it was pretty yuck that they had a pig!  But at least he could confirm to my husband that I really had seen a monkey (unlike the camel in a field story, when the Rector didn’t believe me for weeks until he saw it himself, but that’s another story, not related to churches or vicars or anything like that!).

I also discovered that one of the houses down the road has a fire engine in the front garden.  Which I had never noticed before (although to be fair the house is tucked away in the corner, with high hedges.)

So there you have it – the joys of collecting. And maybe an interesting incentive for visiting the parish door to door. Not seen any monkeys around here though. Plenty of Staffies, yes, but definitely no monkeys. Or fire engines, come to think of it.

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Whilst searching for the YouTube link to the Daily Mail song for a friend I came across a new clip by Dan & Dan, entitled Dan/Dan Coalition. Cheer up your Monday morning by watching.

I think I’m Home Secretary in the Vicarage (definitely i/c loo rolls), but thankfully not Chancellor (although responsible for the tax returns…).

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We had Sainsbury’s yoghurts for pudding yesterday. Too tired even to make Easy Peasy Elegants. I bought their Basics yoghurts as an experiment on my last expedition to the Savacentre. They offer 2 strawberry and 2 peach low fat yoghurts for 15p. Yes, 15p! I reasoned that I could afford to throw them out if they were inedible.

But they weren’t. Astonishing. And they can’t be made in China. It’s too far to transport them. So those will be going in the Vicarage trolley again. Just thought I’d share the frugality wisdom. So you can spend the spare change on chocolate or gin or something.

Cheap AND edible. Brilliant.

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We don't go this fast...

I’ve recently started a new routine: evening walks a couple of times a week with my pal Beauty and her mum. In an Anglican sort of way, we began the day after Rogation Sunday, just over a week ago, when Vicars are traditionally meant to ‘beat the bounds’ of their parish ie walk around the boundary.

We don’t quite beat the bounds, but we do a good half hour loop within the parish, past houses and the metro line and through a local park. We go at about 6.30pm, whilst the Vicar puts the kids to bed.

I’ve found I’ve been sleeping better already. I’m not sure we’re walking fast enough for it to help much with my waistline, but so far I’m loving the exercise, the open air and the chats. I’m hoping we’ll keep it up in the weeks to come. I think it may prove to be a good source of blog material too, given the encounters we’ve had so far.

As you’d expect in our parish, you get to see interesting sights on a walk about in the early evening. As we set off there are normally some squealy kids on scooters and bikes in the churchyard. Sometimes we have a chat with them as we head off past the metro stop. The first time we walked we spotted three dodgy looking chaps in a patch of woodland. Local police confirmed that that area was being used by drug addicts, now that they’ve cleared away from the churchyard.

Another night we spotted the local drug dealer with his new car and last night there was a whole cluster of dubious characters hanging about on the street when I got home, including a druggie I recognised. I think they’d been collecting their doses. But the oddest thing yesterday evening was meeting the Russians.

As we passed one of the metro stops we walk by, there was a group of people looking like puzzled tourists. Not a normal sight in our post industrial town with nothing to do. When we chatted to them, they were trying to work out the best route to the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in the morning. As we made suggestions about possible routes (it’s not entirely straightforward from here) we got chatting. It turns out they were from a manufacturer of printing presses based in Moscow, who were over here for a trade fair. They were staying in a local hotel and had ventured out to see if they could have an evening out in Birmingham. Hope they had fun and  managed to get to the NEC on time this morning.

I’m loving my evening walks. Can’t wait to see what we’ll come across next time we’re out.

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As regular readers will know, on this blog I refer to my 8 year old daughter as the Queen. This originated when she played the Red Queen in a school performance of Alice in Wonderland. She was particularly good at shouting:

Off with her head!

She also has bossy tendencies. Can’t think where she got those from.

Anyway, the Queen’s organising and enterprising streak appeared in force a couple of weekends ago when she and four friends appeared in a ‘fashion show’ at the end of our monthly church coffee morning. The Queen and her pals have spent the last few months dressing up every time they get together.

The Queen, the Joker and friends looking fashionable

After reading a Christian kids’ book called ‘The Back Leg of a Goat‘ by Penny Reeve, where the heroine puts on a fashion show to raise money to buy a goat for a family in Africa, the Queen decided that she and her friends would do the same. So they put together their dressing clothes and also an old duvet and some other old outfits, liberally snipped about. The Joker was recruited to play some ‘jazz’ (actually some mellow acid jazz cds from the Vicarage collection).

They recruited kind neighbour Beauty, who knows everything about makeup and nails. Beauty came and preened them all up and the event was ready. We arranged for them to put on the show at the end of the monthly church coffee morning, so they had a captive audience. The Queen had worked hard at getting her Kids Klub leaders and other adult friends to come along. They’d made posters and flyers which they’d handed out.

The Queen and her friends enjoyed themselves  enormously as they paraded around the hall, although I don’t think I’d say that the fashion was ready for showing alongside the next Valentino collection. And with the help of the coffee morning bric-a-brac stall they cajoled over £60 from their audience. We are going to send off the money to the Barnabas Fund, for their education fund. The Queen and her friends wanted the money to go towards educating ‘poor children’.

I just hope that I can now throw out all the snipped up clothing and retrieve a small part of our very messy Vicarage…

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In our house, apart from at Sunday lunch, ‘pudding’ is nearly always fruit or yoghurt. Bor-ing. So I have recently developed a way of making dull weekday desserts seem exotic and elegant.

I love these glasses

It mainly involves some rather lovely tumblers from Ikea. Our parish is only 12 minutes (on a good day, when the M5/M6 junction isn’t blocked like a festival loo) from the Swedish superstore. Another advantage of West Midlands inner city ministry. Anyway, we have the tumblers in blue, and although they are obviously excellent for gin, we more often use them as pudding bowls. They are short and wide and a happy summery colour. Perfect for puds.

In them I place yoghurt or icecream, often some fresh fruit, perhaps a sweetie or sprinkles and a biscuit of some sort. Favourites are those Italian trifle sponge fingers with ‘Boudoir’ stamped on them. But yesterday we used some chocolate macaroons I’d made for my school mums coffee morning, using up some left-over egg whites. And if I’m feeling extra kind, the kids are also allowed to have umbrellas. I was feeling particularly munificent yesterday.

Leave one for me... (and don't look too closely at the mucky table)

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The Times newspaper has just published an obituary of Mark Ashton, our much-loved former vicar.

Many people have visited this site in the weeks since Mark died, and if you are looking for reflections on Mark’s life and ministry you may like to read mine or see what others had to say – I’ve collected blog posts from around the world, reflecting the way in which Mark touched so many.

You might also wish to order a copy of Mark’s book ‘On My Way to Heaven’ (you can read the text of the book in Evangelicals Now), or read details (with links to audio and video recordings) of the Thanksgiving Service that took place at StAG. The Ashton Thanksgiving Fund was set up in Mark’s memory – do give if you too benefitted from the ministry of this servant of God.

[Edit: Urban Pastor Richard Perkins has also paid tribute to Mark.]

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So much to do...

Not a question about whether to watch the election coverage on Twitter or listen on the radio, nor about where to start with the housework (the answer to that, of course, is ‘ANYWHERE. NOW.’), but a question about church.  This Sunday I played the keyboard for 3 of the 4 songs in our morning service. This was a big achievement for me, as I failed Grade 5 piano over 20 years ago and haven’t improved much since.

Thankfully, Happy played flute to give people the tune and the Queen and lovely church member BigVoice sang, so my fumblings weren’t too exposed. Happy found it a little stressful, tho’. He was also leading the first half of the service, so he was hopping up and down from the front to grab his flute after introducing the songs.

This is a typical dilemma for us on a Sunday: who should be doing what? In the last year since we arrived in parish I have prepared after-service refreshments,  operated the sound desk (and played the cds which usualy provide our musical accompaniment), led services, run youth bible studies during the sermon, operated the computer that projects our songs and liturgy and played  the keyboard for songs (this is the latest string to my bow). Almost everything apart from preaching and communion, really. I’m so thankful to be unqualified for those. I’ve not yet helped in the creche or Sunday school either, but not because it’s something I don’t feel able to do.

Obviously I can’t do everything I’m able to every Sunday. But sometimes it feels like I should be, as existing leaders are tired and worn out, or just don’t exist. (Anyone know a pianist who fancies joining a friendly inner city West Midlands church?). Somehow we need to work out what’s important and do that well first, and train others, before moving onto the next thing. So we need wisdom AND patience. As does our congregation, who do so much aswell, not just on Sundays, but throughout the week.

My old friend MacGirl is also a vicar’s wife. She wrote to me the other day about their church, where nearly everyone is over 65 and her husband is slowly trying to bring in the changes needed if the church is to live and grow again.

I can’t be in more than one place at a time…So we are taking decisions we hope carefully and wisely so as not to over commit my time…Our brains run through all kinds of scenarios that we would like to implement, but we can only go at the pace the church can cope with. I’m really learning to be patient.

Patience and wisdom always feel like they are in short supply here in our Vicarage. I’m praying that we grow in both these spiritual fruit as we try to make our Sunday services a place where believers and non-believers alike will feel welcomed, built up and challenged. Phew. At least I’ve not just been appointed to the government. Now there’s a job that’s going to need wisdom and patience (from the rest of us).

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