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WE’RE HO-OME! Actually we landed on Friday evening and have been home for three whole days now. The Vicar left Devon at 2pm on Friday with our car and trailer with a couple of Pathfinders and Mac from church who’d been helping on the Task Force, following the minibus. Dreamer and I departed at 3.30pm, but rocked up at the Vicarage just twenty minutes after the rest of the crew. With holiday traffic, departure time is everything. Anyway, we’re still in recovery mode here and I thought I’d share our key techniques with you:

1. Unpack. On arrival dispatch all non-residents of your home to their respective families asap. When Dreamer and I drew up, there were still a few waifs and strays at the Vicarage. Plus we still had five Indian missionaries staying. It took us a little while after all that to unload all our luggage and decompress. But you need to get all the kit out of the car/minibus. It’s not fun realising the next day that your sleeping bag is in Tipton because you didn’t unload things properly.

2. Takeaway for tea. Or something you froze before you went away. No matter how perky you think you feel on leaving camp, you will definitely be too tired to do more than pop something in the microwave or call EatWise. Consume in front of a movie. Do not attempt conversation.

3. Sleep. As much as possible. Do not arrange to play in a golf tournament early on Saturday morning *looks hard at someone resident in the Vicarage*. One of the main leaders from our venture slept 14 hours on Friday night. This seems like a suitable amount to me. NB Golf tournament didn’t happen in the end. Too tired, obvs.

4. Reminders. Note that you will have to regulate your life without the aid of a hooter (or bell, depending on your venture’s choice of noisy reminding instrument). Set alarms to remind you to come in for tea. Don’t set a morning alarm if at all possible (see point 4 above).

5. Laundry. There will be many loads. Take your time. You are unlikely to need the multi pocketed shorts in the week to come. Unless you are super keen and have a quick turnaround for another venture. Then you deserve a medal and a laundry company calling round.

Up later this week: more reflections on venture life, including an analysis of best costumes for the last night and tried and tested techniques to get your dorm to be quiet and go to sleep. Or something like that.

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All the usual things happened this afternoon:

1. We had a barbecue. Rev Ted and his family joined us, together with Dreamer, for a lovely lazy lunch to celebrate the Queen’s 14th birthday. (FOURTEEN! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?). We ate lots of salad and fruit as well as the obligatory meatfest. Because it’s after camp where we’d overindulged in carbs in a big way. Our insides need to recover a bit. There was lots of laughter and many tales of teenagers in Devon.

2. The family from over the road who have no garden and lots of children had a picnic in the churchyard. I’m very glad the churchyard is there for families without grass outside their house. They asked me where we’d been and I told them I’d been to Devon with lots of teenagers. They looked enthusiastic when I told them that the twins (aged 9 now) would soon be able to join us.

3. Gone let himself into the garden, very drunk and smelly. He talked at me for ages about how hard he’s finding things, and the Queen brought him some crisps to eat (he didn’t want a cup of coffee). Then he asked for food to get him through the next few days and I rummaged through the cupboards (which haven’t been restocked since camp) for some things he can eat. He’s not able to prepare much because he broke the microwave. So he says. Then I came into the house to get him a new notebook for remembering things.

Whilst I was in the house, he stripped off his TWO fleeces and started to help himself to the Joker’s damp t-shirt from the washing line. When we let him know that this wasn’t totally acceptable, he stormed away, swearing as much as possible. He took the bag of food, but thankfully not the t-shirt (it’s a favourite Dr Who one). I’ve put the washing on again. And I’ll see if I can get some cheap t-shirts next time I’m shopping.

So it’s good to be home. Tales of camp to come next week. Spoiler: we had a great time.

The garden is the place to be today

The garden is the place to be today

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We’re off to camp in a couple of days. No, we’re not actually camping. But we call it that because it’s always been called that. Maybe because people used tents when they took young people away in the 1950s. Who knows? We’re actually off on a CPAS Pathfinder Venture – taking 76 11-14 year olds from youth groups round the country to a boarding school in Devon for a week of fun, adventure, beach trips, crafts and learning about Jesus. The whole of the Vicarage are going, even the Engineer, who is still too young to be an official Pathfinder, but will buddy along with the rest of us and join in where he can and hang out with the Task Force team (who do all the practical stuff) when he can’t.

Also round the country are about 40 leaders of all shapes and sizes getting prepared. Here in the Vicarage we have our part to play. So what essential things do we need to get done before we leave?

1. Reply to the gazillion emails about transport, bible studies, menus, equipment. The inbox tends to heat up red hot in the days before we land in Devon.

2. Concoct suitable costumes for the theme. (France this year). Personally I’m hoping that stripey t-shirts will cut it. Although I know that there will be a few people dressed as baguettes and the Eiffel Tower – the team is a pretty creative bunch. Me, not so much.

3. Prepare the Bible study for the dorm. Although miraculously this year I have done mine already *smug face*.

4. Receive, check, price up and then repack the bookstall. This will take a day or so. There are a lot of books (I just counted and I think we have ordered 251). It will involve post-it notes and patience. It’s arriving from 10ofthose tomorrow!

5. Acquire all the sweeties, craft items and other bits and bobs I have agreed to bring for our dorm times. After first checking through the email that itemises them. If I can locate the email in amongst the gazillion.

6. Sleep for as many hours as possible. Sleep is in short supply in Devon what with early morning leaders’ meetings and late night dorm patrol. My aim is to arrive there *not* completely shattered.

7. Find my shorts with the capacious pockets. And the flip flops. And a raincoat and a couple of fleeces. Doncha just love a summer holiday in the UK?

8. Fill out all the health forms. For me, for the Vicar, for the children. And possibly for the cat aswell; I’m losing track.

9. Obsessively monitor the weather forecast for Barnstaple, praying that we won’t have to book out an entire cinema for an afternoon like we had to that year that Devon was subjected to sheet rain for the almost the entire week of camp.

10. Pray for the team, the kids, the families who send them, the home churches and the Ventures team at CPAS, who all work together to provide a fantastic week of holiday and happiness that can be so important in the Christian walk for so many. My own faith came alive on a CPAS venture in 1981 and I’m praying that all our Pathfinders will grow in faith in Christ next week.

Thankfully we have people staying in the Vicarage whilst we’re away, so we don’t have to work out who’s going to feed (and clear up after) our arthritic cat. I’m leaving early on Friday with Dreamer and we’ll be with the advance troops setting everything up before the kids arrive on Saturday. Then it’s all go until we land home on the following Friday, filled with tales of faith and fun and starting the plans for next year.

We get to go to a lovely beach on camp. We make it a lot busier than this one though…

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Are you free in Oxford tonight, in the Isle of Wight on Friday, in Essex on Saturday or near Harrow on Sunday? You should get yourself to Andrew Peterson‘s concert with Eric Peters. They are both American singer songwriters who tell the gospel story powerfully in song. You might remember Andrew Peterson from this blog before – he’s the author of the much loved Matthew’s Begats. He and his friend Eric sing of God’s grace and goodness in creation, in tough times, in the Lord Jesus. We heard them in Birmingham last night and enjoyed it very much and came home laden with new music to listen to.

Andrew sang this song which includes the lines:

I thought that all my struggles

Would be victories by now

But I confess

That the mess is there.

Just the song for me!

And Eric sang this:

So, my recommendation is that if you’re available, you should go. Really. Details of the concerts can be found on Andrew’s website – scroll to the bottom of the page to find the links.

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It’s more than a year since my book The Ministry of a Messy House was published. It’s been a fun year, seeing something I can’t quite believe that I produced stocked in catalogues and bookshops and conferences. I’ve had opportunities to speak on the grace of God in our messes and muddle and have a couple more speaking engagements coming up next year. People have commented encouragingly on the book here and in a few other spots on the internet. Comments have come from the UK and also further afield: Australia, New Zealand and the US I think.

And this week I’ve had confirmation that The Ministry of a Messy House is going to be translated and published in Germany by Neukirchener. The contract has been signed but I’m not sure when it will be available to buy. I can’t say that a German translation was something I anticipated as I was writing! The proposed new title seems rather lengthy:

Herrlich Unperfekt: Erfrischende Geständnisse einer chaotischen Pfarrfrau

which according to Google translate is:

Delightfully Imperfect: refreshing confessions of a chaotic pastor’s wife

I think they may have sussed me out….

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The blog hits from searches on Halloween have begun. So here is my annual pointer to some good ways for Christians to redeem Halloween without drowning in a sea of witch masks and ghoul costumes. This is a great time of year to bless our neighbours and reach out with the good news of the light that Christ brings to our dark world.

One popular activity in many churches is to hold an alternative party. We’re making our Messy Church next week a Light Party. This year Scripture Union sent us a magazine with some excellent ideas for games and activities that we have used. They have free packs and downloads available. We found last year that a light party held on Halloween itself isn’t so popular as people are off to other parties so that’s why we’re holding ours before half term. The next door parish are holding one on 31st October, though, so we’ll encourage any parents who do want an alternative to go along to that. We are wondering if we still have time to get kids a Bag of Hope from UCB. But if your party is in half term, you should be fine.

Here in the Vicarage we’re stocking up on tracts (try 10ofThose or The Good Book Company) and sweeties to give to Trick or Treaters. And we’re planning our pumpkin carving. Dreamer is holding some afternoon drop in activities in the church hall over half term and plans pumpkin carving as an option. Last year we carved ‘Light of the World’ on ours, inspired by a gallery of other people’s pumpkins I posted a few years back. The excellent cartoonist Crimperman has some other ideas for pumpkins, in case you end up with too many. I have found from bitter – and tasteless – experience that supermarket Halloween pumpkins are utterly hopeless for roasting or making into soup or anything really useful.

Pumpkin cartoon

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I have a lovely leather bound copy of The Valley of Vision that I use for my devotions. But it was a recent purchase and is working well with my Prof Horner bible readings, for which using a proper paper Bible is recommended. Before that I used to use Banner of Truth‘s online devotional as I was reading the Bible on my tablet. Then they updated their website and the prayers went missing for a while, hence the purchase.

But I’ve just found that the prayers are back online. The prayers are in a random order, but are always helpful, and there is a suggested one for the day. And it’s a great way to check them out if you are thinking about getting the book.

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