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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.

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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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Today felt like the first proper day of the New Year here. All three kids are back to school now, the Vicar was writing a sermon, our ministry trainee King arrived back after his holiday and Gone called round. All back to normal.

Gone is back in the hostel up the road after a spell spent at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Unfortunately, due to the date of his arrest and sentencing, Her Majesty was pleased to release him back into the community on Christmas Eve. The Vicar went to collect him from the prison. Due to a fine he’d landed himself with whilst inside, he was released with no money whatsoever. He was also released without a coat or jumper. If the Vicar hadn’t been there to collect him he’d have had no means of getting to his hostel. And he’d have been very cold.

Kind people from church had supplied clothes, food and a telly which were waiting for him at the hostel. Gone really needs a telly. It helps him keep calm and stops him going out drinking. But we’ve had all sorts of telly issues. The original telly didn’t work very well and then last night the Vicar went round to see if he could get it working better. And instead it exploded.

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Gone was upset, understandably, and came round today shouting that he’d got himself arrested for stealing a telly from a shop in the tow-un. He hadn’t, but we did get the message that he wanted a new television. Thankfully another kind person from church donated another tv today and it was waiting in our hallway. So the Vicar went around this evening to set it up. And it’s still not working properly. There’s a problem with the aerial. And until it is sorted, we’ll have Gone at the front door, shouting. Or asking for dvds. Or he’ll go back to prison, where he can get television without the hassle.

It’s just a small thing, but for Gone it’s big. And so we’re praying for some sort of technical miracle. In the meantime, we’ve lent Gone a box set of House. Not his first preference, but something to keep his anxiety at bay. As long as his anxiety isn’t obscure medical condition linked I guess.

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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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A couple of weeks ago Dreamer and I and Freddie the Dog took a walk around the local park. It’s bigger than you might think. It even has a couple of lakes. It was looking fabulous, as you can see. So if you were holding off applying for our Ministry Trainee position because you thought you might miss nature, think again. We’re still looking for someone!

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And training, and the opportunity to preach and to lead youth work, school assemblies and Sunday services, the experience of living in a busy inner city vicarage with a messy family which includes a couple of teenagers (and a younger one), and a year or two seeing what God is up to in multi cultural West Bromwich? Anyone?

The Shropshire Lad is moving away next month to a new job and to be closer to his beloved. King is spending another year in the attic and so now we are looking for an attic mate for him. Maybe you? Or someone you know?

Our Ministry Trainee scheme has produced three ordinands to date, two of whom are now curates. Another is waiting to hear about his BAP. So it’s a great way to explore vocation in the Church of England – and our Diocesan Director of Ordinands is very friendly and helpful. But you don’t have to be thinking about ordination and others have joined us and taken the skills they’ve learnt into other fields. There are many opportunities to serve in the church – music, technology, visiting, evangelism, teaching the Bible to all sorts of people in all sorts of ways. There is great flexibility for development of existing gifts and discovery of ones you never even knew you had. And it’s lots of fun. And there is cake.

Generally our MTs attend the Midlands Ministry Training Course one day a week and there are opportunities to attend other training conferences and courses through the year. The Vicar meets with the MTs for supervision and there is also training in youth and children’s work with Dreamer, our Families and Community worker. Our church website is a bit undeveloped at the moment after it fell over a few months ago, but details of the post can be found there (and if you can do websites well that would be great too!).

And did I mention the cake?

Muffins and cheese straws NB Church hall table cloth!

Muffins and cheese straws (please excuse the church hall table cloth)

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