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I thought I’d tell you something new I learnt about recently. I was introduced to Canva, which is a free site for creating publicity of all sorts – flyers, Facebook posts, animations – all sorts. I’ve used it for a couple of flyers before, and have uploaded them to our church Facebook page. But this evening I went for it and created a bunch of posts for our notices tomorrow morning. Nothing like a proper deadline to generate creativity. Here’s a sample:

So pleasing, eh? It’s so much easier when someone else has chosen the fonts! And made a layout too. I’m not on commission, honest, but it’s definitely worth checking out. Maybe a project for next week, now all the clergy have got live streaming sussed *laughing hysterically emoji*?

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So today was the day of the Vicarage getting up to speed with tech. The Vicar and I are  already fairly comfortable with technology – we both blog and tweet and have Facebook accounts. We’ve uploaded videos online before and we can populate a website. Perhaps the advantage of our backgrounds in engineering – we’re not scared by machinery.

Because now church is going mostly online – there will be no Sunday services or midweek meetings for the foreseeable future. And so we’ve had a big day of pretty fast learning. We had to get a church YouTube account, we’ve been drafting blog pages and we’ve been getting our heads round Zoom and finding out about Facebook Live.

The plan is also to record and broadcast a daily prayer service at the times we’d usually host our Open Church. So people will be able to connect when they might normally come in for tea and toast. And we’re going to broadcast a morning service live on Sundays. And we’re hoping to run youth Bible studies and prayer meetings and maybe even some toddler and kids work over the internet too.

We’ve also found a telephone service which is accessed through dialling in, so people who don’t have the internet will be able to listen to a short message or a sermon over the phone. And we’re going to deliver leaflets with details around the parish and service sheets to those we think would like to join in with the services. And of course we’re making lists and aiming to phone people up and contact them individually throughout the week too.

Phew.

And I’ve been having to remind myself that this Sunday is just the start of an extended time of doing things differently. So we can adjust and improve as time goes on, but hopefully start in some sort of helpful way.

The old joke made to vicars is that they only work one day a week. And now of course the joke will be that they don’t have anything to do at all. But actually what is happening is that the week long work is changing and there are steep learning curves being climbed by gospel ministers here in the UK and all over the world as they develop ways of pastoring through this pandemic. Pray for us – for videographic mercies, for photocopying grace and for our bandwidths on Sunday morning.

 

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Graph of time vs clergy competence in tech since last week

 

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So yesterday the Church of England announced the suspension of all public worship. So things are going to look very different here for a bit. And then today we learnt that schools are closing, so homeschool is looming. And the Queen is up at university, making lockdown lists.

Our Open Church has been running this week, allowing people to see one another and connect briefly, as well as pray and seek help if they need it. And we’re thinking through how to keep everyone connected online. We’re not a very techie community – many people don’t have broadband at home, and some don’t even have a mobile phone, not even a text and dial one. So we are going to try and get creative, maybe delivering paper service sheets and looking into a dial a sermon/podcast service, as well as looking at other stuff that many churches are doing – Facebook Live and YouTube services and general online things.

But although we’re going to be doing things differently, we serve a God who never changes. Tonight, in a fit of Anglicanism, the Vicar and I prayed Evening Prayer from the 1662 BCP together. The set Psalm for this evening was Psalm 93 – The Lord Reigns – a truth to hold onto when everything else is different.

[Yellow text on background of grey slate roofing tiles] Psalm 93 The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty! Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord, for evermore.

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It’s really not normal, is it? Such strange times we are living through now. We had a PCC meeting tonight and were discussing some issues with our services, and timings for the APCM (the annual meeting), as I checked in on Facebook to see what Matt Hancock had said in the House of Commons about whether churches should continue to meet. My FB feed told me that they shouldn’t, but the Church of England guidance isn’t out yet. So we are in limbo. This level of uncertainty is something pretty unsettling to be living with. And making any plans feels a bit pointless. But we have to keep on looking ahead, even if things are cancelled in the morning.

So I’m going to leave my worries with Jesus and try and get to sleep before midnight. PCC was enough trouble for today. Jesus said so.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34/picture of church and Victorian terraces across metro line, blue sky with clouds behind

A view of our church from the other side of the metro line

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This coronavirus crisis feels a bit like election season did – there’s just so much news. Every half an hour something new is cancelled. There are graphs all over the internet giving a fresh perspective and interesting and learned experts giving opinions which help you feel like you might get a grip on what’s happening. It’s a big global event with huge repercussions and it’s also a close to home personal one, with some disruption and changes in view for our family.

I’m staying with my mum at the moment and we’re discussing various planned holidays and family events over the next few months and wondering which ones, if any, will go ahead. The Queen’s university (I know! How can she be that old?!) has suspended face to face lectures, and she thinks the exams next week might be cancelled. (So she rather regrets staying up very late last night to study the genetics of viruses for the biology test. Although, who knows if it might come in handy some time soon?) I get an email from the boys’ schools every day with an update of cancelled events, and I send messages to the family Whatsapp group with handwashing reminders.

The Church of England is updating its guidance to churches frequently – no cup at communion, no full immersion baptisms, standing for communion and other procedures to help us to protect people from infection. Behind the scenes clergy and laity are energetically debating how to serve and guard their flocks and parishes and bring God’s grace into a frequently overwhelming situation. My timelines are awash with random pundits asking what the government or the church are up to and making alternative pronouncements. It’s confusing and stressful, and there’s so little I can do about it all.

So I’ve made some decisions about what to pay attention to, although the drama of the frequent announcements will probably keep distracting me. But I’m going to read some things by proper scientists, and I’m going to keep on washing my hands often and for 20 seconds (whilst praying the Lord’s Prayer, which fits). I’m going to try and read things written by Christians who lived through plagues previously, and say some of their prayers. I’m going to pray about how I can serve those who will be in need because of this crisis, especially in our parish. And I’m going to pray the Church of England’s Collect provided to be prayed In the Time of any Common Plague of Sickness. Pray with me?

In the time of any common Plague of Sickness. O ALMIGHTY God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in the time of king David, didst slay with the plague of pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembering thy mercy didst save the rest: Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality; that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angel to cease from punishing, so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Until Lent began this year, I’d not written on here for a long time. But I had written some things elsewhere. I’m struggling to remember what most of them were, but one of the things was a study guide for the Church of England Evangelical Council on a book they published called Glorify God in Your Body. As I prepared the guide I was particularly struck by this passage from Glorify God in Your Body, talking about how Tim and Kathy Keller describe friendship in their book The Meaning of Marriage.

What does it mean, then, to love one another as friends? The Kellers identify three
characteristics that mark out friendship: constancy, transparency, and common passion.

Friends are always there for each other, they are open and honest, and they share a
common enthusiasm for something or somethings (in the words of C S Lewis ‘even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice’). In the Bible we find that all three of these characteristics apply to the relationships of love that should exist within the life of God’s people.

As I thought about this, I reflected on how these three characteristics are not only a  wonderful description of love between friends, and love between a husband and wife, but they also describe how we should love one another in local churches.

If we show constancy, we’ll have a ministry of turning up – we’ll be there on Sundays and at other things: hall cleaning parties, coffee mornings, prayer meetings and Beetle drives. We’ll be there for each other, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping those who weep.

If we show transparency, we’ll be honest with one another, vulnerable, open. We’ll not shut down conversations by telling one another that things are fine when they aren’t. We’ll not ask people how they are without really wanting to find out.

If we have a common passion, surely it will be a passion for Jesus, for holding out the word of life to our neighbours. It will be a passion that lights up our parish with the joy of knowing sins forgiven and the promise of eternal life.

constancytransparencycommonpassion

So let’s work on those relationships of love in our churches. I’m so thankful for the love of many dear brothers and sisters in our congregation here, shown in many different ways, but we still have much work to do. I’m praying for more of the constancy, transparency and common passion which deepens the love of God in our lives and demonstrates it to our needy world.

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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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