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Posts Tagged ‘community’

We’ve been here in our parish for eleven years now – we moved in February half term in 2009. Almost since the beginning I have hosted a weekly coffee morning for people from the church and the community – including school gate mums, bringing baking from the Vicarage kitchen. We call it Cake and Chat, which captures the essence I feel.

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Pistachio and citrus peel cookies and blondies were on offer this week

The group who meets includes those who’ve been coming for eleven years and others who’ve joined us in the last few months. We moved last year from meeting in the hall  which is tucked away from the road and has an echoey floor. Now we gather in the church itself, where we now have some café seating and can have the main doors open.

Over the last few weeks we’ve discussed what we’d do with a lottery win and the allure of gambling machines, we’ve chatted about the local lads who race their cars up the dual carriageway on Sunday nights, we’ve wrestled with Bible verses and with questions of identity and relationships. Our group includes Christians and Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs and people of no faith at all. Mostly we speak English but other times you can hear Polish, Punjabi and Patois. We begin around 8.30am and can still be chatting at noon. Some of my most precious times in parish life has been spent with this group.

The God of the Bible is the God who speaks, who breathes everything into being through his Word of life. Is it any surprise that chatting brings such joy and delight? Speaking makes things – it can make relationships. As we seek to build relationships of love in our community, time taken to chat (especially when there’s cake aswell) is never time wasted.

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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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Well folks. It’s the time of year when people begin searching the internet for ‘Halloween Pumpkins’ and ending up here on my blog. We will be going about the All Hallows season a little differently this year, as the Vicar is planning a slightly alternative memorial service for those who’ve lost loved ones on 1st November.

Although we usually hold an annual service for people to remember those they’ve lost, this year we’re going to hold it on All Soul’s day itself. This is because local people have taken to lighting candles on top of the rather delapidated grave stones in our church yard. Although the effect is rather less glittering than that in the Polish graveyard shown in the photo.

We’ve been told this is a tradition in Poland and think that people from that community have been coming to remember the departed at our church. So the Vicar has invited a Polish friend to come and say some prayers in Polish and translate the service, so we can cater for anyone who’s around. We have no idea how many will come, but it will be good to serve anyone who is grieving or remembering that evening.

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Just as I was heading out the door to pop to the local shops for supplies  this afternoon, we heard a bit of shouting just outside the Vicarage. So we trooped out onto the drive and faced the delightful sight of a chap urinating on our front wall.

We looked surprised and asked what was happening, and he and his two pals promptly marched off down the street. Since I was heading that way anyway I caught up with them for a chat. I *think* they understood that I was a little cheesed off, but their English wasn’t so good. I pointed out that they wouldn’t do this at their mother’s house nor at the priest’s (they were Polish). They seemed quite apologetic. But they didn’t go back to offer to mop up. And they were all pretty drunk. It was 3pm.

The evidence shows that all three of them had felt the need to relieve ourselves on our property, in full daylight, whilst plenty of people were passing by. Thus is tolerance, respect and happiness between communities unpicked.

Mop and bucket anyone?

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Last year Sandwell Council offered to send shovels, salt and bright blue vests to anyone who offered to become a ‘Snow Champion’ and clear local paths. So I offered our church as champions and we were given three sets. They’ve been lurking in a cupboard at the back of church ever since, but this weekend they were deployed for the first time.

We had a good dump of snow on Saturday night. The Vicar had to cancel our 9am service and a choir who were due to sing for us at 6.30pm postponed their visit. That left us with our 10.30am Education Sunday service which went ahead as usual, tho’ with a few snow-induced absences. One excellent church member had cleared the main paths into the church before the service.

Afterwards, as the temperature rose slightly but the snow still lay slushy and icey on the ground, we coralled a team of kids and managed to clear the pavements on the whole block right around the church. The kids enjoyed themselves very much and neighbours looked on with approval. I’m quite looking forward to some more snow now and the chance to serve our community and work as a team.

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We had a fun evening on Monday night. Wildchild came over and carved pumpkins with us. Then callers came round in silly costumes and we showed them our works of art, got them to tell us jokes, plied them with sweeties and gave them tracts about how Jesus is the light. It seemed like we were doing door to door evangelism from the comfort of our own home – and noone refused to listen to us or slammed the door in our faces. Although there was a teenage girl who claimed not to speak English in order to avoid the joke telling. And we weren’t so sure that she would be able to read the tract, although we hope someone in her family can.

The last callers (at 9pm) had to negotiate getting to the front door knocker round Gone, who’d deposited himself on the doorstep. He wasn’t drunk (tho’ a little smelly, I’m sorry to say), so although they were young and without an adult, it was fine.

Works of art in the Vicarage window

Yesterday I read a few thoughts from Christians with different approaches to Halloween but I think all of them fell into the Resurgence‘s ‘Redeeming’ category. Dr BexL at the BIGBible Project  had loads of good ideas and Kevin on his blog and Dan on his blog had useful stuff too. We at the Vicarage were glad to have seized this new opportunity to talk to our neighbours and bless their kids. Our only regret this year was that we forgot to hand out invites for Tuesday night’s Messy Church. But we’ll remember next year – this new festival is only set to grow in the UK.

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We had some excitement in the parish today – a ‘suspicious package’ was found in a house just round the corner that was being raided for drugs. Residents in houses close to the raided property were evacuated, and we were asked if we could accommodate them in the church hall.

So we were there with the teapots and some biscuits, on and off all morning, whilst we all speculated about what was happening. I quite enjoyed myself – particularly because I met a couple of neighbours that we’d not previously had the chance to speak to. It was a bit of a pain for them, though – one friend was without her diabetic medication, another lady had her two young children with her, but not their toys, people needed to get their cars to get to work. Most folk took the opportunity to go shopping in town but returned later to hang around and chat at the end of the street or pop into the hall for more refreshments.

Finally, after about 31/2 hours, we were told that people could go home. I stayed behind in the hall to tidy up and the local PCSO and his Sergeant came and chatted. Turns out the suspicious package wasn’t Semtex, as had been suspected, but something to do with with preparation of drugs. They seized cannabis wraps from the property and made three arrests. More drug dealing – the house next door to that one was raided a few weeks ago and seizures made for the same thing. I reckon you could probably raid a couple of houses on every street in this parish and find evidence of drug use or dealing.

The police were quite cheery, as these arrests were made on top of two successful operations locally earlier this week. A house just opposite the church was raided and found to contain a stolen motorbike and 27 stolen bicycles. And only last night they carried out some checks with immigration officials. They found illegal immigrants, but also some dodgy vehicles that were being stripped down, including a vintage Rolls and a BMW that had been nicked from Police HQ.

So a good week for clamping down on crime – well done to our local coppers. It does make you wonder what’s happening behind closed doors when the police aren’t calling. And makes us pray for this broken parish all the more.

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As we nibbled our rhubarb crumble cake and gingerbread loaf at Cake and Chat this morning, we were discussing (as usual) the state of the neighbourhood. Our local PCSO was visiting to eat cake catch up on intelligence and he and I were talking about the broken Vicarage windows and the local children who play together most evenings. Often there are more than a dozen of them, and they can often be playing out for four hours until the dark drives them home.

We decided that there is likely to be a mathematical formula for the likelihood of trouble eg broken windows that could be developed, using the number of children (C), the number of hours they spend unsupervised (H) and the amount of trouble (T). Something like this I would guess:

CxH = T

So if there are fewer children, or they are driven inside by rain after only an hour, or parents come and supervise, the amount of trouble is much less. The broken Vicarage windows didn’t happen first thing in the evening, but towards the end of things, and there were always a good few kids playing together.

Of course, the formula is really more complex than that, and should include such factors as emptiness of tummies, sugar recently consumed, time since the last big telling off and air temperature. Perhaps if I work on it I can develop the definitive predictor of Trouble and head it off before it comes. Or maybe I should stick to prayer and building relationships.

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My head is still spinning a bit after this weekend. On Friday an old pal from our Cambridge church turned up on our doorstep wanting a bed for a few nights – he’s on a walking tour of the country. My parents also came to stay and Rocky’s fiancee stopped over Saturday and Sunday nights. So we’ve had a houseful.

So far, so fairly normal – we’re glad that we can accommodate plenty of folk and love to show hospitality. But then the Vicar and I were both busy on Saturday – he on a Bishop’s Quiet Day and I on a Food Hygiene training course. And I was teaching Junior Church on Sunday and obviously it’s a pretty busy day for the Vicar aswell. So that made our schedules seem extra packed. We were very grateful to the grandparents who entertained the Queen, the Joker and the Engineer to soft play and a Chinese buffet whilst the Vicar and I attended our Saturday events.

But besides all the busy-ness, we’ve had some bother with buildings. Firstly, two of the Vicarage windows now have stone holes in them – a small pane in the living room and an enormous pane in the kitchen. Unsupervised primary school age children have been playing a stone-throwing game in the church yard so we think the damage is accidental rather than malicious. Doesn’t stop it being very annoying, though. The kids have now been banned from the church yard until we can work out something with the parents so that games don’t get out of hand and result in the sort of trouble that happened this week. The Vicar’s long-term desire to raise funding for a Families and Community worker gets an extra impetus every time something like this occurs.

And the banning of kids from the church yard now seems like a very wise move indeed after the discovery on Sunday morning of a plaster rose from the church clock face, shattered on the floor by the front door of the church. So the front doors had to be cordoned off and the congregation had to come into church through the North door. That made it extra embarrassing for the latecomers, who came in in full sight of everyone else. Various people have suggested calling the new Bishop of Ebbsfleet to sort things out with the masonry. Failing that we’ll be getting the builders in to ensure that things are safe and noone has the sky falling on their heads on their way into church.

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Despite my desire to become Alys Fowler (including the Pre-Raphaelite hair), things in the Vicarage garden didn’t go brilliantly last summer. I planted out, but didn’t really give things the attention they needed. I was too busy fire-fighting the clutter in the house.

But this year I’m hoping for more success. I now have a cleaner, who comes every couple of weeks to help me to conquer the house. I have a schedule, which means I am strangely (to me) doing a little more housework than I used to. So there may now be some time to water and weed.

And to start us off, last week we had the gardening team from Betel in to clear the beds and get us on the road to a manageable and (hopefully) edible garden this year. The team comprised four men – one was Gav Burnage, Associate minister from Aldridge Parish Church, who is living and working full time at Betel. The other guys were members of the Betel community in Birmingham, learning to live and work free from substance abuse.

God was kind to us, and the sun shone. The Vicar and Rocky joined the Betel team. I skived off the digging, but supplied regular tea and cake. They sorted out our main beds, nuked some brambles and the evil blue weeds and left everything looking tidy and ready for planting. Now we just have to keep up the weed-free look with regular forays in our wellies. The money we paid for the work helps to pay for Betel’s accommodation and keeps this amazing organisation going. If you live in the Birmingham area and need a garden blitz, why not see if they can help you out?

 

The Vicar with the Betel team. Note the tidy flower bed (and still-absent coping stones).

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