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Today we had our second meeting of Cake and Chat over Zoom, the app of the moment. No cake is provided, although a few of us made breakfast as we chatted. It’s still a great joy to see one another and catch up with everyone’s locked down weeks. Meeting remotely loses much – it’s not true Cake and Chat when we are physically apart. We miss the break out conversations and more in depth chats.

Being together bodily makes it a true meeting, shared cake eaten together makes it a true meeting. The physicality of being in the same building makes our meeting a true meeting. So this Zoom Cake and Chat will do for now. But it won’t do properly. And that’s a little like Holy Communion not being possible when a church is unable to meet. We look forward to the time when we can truly taste and see that the Lord is good, when we are back together for Cake and Chat and for our communion services.

Loaf cake & biscuits just out of the oven

Our usual Thursday morning feast

Cake online is not truly cake. But noise outside is real noise. And tonight we joined neighbours outside in the 8pm #ClapforCarers #ClapforKeyWorkers. The Joker decided to up the noise quotient by bringing out my frying pan and a wooden spoon, and I’m sure that some of our neighbours only remembered because of the enthusiastic vigour that he used. There was some enthusiasm on the street for more pans and spoons next week.

Perhaps the Joker will bring his trombone out, following the example of my excellent nephews who live out in the countryside. They made sure that their #ClapforCarers was heard by playing their bagpipes.

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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.

 

exponential learning

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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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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If you follow my tweets or Facebook page, you’ll know that the Vicarage has been without phones or internet since Sunday. I was told by BT (eventually, after I badgered them for about three days on Twitter) that ‘2000 pairs in a cabinet in the local exchange’ have broken. No, I have no idea what that means either. I do know that some (but not all) of my neighbours, including vulnerable elderly housebound people and shopekeepers who rely on a phoneline to offer card payment options for customers, have also been without telephone or broadband since then too.

offlineI can still access my emails, Twitter and Facebook on my mobile phone, but it’s quite a pain to use so I’ve not been very active online. Thankfully, the church office still has phones and internet, so the Vicar has been able to work and I’ve been able to sneak in a couple of times to use them, although today I’m writing this in Tesco’s caff in the tow-un. It has upset my mode of writing, which is very bitsy – I tend to write a bit, do a spot of washing up, pick up some mess, prep some soup and then come back to finish a blog post. So hence my general disconnectedness. The washing up and soup prep need to be done more than blogging and social media so I’ve stayed home and been offline.

It also means I’ve not yet closed the competition for the e-book. But I will do that next week, when the kids are off school and everything is a bit less all over the place. Shall we say last thing Sunday evening for entries?

And don’t forget I’m going to be at CLC Birmingham tomorrow with a big stash of copies of The Ministry of a Messy House. I’d love to meet any blog readers who are in the city. Come and say ‘Hi’!

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I know it’s still November, but honestly, you might need to send off for some Advent stuff before 30th November in order to start things from the beginning. I speak from experience, you understand. So order today and be prepared!

So today I offer you some counting resources to arm yourself with for when Advent begins a week on Saturday (or Sunday if you’re being liturgical about it).  I don’t mean counting your funds for Christmas shopping, nor the hours available for mincepie making, but counting down to Christmas in a way which helps to focus our minds on Jesus. This year I am aiming for an Advent of anticipating Christ, rather than one of anticipating shopping and panicking about whether the Christmas cards will make it out of the Vicarage before New Year’s Day. I am also an optimist.

This year I have an Advent candle ready with numbers and the names of Jesus so that we can think of one as the candle burns. We didn’t get very far down the candle last year due to forgetfulness and busyness but it’s always better to do something badly than not at all. So we’re trying again, with hope in our hearts.

 Then of course, there are always Advent calendars, which everyone loves. Peeking behind the hidden window is a morning treat. If we’re awake enough to remember to do it, of course. You can get some great ones online, ones which tell the Christmas story brilliantly. Try these links:

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I have recently started leading regularly at our Junior Church. When I began, we were using materials which were tailored to a narrow age range and which were tied to the lectionary and sometimes seemed to miss the point of the passage.

Since our group has an age range of 3-14 and we don’t follow the lectionary in church, we have now switched to using On The Way for 3-9s. Although this still misses the top age range we have, it caters for a greater number of the children, and also enables us to design our own programme of teaching.

On The Way has excellent craft resources and helps you to get into the passage you’re teaching yourself. It doesn’t, however, always help you to prepare the teaching of the passage very easily. At the moment we are doing a little series on some of the kings of Judah, which has been great for me as some of the passages were unfamiliar to me, let alone to the kids!

So to help me to tell the stories of some of the passages (and to source some good colouring pages for less well-known stories) I now turn to Deaf Missions – their daily reading notes are available online and give some excellent short summaries of bible passages together with clear black and white illustrations which blow up very well for colouring in. Check out their page on Jehoshaphat and Ahab to see what I mean.

I always like to have a colouring page and a wordsearch for the children – sometimes I like to get them to colour in a picture as I explain the bible passage, as it can help with concentration. And it’s always useful to have something up your sleeve in case the Vicar preaches too long and you’re in Junior Church for an unplanned extra ten minutes.

DLTK have a good selection of colouring pages. For wordsearches I tend to go to Calvary Church‘s site first – they also have colouring pages on many passages and other word puzzles, although the bible version they use (possibly the American Standard?) doesn’t usually mesh with the readings we use, so I don’t use the more complex puzzles. If the passage isn’t in the Calvary Church curriculum, I go to Teachers Direct, where you can make your own wordsearches – cool, eh? Unsurprisingly I used this when teaching about Jehoshaphat.

Do you have any favourite online places for Sunday School resources? Do share!

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Over the last few days I have been almost continually thwarted in my aim to join the masses in shopping for Christmas presents. Last week I went down with an exhausting virus which scuppered my romantic plan to insist that the Vicar joined me in the purchasing scrum on his day off.

And then yesterday I had lined up a bunch of exciting gifts online, just waiting for my dearly beloved to return from a training day to nod his approval to the final clicking of the mouse. I was supervising the Queen’s homework in the meantime and thought I would seize the day and actually clear the draining board in the kitchen for once. I was obviously feeling too enthusiastic, as I was seemingly too vigorous with my drying up and managed to inflict a torsion failure on the stem of a wine glass. The broken stem then sliced into my thumb, causing spurts of blood to decorate the kitchen floor.

It wasn’t very painful, and hasn’t been since – nothing that a couple of paracetamol won’t sort out – but it has been enormously time consuming. The upshot of this has been that I have so far failed in my Christmas shopping quest. Instead I have spent over 12 hours in two A&E departments in the last 24 hours. And I am still not fixed. I managed to damage a nerve in my thumb and will be going back to hospital later this week to have some intricate needlework performed to give the nerve the best chance of recovery.

Last night we didn’t get back until 2am. As the wife of a busy Vicar who is often out in the evenings, I often wish we had more time alone together. But Sandwell General A&E doesn’t cut it for me. I’m going to have to think of a better way of getting him to myself. Also, I think this is a sign that I should do less housework, or at least no drying up ever again.

At least I can still type, so I shall hopefully be online later, seeing if I can remember what I had in those baskets. If not, and you’re expecting a Christmas present from me this year, at least you know why it’s late…

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