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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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I had a fun week last week tweeting on behalf of the Church of England as @OurCofE. I managed to capture my tweets on Storify, so if you missed it, you can check it out over at Storify (I can’t upload it on here because WordPress block it). There are lots of pictures from the parish and tales of day to day life here. It was a great experience to try and share a little of our Vicarage life and what the Church of England looks like in action in the multicultural inner city. The @OurCofE project continues every week with a Christian from somewhere in the CofE tweeting. It makes for a fascinating insight into the wide variety of parishes and ministries within the church.

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I am being The Church of England this week! I have the password and login details and am tweeting as @OurCofE, telling people about what life is like as a Christian in this tiny corner of the world. I’m trying to tell stories about our life here in the Vicarage and about our parish and life here. I’m taking lots of pictures!

Come the end of the week I’ll try and upload some of the pics here on the blog, so I have a good record. Today was really sunny, so everything looks optimistic and jolly around the parish.

Sunshiny parish

Sunshiny parish

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It’s that time of year again! We’re looking for new ministry trainees – two of them in fact. Would you like to join us in the Vicarage after the summer? Our current intrepid attic dwellers are planning to move on before September (God willing) – so we will have space for gospel hearted volunteers who want to serve God’s people and reach out in our small part of the kingdom.

We can guarantee many opportunities to serve in all sorts of capacities – preaching, leading services, gardening, visiting, eating cake, tweaking the sound desk, street evangelism, geocaching with teenagers or hanging out with 80 year olds at lunch club, organising events and teaching the bible 121 for starters. You can live in a flat above our Vicarage and very likely meet Gone, our resident (when he’s not in prison) gentleman of the road. You can eat late night curry from the fabulous tandoori serving pubs up the road and play snooker with Nepali barmen and likely get to sample West African and Jamaican food with some of our church families. You will definitely get to know the Vicarage family well and discuss theology over coffee and ministry over wine and cheese. You’ll experience Vicarage life in all its ups and downs – the joys and sorrows of gospel ministry. You will get a day a week on the Midlands Ministry Training Course and regular supplies of homemade cake. We have an excellent relationship with Lichfield’s Diocesan Director of Ordinands, so if you are thinking of full time ministry in the Church of England, we can help you through that process, or you could just be wanting to do a year or two of Christian service before going on to other things.

The Vicar has posted more details on our church website. One of our current trainees was pointed in our direction by a reader of this blog. He’s off to his BAP for Church of England selection next month. Do you know someone who’d like to eat cake and serve alongside us?

The Vicarage looking pretty – come and join us!

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The lovely Radiohead left our attic yesterday. He’s headed back home and is busy applying for jobs in teaching. So now there’s a space in the Vicarage for a new Ministry Trainee.

We’re looking for someone who has a passion for people and for seeing God at work in their lives. You don’t have to be considering ordination, although the Diocesan Director of Ordinands would be very happy to see you and two of our previous attic dwellers have taken that path, and Red, who’s still here, is aiming for a dog collar. Perhaps you’d like some time to think about ministry life, or just want to serve in a church before going into something else.

A fondness for cake and the ability to negotiate your way around a cluttered family home might be an advantage. And you should know that we have a cat, a fish and a rodent. But you don’t have to have the rodent sit on your head if you don’t want to. If it’s not for you, maybe there’s someone you know who might be up for Vicarage life. Do please point them in our direction.

More details can be found on our church website. And below you can see a pic of Radiohead and Red in their attic living room, where they are able to escape from the pets, the clutter and the mayhem. If the kids don’t follow them up there…

Working hard. Or possibly on Facebook.

Working hard. Or possibly playing games. There’s time for both.

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Christmas treeThings are gearing up for Advent activity in the parish. Tonight is our Messy Christingle service – the first that’s been held since we’ve been here. Early in Advent seems like a good time for this service and gives us an opportunity to advertise other Christmas services to our Messy Church folk, some of whom don’t attend on Sundays. We’re excited about the service and the opportunity we have to tell people the Christmas story and spend time together. I made 1.5kg of pastry this morning which this afternoon will be turned into mince pies to share afterwards.

So we’ve been in church just now, moving chairs and getting the ancient decorations out. The tree lights work, thankfully, but there is rather a lot of tinsel debris around where we’ve unravelled the silver from the gold from the red and sparkly shreds have floated to the floor. The church is not looking as ethereal as one might hope for Christmas because at the same time as we were tinselling, the builders were in knocking great lumps of plaster off the walls. They tell us the plasterers are coming on Thursday so hopefully the walls will be reinstated for the school Christmas service next week and the Infants’ Nativity the following week.

So it looks like we might have a bit of a Messy Advent here. Thankfully our God didn’t expect tidiness when he came to earth all those years ago. In fact he came *because* of the mess. That means we can wait in the mess as we look forward to his arrival.

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In today’s Independent, Mary Ann Sieghart, who is not a Christian believer, eloquently defends the Church of England against recent attacks from Richard Dawkins, who appears to think that the church is a worthless and even malign institution.

One of Ms Sieghart’s reasons for that defence chimed strongly with me:

Social workers, teachers and doctors may commute into impoverished areas, but the vicar is often the only professional still living in the parish he or she serves. You don’t get more in touch than that.

Inner city vicars see it all

I am sometimes intensely frustrated as local friends deal with professionals who come into our parish to run things and advise people on their lives. Once you live outside an area it is very difficult to truly know the people who live there. The parish system of the Church of England is one of its true strengths.

Vicars know their parishes better than many social workers, councillors and politicians know their patch. Their houses are not open to callers, they are not mingling with local folk at multiple weekly events attended by the young, the old and the needy. Knowing people is about more than hearing their problems at a surgery or dealing with them in a professional capacity. It’s about being with them, drinking coffee and eating cake, weeping with them and just hanging out.

Christians in churches other than the CofE are also serving in the inner city and deprived urban areas – for example, Mez McConnell is pastor of a church on a housing scheme in Niddrie, the most deprived housing estate in Edinburgh.

I wonder how many of Richard Dawkins’ atheist pals have chosen to live in an inner city area to make a difference? How many of them are visiting the elderly and running youth clubs? God’s love motivates us to serve the folk in our parish and to live in an area that most people would be unlikely to choose as ‘desirable’. What motivates Richard Dawkins I wonder?

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