Monday, 7 September 2015

'Take Your Vicar to Work'

I've been advised I need to change my blog title to 'Cumbrian Ramblings' so I'll get round to that sometime.

Meanwhile, this is a particularly interesting week. Those who know me will have heard me say several times, 'Church is not the place you go - it's the people you are' - wherever that may be. To make the point, as I've done in Liverpool before, I offer 'Take Your Vicar to Work' days i.e. church members invite me to accompany them to their place of work, or voluntary service. I see it as a way of blessing and affirming church members in the work they do,valuing them and appreciating the life they have beyond church services and meetings. After all, I normally only see people in that context. Of course, it's also a learning experience for me, especially as still a 'new boy' (nearly 4 months now, incredibly). I can discover a lot more about the people and culture of this area.

Last month, I shadowed one of our church members who is manager of a care home in Whitehaven. The home has a Christian foundation, and it shows in several ways. The residents were welcoming, the staff and trustees friendly. I even played the piano for a short service and later took a Communion service. Jokingly, Les and I said we'd book a place there and then; but seriously, it caused us to reflect a lot on the ageing demographic, especially locally. I wish there could be more places like this, offering care and provision for the elderly in a Christian environment. One lady told us her life story (became a Christian at 9), and others told us 'we love it here.'

Last week, I went to the warehouse which serves the North Lakes Foodbank which is managed by a church member. I was amazed at the stacks of food and drink stored there, and enjoyed meeting some of the volunteers who 'bank' it there. Many of them are local church members; some are not, but are glad to give their hours of service alongside us. This particular foodbank was started just before the Flood in 2009 (when they lost everything) by a leader from a local evangelical fellowship who had a vision for what the churches here might do together. His faith has been more than rewarded.

Today, I have done two visits. At lunchtime to a Christian counselling service in Carlisle, which serves a wide sweep of our county. One of our members is a volunteer counselor there. I was moved by the devotion and commitment of those present at their monthly staff meeting, and the way they work so hard to maintain that service in the face of many challenges and changes, financial, social and medical. Every single person is a volunteer there, some travelling considerable distances to offer their time.

This evening was spent with the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Service, where again  a church member is a volunteer. One of only two women in the team of 43! So impressive. Every single member has to be trained in first aid and rescue techniques obviously, but also in driving skills to police standard, communications technology and orienteering. Again, every one a volunteer and (like the counselling service) entirely dependent upon fund-raising and donations. Naturally, they need a lot of equipment. Again, I was privileged to sit in on a staff meeting, and was impressed by the professional approach (of course, many are professionals in other fields); also by the robustness of debate when issues needed to be thrashed out. Church meetings could learn a thing or two from this! Unafraid to express their views, and everything out in the open.

Today's visits have both, in a sense, been about rescue, and Christians in the front line.

On Wednesday, I'm spending the morning in a charity shop where, again, church members volunteer. The charity is 'Hospice at Home' - a new one on me, but a fantastic organization  which, as the name suggests, offers terminal or respite nursing care in a patient's home because distances in Cumbria are too great to allow residential hospices. There are, of course, many other advantages to this expression of end of life care and support. Quite topical, given the current Parliamentary debate on assisted dying.

In the afternoon - something a little different. One (very) elderly lady said, 'Well, I work in my kitchen. Would Godfrey visit me there?!' Of course I will, so I will try and make myself useful.

Tomorrow morning, the Tour of Britain Cycle Race begins Stage 3 in Cockermouth. The whole town has been taken over: bunting,window dressing, and the Main Street statue of a former MP bedecked in racing colours! I have offered to help staff at the Coffee Kitchen - owned and run by a married couple, also church members. My job, I think, will be to be the runner from the cafe to Main Street to service their market stall and provide refreshments for various race organisers etc. It's a 6.30am start so better close now and get to bed.

So thankful for so many dedicated people who do what they do as Christ's representatives in these different situations, with a huge amount of skill and kindness.

Oh - and thanks to those who have enquired about the hens. They're in great form.One egg a day from each of them at present. We've started to give them away.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015


It's been a busy week, with both Pete and Chris coming to stay with their families. We've had a great time together: the first time they've seen us in our new home. We've also had Ruth & Tim's cat,Milo, staying with us for nearly a month, while they were on holiday in the US and Canada. What with the hens as well, there has been quite a lot of 'estate management' to do.

Hattie, Hennie and Hilda are now well settled and most of the time roam free in the garden, which they enjoy. All three are laying - not consistently, but most days we get at least two decent sized eggs from them. There are still the occasional mishaps, eggs which are small, with very thin or poorly-formed shells, landing in the bottom of the henhouse rather than laid in the nesting box. But these are becoming less frequent. We are learning all the time, and it's fascinating being part of nature in this way, living with the rhythms of the wild.

Last weekend, Les and I watched the DVD of 'Wild', starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, from the original memoir of the same name, subtitled 'From Lost to Found'. It was totally absorbing. It tells the story of a woman who launches, completely unprepared, into a 1100-mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail following the early death of her beloved mother and the failure of her marriage. In her lostness (the name 'Strayed' is significant) she becomes trapped in a cycle of self-destructive behaviour then, realising her plight, decides on this journey in order to find redemption. ('Am I being redeemed or have I been redeemed?' she asks herself towards the end of the journey.)  Along the way, there are several encounters with both nature and other humans which test her endurance to the limit as well as many joy-giving and revelatory experiences, such as the experienced hiker who helps her shed several pounds from her over-large rucksack (symbolic, of course, of elements of her past she is also shedding). At the end, after 94 days, she comes to the Bridge of the Gods, which she is about to cross into Washington, and, you feel, into a new life - more confident about who she is and who she is becoming. In some ways, it reminds me of The Way, which is another film of self-discovery on a challenging journey.

I don't know whether I would ever have the courage or the resources within or without to undertake such a journey, but I do find the wild very appealing and like that sense of risk-taking and adventure. Maybe I prefer to adventure vicariously! As a metaphor for life, however - especially life in the Spirit - it is thrilling. May I suggest you have a read of this piece by Martin Cavender, who offers a 'wild thank you' for his life, which he knows is coming to an end. (In fact, he died only 2 weeks or so after writing this.)

This is a piece which says much of what I would want to say about living the Christian life, in particular about heaven on earth and about 'a long obedience in the same direction' (after Nietszche).

As a matter of fact, two of the books he mentions have inspired me over the past two months: The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks and Following Jesus - the Plural of Disciple is Church by Alison Morgan. Catch them if you can!

Thursday, 13 August 2015


We have just got in  from a rather exhausting evening, chasing chickens around the garden to get them back into their enclosure! We thought they'd return of their own accord when it got dusk, but they seem to have enjoyed their freedom too much! In the end, it was the old corn trick: shake a bag of corn, the chooks follow it, throw a handful into the run and bingo!

So here they are. Meet, from top to bottom: Hattie, Hilda and Hen-rietta (Henny). They are all hybrids, and named after a local place: Blencathra Black, Skiddaw Speckledy and Bewcastle Blue.

We had our first egg this morning, but we don't know which of these laid it. It was small, soft and squidgy which is normal for the first eggs. Not edible, but at least we're under way now with egg production. We're told that each hen could lay around 250 eggs per year, once they get going. So if you live near us or come to visit, you could be getting some fresh eggs every so often.

This is a steep learning curve. We've already had to extend the run as we could see the three hens were a bit too crowded. We have to be up early every morning to let them out of their house; and they have to be safely shut up at night when they go to roost. Then there is the feeding and drinking aspect which needs some care, plus routine maintenance of their environment. They all seem to be healthy, but any problems and we'll be going back to the various reference books we've been given!

This is something I've wanted to do for some years, though I didn't realise how challenging it would be. I think it's about working with the rhythm of nature which I quite enjoy. It also gives me a common interest with local people, and makes me a 'disciple' - a learner, being so aware of my own ignorance. All in all a very positive experience.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

A Bat in the Bath!

Last time, it was all about birds. This time, I have to tell you we've had a bat in the bath - fortunately not at the same time as one of us! Les and I had just come home from a pleasant walk and a drink in our 'local' (see below) - and there it was.Sitting calmly in the bath, or at least it was until it seemed to sense it was being watched, whereupon it started to flap about, trying to get out. Somehow, it couldn't get enough height to fly out, so there was only one thing for it: put on the rubber gloves (a bat-bite is seriously toxic!) and pick it up. I managed it first time, and out the window it went. We've seen plenty of bats flying around outside, but this is the first one we've seen inside. Memo to selves: shut windows and doors before going out in the evening! At least this one was contained in the one room. I dread to think how we'd have coped if it was flying round the house. But, as I said to Les, bats are the real residents of the area. We are the intruders.

Earlier, we had had a very pleasant evening in the pub. It only opens 3 nights a week and Sunday lunchtimes: the landlord is an elder of the local evangelical church. Now there's a combination you wouldn't find often! It's a real centre of the local community, so a natural place for Les and me to frequent from time to time. Unfortunately, on Wednesdays, it seems to be men only so Les felt a bit awkward to start with. Now, of course, she's a star attraction and the men seem to enjoy talking to us (well, to her anyway!)  On Wednesday, Bobby came to join us. He will be 90 in October, and is a war veteran. We got his life story, which was fascinating including close encounters with death during WW2, his 40 years at Workington docks, the death of his son and his wife. At the end of the evening I said, 'Any regrets, Bobby?' 'None,' he said. 'I thank God for my life every night.' Very humbling.

Then there is our Everton supporter friend, who this time was even wearing his Everton shirt. Good to see him. Apparently, there is an EFC supporters club in Workington, and a coach goes down to Liverpool for every home game, and some away ones too. I think I might join them one day, especially as now I have a closer connection there: our son-in-law Tim has just got a job as teacher at Everton in the Community School.

Last Saturday, it was Carnival Day - the 101st in fact. Les and I decided we must be there as this is a major village event, to see the floats and the crowning of the Carnival Queen. We didn't expect to be part of it, though! The organiser (who also attends our local pub) had asked me to say a few words at a certain point in the procession to commemorate the 22 men of Great and Little Broughton who died in WW1, but that was all. Imagine our surprise then, as the procession formed, to be told that we were processing too! Apparently, I was a 'dignitary' and was to walk behind the two Mayors, of Allerdale and Cockermouth. See the photo below: the brass band from Northallerton, Yorks, and (left to right) the 2 Mayors and the Lady Mayoress of Cockermouth. It was all a bit surreal, especially as further into the village, the crowds grew into the hundreds! Behind us, there were all manner of floats, including 'Sister Act' (with a very camp-looking 'cardinal', and a rather suggestive dance routine); Bertie's Dust Busters (men dressed as cleaners), and the rather more decorative and serene floats on which were perched the current and the next Carnival Queens. (Some H&S issues, we felt, there!) It was a fun afternoon, which not even the drizzle managed to dampen completely, and a great way to bring people together. From a vicar's point of view, several 'visits' all at once!

'What about the chickens?' I hear you ask! Well, it's funny how, once you've made a decision, things just fall into place. Once I started to talk about our plans, I discovered that one neighbour had a chicken coop + run which he bought 2 years ago but never got round to unpacking; and another used to breed chickens and still has contacts in the business; yet another used to keep a flock of chickens and is full of good advice. He has also given us a feeder and water dispenser. He assures us that he and other neighbours would be happy to mind the hens when we're away - and they'd keep the eggs of course. One of our churchwardens also has a contact in the trade and can recommend a good breeder. So all I need to do now is wood-paint and assemble the coop and go shopping for chickens.

Thursday, 16 July 2015


Les and I continue to enjoy our new life. We recently took a week out, to return to Kippford near Dumfries, where we used to holiday when the children were young. Weather wasn't good, but it was restful and it was nice to have Jude with us for half the week. The caravan park promised sightings of red squirrels, but we were disappointed not to see any. But Les did often see nuthatches - her favourite bird - on the feeders at the next door caravan.

We went for a walk one day to Threave Gardens, where it's possible to view some nesting ospreys. An amazing sight. And what was particularly remarkable was their habit of migrating to and from Africa every year, returning to the same spot to nest. This particular male had returned for the past 4 years, and the ring on his leg revealed that he was born himself in Wales. How do they manage to navigate over so many thousands of miles each year, to the same spot? The hen has also returned several times: ospreys apparently mate for life.

Bird life round here is good. My current favourite is the song thrush, of which I have seen several. They have a variety of sounds - so many that sometimes you don't realise what you are listening to. One day I came home, and a thrush was on the chimney singing his heart out for several minutes. A beautiful sound.

I hope we shall soon have some resident birds: chickens! I have done a lot of research on keeping poultry and I think the time has come to take the plunge. Apparently, they make excellent pets, being very friendly and responsive. Some breeds are capable of laying up to 260 eggs per year, which is prolific: I love the idea of plentiful fresh eggs for eating and baking with. We'll get 3 hens I think. Plenty of eggs to give away too, at local events, or when visitors come to stay. The only problem is what to do when they get old or past laying. I really don't think I could bring myself to slaughter and eat one of my own chickens! I'll worry about that one when the time comes, I think. Watch this space.

Parish life is good. Beginning to think strategically now, in preparation for an Away Day in September and a parish weekend in November. Relations are good all round, and the issues becoming clearer. There is a major diocesan emphasis on 'discipleship' and we are exploring that further ourselves.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Cumbrian Migrant

Amazingly, it's nearly 6 weeks since we moved in and coming up to a month since I was licensed. Here's something else I've noticed: long evenings. I'm sure it gets darker later here, presumably because we're further north. 10.30 at night and it's still only twilight: we're seeing some wonderful night skies.

Since last blog, a large number of encounters worth writing about:

  • I've visited one of our church primary schools: there are two, plus another state school which has good church connections. I was so impressed with the quality of the place, in particular that they offer the children many opportunities of residential experience for learning history or geography, or glimpsing the life of a university student. It's all about aspiration. They also have a Christian value for each half of term, currently 'perseverance'. I have to decide how much to get involved, e.g. taking assemblies or even just story-telling.
  • I had a session with the Town Clerk, who gave me the benefit of her knowledge and experience. She had only been in post for less than a year when the flood hit. She explained to me the challenges of having a town so popular with retirees, which both makes for an older population and can exclude younger people from the housing market. (Another problem of migration!) Currently, the Council has a policy that 40% of new housing must be 'affordable' for first-time buyers.
  • I have done my first wedding (happy!) and another 2 funerals.
  • There has been a church meeting for one of our churches, which has had a hard time in recent years. There is a feeling of a page having been turned, and of a renewal of hope. They may not be huge in number, but there is an unmistakable devotion to the Lord Jesus and his church, which I find quite moving. We just need to think more in terms of blessing the town than 'keeping the church going'. Nothing new there then!
  • Last Sunday, there was a more 'normal' service in the morning, this time in Broughton itself, where I live. Unusually, I was present for a non-eucharistic service which enabled a more informal style, led so well by an experienced lay member of the congregation. She has clearly been helping to hold the church together for many years, as vicars have come and gone. That happens a lot round here!
  • In the afternoon, I visited two families who have applied for their baby's baptism. A long time since I've done this, but what a joy it was! The thing is, here, everything is much smaller scale from what I have been used to. Smaller communities, smaller churches, therefore fewer people to exercise their ministry, so more for clergy to do. So it's back to the basics of parish ministry as far as I'm concerned BUT, part of my task here is to enable more people to take on pastoral and liturgical roles for the days ahead when there will be even fewer clergy to go round.
  • On Sunday evening, I was grilled by a young people's group - 12 in number with 4 adult leaders. So enjoyable, with a tangible sense of joy in the things they share together. I hope we shall get to know each other well, and see young faith grow and mature into adult discipleship.
This Sunday: one of our churches celebrates its 150th anniversary. So, a special service has to be written and we will have two mayors and our MP present! When it was founded, it was intentionally for 'the poor of the parish' and this church has always been known for its care and compassion. This was demonstrated most recently in the flood. But now? Where are we going? What new calling is God placing on our life? Maybe we can use the anniversary as a time of reflection.

So back to the migration issue. I've been doing some more reading around this. Leaving aside migrants who leave their country for another (100,000 already this year in the Mediterranean alone!), there are millions of Internally Displaced People (IDPs): 6m in Syria, 3.3m in Nigeria, 3m in DR Congo, 2m in Iraq and 2.5m in Sudan. All these figures are approximate, of course, but it gives a sense of the scale of the problem. It is hard for us to imagine what this must be like, living in more settled communities. But we do need surely to think 'hospitality'. The former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, has pointed out that in the Hebrew scriptures we are only once commanded to 'love our neighbour' but 37 times to 'love the stranger'. And when you think about it, the story of the People of God in both Testaments is of refugees, asylum seekers and travellers: from Adam and Eve, sent out of the Garden to Abraham who was commanded to leave his own country, to the Exodus and the Exile, to Jesus' own flight into Egypt and Paul's travels. 

You could also say that Jesus sought asylum on earth from heaven. Which leads one to the First Letter of Peter, where God's people are described as 'sojourners and exiles' (1 Peter 2.11): earth being our temporary home while our true home is in heaven. Today we remember St Columba, who 'migrated' (as many Celtic Christians did) from Ireland to Scotland and the north-west of England.

None of this, I'm afraid, really addresses the massive problem of migration and human trafficking, but at least if we can get our attitude right it might lead to appropriate actions.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Things I Have Noticed

There's been a bit of a gap since last blog, as Les and I have tried to complete the settling in process. I think we're pretty much 'there', with all the packing cases finally empty, most things put away, pictures on the walls etc. However, there is a garage full of stuff we have not been able to find room for and we have to dispose of that over the next week or two. It already feels pretty much like home, and it's hard to believe we have only been here just over 3 weeks.

There has also been a settling in process at work, in the churches. The two Sundays since licensing have not been typical. Last Sunday, Les and I (with Adrian, my colleague) worshipped at 3 of our churches, having been licensed at the 4th the previous week. It was Pentecost, so we had a special Eucharist at each one. Poor Les and Adrian had to hear the same sermon 3 times! It was good to meet so many new friends, though quite a few were away, being a Bank Holiday weekend. I was told afterwards I could stay!

Today, being a 5th Sunday in the month, it was a 'Parish' service i.e. all 4 churches coming together in one place. Today it was the turn of Christ Church, in Cockermouth, so basically back where we started. Adrian has been away this week, so I co-led with one of our lay worship leaders, and this seemed to go very well. (You will be able to hear the sermon on the Team website later - Once again, we were warmly welcomed.

Living in Little Broughton, I have committed myself to taking their midweek communion every Thursday. Coincidentally, this happens at the same time as St Barnabas, Penny Lane so it's good to have that connection. I have also taken a funeral there and in July will take the wedding of the grand-daughter of the man who had died. My first wedding, however, will be at All Saints next Saturday. I am looking forward to that.

There are a number of things I have noticed here:

  • Birdsong. It is loud and tuneful, especially early in the morning. On our first morning here, I was wakened before 5am. I wish I could recognise all the different tunes. That is something to work on: I like to think they are all joining in creation's chorus of praise.
  • Hills. Stating the obvious, I know, but it's not just the landscape. It is the way it is constantly changing according to the time of day, weather features etc: sometimes dappled in sunlight, sometimes dark and brooding behind the clouds.
  • Accent. The Cumbrian accent is taking some getting used to after 40 years of Scouse! At the funeral reception, one elderly man spoke to me in an accent so thick I couldn't make out a word he was saying. I think that he was being mischievous, on hearing where I was from! There are some new words to learn and I'm interested by the way 'eh' comes into speech, and a soft 'r'.
  • People. Without exception, people are amazingly friendly. But a local told me I would need to make an effort to smile and speak to everyone, otherwise they might think I was stand-offish. Consequently, Les and I greet everyone, whether we know them or not. Trouble is, most people seem to know us even if we don't know them.
  • Village life. We have been warned that everyone will know our business! When we go out, when we get home, when we do our washing, who we have spoken to etc. And 'be careful what you say - everyone is related, or was at school with so-and-so, so word will get back!' This was illustrated last week: I was in the local bookshop. One of the staff introduced herself to me as a neighbour up the road, whom I had greeted in her garden a few days previously. I couldn't remember, I must admit. She gave me her name; I said, 'I'm Godfrey'. 'I know,' she said.
  • Singing. The singing at worship is excellent. None of the churches has a choir, but the congregations more than make up for this. One church doesn't even have an organist, but manages with CDs - a mixed blessing! Last week, I asked Les to come out of retirement and play her guitar for one song. That was appreciated.
  • Mobility between churches. There are quite a number of different churches in a relatively small area. It is noticeable how people migrate from one church to another, for a variety of different reasons, and they bring with them something of the style and culture of their previous church. Christ Church, where we were this morning, has a particularly mixed membership.
It's all very different. Smaller scale, slower pace, more travelling - the funeral last week involved a trip to Carlisle Crematorium, 40 minutes away. And several of our church members live some way away, though not in our village where many are lifelong residents.

And speaking of migration, it is desperate to see and hear of the plight of those fleeing from war-torn and poverty-stricken countries in North Africa and Eastern Europe. I suppose you could say I am a migrant myself (originally from the South of England!) - as many of us are, in this sense - and there is nothing new about mass migration as a result of war and poverty. What seems to be different about the current situation is the scale of it, which threatens to overwhelm countries like Italy. I guess this has something to do with global news media which makes even the poorest people aware of a possible better life elsewhere.Somehow, in our wealthier countries we surely have to change our attitude: recognise the desperate need of these fellow human beings, and unite to help them. Who can say we would behave any differently if we were in their situation? It is part of our human nature to seek a better life.