Leaving west Worcestershire

Almost four years ago, I arrived as a curate (and as a single bloke!) in west Worcestershire. On Sunday evening, Jen & I had our final leaving event, and on Tuesday the removals men arrived and we departed for Somerset.

There are many things that I’ll miss about Worcestershire, and it’s difficult to pick out particular events… but I’ll have especially good memories of the cafe churches, the discipleship group and the youth group. Working with David Sherwin (‘the rabbi’) has been a real pleasure – not least because of his irrepressible good humour and generosity of spirit. I also greatly valued our friendly neighbours in Wichenford. (It’s also difficult picking out representative photos from the past couple of weeks – partly because I took none at the final one!)

Barbecue at Rich & Marianne Cole's house for the Discipleship Group & family members. L-R: Francis & Sarah; Callum; Charlotte & Geoff; Marianne; Jen; Rich

Barbecue at Rich & Marianne Cole’s house for the Discipleship Group & family members. L-R: Francis & Sarah; Callum; Charlotte & Geoff; Marianne; Jen; Rich

Supper at Jenny Sawtell's. L-R: Chris; Rich; Jenny; Jen; Adrian & Joyce; Dot; Tony; Marianne.

Supper at Jenny Sawtell’s. L-R: Chris; Rich; Jenny; Jen; Adrian & Joyce; Dot; Tony; Marianne.

We arrived in Somerset on Tuesday evening and have been unpacking boxes since then! This nearby roadsign seems symbolic, as it has five of the villages in the Polden Wheel parish being represented (the missing one is Ashcott, which is further east, and Cossington is part of another group).

The way to go... roadsign near Catcott.

The way to go… roadsign near Catcott.

Autumn colours in Monkwood – and a kestrel encounter

Monkwood is a small wood about a mile from our front door in Wichenford. This autumn the colours have been particularly impressive, so on a sunny afternoon last week I went to take some photos.

Autumn colours in Monkwood

Autumn colours in Monkwood

Autumn colours in Monkwood

Autumn colours in Monkwood

Autumn colours in Monkwood

Autumn colours in Monkwood

Kestrel spotted near Broad Green

I was driving back from Broadwas a few days ago, and chanced upon a kestrel hovering above a field. It was close enough, and the lighting was right, for me to take a series of photos – the best of which are here.

Note: the photos are in chronological order but aren’t intended to map out the details of the kestrel’s hovering: my camera isn’t fast enough to allow for that. What they do reveal, though, is the bird’s intense concentration on one spot while it hovers.

Getting into a jam…

One thing I’ve particularly enjoyed doing while living in Wichenford has been to grow fruit: but this wasn’t my intention when I moved in three years ago.

Strawberries & raspberries grown at Wichenford Oak

Strawberries & raspberries grown at Wichenford Oak

My original idea was to grow a variety of fruit and vegetables, so I planted broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips, as well as swede and courgettes. I hadn’t taken into account two important factors…

The first was the thick clay soil, which can go from waterlogged to dry and cracked in a few short days. Thus, with the carrots and parsnips a few stunted and warped specimens with a vague resemblance to vegetables emerged, while the swede succeeded only by growing almost entirely above ground.

The second problem was the buddliea bushes. Being conservation-minded, I was thrilled at the number of butterflies that flitted around during the summer. They were thrilled I’d provided so much food for their offspring. The broccoli never had a chance, while the sprouts were at least technically edible – but I didn’t really want to serve them to guests…

But as the strawberries and raspberries thrived, I decided to specialise, and abandoned the idea of growing vegetables. Elsewhere in the garden, there are two damson trees and another bearing Victoria plums, which were growing long before the house was built. This year, we managed to pick enough plums before the insects took over – and had a glut of both fruit. So, over the summer we’ve been doing some more jam-making.

The upshot of all this is that there’s been plenty to give away, whether fruit or jam.

Some of the jam made this summer.

Some of the jam made this summer.

Cafe church in rural Worcestershire

On Sunday, the cafe church in Wichenford had its second anniversary: we had 50 people of all ages, enjoying fresh coffee, bacon butties and an informal service. This has been one of the major highlights of my time as a curate here, so I thought this anniversary marked a good time to reflect on it in this blog.

Cafe church in Wichenford

Cafe church in Wichenford

Gail and Amber do the reading

Gail and Amber do the reading

One of the attractions of cafe church seems to be that it works for all ages. It’s designed to be family friendly, so we have a regular kids’ activity (in the style of Messy Church) to one side, and kids are free to wander during the meeting. This is one of the things that helps to give it a lively atmosphere.

But we’ve also found that it works for older folks whose preferred style might be the Book of Common Prayer – because it’s an excuse to leave the house, have breakfast out and meet friends.

Louisa, Lottie and Fiona at cafe church in July 2014.

Louisa, Lottie and Fiona at cafe church in July 2014.

The cafe church format lends itself to creativity. In some of the months we’ve had sketches provided by some of the young people, and we’ve had a singing group a few times as well.

The bacon butties being served

The bacon butties being served

It would be completely impossible to do this without a dedicated team of helpers, and one of the essentials has been to identify those who are willing and able to commit time to being part of the hospitality teams. I’ve been really encouraged by the way team members have shared the vision of what cafe church is about, and have helped to create a welcoming culture.

The cafe churches in Wichenford and Martley are just two examples of the Fresh Expressions of church that are taking place around the country. Each one is an attempt to enable people in the 21st century to connect with Jesus Christ in a new way, with less of the baggage that traditional church is perceived to have in today’s post-modern culture. Indeed, the ultimate goal is not primarily to have large numbers at a church event – encouraging though that may be; it is for more people to recognise that Jesus Christ is alive today; and moreover, to realise that relationship with him is meaningful and powerful for their own lives.

Kids' activity in progress

Kids’ activity in progress

All photos (except the third) taken by Mark Wild, who retains the copyright.

Misty Worcestershire (and an alert buzzard)

The views in this area, on cold, clear wintry mornings, have been really impressive over the past few weeks. Here are a few snaps.

View to the Malverns from near the Carrington Bridge.

View to the Malverns from near the Carrington Bridge.

View from near Ockeridge towards Abberley clock tower.

View from near Ockeridge towards Abberley clock tower.

View from near Ockeridge

View from near Ockeridge

Buzzard near Ankerdine Road

Buzzard near Ankerdine Road

Meanwhile, over the winter it has become quite normal to see buzzards perched on telegraph poles. Somehow or other I managed to get close enough to one around the Ankerdine Road area. They are usually difficult birds to photograph, despite their size and prominence, but being in a car probably helped on this occasion.

Six Severn Goosanders – and no males!

Last Friday, I took the Severn Valley Railway from Bewdley to Bridgnorth, and walked the 15 miles along the river back. I wondered why I had not done this before, because the river Severn is stunningly beautiful along this stretch.

Steam train leaving Bridgnorth

Steam train leaving Bridgnorth

The one problem was that the weather was iffy – there were several significant showers of rain, which was not ideal photographically. However, some of the views were impressive despite the grey skies!

The River Severn being joined by the... at ...

The River Severn being joined by the Borle Brook just south of Highley

While walking towards Hampton Loade, I happened to see six red-head goosanders (that is, a mixed group of females and juveniles): these are one of my favourite birds, enough to be the highlight of any walk.  I soon lost sight of them though as the path took me behind a long line of hedges and trees. A couple of hours later, I happened to be looking at the river when they flew past – a fortunate coincidence, and I thought that would be it. Some while later still, I was puzzled by some features on the other side of the river which, on examination, turned out to be low wooden posts – but beside them were the six goosanders! As I was able to lurk behind a shrub, I took a series of photographs without disturbing them – two of which are below and another the banner image above.

The absence of the black-and-white males is curious but highly significant. Each year in mid-summer, thirty-thousand male goosanders from northern Europe migrate to the coast of northern Norway in order to moult. It is a safe haven while they are flightless, and can only return when their new flight feathers have grown sufficiently. The females have their moult migration later in the year, and are in smaller, more scattered groups, closer to home. That’s why I only saw the red-headed females and juveniles.

Four of the goosanders

Four of the goosanders. (Click to enlarge)

The six goosanders: the five swimming had been preening while the sixth, which was about to join them, rested up. Click to enlarge.

The six goosanders: the five swimming had been preening while the sixth, which was about to join them, rested up. Click to enlarge.

Wryneck near Severn Beach

Wryneck near Severn Beach

A couple of days’ later, I saw a report that there was a wryneck near Severn Beach, west of Bristol.

I’ve had previous with wrynecks, dipping on several, so as I’d had a busy weekend (including my first wedding – of a great couple, Rob & Natalie Chatley), and having a free afternoon, I decided to go down.

I’ve heard wrynecks described as a kind of ‘aberrant woodpecker’, which is a nice description. Although they bred in the UK in the 19th century, they are now only seen on passage in the migration seasons.

As I arrived, the birders who were there were trying to re-locate it in some bushes, and there was a feeling that it could hide out of sight for hours. Ten minutes later, a birding couple spotted it again, hopping around a lawn – nowhere near as obscure as they are reputed to be! The owners of the house were moderately tolerant, before gently ushering the bird off the premises…

Wryneck helpfully posing with a robin: they're much smaller than I thought, and with their plumage are quite easy to lose sight of.

Wryneck helpfully posing with a robin: they’re much smaller than I thought, and with their plumage are quite easy to lose sight of.

Saplings Theatre tackles cyber-bullying

Cyber-bullying is a major issue for teens today. Last Friday’s production by Saplings Theatre School in Martley was an inspirational response to it, enabling the young people themselves to explore not just the consequences of it, but the complex motivations behind it.

Sophie's arrival (far left) is about to disrupt Sam's life (third from left)

Sophie’s arrival (far left; played by Katie) is about to disrupt Sam’s life (third from left, played by Lottie)

Messages on the phone and Internet begin to disturb Sam

Sophie begins to send malicious messages on the phone and Internet, which begin to disturb and ultimately humiliate Sam

Dan senses something is wrong in Sam's life, but she can't face admitting what's happening to her

Dan (played by Ollie) senses something is wrong in Sam’s life, but she can’t face admitting what’s happening to her

Mum (played by Amber) can't help either

Mum (played by Amber) can’t help either – but her persistence eventually pays off

Eventually Sam is able to talk about the cyber-bullying and she is persuaded to talk to the police

Sam is persuaded to talk about the cyber-bullying and ultimately to tell the police

Sophie's bullying comes as a reaction to the pain in her own life: in this case a broken home and a Dad who's unable to deal with his own failings

Sophie’s bullying comes as a reaction to the pain in her own life: in this case a broken home and a Dad (also played by Ollie)  who’s unable to deal with his own failings

Sam is able to overcome the bullying and initiate reconciliation with Sophie

Sam is able to overcome the bullying and initiate reconciliation with Sophie

Saplings is run by Louisa Wilde, and at the start of the term she asked the students themselves which topic they wanted to explore. They voted for cyber-bullying. Much of the framework of the play was developed by them but the actual script was written by Louisa.

What impressed me particularly was the depth of the plot itself. It revealed the crushing experience of being the victim of cyber-bullying, the sense of humiliation and the difficulty in being able to seek help in confronting it – all these were brilliantly captured by Lottie, playing Sam. But the plot also explored the emotional struggles of Sophie, played by Katie, desperate to gain acceptance in a new school, hurting from being abandoned by her mother and being brought up by her turbulent father.

Louisa’s artistic motivation was to use the theme to explore Brechtian theatre – an approach to theatre which seeks not just to reflect reality but to shape it. It would have been easy enough to produce a play on this theme that would have ended in despair – but that is hardly transformative.

Instead, because Sam was persuaded to confront the problem rather than to keep cowering under it, she was then able to effect a reconciliation with Sophie, her bully – and to meet her in her own isolation and despair. It is a tribute to the emotional integrity of the script and the acting abilities of the young people themselves that this came across as authentic and convincing. It is an inspiring play that deserves a wider audience.

Louisa Wilde, as the artistic director, appears to be unusually gifted at refining and developing the talents of the young people, and enabling them to explore an emotionally-charged subject so that they – and we in the audience – grow through it.

The introduction to the play included a video clip, “Cyberbullying: there is a way out!” and the postscript included part of a TED talk by Shane Koyczan: “To This Day… for the bullied and beautiful“, both of which are worth viewing.