Church beyond the walls…

Last Saturday was both intense and enjoyable. I got ordained as a priest in the early afternoon, and then a few hours later celebrated my first communion in the open air, on the hillside above Martley.

It may seem strange to have a second ordination just a year after the first one; it’s an Anglican thing, but this one permits me to celebrate Holy Communion and to be able to take weddings. The service was similar to the one last year, but somehow it had more impact emotionally on all of us involved. This may in large part be due to the wonderful sermon given by Bishop Jack Nicholls, who had also led the retreat in Cropthorne. He has an extraordinary ability to tell stories that have a deep impact emotionally as well as spiritually.

Ordination completed: me with Hazel Charlton and Richard Bubbers, and the Bishop of Worcester, John Inge.

Ordination completed: me with Hazel Charlton and Richard Bubbers, and the Bishop of Worcester, John Inge.

Afterwards, there was a celebratory barbecue at Noak Farm, most generously hosted by Richard and Claire Bray. Their farm is on the hillside just above Martley – it’s a stunning location with amazing views. It was a relaxed gathering, and a great opportunity for the church to meet friends and family from Cheltenham. We were very fortunate to have excellent weather – which had seemed unlikely during Thursday’s downpour!

One main reason for having the event there was to be able to use it to do my first Holy Communion – using a bale of straw for the altar, and with spectacular views of Martley and the surrounding Worcestershire countryside. Although God is present within church buildings, he’s also present outside the walls, in the midst of this rural community, within the countryside which he has ultimately created. I was glad of the opportunity to express that through leading communion in that context.

For me it was an extraordinary day and one that I’ll remember for a very long time.

First communion - at Noak Farm above Martley, with the Malverns in the background.

First communion – at Noak Farm above Martley, with the Malverns in the background. (Click to enlarge) (Photo taken by Nick Eden)

First communion - at Noak Farm above Martley

First communion – at Noak Farm above Martley. (Click to enlarge) (Photo taken by Nick Eden)

Winter in Wichenford

One of the best parts of being a curate here has been doing things I never expected to be involved in. The prime example is the pantomime last weekend. When I arrived last summer I was told (by my grinning vicar) that I would be in it – and after being a bit sceptical at the start, I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

The panto itself was Cinder Ella – note the ‘small but subtle difference’ – which was based more on the German version but adapted to incorporate some local Martley character. For example I was Rev Hastings, one of a long line of Rev Hastings in the area – but there the historical roots ended, not least because I played him more as an eccentric professor…

I was part of a very talented cast who gave a number of memorable performances – it’s almost unfair to single anyone out but Andy and Tony were unforgettable as the ugly sisters, and Douglas was a wonderfully whacky Colonel Currie. The play was enormous fun to be part of, and we got some very good feedback from those who’d been to watch (including a review by my friend Neil Fix).

The weather has finally turned wintry – which offers some small comfort for the farmers as the frost will kill off some of the bugs that have been enjoying the damp. This is a scene just down the road, on the way to Hilltop Farm – note the spire of Wichenford church in the distance.

Frosty scene in Wichenford

Frosty scene in Wichenford

Shortly after taking this I noticed a rather showy fieldfare trying to forage. There’s been a large flock of fieldfares and redwings in the orchard at the back of the village but despite their obvious presence they are very elusive for a photographer.

Fieldfare trying to forage on the frozen ground at Hilltop Farm

Fieldfare trying to forage on the frozen ground at Hilltop Farm

As it happens another fieldfare settled upon an easier option this afternoon, and started to guzzle an apple I’d left out… and was just about tolerant of my camera pointing at it.

Fieldfare getting an easier meal at Wichenford Oak

Fieldfare getting an easier meal at Wichenford Oak

Rural ministry in Worcestershire…

June 2015 – For reflections on my time as a curate, see Being pioneers in west Worcs and Cafe church in rural Worcestershire.

Last year, I was sure I was looking for a curacy in an urban environment. After all, I’d thoroughly enjoyed a stretching placement in Stockton, and I’ve spent my life in towns and cities. However, while I was at New Wine I had a bit of a nudge towards rural ministry. Although I was not particularly confident in discerning the Lord’s will in this matter, I knew this one was easy to test.

The first step was discussing it with friends – and I had a shock. I found everyone enthusiastically agreeing that rural was the right direction for me. “The thing is”, opined Dave Doughty, “you’re not urban. You don’t wear your baseball cap round the wrong way, and you’re much more likely to say ‘oooh arrr, that’s a badgerrr, that is'”. A few moments later I bumped into Andy Pestell, who’d arrived in Newcastle a month before I left Durham, but we had not realised we’d overlapped up there. He tried to explain where his church was, that it was close to the central monument, and I thought, “why would I know where the central monument is in Newcastle?”. It then occurred to me that throughout my two years in the north east I had never voluntarily gone into Newcastle, and spent almost all my days off going to bird hides or up hills – and that there might therefore be something in this rural nudge.

My only previous experience of rural ministry had been a ‘faith-sharing weekend’ in West Durham, in a former mining area. I therefore decided to acquaint myself with some rural parishes near Cheltenham, so spent Sunday mornings visiting churches in the Coln River benefice, in villages such as Andoversford, Dowdeswell and Sevenhampton. I began to realise that the population is quite different to what might have been expected before: there is far less employment in agriculture, and many are arriving from outside, working in IT from home, or in Cheltenham, or even travelling to London.

Martley church

As I began to explore the possibilities of rural ministry, the Gloucester DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands, who has oversight of ministers in training) contacted his counterparts in Hereford and Worcester dioceses. The upshot was that I was put in contact with David Sherwin, who oversees three parishes a few miles west of Worcester – Martley, Winchenford and the Lower Teme Valley.

In the last couple of months I have visited the area four times and have gradually got to know the ministry team, the wardens and lay readers, and other vicars in the area. I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience, and right from the start felt that this is a congenial environment in which to serve as a curate. Hence I was delighted when earlier this week David offered me the post – which I have duly accepted. It’s a post that will start in July after the ordinations at the beginning of the month. I am excited about it: it’s a place where I will enjoy learning and serving.

River Teme near Knightwick: the river border the west and south of the parishes