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.

A shrew’d start to events…

Before leaving for Cropthorne this afternoon, I decided to water the veg patch. Look who turned up, sniffing his way through the soil, undergrowth, and even the sole of my shoe…

Shrew in the veg patch

Shrew in the veg patch

Shrew in the veg patch

Shrew in the veg patch

The shrew burrowing into the soil for insects

The shrew burrowing into the soil for insects

Shrew sniffing along the path

Shrew sniffing along the path

I was not sure whether it was a common shrew or pygmy shrew – so I posted the top two pictures onto the Mammal Society’s Facebook page, to ask for expert opinion on it. This drew a unanimous response… one person wrote, “the lighter strip of fur on the sides is typical of commons, rather than pygmies; commons are known as tri-coloured in this way”, while another said “It’s very young but I’d say three shades of colour = common”.

Watching it constantly on the move, sniffing and probing everywhere it went, investigating every crevice in the soil, made me realise that the life of a shrew must be quite hard: it needs to eat its own body-weight in insects every day, just in order to survive. I suspect what it drew it out from the safety of the hawthorn hedge was my watering the garden with a hose, providing softer soil to probe for food.

I was already in last-minute mode for preparing to go on the retreat, so the shrew delayed things further. As it happened, the rehearsal for the deacons’ ordination took longer than expected, so I arrived there at the same time that almost everyone else did!

Renewal in the countryside

Last week I went to an outstanding conference run by the Fresh Expressions organisation, on renewal in a rural church context. What made the conference so good was that it was highly focussed and very practical, and struck a good balance between talks, discussions, and free time to mix and mingle.

At the start, the keynote speech was given by Jerry Marshall, on “Applying entrepreneurial leadership to rural mission”. He defined an entrepreneur as “a person who habitually sees how the world could be better in some way, and then brings the resources together to make it happen” – which was a stimulating idea for those wanting to bring renewal to a rural context! Three points particularly stood out for me:

  • In planning new initiatives, we need to start by looking for the need, rather than the solution. We then look for the resources to meet the need.
  • It is essential to decide on the goals – and then agree to pay the price in advance. I think ‘price’ can be understood not just in terms of finances, but particularly in terms of the time and resources of all concerned.
  • People and passion are vital!

We then heard from other practitioners about actual examples of Fresh Expressions in a rural context. One of these was Sally Gaze, who is now a vicar in Norfolk, and was one of my predecessors as curate in the Martley area! Simon Lockett from Herefordshire captured the imagination with several ideas: in order for the vicar to be seen to belong to each of the villages, he now camps in each one for a week in the year – in a yurt! He’s also in the process of developing an outreach project based around a pizza van.

The ample time for discussion in small groups meant that we could process what we had heard, and then think through how to apply it. One entertaining session was when we discussed key values for renewal in the countryside: three words in particular recurred across the¬† groups, which were ‘prayer’, ‘messy’, and ‘passion’ – which probably says something revealing about those of us who were there!

I got a huge amount from the session on “Youth discipleship in the countryside” – and not just because of the content. Peter Atkins, a church leader who was one of the conference organisers, recognised that two of the 19-year-olds in his church,¬†Emily Harrison and Catherine Ward, would be the ideal people to lead most of the session. Doing so exemplified how people thrive when leaders relinquish some of their control, and enable others to step into the limelight. Emily and Catherine’s top tips for youth discipleship were: to be relevant and relatable; to keep it relational; and to persevere.

Throughout my time there, I enjoyed being with a group of people who are all restless with the way church is usually done in the countryside, who have no illusions about the current predicament, and are passionate for renewal. It was an inspiring conference.

Wichenford Cafe Church

Our own Fresh Expression: Wichenford Cafe Church (Photo: Mark Wild)

Wichenford Cafe Church

Wichenford Cafe Church (Photo: Mark Wild)

A rare grebe & night-time ploughing

Going after a rare bird is a great way to spend a day off! With overcast skies in Worcestershire – limiting photographic opportunities considerably – I decided to travel down to Somerset to the RSPB’s Ham Wall reserve.

This is part of the Avalon Marshes, which is an ambitious project to return the area to its former wetland state. Commercial peat extraction during the last century left pits that soon filled with water, providing an ideal environment for the wide swathe of reedbeds which now exist there. It’s become a hotspot for rare bird sightings, also recently scoring national firsts for breeding little bitterns (2011) and great white egrets (2012).

Looking for the pied-billed grebe at Ham Wall

Looking for the pied-billed grebe at Ham Wall

Just to prove that I did actually see the pied-billed grebe at Ham Wall!

Just to prove that I did actually see the pied-billed grebe at Ham Wall!

I was hoping to see a pied-billed grebe, a bird usually found in the Americas, but which turns up in the UK roughly once every couple of years. I arrived at the site, and as I was setting up the scope the guy next to me asked whether I’d like him to point it in the right direction. I did – but it was a while before the grebe emerged from the reedbed it had slunk into.

For the entire time it was there, it remained on the far side of the lake from the viewing platform. It had its own agenda… once, after catching a large fish, it slipped back into the reeds for a while to digest its meal, and it was about half an hour before it re-emerged to swim around again.

I remained there for a couple of hours, glad of the extra layers I’d put on in the morning – until my toes began to lose contact! It was enjoyable sharing views with other visitors, though – returning the favour for the countless occasions when I looked at rarities through other people’s scopes.

Why farming here is hard

Night-time ploughing in Wichenford

Night-time ploughing in Wichenford

A few days ago I returned to the house at night and was rather surprised to hear activity on the farmland at the back. In fact the field was being ploughed – utilising the first opportunity in months when the land has been dry enough to do this. A couple of photos during the last month of one of the neighbouring field shows what local farmers have been up against. These are fields which would normally have been planted with winter wheat, but this has been impossible this year.

A scene last month at Hilltop Farm in Wichenford, a few minutes walk away

A scene last month at Hilltop Farm in Wichenford, a few minutes walk away

The same field in Wichenford, a month later

The same field in Wichenford, a month later: no ice, but just as wet

Wichenford buzzard

As I drive into Wichenford, there’s a half-dead tree by the side of the road which is a favourite perch of a juvenile buzzard. Until now, I’ve not had both a camera and decent sunlight at the same time. However, this afternoon I did, and as I returned from Broadwas, I noticed that it was flying around the adjacent field, so decided to wait. Ten minutes later, it arrived on one of the branches.

Buzzard surveying the scene near Wichenford.

Buzzard surveying the scene near Wichenford.

Missing nothing: the buzzard surveying behind as well as in front.

Missing nothing: the buzzard surveying behind as well as in front.

After a while the wind got up and the buzzard flew off, but I managed a couple of snaps as it departed.

Flying off

Flying off