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Friday 20 December 2019

In praise of shop staff

This morning I went into Brigg early to do the last bits of Christmas shopping.  Not presents - I bought or made most of them ages ago - but food.  It's no good for me to go in on Christmas Eve  as people get a wee bit impatient with old ladies on mobility scooters.  That's not how I think of myself but it is undoubtedly how people see me when they are feeling harassed!

Anyway I was in Brigg before eight this morning and my first stop was Lidl.  The chap on the till was chatty and he told me he had started work at six and wouldn't be finishing until four but he still had a cheery word for me.

Then I passed B & M and a man was raising the shutters but he gave me a really cheerful "Good Morning".  It was so cheery that I thanked him and he was kind enough to say that I'd made his day by my own cheerfulness and my "Thank you".  

On to the butcher.  My butcher is of the traditional kind - big blue apron and loads of useful advice.  As soon as I stopped near his shop he was outside pulling down the awning so that my scooter wouldn't get wet whilst I was inside.  And we chatted and laughed whilst I bought sausage made from locally produced pork. home cured bacon and our traditional Lincolnshire Plum Bread.  

It was the same in Tesco and Wilko when I went in there.  The staff were in Christmas jumpers and in great humour.

Retail staff are in for a few days very hard work, the culmination of several weeks hard work.   They will also have Christmas to prepare for their own families just like the rest of us.  I too was in a profession which had lots of extra tasks in the run-up to Christmas but although it was hard work I suspect that I got more thank yous than many shop workers so this is my personal thank you to all those who keep cheerful and look after us,

Thank You!

Sunday 15 December 2019

Meeting a Prophet

Many years ago when I was still in my old parishes I took a Christingle service.  We always had Christingle on Christmas Eve and it was always very popular.  Parents wanted their children to hear the real meaning of Christmas and they wanted them to hear it from the vicar in church.  If the vicar was prepared to entertain their kids on Christmas Eve when they were as high as kites, most parents thought that was a brilliant idea.  And everybody wanted to join in singing “Away in a manger” by candlelight.  It was a high spot of Christmas for quite a few people.

All those of you who have been to a Christingle will know that although it’s a service which everybody enjoys, it’s really a service for children.  So I was a little concerned when a rather dishevelled man came in about three minute before the start, took off his shoes and socks and started to warm his feet in front of the gas fire.  These days strange men wandering in to children’s services are inevitably regarded with a certain amount of suspicion.  I went across to talk to him but he wasn’t in a mood for a chat so I started the service anyway.

He sat there throughout the service with his feet to the fire and his back to me.  Even when the children came forward to receive their Christingles and they were all standing in the aisles he didn’t want to move.  He sat there as families left and he sat there as people all around him chatted.  It was obvious that he would have stayed there all night so I had a word with a big strapping soldier on leave and asked if he would mind coming with me if I offered to take the chap to the shelter in Lincoln.  It was OK by him so I thought I’d solved the problem.

Except that the man didn’t want to go.

By this time all the children had gone but there were a lot of adults left in church, bless their hearts, because they didn’t want to leave me on my own with the man but I really hadn’t got a clue what to do next.  I’m a single woman living alone and I didn’t want to take him home with me.   I knew the churchwardens wouldn’t agree to leaving the man in church and nobody seemed to have any ideas at all.  Stalemate.

Then one of the men stepped forward and I was a bit surprised that he was in his shirt sleeves.  He’d taken off his jacket and he put it around the stranger’s shoulders saying, “That’ll keep you warm and there’s some cash in the pocket too.”  Then the floodgates opened and the pockets were filled with rather crackly gifts but after a few gifts the chap stopped us giving him more saying he’d got enough now.  He’d probably been given about £70 to £80 which is hardly a fortune. 

Somehow, though, the atmosphere relaxed.  One or two more people left the church and a woman prison officer had a word with the man and then took him home with her to have some hot soup.  Another man had a word and discovered that the man didn’t want to go to Lincoln but he’d got friends in Scunthorpe so he arranged to take him.  I breathed a sigh of relief, bade farewell to the stragglers and went home.

But the memory of that night will never leave me for that night I think I met a prophet.  Prophets aren’t fortune tellers.  They’re not really into predicting the future.  What prophets do is to make us look at the present and see it for what it really is and more important make us see ourselves for what we really are.

We’d all gone to church that night to celebrate the birth of Christ.  We were all good Christian folk and I’m pretty sure that all of us had made our charitable donations in the run up to Christmas.  We’d  all heard the bidding prayer which reminded us  that because this of all things would rejoice his heart, we should remember, in his name, the poor and helpless, the cold, the hungry, and the oppressed; the sick and them that mourn, the lonely and the unloved. 

We’d all heard that and we thought we were all good Christian people.  We’d done our bit and there are systems and charities in place to care for everybody.  It took a stranger to remind us that Christ did not come to bring systems but to bring love.  The stranger reminded us whilst Christ loves all humanity he also loves each human and asks us to love and care in his name.  He was pretty low down in the social heap but he had friends and he had preferences even if it was just to go to Scunthorpe not Lincoln and no, I didn’t know what was best for him

John the Baptist was a prophet in the wilderness of Judaea.  May we recognise God’s prophets wherever we find them. 

(I'm linking with Tracing Rainbows Pause in Advent.  Sorry I didn't post anything last week.)

Saturday 14 December 2019

Meet Welly Dog

I had to pass our local (retained) fire station this evening. Welly Dog was on guard.

Advent continues

Most nights, come rain or shine, I've been out to see the various windows which form Caistor's Living Advent Calendar.  It's lovely!  Not only are the windows gorgeous but the mulled wine and mince pies are pretty good too.

Here are a few highlights.  Some windows don't photograph well and I'm no great shakes as a photographer!

This was a tiny window with tiny, tiny figures inside

The Methodist church did a simple but effective nativity scene.  
One bungalow featured owls.  There were actually owls hooting in nearby trees as well!
This house featured a rather ethereal angel

And there are still lots more to see!

Friday 6 December 2019

Further into Advent

Advent continues to unfold its lovely self in this lovely community.

I've been to see the Living Advent Calendar most nights and am amazed at the variety of windows.  Some look great but don't photograph well but I was very impressed by this one for 4th December.  It was also our monthly Street-Food Market at a nearby park at the same time so as well as the mince pies and mulled wine I had a Dutch sausage thingy that night! I bought the sausage wotsit-thingy, but the mulled wine and mince pies were courtesy of the householder who had done the light display.  That same generosity has been shown most nights.  (The street-food market is a semi commercial venture.)

Last night I missed the window lights because I went to our Women's Institute Christmas Dinner.   Santa couldn't come this year but he sent his Missus!

So far I haven't put up my lights.  When I was a child they didn't go up until Christmas Eve or maybe 23rd December but as I get older I'm putting them up a little earlier.  Maybe next week.

However, my Advent stable continues to reveal its secrets.  So far a star, an angel, a herdsman, a cow, a sheep and a goat have appeared.  

Monday 2 December 2019


As far as the makers of "advent" calendars are concerned Advent always starts on 1st December.  As far as this 'ere (retired) vicar is concerned Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas.  2019 is one of the rare years when everyone is in agreement!  Yesterday was the first day of Advent.  

So as usual my Advent stable was set up.  I've had it for many years now, since well before I retired (and that was ten years ago) but each year it brings me joy.  There are twelve cupboards on the other side of the stable so each day I find a new figure to add to the scene.

For the past few years Caistor has had a "Living Advent Calendar" but I've never been to see it.  Twenty four households volunteer to have a light display in their window, each on a different day of Advent.  Last night I went to the first one which was at the home of Pete-my-gardener-and-handyman.  He and his family had provided mulled wine, hot chocolate and mince pies and we had a noisy countdown to the switch-on.  There was then a bit of community singing of a Christmas song and people chatted.  I met several people I'd never met before.  It was a free event, not even a charity collection, and it was a real community "do".

I think it could be part of my Advent on several evenings this year.

Sunday 1 December 2019

Being prepared (Pause in Advent 1)

These days getting up is quite a leisurely affair.  I get out of bed fairly early sometime after 4am.  This morning I had a lie in to 5am but then I put on my dressing gown, settled down in my chair while snuggling under a throw and I read e mails and blogs, had some quiet time and roughly planned my day.  I'd have scrambled eggs for breakfast.   I would go to Caistor Church for the 10.15 service then come home and do some work on Christmas presents.  

But at a quarter to nine the phone rang.  One of the village clergy was ill and could I help out? 

Errr, yes.  Any vicar asking for help a mere two hours before a service should start is desperate!  Fortunately I've been in ministry for well over thirty years so I've got lots of material on file. I could easily pull up the readings and other materials for today.  I asked the vicar if I could read an extract from my book  instead of preaching and told her to rest and not worry.

As soon as I put the phone down I had a panic stricken word with the Almighty!  I found the propers (church term for the "proper" readings and prayers for the day) and printed them out along with a story from my book.  I had the planned scrambled eggs and still had space for a rather longer time of prayer.

And the service went well, thank God.  It was the usual small village congregation of about a dozen people and together we started Advent, the time of preparation for God's great gift of his Son.  We lit the first candle on the Advent wreath and remembered those people who long ago waited for Messiah.  I felt quite well prepared to lead worship.

The real purpose of Advent is looking toward the coming of Jesus, just as the patriarchs of long ago did and like Mary, pregnant as is the woman depicted in my statuette.  Each week in this season we hear the Old Testament promises and we look for his coming in our lives.

Thirty-odd years of ministry have left me well prepared to answer emergency calls for help like the one I had today.  These next few weeks are time for looking at my life and preparing to greet Jesus  whenever and wherever he comes.  It's unlikely to be in a manger in Bethlehem but he will be in everyone I meet whether it's a child, a homeless man, a lady with dementia, a sick vicar or anyone else for whom he came.

I'm joining in with Pause in Advent at Tracing Rainbows.  Usually I've had a theme when I've done this but I haven't a clue where my Pauses will go this year!