I’ve blogged from time to time about politics within the Church, but every so often, even at a local level, village politics and St James come into contact. In the past it’s been in relation to things like the villages memorial oaks being on church, rather than public land, and occasionally the Parish Council will use the church or our parish centre for services or events. The Parish Council also generously gives us an annual donation into church funds. However as part of our conservation appeal, alongside a number of other grant awarding bodies we applied to the Parish Council for a grant, and put in an application for what would be considered a significant amount – Â£15,000, backed up by Rev Richard personally attending the meeting to put his case for the benefits that the church building offered to the community and the village as a whole. In all honesty expected to be awarded a lot less than what we had asked for, therefore we were delighted to be awarded the full amount, but it caused a bit of a storm. The award was passed by majority of the councillors at the meeting, but one Parish Councillor who voted against the award was so upset that she has resigned her position in protest, stating that she believed the money would not be benefiting the whole community.
I’ve just had one of those evenings where nobody knows what to do, but people turn to me because I’m the Churchwarden!
When I turned up at choir practice the kids were still over in the Parish Centre on their break, so I went into the church, and there was a small creature in the middle of the floor of the north aisle. On closer examination it turned out to be a bat – and a rather inactive one at that.
Many people who have been to our church will know that we have regular visits from bats, but this one was a lot smaller – and they are usually flying around, not sat in the middle of the floor. Luckily Meg our Parish Administrator was around as well, having an additional practice with the Handbell Group. She has regular bat visits at her home, and also had a booklet of contact numbers in the office from previous problems with the bats in the church.
First off we phoned the local vets, who directed us towards the RSPCA. It is worth saying that tonight was one of the rare occasions when I didn’t have my mobile with me, as it was back at home on charge, as a result trying to speak to the person who knew about bats at the RSPCA proved to be a bit of a pain. When you phone the emergency number you get through to a regular call centre person, who then passes a message to the relevant part of the organisation. They then phone you back – the problem being that twice I didn’t manage to get to the call. No problem I thought, I’ll just dial 1471 and ring them back. That doesn’t work though as the number you dial redirects you to the same emergency number where you can only speak to the normal call centre.
Eventually I got to speak to the bat person who said unfortunately there was nobody available in our area tonight, but that they would try and come out in the morning. She then talked about some of the bat behaviour, and said that the bat would be unable to take off from a horizontal surface – they need a drop of about five feet at least to get airborne, and that if we could move the bat somewhere that had this, that would help matters. She then also suggested trapping the bat in a box and providing food and water.
So what we did was put the bat on a shelf by the 1590 door – a place that bats can get into the building – and close to the wall, and then I came home. I then went back up about twenty minutes later to find that the bat had vanished – so it didn’t seem to be too unwell – the kids took it’s inactivity as being that it was dead, I think it was just trying not to attract attention. Anyway, either it’s still flying around inside the building, or hopefully by putting it close to the door where it could squeeze through, it made it’s escape. Suffice to say there isn’t anything in the Churchwarden’s Handbook about how to deal with bats!
Update: Seems our resident bat hadn’t gone – he was back on the floor of the north aisle at a christening this afternoon. Our Director of Music who was playing for the service left the 1590 door open however and he managed to make his way outside, and climb up enough of the wall to fly away.
So that’s Easter over for another year. Over the last twenty-four hours we’ve been to five services, and we’ve seen over five hundred people pass through the Church.
We kicked off late last night with the service that starts the Easter Vigil, which as in previous years the Youth Group took part in, and as with last year, we didn’t have to! As with last year we helped set up the vigil service, and then could head home to bed, rather than spending the night in the Parish Centre. This year there were about twenty-five of the young people who spent the night at the Church, and as is traditional, a lot of them looked decidedly rough come 6am on Easter morning.
The 6am service was our first appointment of the day, along with another sixty or so people who also got up early to see the sun rise at the church – although thanks to the cloud you couldn’t see much – and then after the service everybody went over to the Parish Centre to partake of the traditional bacon butties and/or croissants.
Since Beth was down to be sidesperson at the 9:30am Family service, there wasn’t much point in going home after breakfast, so we stayed for the 8am said Eucharist, which also had fifty people appear for it. That was quickly followed by the 9:30am Family service, where things started getting really crazy.
There has been a lot of grumbling about the fact that Easter this year doesn’t fall within the school holidays. That maybe a problem for some, but in terms of our numbers at Easter it seems to have made a massive difference. At 9:30am, even without a choir taking up a lot of pews, the building was absolutely full. We ran out of chairs, so had to go over to the Parish Centre to get some more, and ran out of hymn books too – a total of two-hundred and twenty-seven people squeezed into our little Church. Things were much the same come 11am – this time we had people seated in the vestry, and other people standing in the North Aisle – certainly it looks like another attendance in excess of two hundred for that service too.
The 11am was the big choir service of the day, and we had pretty well one hundred percent attendance – and we needed it as the anthem for the day was the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s Messiah. It has to be said that we’ve been having problems with this over the past couple of weeks, and although it came together a lot better on the day, it still wasn’t quite right from where we were standing. Having said that, it went down really well – even inducing spontaneous applause from the congregation. As was said afterwards, it may not have been exactly right, but there aren’t many village church choir’s who would even attempt it!
Anyway, the weirdest aspect of the whole day was the weather. You can see a shot from dawn (there are more in our photo galleries) where it was dry but cold – but look at what it was doing a couple of hours later… to be followed by sunshine and blue skies a few hours after that! If you look at this picture, you can see that for a while the snow was actually settling too!
Easter Snow at St James from Richard Peat on Vimeo.
As we have done in previous years, during Holy Week we do something a bit different from the rest of the series. Last year we had a cinema trip, this time around we had Lance Pierson – who describes himself as a performer – presenting a selection of Poems for Holy Week. Having said that, he actually covered the full season including selections of poems about both Lent and Easter. If you’re in the Oxford Diocese, you may have come across Lance previously as he was one of the guest speakers at the Diocesan Conference in High Wycombe.
The evening was very enjoyable as Lance doesn’t just deliver a dry reading of the poems. In some cases he has actions along with his reading, for others he had pictures projected onto a screen. (If you listen to some of his CD’s the poems are backed by suitable soundscapes mixing music and sound effects.) He also drew from a broad range of authors, covering a wide variety of time periods from poems written in old English through to poems from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He is also very personable, and spent a lot of time before and after the show talking to members of the audience, and proved to be very aware of people in the audience in that he apologised immediately to one of the members of our congregation who relies on the hearing aid loop in the hall because he went out of range of the microphone on one of the poems.
Interestingly, at least half of the audience were people who weren’t part of our congregation – the evening had been advertised in the local St Andrew’s Bookshop, and Lance himself lists his upcoming events on his website. We had several people from Bracknell, and quite a few who came across from Caversham too. Certainly the evening seemed to go down well with them too.
After the success of the evening, I’m quite sure we’ll be seeing Lance making a return visit. Until then, we picked up a couple of his CD’s – Beth opting for a recording of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and me going for a recording of lesser known Sir John Betjeman poems (the BBC owns the exclusive recording rights to the well known ones) that includes one of my favourites, Blame the Vicar.
The final lecture in our Lent series was given by Captain Abi Brown, a member of our congregation and serving army officer, who had recently returned from a six month posting in Iraq – her second, having been posted previously during the initial invasion back in 2003.
This again was a total change of subject area from the week before. A lot of the presentation was about practical things, explaining what the army is doing in Iraq, and the day to day life of our soldiers out there. She also covered the preparation that the troops are given to prepare them for their tour of duty, and how the army supports their personnel once they get back.
Perhaps the most interesting part of all the background is the realisation of quite how little we know about day to day life for our troops in Basra. Even with all the embedded journalists that have been placed with troops we still only get a snapshot of life – it is rather different hearing from an actual solider.
Abi is a Captain with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers known as REME, who are headquartered here at Arborfield, hence how she came to be part of our congregation. Her troops were responsible for the maintenance, servicing and inspection of much of the equipment that the army use in Iraq, in particular vehicles such as the Challenger 2 tank and the Warrior APC that are the mainstays of the British equipment.
However aside from listing the equipment, she really focused on day to day life.
She was, like the majority of the British force based at Basra Airport, where the force is under continuous bombardment from mortars and rockets. She showed some pictures of the damage that these attacks cause, and also the measures taken to protect the troops. For example she showed pictures of her sleeping accommodation – a mattress surrounded by breeze blocks and a ‘roof’ consisting of a steel plate covered by sandbags. Another real and present danger was the risk of kidnapping, so she was armed at all times, and was never allowed to move around on her own – that even extended to going to the toilet at night, people were always accompanied.
She made some interesting comparisons with how things were during her initial posting to Iraq during the invasion. Today the army is well equipped, and properly supplied – she said that this is a big difference from how things were back in 2003. Back then she refused to wear desert uniform until all her troops were similarly equipped – she never wore her desert uniform during the entire posting. The general impression she gave of the situation then was that the army were ill prepared for what they had to do.
She largely steered clear of political comment, although she did say that about eighty percent of her troops probably disagree with the reasons that they went to war, but on a professional level want to do a good job. Interestingly she says that their biggest worry now is that due to political pressures the troops will be pulled out too early, and not get a chance to do their jobs properly, the job being to bring the Iraqi army up to a standard whereby they can look after their own country without aid.
Her husband Adam was posted to Iraq at the same time as her, but was in a different part of the country. She did say that the only British soldiers not posted to Basra were some admin staff based in Baghdad, and the special forces. Adam was posted to Baghdad, and all she would say about what he did was that it was a lot more dangerous than what she did, and that for her own sanity she never spoke to him at all about the kind of things he did.
She also talked about what it was like as a woman in a largely male organisation, and in particular being in command of men. She has some support in this respect as she is assisted by the first female ASM in REME. She commented that as a woman, the relationship with the men is different – she actually said that perhaps the least successful women in the army are those that try to be like the men – she sees handling things differently as an advantage. The most interesting comment she made was that many of the men seem to regard her as a mother figure – indeed one of her men commented after a telling off that it was by far the hardest he had had because he felt like he did when his mother was telling him off. She also said that because she is a woman many of the men open up to her a lot more than they would to a male officer, which sometimes gives her more of a broad view than a male officer would get, when perhaps the men would not mention some issues. Having said that, there are still soldiers who have a problem with being commanded by a woman – she has one in particular with which she has had issues. As part of her training though, she was required to spend some time working in industry, and she said she had a much harder time being a woman in the engineering company to which she was seconded than she has ever had in the army. Although it is still dominated by men, women are in many roles all across the army.
The final part of the talk, she discussed how she and her troops deal with the loss of fellow soldiers, she lost her first within twenty-four hours of arriving in Iraq. She also here talked about her faith, and how the weekly Church services she attended were about the only escape she had from the continual worries of attacks on the base – the Church was the safest building on the base. Key events are Remembrance Sunday – the base has a memorial with a brass plaque for each soldier that has been killed – and whenever a fallen soldier is repatriated as many troops as possible attend the ceremony. Amongst all of this, she says that many soldiers do find religion – â€œmore than you would thinkâ€? she said – however that still doesn’t stop many of them having times when they find themselves asking why it is that situations like Iraq can happen, and why it is that certain people are killed and others survive.
Last night we had the next of our Lent Lecture series at St James.
After the more theological subject matter last week, this week we had a bit of a change of focus, and also our first home grown speaker in the form of Brynn Bayman, a member of the congregation who teaches at a local school.
As you may know, a couple of years ago, St James was twinned with a parish in South Africa. Whilst Rev Richard has been out there, and has brought back pictures and stories of his experiences, for many the parish out there is almost totally alien – Brynn’s lecture was an attempt to try and broaden peoples understanding of both the country as a whole, and our twin parish in particular. Brynn was asked to do the lecture, as he was brought up in South Africa.
During his lecture Brynn gave us an overview of the post war history of South Africa, looking at the effects of apartheid, and how in particular the Churches responded. He also mixed in with that his own experiences – as a student he protested against apartheid, regularly facing armed police in doing so, who at times opened fire on the protests – and also taking a closer look at how the apartheid laws totally changed in particular our twin parish.
One interesting point that Brynn highlighted was that whilst the authorities moved entire communities, and bulldozed houses to do so, they were never allowed to move church buildings. In some places this has left orphaned churches, in others the church is now either in a different community, or miles from where the church members actually live. This is the situation in our twin parish. The community who originally attended the church was moved to another part of the town, leaving the church building, and a different racial group was moved into the area around the church. However the bulk of the congregation are still drawn from the original community, so travel many miles to get to their church, whilst the community in which the church is located, very few actually attend.
Following on as he did from a couple of big names, Brynn was almost apologetic when he started his session. Certainly we thought he didn’t need to be. He delivered a great talk, and it was very interesting to hear what he had to say. Whilst you can always watch documentaries on TV about the history of a place like South Africa, it is massively different hearing someone who was involved and lived through the history actually talk about what went on.
It’s years since I’ve been to a Barn Dance – in fact thinking about it, the last one was probably my cousins wedding about a decade ago. Certainly Beth had never been to one. I’d been to several at our Church when I was a child, and apparently they used to have them quite regularly in Finchampstead, but they had somewhat gone out of fashion.
As part of our current fund raising efforts, the social committee took the decision to organise a Barn Dance once again, being held down in the Memorial Hall in the village, in part because it is a larger space and more suitable for a dance than our own parish centre. If ticket sales are anything to go by the event was the kind of thing people were interested in as it pretty well sold out within a couple of weeks!
There definitely seemed to be some disagreement over the correct dress code when we arrived. Some people turned up dressed for a party, others very much in a western style, with even a couple of cowboy hats in evidence. The music also was a definite mix – although dance wise we were mainly doing English Country Dancing, there were musical influences from all over with Irish and American tunes coming up.
Much as I remembered, a Barn Dance is not something to be taken overly seriously – as Beth has once remarked with regards to line dancing back in Canada, the best way to enjoy it is with a healthy dose of mickey taking. Of course once everybody has had a couple of drinks, remembering the correct sequence of steps – which of course most people have only learnt for the first time a few minutes before – is generally a bit difficult, so a large does of chaos ensues. Having said, even amongst the serial Barn Dancers remembering the moves is a problem. The caller at one point remarked that one of their regulars was on the dance floor, and that he never remembered this particular dance – he didn’t last night either!
Food wise, it was relatively straightforward for the social committee, as they bought in a fish and chip supper from a nearby chip shop – so no washing up either! We also had the usual raffle, and also a game of Roll the Pound in order to win a bottle of champagne. That actually got quite competitive, in the end making Â£50 for the appeal. Overall the night was a great success, adding another Â£1100 to our total.
Update: YouTube seems to have recovered – so here you can enjoy a taste of the chaos…