Quite a lot of our time is taken up with the church. Not just attending services, fund raising, going to meetings and social occasions, but dealing with the crumbling fabric of the church building.
Here is the church that Richard and I belong to in the benefice of The Saints in NE Suffolk. This photo was taken in the middle of April this year and work had just begun to restore the porch roof which was in great danger of falling down. It takes such a long time to instigate any repairs to the ancient churches in our benefice, I am always worried in case the church collapses into ruins before we have firstly, raised enough funds for the task, then filled in all the endless forms and lastly, all the numerous visits from the authorities have taken place. Our church is old. It had its beginnings nearly one thousand years ago, though most of the church was built in the 13th century.
Quite a lot of rotting timber was removed from the roof.
This photo was taken towards the end of May this year. The metal bars sticking up in front of the gate are an attempt to stop thieves driving up to the church to steal parts of the building. We can unlock the bars when necessary.
You can see how well these gates have been repaired, all the rotten wood removed and new parts inserted. We could not afford to have new gates made.
We have had some problems with damage and vandalism in the church this year. We keep our church open and unlocked so that it is accessible and available to all who may need to visit and use it for prayer or for peaceful meditation. Fire extinguishers have been set off in the church, mud smeared over the furniture and other minor damage has been done. On occasion we have had to lock the church overnight and sometimes during the day. This is the first time in living memory that Rumburgh has had to deal with this problem.
In August of 2017 I published this post in which I spoke about the retirement of our vicar, Richard. From that moment on we had to run ourselves, all eleven parish churches in our benefice. We have had to organise our services and make sure there were priests available for communion services, for funerals, for baptisms and for weddings. We couldn’t have done this without the organisational skills of Maurice, our Elder (who has just retired) and without the kindness of a team of retired priests and the hard work of our one Reader, Lynda. Many of us were roped in to take Morning and Evening Prayer services, Harvest Festivals and Carol Services, Richard and me included. We still had our PCC meetings to attend, repairs to our ancient churches to arrange, fund raising for said repairs as well as trying to find our Parish Share each year. At the same time we had many discussions about the future and whether we would be able to get a new priest at all. All eleven churches provided a wish list; what we wanted in our new priest.
This collection of eleven different pictures of an ideal vicar was read by the Rural Dean, his Assistant Rural Dean and by the Archdeacon who sent them back to us with lots of red pen all over them and a few ‘see me’s. Eventually we produced a booklet describing our benefice and all the churches within it. We stated what we thought our new priest ought to be like and asked potential vicars to come and live with us. We were told at first that we probably wouldn’t get a full-time vicar but the Archdeacon then said he thought that as we don’t have a ‘mother church’ (we are all small churches in small villages; no town church with a larger congregation) and the benefice though sparsely populated is large in area, we needed a full-time priest, or at least two part-time priests. The Archdeacon got his way and we advertised for two part-time ‘house-for-duty’ priests. The priest would be provided with a house in exchange for working in the benefice. The Archdeacon, the Rural Dean and his assistant also all took turns in taking services in our benefice during the interregnum. The Archdeacon played the organ at the services he took, so we didn’t need to find an organist or arrange a karaoke machine for the hymns. Sadly, the Archdeacon who wasn’t in the best of health and was just about to retire early, became very ill and then died a few weeks ago. He lived long enough to see that we managed to get one of our two house-for-duty priests who was licensed on the 5th of September this year.
Leon was born and grew up in this benefice and is the son of a farmer and his wife who live in Ilketshall St Margaret. Leon’s mum is the Church Warden at Ilketshall St Margaret church. Leon has been a priest for some years, maybe nearly twenty years, as I remember him at home before he went off to college about a year after Elinor was born. He is married with two young children. He originally wanted to give up the priesthood completely and return home to help run his parents’ farm, full time. But he changed his mind and took the part-time job as our priest and works with his parents on the farm for the rest of the week. He now finds himself doing two jobs which ideally need to be done by two people working full-time. We are still wanting another part-time priest so a lot of the duties we carried out during the interregnum we are still doing now. I took Morning Prayer two weeks ago and Richard and I took the Harvest Festival service together.
Unfortunately I became too busy to take any more photos at the service, which went very well. Afterwards we all went to the village hall for food and drink. We had all provided one savoury and one sweet item of food and had delivered them to the village hall before the service.
It is good to have a priest in the benefice again. The PCC meetings and the benefice meetings continue and we are now planning our Christmas services.
Richard and John (another member of our PCC) have been working very hard for months to get major repairs done at our church. At the beginning of this year I showed you, in a post, some photographs of large cracks that had appeared in the east wall of the church. These cracks have become larger and pieces of masonry are falling down inside the building. Builders have been approached but very few are willing to do the work or, if willing at first, then had to back out because of the length of time it took for the authorities to give us the go-ahead. A visit was made to the church by a group of people who were very concerned at the state of the church and wished to help but insisted that the gutters should be repaired first before the cracks in the wall are tackled. The gutters definitely need replacing/repairing as the walls are so damp inside the church they are green. The visitors said they would give us a grant to get the work done. A local retired builder who has worked in many of our churches was approached to do the work. He agreed, but last week the poor man became ill and can no longer help us. We have to start looking for another builder and the time is running out. To claim the grant the work has to be done by February.
We must support Richard and John in their work, say our prayers and trust that something will turn up!
As an antidote to all this frustration, here is a festive song.