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Community Feasting

A press release from the Methodist Church reports that only 17% of people would invite neighbours to share a meal if they had spare food. If anything were a sign that we’ve reduced Shrove Tuesday to Pancake Day, this is it.

All we seem to do on that date (8th March this year) is eat pancakes. It’s another festival where we’ve lost sight of the meaning. Families used to use up spare food and have communal activities (hence even today Mardi Gras) on the day before the sombre fasting of Lent began. Although let us remember that even in Lent the Sundays are still feast days – otherwise you’ll get confused in counting the forty days!

Hence the unwillingness (if it is that) to invite neighbours to a community feast is another tragic loss of our inheritance. It is both a sign of the loss of a Christian value, and a loss of community.

So all praise for the way the Methodist Relief and Development Fund wants to reclaim Shrove Tuesday as not only a community feast, but one that promotes Fair Trade. Their Fair Feast project, endorsed by celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, who has supplied a recipé for pancakes with wild mushroom sauce, is well worth looking at. You can even dovetail Bible study in with a local Mardi Gras event.

How are you going to celebrate Pancake Day Shrove Tuesday this year?

Sabbatical, Day 32: Happy Birthday To Me!

Harking back to yesterday’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang reference, there’s a scene where Baron Bomburst comes into a room singing ‘Happy Birthday to me’. Yet he’s a married man with a fawning wife and an obsequious entourage. 

There would have been the odd time in my past when I would have croaked ‘Happy Birthday’ to myself when I was single and fairly isolated. No longer.

In case you haven’t guessed, it’s my birthday today, and it has been a great joy to share simple pleasures with Debbie and the children. Nothing fancy or expensive, just the joy of family love. And Mastercard can’t buy that.

When I brought the assorted teas (Rebekah and me), coffee (Debbie) and warm milk (Mark) up first thing this morning, the children were on the starting line, desperate to open my presents – gifts they had only wrapped yesterday with Debbie’s help. What fun it was to see them rip the paper with almost as much abandon as if the presents were for them and they didn’t know what was inside. 

Much as I love them, I was pleased they were both fit for school today. So after a mundane trip to B&Q for a carbon monoxide detector, Debs and I had coffee in a Wyevale garden centre and then headed for a pub she had seen advertised in the Essex Chronicle. She thought a print-out from their website would be enough to find them, but it was in the middle of nowhere and we soon ended up in the middle of a different nowhere. Oh well, resort to the Essex Street Atlas.

It was worth it. The Duck Inn was fabulous. They were advertising a ‘three courses for ten pounds’ offer. The menu was strictly limited, but the quality certainly wasn’t. For me, chicken pâté followed by fillet of salmon and finished with bread and butter pudding in vanilla cream. For Debbie, deep fried Brie, then roast chicken and finally assorted ice creams. The main courses had some beautifully cooked seasonal vegetables.

They also do a jazz night menu every few Friday evenings – three courses for fifteen pounds with live music. The normal á la carte menu is quite expensive, with main courses around fifteen to twenty pounds, but if you live anywhere near here, then it’s in the tiny hamlet of Newney Green and comes more thumbs aloft than even Paul McCartney can muster. 

Back home and a surprise visit from a local friend before the school run. Debbie took Rebekah for her weekly swimming lesson but I stayed home with Mark in view of his ear infection. Then we finally had our Shrove Tuesday pancakes! Plus the children had insisted on a birthday cake. An extremely sickly chocolate one. I managed three mouthfuls. They enjoyed it, along with lighting the candles. Little Becky managed a picture or two on her camera.

dscf0764Tonight has involved the mundane task of ordering tomorrow’s Tesco delivery, but has been accompanied by another birthday present. Yes, a Spurs win over Middlesbrough in the Premiership

Sabbatical work? Today? What do you think?

Sabbatical, Day 24: No Sleep Till Brekkie, More Lectures And The Bristol Tourist Trail

I don’t do well on first nights in new locations. Not on the evidence of this sabbatical, anyway. Having barely slept before 4 am on my first night at Cliff College a fortnight ago, I didn’t sleep before 1:30 here, then woke at 5:30 with a vile headache. (Not that I know what a nice headache would be, you understand.) At 7 am, I decided I needed a large dose of tannin, so I took the pint-sized mug I’d brought from home and made my first tea of the day. The pain slowly subsided over a period of several hours, until it was gone by late afternoon.

Trinity does worship differently from my time. Twenty years ago, nearly everything was Alternative Service Book. Except when Paul Roberts inflicted chanted Book of Common Prayer services, that is. Though the ASB has been replaced in the C of E by Common Worship, the college seems to have themes for particular weeks. This week it’s Iona Community worship, widely popular in many parts of the British church but something that drives me nuts. I have no problem with a liturgy that emphasises social justice and makes no division between work and worship. However, I have found several of their liturgies and some of their songs hectoring and lecturing. Not only that, the confession used this morning was fundamentally inadequate. I like the mutual confession approach of Iona (service leader confesses and congregation pronounces forgiveness, then the process is reversed), so I’m not critical of everything. But this confession started from the point that we had hurt ourselves, then others, then the world. Absolutely no reference to the rupture between humans and God that is central to confession. Remind me never to use it in worship.

There were good things – not least the brief testimony of a student as to what God did in a prolonged experience of a spiritual desert. And the guy who read the Gospel reading did so with great feeling. Those were highlights.

Lectures were more relevant this morning. The operating paradigm (I’m at a theological college – out come the long words!) was still that of the large church, but I felt that more of today’s material was translatable or adaptable. We began with a session on team leadership and issues around teams. We then looked at how to run a meeting, largely taken from the old John Cleese video ‘Meetings, Bl**dy Meetings‘. Finally, a few thoughts about some common mistakes made by leaders.

This afternoon had an optional session. I opted out. It comprised some BBC videos on assertiveness training. While that’s an area I could do with improving in, I needed some air and some exercise to counter the effects of the much improved food. I decided I would try to find some old haunts. Off I went across the Clifton Downs, down two roads whose names may just betray Bristol’s slave trade past – Blackboy Hill and Whiteladies Road – and on down, eventually to Park Street, where I used to frequent three shops. I knew that SPCK would have been long gone after the business atrocities that have been inflicted on that chain of bookshops. Sadly, Rival Records is no longer around – I remember buying Bruce Cockburn‘s World Of Wonders in there during my first year. And the Evangelical Christian Literature bookshop is now a branch of Wesley Owen, stocking everything from N T Wright to Joel Osteen. Insert words such as ‘sublime’ and ‘ridiculous’ as you see fit. I think I’m right in remembering that ECL had been founded by George Mueller.

Not being home today means I’ve missed Shrove Tuesday with the family, but Debbie told me tonight she and the children had decided to postpone pancakes until Saturday. I’m glad they have. Pancakes and their toppings are one of those simple pleasures where it is a joy to see the fun Rebekah and Mark have. Two small pancakes with toffee ice cream here at lunch time were delicious, but no replacement for being with the children. As to toppings generally, I’m a fan of those English Provender jars – no, not the garlic, ginger or horseradish, rather the raspberry coulis or the Belgian chocolate sauce. The latter has been harder to find in the supermarkets recently, though.Looking at the website tonight, I’ve noticed they now do a Fairtrade chocolate sauce, though.

More seriously, I had to miss a hospital out-patient’s appointment Rebekah had this afternoon. Eighteen months ago she had grommets inserted in her ears after protracted episodes of glue ear and consequent poor hearing. They still haven’t solved the problem. One grommet fell out a few months ago, and today they could see congestion in it. She may have to have more grommets fitted, poor lass. Recently, we’ve let her start answering the telephone, but conversations with her are punctuated with “What did you say?”

Tonight, I’ve just spent the time quietly reading. Next stop a spot of supper then an early night, I hope, to catch up on last night.