Category Archives: Church life

The Unfinished Garden – a warm welcome back

20 April

Now I feel a bit like Rip van Winkle as I finally had the energy and time to venture into the garden. The weekend was overtaken by two big church meetings which I had unexpectedly to prepare for and chair. But today dawned sunny again and I was at last in the frame of mind and body to get back outside. It seems I missed the moment when spring began and suddenly everything’s in full flow.

I clipped the spent flowers from the heathers and did some hand weeding to get my eye in, as it were and see what was going on at soil level. One thing going on was dusty soil, already, as there’s been no rain for nearly three weeks and not much before then. I’ve watered the Hemerocalis I split and replanted, and the new Lamiums and Erythronium, whose yellow flowers I’ve already dead-headed so that it doesn’t waste any energy making seed.

One excitement was the reappearance of the Acanthus, which was so very much not there that I supposed I might have dug it up while weeding over-enthusiastically. But no, here it comes …

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Up above, the Pyrus Salicifolia has covered itself in glory – wonderful against the clarity of a chilly blue sky.


The tulips are having their big moment, in fact I’m glad it’s cooled down a little. They looked rather bewildered by the higher temperatures last week.


The climbing rose I cut back so drastically seems to have forgiven me and is starting again.

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And still there are a few primroses, lighting up a shady corner. Those in the sun have decided enough’s enough.

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And little violets everywhere.

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The Unfinished Garden – On the Sidelines

16 April

Well this is frustrating. It’s National Gardening Week, and the weather round here has turned thoroughly warm and sunny. And I am stuck indoors feeling well below par with a horrible cold-type virus which is doing the rounds. Also lots of church work to do, getting ready for meetings at the weekend, and my colleagues are equally incapacitated for various reasons.

All in all not a great week so far. And meanwhile I can see outside that the tulips are in bloom, as are the wild violets that have put themselves all over the place, and the perennials are bursting through ready for another year’s performance.

Wait for me! I’ll get out there as soon as I can.

The Lent Garden – 41

5 Apr – Easter Sunday

Well here I’ve reached Easter Sunday, and managed to do something in the garden each day through Lent, apart from when we were away, and on Mothering Sunday. This morning included a big service in church, followed by an Easter egg hunt for the younger members of the congregation. Once I was  back home there was the leg of lamb to make, with roast potatoes and carrots. So today I have allowed my gardening to be limited to an inspection of progress, both detailed and general.

I’m very pleased to have got so much done, and I’ve learned that even if there’s less than an hour available it’s both useful and rewarding to spend time at work in the garden. Plugging away at the big tasks for short periods does, eventually, get them done. In fact reducing a job to small sections encourages both persistence and thoroughness.

The blog has helped me to keep at it – even if no one but me reads it, and it’s good to record progress with photos.

But the one thing the garden isn’t, is finished.

So for a while at least I shall continue the discipline, now that I’m hooked back into gardening. Because it’s no longer Lent the posts will transform into The Unfinished Garden  within this Unfinished Business blog.

Also, the Lenten discipline has turned out to be probably rather too enjoyable, and not sufficiently sacrificial and I shall make a donation to Christian Aid’s Green Fingers fund which you can find out about here.

It’s still mostly chilly and grey today … but the forecast for tomorrow is better … so onwards and upwards it is.

Christ is risen.
He is  risen indeed, Allelulia.

The Lent Garden – 39

2 Apr

Maundy Thursday and there were various errands to do in order to stock up before the weekend. I finished off the Simnel cake.

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The only garden task was to attend to ‘Mrs Cholmondeley’ and her tying in. There wasn’t quite enough wire for the leafy tendrils to get started on so they were beginning simply to wrap around each other. The shoots are still so soft and tender that it needs a very delicate touch to disentangle them. But it’s good to know that she’s putting on some growth.

There are baby catkins appearing on the Salix too.


In the evening there was the Maundy Thursday service, which commemorates the first Eucharist at the Last Supper. It’s always a very moving occasion, especially at the end when the altar is stripped of all its candles, fabric and crosses. The chancel and side aisle lights are extinguished so that you can only just see a bare rough wooden cross behind the altar, and we remain seated for an hour or so in silent vigil by candlelight.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Matthew 26: 36-41



The Lent Garden – 28

18 Mar

In between meetings, writing up the minutes of meetings, and more meetings an hour in the garden felt less like a Lenten discipline than everything else on offer today. Especially as after a chilly and misty start it suddenly turned into a lovely sunny day.

I moved the afrementioned Euphorbia Amygdaloides because I decided that in full swing in a few months it’s too squashed between the Hydrangea Paniculata and the Pittisporum. Then I continued with the hand weeding in the big border behind the garage, trying to leave some of the Ajuga Reptans which is acceptable groundcover while removing the couch grass and cinquefoil, which aren’t.  Probably the sort of job which is best done in short bursts anyway.

I revealed a clump of Pulmonaria which while hardly exotic is now able to do its thing unimpeded.

And in the end it was so warm that even my fairweather gardening friend was moved to join me and catch a few rays.


The Lent Garden – 11

Sunday 1 Mar

More seasonal tidying of a different bed today – nothing very dramatic, but I know it’s done. Just clearing up the dead perennial leaves from last year and digging out the worst of the weeds. This is another awkward spot, clay but also dry shade, yet more over hanging ivy and also a lively eucalyptus just over the fence next door.

Really I’m waiting for the compost man’s delivery in the next couple of days, but it’s good to know that some of the beds are ready. Once I have spread the mulch around, the borders will look neater and the plants can grow away nicely.

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Meanwhile there are some jolly primroses blooming away in another corner – they have recovered well from a difficult beginning having been purchased on a whim from a DIY store and then been left for weeks in their polystyrene box before I got round to planting them up #NoLentDisciplineThen.

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A recent past that’s fading away

Rogation Sunday in early May is traditionally the date when parishioners walk the village boundaries. At one time this was presumably to establish where the boundaries were for the avoidance of doubt among neighbours before the fields were planted and harvested. These days (although our parish boundary is the subject of debate just now – but that’s a post for another day), the Rogation Sunday walk is just a good excuse for a sociable stroll around the locality after the 10 o’clock service.

Apparently one is supposed to fast before the walk, but I was relieved to find that it was Mrs C’s birthday this week and she had brought cake to the post-service refreshments. Just what we needed.

Our walk was led by Mr P, born in the village in 1934. We discovered footpaths I didn’t know existed and cottages tucked away by the water meadows. Over a couple of hours a different world was conjured up around us: the grocer’s, the coal merchant, the Post Office (which even I can remember), the bike shop, the bake house, the forge, the car body works, the sandpit, the cement works where Mr P made door lintels with fondant concrete – ready to use in two days, the grand former vicarage with its tunnel to the tradesmen’s entrance which even as a boy Mr P had to crouch through to deliver the daily bread. The grocer’s where his mother would send him to fill up the vinegar bottle while she prepared the family meal – for him, his four sisters and the two evacuees. There lived Mr Wilkinson who ran the bike repair shop, there Mr Boxall the coal man. There’s the cottage Mr P was born in, over the road the one his sister lived in with her husband.

Across the water meadows the boys would meander to the tea rooms for a bar of chocolate – just one bar between you, mind, to share. Maybe you could slip a bit into your pocket to have when you got home. The other boys went round the village with sticks, but Mr P had a real sword he’d found in the second-hand shop next door to his house.  Birds-nesting was their regular entertainment. That’s where the boy from Chestnut Avenue drowned in the brook – it’s deeper and the current’s swifter as it narrows to go under the bridge.  He had gumboots on you see, and they filled with water, nothing we could do to stop him being washed away.

We saw a past where people lived and worked in the same place and knew everyone and the village was pretty much self-sufficient. Before the main road brought the thunderous traffic which made it hard to catch everything Mr P said, before the town’s duel-carriageway by-pass cut the parish in two. A by-gone age, that’s gone in one man’s lifetime. We asked Mr P if he’d let someone record his memories, but he declined. As he fades, so will they, and village life will be bland and shallow without them.


numberless clockThe season of Lent generally seems a long haul, all the more so when Easter is early (31 March this year) and you have to turn your thoughts to self-denial and self-improvement in the middle of February. These days there seems to be an expectation that you should take on something new in Lent, rather than give up an indulgence, and indeed one feels there ought to be more to it than not eating chocolate for a few weeks.

So this year I have picked up Abiding by Ben Quash (Professor of Christianity and the Arts at Kings College London) the 2013 Lent book recommended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with a foreward by his predecessor Rowan Williams. Of course I have only just begun it (the first chapter ‘Abiding in the Body’ looks at the implications of the Benedictine Rule of remaining in one community for life), but even the book’s title made me think of how diminished ‘staying power’ is these days – not least mine.

For one thing it’s obvious that technology is having an impact on our attention spans – although Nicholas Carr’s book on the subject The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains aroused some debate a couple of years ago.

I first noticed it in the younger generation – the tendency to have a dozen search engine tabs open, always to have music and Facebook on and to keep up a text conversation with several friends whist doing homework. But as I have caught up with the technological innovations I have to admit that I have become just as guilty of flitting from one thing to another. And no, it’s not multi-tasking, it’s a lack of concentrated effort and focus. It’s insidious, and quickly transfers to other activities: if I’m drawn to a  newspaper article by its headline, I’ll read the first couple of paragraphs and skip to the end to see what the conclusion is. If I then decide the middle is worth reading, I still jump around in it, so the ideas become a jumble and I have to start all over again.

The laptop, smartphone and tablet devices make it all too easy to feed an addiction to doing a lot of things at once and not really concentrating on any of them. You watch the news on TV while checking emails, social media and other news stories at the same time. When there’s a TV drama or big event going on, Twitter is there to let you find out what ‘everyone else’ is thinking about it – just search for ‘#bigevent’ and add your own twopence worth.

If you don’t do it, living with someone who does is highly aggravating, but once you start it just becomes second nature.

Therefore one thing I have given up for Lent is Twitter, initially because it’s a right old timewaster however much you kid yourself that it’s about keeping up with the news and opinion.  Subsequently I realised it’s just one aspect of Flitting Attention Syndrome, and this is only exacerbated by one’s general rush to get things done in the least time.

The Slow Food movement started in Northern Italy in the 1980s as a reaction to over-processed, over-transported junk food. It seems to me that Slow Food has a parallel in lectio divina – divine reading – another element of the Benedictine way of life.  It’s a process of reading and re-reading a short Bible passage so that you can fully appreciate the layers of meaning and take on board what it may be saying to you at that moment. A form of Slow Reading, as it were – easy enough to describe, much harder to do.

It occurs to me that it herein lies another Lenten discipline – to slow down and pay attention. If I pick up an article, to read it properly from start to finish. To focus on one thing at a time for as long as it takes to reach a conclusion or natural break-point. To resist the urge to flit to something else and the siren call of the alternatives offered by that handy attention-seeking computer device.

What are you waiting for?

Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) is an interesting interlude in the church year. It’s a period of waiting for the celebration of Christ’s first appearance, and it’s also a reminder to be aware that any of us may be confronted with meeting him again, at any time.  Like Lent, it’s a solemn time of penitence, but tinged with a sense of anticipation.

But mainly it’s about waiting – something we are generally not very good at these days.  Our vicar’s recent sermon along these lines made me think about what I’m waiting for, and realise, again, the importance of living in the present moment, however frustrating that may be, rather than either wishing the time away until the hoped-for event happens, or dwelling on past glories and set-backs.

My current ‘waiting list’ includes:

  • the return of our daughter from four months’ study in Canada
  • the arrival of the rest of the family for Christmas week
  • responses to emails
  • the credit card bill
  • the right weather to entice me into a mass of overdue garden jobs
  • the safe arrival of two new grandchildren early next year
  • being in the right mood to tackle physical and computer-based de-cluttering
  • the midnight service on Christmas Eve
  • parcel deliveries
  • the next series of Borgen, or The Bridge, now that The Killing III is over
  • the monthly Premium Bond draw
  • the Church of England to get its act together conerning women bishops
  • inspiration for the next blog

Whatever you’re waiting for, I hope the good stuff happens for you and that 2013 brings plenty of unexpected pleasures too.

Merry Christmas!

Gearwheels and clock parts

An unholy muddle

Writing about agenda item GS 1708D feels risky, because anyone raising the issue in the last week has been on the receiving end of a right old mix of derision and opprobrium.

It’s curious that although to an extent we are learning in the 21st Century to treat minorities with respect, the trend doesn’t always seem to extend to those who profess a religious faith.  On the whole it’s open season to dismiss organised religion as irrelevant or to blame it as the source of the world’s worst atrocities, now and through the last twenty centuries.  The fact is that religion is a fallible and flawed human construct which will inevitably get a lot wrong, but which is mainly populated by ordinary people trying to understand whether there’s a God, and if so, what that means both in general and for how they live their lives day-to-day.

So anyway, clearly the majority of the Church of England agree it’s time to take seriously the notion of a different sort of bishop.  Last week’s measure was rejected because the arrangements for those who can’t accept the new bishops on theological grounds were deemed insufficient, not (entirely) because those voting against wanted to throw out the whole idea.  However, as our Bishop has pointed out in his ‘Ad clerum et laicum’ letter, after years of debating the options any new alternative can only look rather similar to the one voted down last week.  In the end it may turn out to be one of those cases where if everyone’s equally unhappy, that may be the right answer.

Jesus made a point of spending time with society’s outcasts, and treated men and women as equals.  The earthly organisation which grew from his teachings subsequently gave itself unhelpful limitations in line with a human interpretation of what God had in mind.  Presumably the present muddle is not what she meant at all.