A behind-the-scenes look at the lives of country vicars. Revd Nicholas Lowton has come up with a plan that will bring in radical change - champing, or 'camping at church'.
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"Have more tea, Vicar." Yeah, go on, then.
Vicars. Pillars of the community.
We high enough yet?
As English as tea and cake, and cricket on the village green.
-Nice to see you, to see you...
But times are changing...
Would you like to pray now? Would you find that helpful?
Congregations are ageing, and faith is fading.
People in this country do not go to church.
So today's vicars are working hard to stay relevant.
The safeguards that are in place
are not catching people who are in desperate need!
In this series, vicars from Hereford,
the Church of England's most rural diocese,
let us into their life and work.
Any time, any place, anywhere.
Swapping a briefcase for a dog collar...
-..and battling to keep the show on the road.
We need more people.
It's all part of...A Vicar's Life.
Ripon College Cuddesdon, near Oxford,
is one of the country's most famous theological institutions.
It's where Matthew Cashmore has lived and studied for the past three
years, preparing himself for ministry.
See you later.
Today, he leaves college and is about to put theory into practice.
It's a really bittersweet day.
It's sad, because I'm leaving a lot of friends behind.
But I can't wait to kind of be
three years down the line and look back and go, "OK,
"that's what God wanted me to do."
Donning a cassock will be a radical change.
As director of a large book seller,
Matthew had all the trappings of the boardroom.
My life before was five-bed detached house
in a lovely village in Oxfordshire with a beautiful car.
I miss the car so much.
I had a gorgeous car!
It's the only thing I regret leaving behind!
Matthew is joining the diocese of Hereford as a curate, or assistant.
No-one goes into the church for the money.
But with the job comes a family home for son Edmund
and wife Catherine.
Matthew and I have always grasped life,
in all its glory, with two hands.
So it's nothing new, really, for us.
It's just a very different path than the one we were on together before.
Yeah, a vicar's wife.
Never thought I'd be one of those.
Yeah, it's a big change.
Got to think very carefully about money now
in a way that I haven't had to do for years.
That's no bad thing.
Cut down your valance to the correct length
and cut down with a hacksaw.
I have no idea how this works.
Matthew's curacy is a four-year apprenticeship,
and the first step on the ladder is to be ordained a deacon.
The ceremony is in less than two weeks.
I've moved my entire family halfway across the country.
Yep, look at the other side for me.
My wife's giving up an amazing job in London to follow me.
I have no idea what's next.
And that's...that's terrifying.
There we are! Get in!
It's a tough time to be ordained in the Church of England.
Average Sunday attendances are in decline,
down 15% over the past decade.
Hard-pressed country vicars
are having to take on more and more churches.
Near the Welsh border,
Reverend Nicholas Lowton looks after six!
Have you had a lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely,
-Yeah! We've had lots and lots and lots of people.
You are so good.
It's fete season.
Today, a fundraiser for improvements to Saint Margaret's Church.
-How much is that?
-It's five quid, but it lasts a year.
-Not in my kitchen, it won't.
A sale where anything goes.
Hereford has more churches per head than any other diocese.
To survive, they need to become multifunctional spaces.
What we're wanting to do in here is to have a small kitchen and a loo.
Because, obviously... I mean, for occasions like this.
Whereas a few years back, they might have said, "Is there a loo?",
they now say, "Where's the loo?"
People's views have changed.
I don't believe all of this.
It's not the fact that cakes are for sale by the altar that shocks,
but the quantity.
If all these churches are going to have a really good future,
they need to look at
how they're going to have to develop for the future.
To plan for survival, Nicholas has organised a meeting of parishioners
at the local hub of Peterchurch.
Right, so to the mission action plan and what it's based upon.
The overwhelming majority of people
in this country and in this benefice do not go to church.
If we're going to continue to operate in exactly the same way...
..and expect a different outcome,
we are deluded.
We're going to be asking everybody to look at their churches and ask,
"What can we do with this church?"
We don't want to be the generation which finally put God's church...
In the north of the diocese, another fete is in full swing.
Oh, look at that, John! You're very competitive, aren't you?
Another mountain of home-made cake is on sale. This time,
in aid of Easthope Church.
It's just one of 14 churches looked after
by the Reverend Matthew Stafford.
This is a man who got a U at A-level RE, and look at me now.
There you go, then.
Matthew's also affected by diminishing congregations.
But his strategy is to bring church to the people,
rather than bring people to the church.
I'm like the Tia Maria advert of the 1970s.
Any time, any place, anywhere.
-Look at that colour!
-That's lovely, that is.
A lot of the rural churches are on the brink,
and that would be a fair assessment.
The church is about people, not buildings.
It might mean that we have to go about our church and our mission
in a different kind of way.
"Have more tea, Vicar." Yeah, go on, then.
-Do you want sugar in it?
-No, it's sweet enough.
You need to be at events like these
because this is where the mission happens,
through those pastoral encounters.
Matthew's role in the community means he's there
at the end of people's lives.
50 years of funerals,
-I've never met anybody as good.
-Oh, well, thank you.
So that's a credit to you, you know.
Bless you. I don't take myself too seriously,
but I do take what I do seriously.
And that the end of the day, I wanted to do right by everybody.
Well, I can see that.
I am a priest that covers 14 churches across a huge patch.
But what you're trying to do is ensure that they can actually
call and make contact and, even if I can't help them,
you can point them in the right direction.
Can we firstly thank Hayden for his outstanding hospitality
And it's my delight now to draw the raffle!
On the pink!
Anything between 391 and 395!
In West Hereford, Ruth Hulse
has just made the leap from curor to vicar.
Her promotion means she now needs an assistant.
So Clark put his on, and Clark had...
And stepping into her shoes is new curate Matthew Cashmore.
I can learn from you because you bring something new in,
and you are completely up-to-date with...
I can fix your printer. I can sort your Twitter account out.
I can mend your computer.
Are you telling everyone that I'm not technically sound?
Yeah, that's exactly what I'm telling people!
Ruth and husband John
have invited Matthew and family to the vicarage for a barbecue.
Ruth, for you and me, I've got gin, obviously.
-What about Catherine? Hello.
The relationship between all of them is really, really key
in helping them to be the best ministry team they can be
in the area, really.
With their clergy wives and husbands, you know.
It's important that we can get together
cos they might just clear off.
I've had a bit too much beer.
It's a chance for Matthew to talk through one of his biggest worries.
That fear of not being able to be the person that God has called you
to be in this parish, in this community, is...
That can be... I can completely see how people become paralysed by that.
I mean, I've only been ordained four years and I'm still...
Some days, I'm still working it out
and trying to hold on to that calling,
that original calling, when God said, "I want you to be ordained."
And still, that fills me with...
Near the Welsh border...
..Nicholas is putting his action plan into action.
St Mary's at Craswall sits on a hill in a scattered community
of just 150 people.
But the Black Mountains are a big draw for visitors,
and Nicholas wants to capitalise on that.
He's found inspiration at his local pub.
pubs and churches geographically are often very close to each other.
Which is understandable, because in different ways,
they're both the hearts of a community.
Without enough regulars to support it, the Bridge Inn was dying.
-How are you?
-I'm very well indeed.
But when landlord Glyn took over,
he turned the pub into a destination for visitors from across the world.
It now has a thriving bed and breakfast, and a campsite.
Through the weekends, it's always busy,
people trying to get away to the countryside and relax.
And the biggest draw of all, the yurts.
They tap into the growing market for glamping.
Well, this is lovely!
I'm not surprised you get hundreds of people coming to stay here.
You've got people coming, repeat visits?
We do, yeah. Believe it or not,
we've had people from the States, Canada,
-New Zealand, Australia.
-Come here specially, just to come here?
-Just to see us.
That is brilliant.
Inspired by the pub, Nicholas has a plan for St Mary's.
-You get a lot of people here...
Instead of glamping, he and churchwarden Ken
want to offer champing,
or camping at church.
It's unbelievably peaceful and quiet.
It's perfect. It's absolutely perfect.
Yeah. It's only really, you know,
when you sit down and have a period of time here that you start to
appreciate the difference between what this is and what most people's
lives are like, which are very busy and frenetic.
Craswall has a regular congregation of around 20.
It's now one of over 900 churches on Historic England's at-risk register
and needs hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of repairs.
Income from champing could lift the church out of trouble.
Everything really points towards...
..a really positive future for this church, serving an infinitely wider
community than simply that of its village or even of this benefice.
HE WHISTLES: When The Chariot Comes
With the ordination on his mind,
trainee Matthew is heading back to home soil.
We are just crossing the border. There's the sign.
"Welcome to Wales."
We're in Wales. As you can see, everything has instantly changed!
Moving to Herefordshire has brought Matthew closer to where he grew up
in the Welsh valleys.
He's here to visit his dad, Michael,
who was shocked by his son's decision to be ordained.
-Nice to see you again. Shall we sit down?
Why don't you believe in God?
Oh, you're getting personal!
Because I don't believe there is a God.
Because there's so many other gods in the world
and so many other religions and what have you,
and more so that are causing wars at the moment,
and at the end of the day, it's not because of that,
it's just that I don't believe there's a big man up the stairs.
You don't have to believe in a god to be a good person,
a good, charitable person, and to love people. You know?
So, what do you think about me becoming a vicar, then?
Well, like I said, no matter what you do, I will always support you.
You know, as long as you don't try to push it down my neck.
-I can push beer down your neck, but not God!
But if you try to push God down my neck,
the more I will go against it.
Anyway, nice pint of beer.
It's a lovely pint of beer!
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
With his ordination looming, Matthew is on a four-day retreat.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now, in the hour of our death.
It's his last chance to contemplate what will be the biggest life change
he's ever made.
I think I've got every emotion that it's possible to have.
I've run out of adjectives to describe how I'm feeling!
I just had a moment where I thought,
"I can't quite believe that I'm in
"this room and this is happening now."
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
I'm frustrated about the fact that I seem to have left everything behind
me that I was any good at.
All of that equates to diddly squat.
..on Earth as it is in Heaven...
There's a huge chunk of me that just wants to get into it now.
And I pray that the Church is open
to someone who wants to push and wants to help change.
Near the Black Mountains, churchwarden Ken...
..and his friend Peter are dusting off the Boy Scout manual for a very
different kind of retreat.
A trial night of champing.
We've got 13 people coming here to camp.
It's all part of trying to broaden the use of the church,
which I think is vital for its long-term survival.
Wow! Look, isn't it gorgeous?!
Ken's been spreading the word,
and plenty of people are willing to give it a go.
-Oh, my goodness!
It's the most fantastic place,
and it's not as cold as I imagined it might be.
Trish has volunteered to be head chef.
How many champers does it take to light a fire?
I'm making some old cider
to warm us up.
I've got loads and loads of bread rolls, does anybody want some?
Nicholas is late to the party.
Where's my drink?!
How lovely to see you.
-Good evening, Nicholas.
-I know you.
Lovely to see you.
When do you start singing Kumbaya?
-Never, don't worry.
-Just so I'm warned!
As soon as we've had a bit more cider!
You are lovely beyond imagination. Thank you very much indeed.
Peter, is this the sort of thing that you'd pay for,
to come and stay here overnight?
-The answer to that question...
-No, of course, yes.
Yes, vast sums!
Well, I find it amazing, actually, round here that the number of units
for accommodation that have gone up in the last 15 years,
and they all seem to be full.
Right, well, you're about to indulge in your Bacchanalian extravaganza.
-I shall leave you.
-Time you should leave, then, I think, Nicholas,
-so that we can get on with it.
-Lovely to see you all.
Enjoy. See you tomorrow. Bye-bye.
I thought it was brilliant. I'm amazed the number of people here,
and they're going to have a really good evening.
I shall be interested to see what state they're in
by the time we have a service here at 9.30 in the morning!
# So on that bog there was a tree
# A rare tree and a rattlin' tree
# A tree in the bog And the bog down in the valley-o
# Rare bog a rattlin' bog
# A bog down in the valley-o
# Rare bog a rattlin' bog
# A bog down in the valley-o
# On that twig there was a leaf... #
The church has many ways of opening its doors to new members.
But none more meaningful than a baptism.
Why am I trying to put a coat hanger on me head?
In Much Wenlock,
Matthew Stafford is about to welcome new life and a congregation
of mainly non-churchgoers.
I always try to do, on a baptism service, or any service,
whether it be a baptism, a wedding or a funeral,
is to make sure you give people the most positive experience
of being here, putting them at ease,
in the hope that they might just come back.
Today, Matthew gets two for the price of one.
Twins Ollie and Charlie.
Are you going to have a cuddle with Nanny Cass?
Parents Dan and his partner Shawn
met at school and have been together for four years.
You all right?
What's not to like about him?
He was actually in the Navy until about two years ago,
and I think that sort of made a man out of him.
It also made Dan reassess his views on the church.
As you get to teenager age, you're not sure what you believe.
And then, when I joined the Navy, straightaway,
it's something that you need.
I suppose I'm back into it a little bit now.
Maybe I drop in and drop out a little bit,
but it is important that they're christened.
-Nice to see you, to see you...
One of the biggest crimes of the Church is that we made God boring.
I always try to sort of have a laugh and a joke with people.
You're trying to lift people's spirits, appropriately,
in every situation you find yourself in.
Charlie Kenneth Daniel,
I baptise you in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
Didn't you do well for me? Yes, you did!
So, Lord Jesus, open Charlie's ears to Your voice,
and his mouth to Your praise both now and always. Amen.
I think it's about giving them something to believe in,
some sort of path to follow if ever they feel that
they're sort of lost.
I think that's always good.
Dan and Shawn are turning to the church to get married next year.
It's not the way the church of old would have it...
..but these changing times call for an open mind.
In the big scheme of things, does it really matter?
Because what they're trying to do is ensure that
actually that they are bringing some security and permanency
to their family situation,
and I think that's something to be celebrated and nurtured.
At Saint Mary's in Craswall, it's the morning after the night before.
Head chef Trish has already got breakfast on the go.
We're going to have Canadian pancakes with maple syrup and bacon,
and eggs for those who are keen.
I was snug as a bug, lovely rugs, and it was fine.
Not everyone slept so well.
OK, OK, I got cold.
It's quite a mess, really, the floor.
God might be forgiving,
but the vicar won't be if the church isn't ready in time
for All Saints' Day.
20 minutes. We'll do it.
With seven minutes to go, Nicholas arrives.
They've been very clean and tidy, which is good news.
We like people to be clean and tidy.
And the pews are filling up with both regulars and champers.
How lovely to see you all.
For those of you are completely unaware,
because the place looks totally immaculate,
there were loads and loads and loads of people sleeping here last night.
Rather than simply during my sermon,
which is the normal state of affairs.
And it's wonderful to see you survived the experience.
I will give nobody any prizes for guessing what the first hymn is.
It's number 134. Do you all have things to bang?
-Are you going to make a loud noise?
Let's find out.
# For all the Saints
# Who from their neighbours rest... #
One thing we're really lucky with here
is that the people are genuinely
excited about the changes which will transform Craswall Church from
simply a church used twice a month for worship
into a place which is going to be living and lively,
which is what all our churches ideally should be.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Churches packed to the rafters might be a rare occurrence...
..but in Hereford Cathedral, it's a full house.
Matthew Cashmore is about to be ordained as a deacon
by the Bishop of Hereford.
I look a bit like Mr Bean. What's going on there?
Despite decreasing congregations, in 2016,
nearly 500 new clergy were ordained in England.
Around half of those were women.
I do remember how I was feeling, actually.
Very, very nervous,
but really excited.
You know, before you get married, and you weren't nervous,
and then all of a sudden you're nervous,
-but it's nervous excitement. It's good.
-Good. It's good excitement.
Isn't it nice today?
ORGAN PLAYS CHOIR SINGS
Matthew's ordination oath will change him forever
from a layperson to a member of the clergy.
Deacons are called to work with their fellow members
in searching out the poor and weak,
reaching into the forgotten corners of the world,
that the love of God may be made visible.
Send down the Holy Spirit...
..on your servant Matthew...
..for the office and work of a deacon.
It's a covenant. It's a commitment,
it's a relationship between you and God,
and God claims you, and you completely and utterly...
It's utterly and completely...
-We welcome you as fellow servants in the Gospel.
May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith...
After three years of study,
Matthew the business executive has been left behind.
From now on, it's Father Matthew.
The moment Bishop Richard laid his hands on my head, it kind of...
..everything changed. I'm excited and happy and joyous and...
..probably going to crash very quickly after this.
Give a big hug! I love you.
Next time, Nicholas helps a struggling farmer and his wife.
-Where are you going to move to?
Newly ordained father Matthew takes on his first challenge.
Come to church tomorrow. I'm preaching.
And the Bishop gets closer to God than he'd like.
When I first told him about the cherry picker,
I don't think he believed me.
The church may be struggling, but there are signs of hope. New life, new ideas and new vicars will help it to survive and prosper in future. We meet Matthew Cashmore, a trainee. He has turned his back on a successful executive lifestyle and is moving with his family to Hereford to start a new life in the clergy. But first he has to be ordained, at a grand ceremony in Hereford Cathedral.
In the Black Mountains, Revd Nicholas Lowton believes his churches will have to adapt or die, so he has come up with a plan of action that will bring in radical change. In one tiny remote church, he has seen an opportunity to offer champing, or 'camping at church'. Now he needs to test it out.
In the idyllic surroundings of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, Matthew Stafford is welcoming new life into the church by baptising twins Ollie and Charlie. He needs to speak up - they are in fine voice.