A behind-the-scenes look at the lives of country vicars. In the village of Breinton, the ladies of the church are creating a spectacular display for the harvest festival.
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More tea, Vicar? Yeah, go on, then.
Vicars - pillars of the community.
Is it 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...
-..digging deep to help those most in need...
Oh, ye of little faith who thought we weren't going to load this!
..and pulling communities closer together.
Small acts of good change the world.
It's all part of a vicar's life.
On the outskirts of Hereford,
set amid orchards and rolling fields,
is the village parish of Breinton.
It's autumn. Across the diocese, an army of workers gather the harvest.
In the village church, an army of the faithful are also busy.
I'm hiding the mechanics.
It appears to be a mortal sin if you show your mechanics!
This is the nitty-gritty, not the glory part, doing the nice arrangements.
I'm just going to make sure they won't fall on the vicar.
I would hate to knock him out with an apple!
Apples and cider are big business in this rural parish,
and giving thanks at harvest time is a village tradition.
Today, Breinton's curate, Father Matthew,
is taking his first harvest service.
-What do you think of the church?
The apples are stunning. Are they eaters, or...
Some of them are. And the ones on the chancel wall are edible.
-They're always here.
-To stop you sitting on them.
Oi, now, I've broken this church once!
Once I've broken a bit of the church, and you're never going to let me forget it!
Matthew's introduction to village worship three months ago was less dignified than he'd hoped.
We were doing the wedding rehearsal and I was just, you know, in my cassock,
wandering around trying to help, trying to be deacon, trying to serve.
I leant on the wall, and the whole thing collapsed behind me
and I ended up on my back on top of the wall, legs in the air!
I've never been so embarrassed in my life.
And this congregation never let me forget it.
-It just went!
-It just went. It was something waiting to happen.
I'm worried about those apples on there...
-I'm concerned they're too heavy for that wall!
-Look, we've just...
-No, they're fine, thank you!
I have to say, breaking the wall has been a really good icebreaker,
because everybody winds me up about it,
and that's the beginning of a rural community, saying,
"You're one of us now because you're an utter fool like we are!"
To mark his first harvest service as curate,
Matthew's trying something a little different.
I'm not entirely certain what the aliens represent.
Other than a clean floor!
But we've got aliens.
It's my son's painting mat.
We're expecting families this morning because harvest is a family time.
Then I'm doing something a little bit different.
I mean, who knows? It's the first time I've done it.
It may completely fall on its face, but it makes sense to me.
We'll see how much soil I leave on the floor
and how much I get told off by Sheila afterwards.
At the western edge of the diocese, beneath the Black Mountains...
..Reverend Nicholas Lowton is preparing for a wedding with an invigorating walk.
Come on, you little horror!
After seven years in charge of six churches,
it seems the secret to a good service comes down to one thing.
You've got to be in a good mood.
-Are you in a good mood?
-I'm in a very good mood.
I mean, it's a lovely, lovely, lovely day.
And it's a huge privilege to take weddings as well,
which is again something one needs to bear in mind.
And, no, you owe it to everybody to get it right.
Have you ever been married?
No, but I've never died either but I still take funerals!
Local weddings are few and far between in this rural parish,
so Nicholas has thrown his doors open to those further afield.
Tomorrow's couple are from Hereford and Poland.
If I was completely blind to the realities of life,
I'd think to myself, "I hope they're spending a quiet time on their own,
But I'm not sure the circumstances always allow the bride and groom
to give themselves a quiet moment for reflection beforehand.
But you never know, they may have done so.
The sparks need to come out of the sparkler box and into the sparkler tin.
Oh, no, no, no, not those.
In Clodock's village pub, quiet contemplation is on the back burner.
Numbers two to eight need to go in the big jars,
and number one is going to go in the Emily and Lukasz box.
For bride-to-be Emily, getting married at Clodock held a particular appeal.
We used to come here a lot as children.
I wanted something that was quite quintessentially kind of British, I guess,
and try and kind of marry in some Polish elements.
By...vodka, I guess!
Emily met fellow schoolteacher Lukasz seven years ago.
He hasn't quite got that...um...
The British politeness.
I remember we hadn't been together that long,
and he told me that he thought I looked like a squirrel!
And I thought maybe he meant a red squirrel,
maybe it was like the red tail or something, and he just said,
"No, no, no, it's because your teeth are quite big!"
Hopefully the vicar has a better way with words!
We first met Nicholas about ten months ago now, and I think he's fabulous.
I think he's funny. I enjoy listening to him speak.
And I think that that is key, really, isn't it, to getting an audience?
I'm bigging him up quite a lot. He'd better be good tomorrow now!
Engaging new audiences is as much a vicar's job as pulling communities together.
In Breinton, villagers are arriving for Matthew's harvest service.
Getting everyone in the harvest mood, organist Andrew.
I love harvest festival.
It's always a good chance to pull out a few extra stops.
I'm deaf as a post, and I don't always hear what's going on.
It gets me into quite a lot of trouble sometimes.
-A yellow squash.
-That's a good idea.
Today, Matthew's got team support from wife Catherine and son Edmund.
Behind the scenes in the vestry...
I didn't know what colour, so I brought all three.
-You're going to have white.
Churchwarden Sheila's checking he has everything he needs.
Right, I will leave you to it, I can't do anything else.
Thank you, Sheila.
What he doesn't have are the families he was hoping for.
The average Church of England congregation has nine children,
but many smaller churches have none at all.
-Good morning, everybody.
On this wonderful day, harvest festival.
I think harvest festival is comfortably one of my favourite festivals of the year.
Mainly because I'm generally surrounded by food!
I'm going to ask the children to come up...
because I have an activity.
It's only you, little man.
Jesus is the seed in the Eucharist, the soil is the word of God,
and the water is the church.
Stop, that's enough!
Too much church!
The water at...
I put the mat down... Sheila, the mat's down, it's fine!
The mat's down!
Do you know what, mate? You were really good today.
We grow and we flower and we don't keep it to ourselves, we share it.
We take it out into the world.
That's what harvest means for me.
Thank you. Amen.
Matthew's son is lovely, and he's so like his dad.
And it was the true story of harvest as well, and what it all means.
In today's tough times,
the harvest message of giving and sharing is as relevant as ever.
The gifts in church are for local food banks.
But Matthew has bigger ambitions.
I am on my way to Margaret's house, who, this morning,
has offered us a load of fruit and veg to take to Calais.
There are currently hundreds of people trapped at the French port
of Calais as they attempt to seek asylum in the UK.
Most are without food and shelter.
Moved by their plight, Matthew has persuaded the community to give generously from their gardens.
I don't know if you'll manage this with one hand, it's very heavy!
Got it! There we go.
When I talked about Calais, and I invited people to help,
the response was immediate and huge.
And that says everything you need to know about rural communities.
Right, that's amazing.
Keen to witness aid efforts first-hand,
Matthew is taking the produce to Calais,
with charity volunteer David.
So, what have we got?
So, we've got a lot, a huge amount.
This is my eighth trip out to northern France in support of refugees.
Normally what I do is I will take a van-load of donations with me
and then stay one, two, or three days
volunteering to help the teams that are out there long-term.
As a deacon in the Church of England,
this is exactly what I'm called to do,
working with those who are at the edges of society.
And that doesn't just mean here in the parish, here in the team,
although of course that's predominantly where it plays out.
But the refugees in Calais are on the edges of society.
Oh, ye of little faith who thought we weren't going to load this!
Let's do this, then.
In Clodock, Emily and Lukasz are also starting out on a new journey.
The hats are on,
the hairspray's out, and the vicar's sporting his lucky socks.
Oh, well, I always wear these socks on a wedding day.
They were sold to me by a wonderful guy called Jason,
who has the sock stall at Hay on Wye.
And whenever I see him I say, "Jason, have you got anything really tasteless?"
And he said to me one day, "I've got some Hindu wedding socks."
I thought, "Great!"
In the village pub, the wedding party are getting ready.
In the church next door, so is Nicholas.
Do you feel any different when you have your dog collar on to when you don't?
Yes, it feels jolly uncomfortable!
Contrary to appearances, Nicholas is not a veteran vicar.
For 30 years, he was a boarding school housemaster.
And on occasions like this, it shows.
I will ask you if you will support them in their marriage,
and you will all say, "We will."
Because you will, won't you?
Now, look, those were the right words!
If I was going to be picky,
I might say that it sounded just a teensy-weensy bit pathetic!
So, shall we try that again?
And this time, try and do structural damage.
Will you, the families and friends of Lukasz and Emily,
support and uphold them in their marriage now and in the years to come?
Outside, there's an anxious groom.
Are you getting twitchy?
-Do you think Emily might suddenly have changed
-I don't think it's that, no.
Good, because that would go down only moderately well with the congregation.
And you, probably.
You're happy that you see her at this stage?
-I don't know!
-Go up the church.
You don't want to get that wrong.
-Should I be...
-You go and wait up at the church.
-I'll wait outside.
-OK, wait outside the church, but wait up there.
The harvest celebrations continue in the village of Breinton.
I think we've got enough there.
Vicar Ruth Hulse works alongside curate Matthew as part of the West Hereford ministry team.
Tonight, it's Breinton's harvest supper.
We've got about 50 coming tonight,
and that's people from the church and the community, and people from all ages, which is great.
As part of a continued effort to pull in more people, young and old,
the church has thrown open its doors to the whole community.
-Fresh from church decorating and feeding the 50 tonight,
the Breinton church ladies.
Oh, don't put so many on the tray!
It's OK, put it on the chair.
In every church, there is a backbone of women.
It's a really lively group of ladies.
They're wonderful, they really are.
And they know exactly how the church runs.
They know everything about the church.
They know exactly what works and where it works,
and they're really efficient.
This parish would not survive without the people, a lot of people
who do a lot of things that nobody knows about.
Honestly, our congregations are dwindling.
And they're getting older.
But at the moment, well, how many more we can do remains to be seen.
We've got a lot of people this year,
more than we've had for a long time,
so that's encouraging.
I brought my tarts warm today, so hopefully they'll stay warm now.
I'll put the oven on.
For some, a harvest meal is a chance to give thanks.
For others, it's a lifeline.
With a van full of Breinton's harvest,
Matthew is en route to Calais with charity volunteers David and Philip.
Several years ago when those images first appeared of refugees arriving in Calais, of the camps,
the fact that people were living in the conditions they were living in
in Calais and were grateful for it just floored me.
In 2016, the camps were disbanded.
So, people are worse because the camps have closed?
Oh, massively worse.
When the Jungle was there, people had communities,
they had places to cook, they had cafes, they had shops.
-It was a town of 10,000 people.
Now you've got people just sleeping rough in the hedgerows and ditches.
So it is massively worse.
The numbers are lower, but the conditions are so, so much worse.
Many of those here are from Eritrea,
having paid thousands to traffickers to escape one of Africa's most oppressive regimes.
Matthew is joining volunteers in Calais who have organised to help feed them.
There's about sort of close to 700 refugees in Calais at the moment.
At the moment, about 2,500, 2,700 meals per day.
And it's the only source of food for most people here.
So, keep dropping carrots, it's seriously important.
This warehouse is a hub for several grassroots charities who have combined forces.
Volunteers come from around the world.
This is good teamwork.
I was once told how my cassock could get in the way of me being able to practically help people.
As you can see, it's a real hindrance!
I have no experience of refugee camps.
And I find it very easy to dismiss political conversations,
the difficult conversations about what we should and shouldn't do.
Well, they shouldn't be here,
or we should do more work to make sure people don't travel and all that kind of stuff.
They are beautiful words wrapped in silk that sound entirely reasonable.
But they're still in Calais now, and they are still in trouble now.
And we can do something to alleviate that.
Even if it's only one tiny thing,
then it is worth doing.
Well, I'm just pleased that we're cutting the symbol of my home nation,
the leek of Wales.
Oh, these leeks are bloody lovely, man.
To protect the anonymity of the warehouse,
it discourages people from begging at the gates.
But that doesn't stop some of the desperate from trying their luck.
Being in here and doing this is really good, but I can't
ignore the fact that outside the gates there are people sitting,
congregating, so I'm going to...
I'm going to go out and say hello and see if they speak and see if they want to pray.
Hello, how are you?
I'm good, I'm good. I'm Father Matthew.
Walk this way.
I have no money, but I will pray with you if you want to pray.
Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
blasted art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, amen.
They were clearly Christian,
they knew the responses to what I was praying.
I gave him my rosary, and we prayed, and...
and that was beautiful.
And I think it felt like they took some solace from that, some comfort.
The motto of the operation here is to choose love.
Don't get cross with people, don't try and get angry,
don't get necessarily always involved in the politics,
but just show simple love for your fellow human being.
The trip to Calais has been a chance for Matthew to see charity at work outside of the church.
I mean, it's like the best hippie commune I've ever been to!
It's brilliant! The people who were chopping vegetables here and making
stuff go out the door may not be overt Christians in that way,
but, for me, they're small acts of good,
everybody's small act of good,
and that's ultimately what shifts the world - everybody's individual,
small acts of good.
So, the impact that a small van of food has had in this place to
the people of Calais, that's what I'm going to take back.
Back in the diocese,
small acts of good by volunteers in Breinton have helped pull off
the biggest community supper the village has seen in years.
Do you want the quiches now in to warm as well?
Was it too soon?
-Just about there in the servings.
So, everyone's here, there's a nice buzz.
We've got the food out. Hopefully we're going to sit down and eat,
And there's quiche, there's always quiche.
Events like these bring together an often isolated older generation.
But once again, the only young family here belong to the vicar.
You know, there's a lot of older people here.
And so for the kids, it's perhaps not what they would choose to do.
But they're really good about it.
It might be an older crowd, but it's a lively one.
The cider's flowing, and the raffle's hotting up.
Is it going to be ours?
Six. Oh, no!
Oh, they're very nice though, aren't they?
It's all a bit of fun, isn't it?
Best raffle prize I've had in many a long day.
The evening has been a success.
But inviting the wider village has still not brought in the young families
the church needs to survive... and grow.
I think Breinton has changed a huge amount over the years,
and so whereas people like Lindsey and Sheila and Ann and Vivian,
whilst they would naturally have always just come to the church,
it's a different way of life these days.
I think people are less likely,
and perhaps even slightly scared of signing up to something for fear of
the commitment that it would take and that it would take them away from their families.
We have to start looking at different ways that we can connect with families,
how do we take faith out to people?
Because I'm not sure they're going to come in.
One sure-fire way of connecting with families is, of course, a wedding.
In Clodock, Lukasz's prayers have been answered.
As a bachelor,
I'm never terribly sure when asked to speak at a couple's wedding
whether to be flattered at the thought that because I'm a priest,
anything I say is worth sitting up and taking note of,
or it could just be of course that I happen to be the parish priest
of the church next to the pub and therefore the options were just a teensy-weensy bit limited.
will you, the families and friends of Emily and Lukasz
support and uphold them in their marriage, now and in the years to come?
The Church of England has around 1,000 weddings per week,
most with healthy congregations.
That's potentially two million people per year.
Rich pickings for resourceful vicars.
I've never, ever met a vicar like him before.
He kept it fresh, he kept it sort of enjoyable,
especially for us younger people.
Just innovative, if anything.
It was very energetic.
He wasn't going on and on, he was quick, to the point.
He's obviously made an impression.
Are you getting all growly now?
In all that you do, you've got to feel that you're scattering seeds.
That's what God does, and that's what I think we as clergy do as well.
You hope that some seeds will take root.
It will take time before they do, so you mustn't hope for instant results.
For seeds to take root,
the church must plant itself firmly in the community.
In Breinton, the harvest celebrations may not have drawn in the young families,
but there's one village event guaranteed to pull them in.
And the church is out in force.
Ruth, what's the collective? Are we a surplus of clergy?
Well, there's a gaggle, there's a surplus...
Sheila, you would know, you would know!
I can think of plenty of other terms!
I was going to say gaggle.
Events like this are just great, because we get to meet the families,
we can make the contacts, build the relationships,
so it's just another time where we can come in and just to say, "Actually,
"we're part of this community and we want to be part of what you're doing and we want to help you do that."
I love a bonfire, yeah.
I love the smell of it.
We're more childlike than the children, I think!
Yeah, second childhood.
Remember, remember, the 5th of November.
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
It's been a month since Matthew was in Calais.
But it's still fresh in his mind.
Calais, I am...
..still dealing with.
And I'm coming to realise that all we can do is the good that's in front of us.
The small good that's in front of us.
I want my small bit to be an enormous bit.
I want to be able to go over and fix it.
But having an impatience for not being able to fix the big stuff
is what drives you to do really big, great stuff,
so I'm going to carry on driving to fix the big stuff that I can't
really fix, and I'm going to try and keep doing that,
and I'm going to keep failing and I'm going to keep falling on my face, but in the process of it,
I will get further than if I just shrug my shoulders and go,
"Oh, well, it's too big a thing to deal with."
Oh, I think there's another rocket.
I can see... Ooh! Ready, steady, go!
Do you know what? Coming to this tonight doesn't feel like a professional thing at all,
it just feels like any good parish does, really, any good village does.
It feels like a bunch of friends coming together.
And I feel like the new friend.
..Matthew Stafford has a date with someone special.
How old are you, Sarah?
Community spirit is on the menu for Nicholas.
That was delicious.
And Matthew Cashmore is saving souls.
Stylish flip-flops, this year's must-have.
It's harvest season, a busy time for the rural church. In the village of Breinton, where cider apples are grown, the ladies of the church are creating a spectacular display for the harvest festival. On the surface it's a picture of a healthy village church, but as new curate Father Matthew plans his first harvest festival it's clear that they need to attract newcomers to the village. He delivers the harvest message - of giving thanks and sharing - and asks the parish to dig that little bit deeper. He is determined to bring something of Breinton's harvest to help the people further afield, and joins a relief effort taking aid to people in need in Calais.
In the Black Mountains, vicar Nicholas is sowing rather than reaping, hoping that the young couple getting married in his church - and their congregation - will be touched by the experience.
Back in Breinton, Matthew's colleague Ruth believes that if people aren't coming to church, the church needs to come to them. The village Bonfire Night proves to be the ideal occasion.