Following the lives of country vicars. With the dark days of winter drawing in the clergy of Hereford Diocese are working hard to bring light into people's lives.
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-More tea vicar? Yeah, go on, then.
-Vicars, pillars of the community...
-High enough yet?
-..as English as tea and cake, and cricket on the village green...
-Nice to see you, to see you...nice.
-..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...
Let's do chocolate digestive communion and have half each.
..bringing support and comfort to the young...
..and the young at heart.
How old are you, Sarah?
It's all part of a vicar's life.
In the north of the diocese is the Wenlock team of parishes.
This road is an utter nightmare.
If it's a funeral day, you've got to give yourself plenty of time or else
the funeral will be done and dusted and you'll still be waiting for the vicar.
Team Rector Reverend Matthew Stafford looks after 14 churches,
serving 6,000 people.
Matthew's rural patch has a high percentage of elderly people.
Today, he's holding a remembrance service
for residents of the Lady Forester nursing home.
-Are we having a cup of tea today, Paula?
-Yes, we're having a cup of tea.
I'm a bit dry.
There you go, our Sarah.
Is everyone happy? Front row?
This is the last of a particular generation,
the one that we're in the company of now.
There'll never be a generation like it again.
By nature of what life has thrown at them, by nature of, you know,
experiencing war, experiencing having to make a little bit
go a long way, and they are a feisty group.
We all love to be remembered,
but if we want to be remembered, we have a duty, also, to remember.
Memory is a powerful thing, it keeps the past alive.
And so may the Lord ever look kindly on the infirm with his love,
his peace, his joy, and his care.
This day and forevermore.
It's very rude and discourteous for a good-looking man... Ha-ha!
..to ask a lady their age.
But how old are you, Sarah?
THEY ALL LAUGH
-(Isn't it 104?)
-Aren't you 104?
So, what is the secret to your long levity?
-What is what?
-What is the secret to your long levity?
Why do you think you're still here?
-Good parents, you see.
Reaching out to older people is important in scattered rural
communities, where half of over 75s live alone.
Are you behaving your age?
At the western edge of the diocese, near the Welsh border...
Come on, beast!
..for the Reverend Nicholas Lowton,
a bracing dog walk is also a chance to drop in on an elderly neighbour.
One of the issues around here when it comes to old people,
especially I have to say,
old people in the farming community, is that asking for help is not
something which comes always naturally to them.
And making sure that they are warm,
and making sure that they've got enough food
is an important thing to do.
Because some of the houses they live in are...
..not exactly modern.
Well, we'll see if Ronnie is in, who lives just around the corner here.
80-year-old Ronnie is a retired carpenter.
He's lived in the same house since he was six months old.
I've never known no other.
Got to make the best of it, I suppose.
-Have you got enough logs?
-Have you got enough logs?
-So how are you keeping up here?
-Struggling on quietly.
-I've heard many adverbs that describe you, but quietly isn't one of them.
-They all tell me that!
What are you doing at Christmas?
Um... It's a debatable question yet.
-You'll be on your own?
-Probably, well, I mean it depends anyway.
There's always someone along the line.
If no-one else, there's the vicar.
Well, I'll be on me own, so yeah.
All right. That'll make two of us then.
Right, I'm going to take the dogs on their way.
-It's good to see you.
-I'll see you on a dog walk soon.
-Come on, dogs, we're going this way.
What I always reckon, he's a good bloke with a funeral.
You know, like he seemed to know how to handle it then.
Put it that way.
Vicars dedicate much of their ministry to older people.
But connecting with a younger generation means being there
at their point of need. And for many, that's on a heavy night out.
In Hereford, curate Father Matthew Cashmore
is training to be a street pastor.
Street pastors, if you've been in any city centre,
you will have seen these guys. They are amazing.
Anyone who has been out in the town on a Friday or Saturday night who've
lost their shoes will know the street pastors because they hand out flip-flops and water.
And they pick up broken bottles.
And they make the streets a safer place at night.
Made up of church volunteers, street pastors are familiar sight in over
300 cities and towns across the UK.
OK, good morning and welcome.
Before hitting the streets, Matthew has a first aid training session
run by the head of the Hereford team, Robert Thomas.
Alongside the theory, the majority of the training
is all about real-life scenarios and what we seek to do
is prepare the teams for the very worst thing that can happen.
And extreme scenario training is taken very seriously.
For authentic Friday night mayhem,
they've drafted in actors and makeup artists.
I broke my arm and he's been stabbed, so...
It can be quite shocking, if you haven't seen it before.
You know, because sometimes the blood and that throws people.
So, yeah, we try and make it as real as possible.
With the actors on set...
Oh, here she is.
..the rookie pastors are put to the test.
My name is Matthew, I'm with the street pastors.
-What's your name?
Sian, you've got an injury there to your arm.
Try not to move that for me, OK?
I think with that extended injury there, we'll need an ambulance.
An ambulance, please. Yeah.
So this is an extreme fall where somebody's got quite a severe break
to their arm.
Well done. Really good.
They're then going to come across somebody who's been a victim of an assault.
Oh, crumbs! Another incident.
We have a patient with a stab wound to lower
right-hand side abdomen.
Potentially piercing the lung.
On the streets, the teams can deal
with three first aid incidents a night.
They save, on average, 24 ambulance calls a month.
Well done, guys. Round of applause.
That's it, we're done.
Everyone is back alive.
It's hard to get my mind around "this isn't real".
So I'm unwrapping a with due care and attention
to not actually take your arm off.
Training completed, Matthew's now officially ready to hit the town.
I have no idea what Hereford's nightlife is.
That's not true, that's not true.
I got drunk in the Lichfield Vaults one night.
But I got a taxi home and it was all fine.
In Matthew Stafford's parishes, the ageing population brings
challenging health issues.
One in six people over the age of 80 are now affected by what's becoming
a fact of later life - dementia.
I'm off to visit a lovely, lovely couple called
Jane and Nick Bishop.
Now, Nick, bless him, has got quite advanced dementia.
I mean this is a guy who was, you know, and still is,
you know, deeply gifted, deeply talented.
And a true gentleman.
-Good morning, Matthew.
-How are you this morning?
-I brought you flowers.
-Oh, you shouldn't do that. Gosh!
Jane is one of Matthew's church wardens.
She's been married to Nick for 40 years.
I can't leave him out. I can't leave you out.
Those are for you.
Matthew is very sweet, he's brought you these biscuits.
-Darling, darling sit down.
-Sit, darling, sit down.
Sometimes the dementia becomes the be all and the end all, forgetting
that this is an individual with a vast experience.
And I think it's important that that's not forgotten.
-Well, it's good that you talk about it because I almost can't remember him now without it.
So, it's nice being reminded.
Darling, sit down. Sit down.
Your day starts, when?
I get up about half past six.
-Get myself dressed and then I get him dressed and shaved,
and downstairs for breakfast.
-And then he usually goes back to sleep again at the kitchen table.
-Oh, bless you.
-I don't know about you but if you don't laugh, you'd cry.
Actually, it's terribly funny,
did I tell you about the time...? I'd gone up to church.
Nick walked in, so I hid.
And hoping Nick would go down to the house again and I thought he'd gone
and I was looking around the curtain like this.
They must have thought, "What an extraordinary church we're coming to
"with the churchwarden peeking around the curtain!"
They must have thought, "What have we come to?"
Darling, I think that you've probably had enough biscuits.
I'll tell you what, let's do chocolate digestive communion,
and have half each.
-There you go.
Coffee, sympathy, and a chance to laugh is a welcome distraction.
Jane looks after Nick full-time with occasional help from respite carers.
In order for you to continue doing what you're doing,
-you've got to look after yourself.
-Yes, I know, I know.
I do... I do realise that.
You don't realise until he has gone off with the respite care just how
much you need that rest actually.
And just some sensible conversation with people.
-That makes a huge difference.
Because I don't think we've ever had such a silent life in our lives,
as we are having now.
Right, bless you both. And I shall see you again very, very soon.
Bye, Matthew. We'll see you very soon. Absolutely. And thank you so much for my flowers again.
Bless you, Nick.
I'm in awe of Jane because of her dedication to Nick.
She inspires me.
Matthew, like Jane, is also dealing with dementia in his family.
18 months ago, my father-in-law took a significant turn for the worst.
So, Dad moved from Wirral to Shropshire.
We go all out, my wife,
Charlie's daughter, and myself to maximise his quality of life
and independence wherever possible, but it is...
It's a very pressured existence at the moment.
When rural communities pull together to help each other,
a vicar's support can make all the difference.
You're not taking a picture of the vicar's knickers, I trust!
Nicholas has a lunch date in the nearby village of Pontrilas.
We're going to a weekly lunch club, which is with local farmers
in the area, which gives them a chance to be together.
It is very much a community initiative.
And there's this lovely lady, Sonia, who runs it.
Sonia and partner Nigel rescued the village post office by turning it
into a non-profit-making social enterprise.
They even asked Nicholas to bless it.
The lunch club meets around the back.
Hello, Nicholas, so good to see you.
It's lovely to see you. You're having a busy day here?
-We're having a very busy day today, actually.
-A very busy day.
-That's really good.
-We've started without you, unfortunately.
-Quite right, too. Clergy are always unreliable.
Can I ruin your lunch by joining you?
Don't want any problems.
You are kind.
The lunch club members come in, not just for lunch club on Tuesday.
They will come in the week and they'll have a game of Scrabble,
they'll have a coffee and chitchat, they play chess.
And rocking the party with his essential mix, DJ Brian.
Acker Bilk and Stranger On The Shore, from 1960...
Many who come here care for spouses.
And who in all of this is looking after you?
-The man upstairs.
-Yeah, that's right.
-Can we have a pud, Sonia, please?
-Of course. Absolutely.
-That was delicious.
-How are you coping with funding?
-The proceeds from the shop
pay for the services that we provide.
-So that's how we operate.
-True social enterprise.
See you soon.
Taking a walk down memory lane. That was The Shadows and the theme from Cavatina.
-I'm sure we'll meet again.
-Yes. Don't know where, don't know when.
Lovely to see you.
Well, I think it's wonderful. The number of people they have in there,
the fact that it's clearly not just fulfilling a need, but people
are really enjoying it is fantastic, it really is.
It's not a church building,
it's not a place that people would find for themselves where God is,
but what they find is kindness and love and friendship and support,
and I guess that's what we do. We're good Samaritans.
Many parents today are supporting relatives at both ends of life.
As well as looking after 14 churches and his own family,
Matthew Stafford manages the care
of wife Julie's elderly father, Charlie.
When I'm not obviously endeavouring
to do mighty works for Jesus, this...
This is what's taking up my time at the present moment.
Oh, my life! I'll need my glasses to read that e-mail.
He knows exactly who to ring and who the social worker was 14 years ago.
You know, he's got his box files everywhere.
All right, that's great. Thank you ever so much, Sue. Yeah, God love you.
He's very close to my mum and dad, so he...
He would do anything for them.
But you'll have noticed that Matthew's like that with everybody.
All right, we ready?
Matthew and Julie moved Charlie to a nearby care home
just under two years ago.
He only had two stipulations.
One, that he could bring his 52-inch telly,
and also that he could bring the budgie.
All right, Dad?
-Are you all right?
-Yeah, of course I am, apart from my hands.
-What's the matter with your hands today?
-Cold? Right, do your Spider-Man hands for me.
-This is you, looking like Scrooge.
-I am Scrooge.
You are? Well, I always thought you were a bit tight,
but I didn't like to say anything.
-Right, are you in?
-Yeah, I'm in.
I'll get you another drink. All right?
Charlie has dementia, and is losing his sight.
He's also lost a leg due to complications from diabetes.
In his heyday, he was a really witty
life and soul of the party personality, but...
It is what it is.
And you just have to make the best of a...
Of a bad job and you cherish the moment, because
you don't know how long he's going to be here for.
All right now, Dad.
Look after yourself.
Juggling the balls of life at times has not been easy,
and it's certainly taken its toll.
-See you later.
I think one of the joys of being a priest is the fact that you
can support other people in similar situations.
Because there's that phrase, you know, "We're all in it together."
It's Saturday night in Hereford.
Matthew's facing his first street pastor shift,
and town is looking lively.
So, just to let you know,
Echo Alpha's just informed us it's going to be probably quite a busy
night, and we've got a herd of cows and a group of zombies out.
Young people from all over this rural area pour into the city
for its nightlife.
Showing Matthew the ropes tonight is veteran street pastor Jocelyn.
So as we walk along now, we're always sort of keeping an eye out.
So, you know, looking down alleyways, into shop fronts,
in case there might be somebody slumped in the doorway.
-How you doing?
-So far so good?
-Yeah, for you.
-Oh, you're a treacle, you.
You're the best, mate.
I think people don't look at us and think,
"There's a bunch of Bible bashers or the God squad."
I think at best people look at us and go,
"They're the nice people that give us flip-flops, water and lollipops."
I think, at worst, it's, "Oh, well, here come the bunch of busybodies."
How you doing? Do you want a hand up? Or are you...?
You all right? You've only got one ladder.
I think you did quite well there.
How do I feel about young people going out drinking?
It's a sin! They should all be at home!
No, I don't think that. Of course not.
Young people going out drinking? That's me! Well, it was.
It's not any more.
It's a quieter, more reflective evening in Much Wenlock.
Dealing with dementia in his parish and personal life has prompted
Matthew to find ways for the church to help.
What is the first word that pops into your head when you heard the
He's invited Dave, a dementia champion,
to share ideas about caring for loved ones with the illness.
We have an expression in our house, and it's a text that we send one another when we've been to the home
to visit. We'll say, "Oh, Dad's had a real away with the mixer day today."
You know, it's... That the expression that we use.
You know, but it's just a way of coping.
Dementia affects 850,000 people across the UK.
As the average age of worshippers increases,
it's an issue the church can't ignore.
When my mother was in the home, she had this lady sitting next to her,
and she insisted it was her sister.
"This is my sister, I'm looking after her."
Dad, he vividly sees things and you just...
It's a difficult one, because there's those that say you're wrong
to collude, but equally there are occasions where you're far better
colluding, rather than bringing them back into reality.
Because, actually, it increases their stress level.
-That's right, yes.
-That's what it says in the book that I've got.
For me, this evening, it was quite enlightening
to actually hear other people's stories and experiences.
Anything that we can do as a church to pastorally support these people,
I'm going to go all out to make that my mission,
because it's impacting on me too and I like to think that because,
obviously, we are supporting somebody with dementia,
that puts you in a better place and a stronger position to support those
in a similar situation.
Back on the streets of Hereford, Matthew is busy saving soles.
Around 700 pairs of flip-flops are handed out in the city every year.
-Oh, look at that. Look at those.
-Wonderful pink flip-flops.
-Yes, they're from the church.
-Size five to six.
With pubs calling last orders,
the atmosphere is starting to get a little tense.
It's got to that kind of time of the evening when things do start
-Whoa, whoa, whoa.
-Yeah, well, we don't get involved in that.
-So we'll move over here.
-It feels prickly tonight.
Well, fingers crossed, it'll be all right.
If it's not, they'll end up down the shop.
One thing that I'm learning tonight is how many different words there are for a bit of a fight.
What you don't want to do is call the police necessarily to handbags.
-But you definitely want to call them to...
-A fracas. Yeah.
Last year, the Hereford teams helped over 400 serious incidents.
Fortunately, tonight, there's been more blisters than bust-ups.
Well done, Matthew.
Six hours and 16 pairs of flip-flops later...
How are you feeling?
Stiff, sore, tired.
I think four o'clock in the morning is definitely a test
-of anyone's Christian character.
I do this because this is my parish.
And part of where I serve
has a night-time economy that results in people going out,
having one too many every now and again, and they need help.
It's not about people finding God, it's not about people coming
to church on a Sunday because we've given them
a lollipop, it's about the living out of our Christian service.
Looking after people at all the different stages of life can be
challenging, but community,
church and of course family can ease life's most difficult passages.
Happy birthday, Dad.
# Happy birthday to you. #
-And how old...?
-Plenty of cards.
-Plenty of cards.
And how old are you today?
Today isn't just Charlie's birthday.
So are you ready, then?
It's also Matthew's.
# Happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us... #
You do cherish the moment because you don't know whether
you're going to share another birthday with him.
# Happy birthday to us. #
There we go. So, anyway, you and I have got something in common now,
Dad, because I've just chopped my leg off.
Not only do we share the same birthday,
we've both only got one leg.
So we're all right.
I genuinely love him to...
To bits. I couldn't ask
for a finer father-in-law because he is...
He is what he is, there's no sides to Charlie Atkinson.
You know, what you see is what you get.
-Is that all right?
-That's your treat.
So don't say I don't do anything for you.
We've been doing this
for 14 years, and I don't begrudge it, you know, one bit.
Because, to me, that's what...
What family is all about, looking out for one another,
and that's what we'll always do for Charlie.
Next time, Ruth battles to save local services...
I really believe that this is where we should be putting our resources.
..Matthew mucks in on the farm...
I'm worried there might be a stampede!
..and Nicolas is in a festive mood.
It's the season to be jolly!
With the dark days of winter drawing in the clergy of Hereford Diocese are working hard to bring light into people's lives. In Shropshire Matthew Stafford is determined to meet the needs of an increasingly ageing population, informed partly by his own experience. His father-in-law has complex needs and is in a local care home, and he also visits a couple who are struggling with dementia. Matthew wants to help others with dementia by making the church more accessible and understanding.
Father Matthew Cashmore is ministering to the other end of the age spectrum in Hereford. He's joining the local team of street pastors, who take care of people who need help on a heavy night out.
In the Black Mountains, isolation in later life is a real problem. Vicar Nicholas keeps a check on the elderly in his scattered parish, and visits a local lunch club initiative that has made a real difference to people's lives.