Following the lives of country vicars. The festive season is a busy time for clergy in Hereford Diocese, which is covered in an early blanket of snow.
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More tea, Vicar? Yeah, go on, then.
Vicars, pillars of the community...
Are we 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.
One thing I am learning tonight
is how many different words there are for a bit of a fight.
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.
I think there is a gulf between the church and young people.
In this series, vicars from Hereford,
the Church of England's most rural diocese,
let us into their life and work...
..fighting to save community services...
I really believe that this is where we should be putting our resources.
..mucking in down on the farm...
I'm worried there might be a stampede.
..and getting into the festive spirit.
It's the season to be jolly!
It's all part of A Vicar's Life.
Winter is approaching in Hereford...
..where Vicar Ruth Holst is off for a manicure.
She's offered herself up as a model for a trainee beautician.
I'm going to Horizon,
which is a training facility for 16 to 18-year-olds,
who, perhaps, don't fit in to education.
It's almost labelled as the bad kids' training centre,
the bad kids' school, and it's really not.
With my youth work background,
I'd really like to see if I can offer any help or support,
and just get to know them a little bit better.
-Are you Tyler?
-Hi, nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
-Hiya, I'm Ruth.
17-year-old Tyler started here a month ago,
on a City & Guilds beauty course.
-Can I just have a look at your nails?
-You want to have a look?
They're awful at the minute!
Tyler has spent much of her life in care.
How old were you when you first went into care?
Um, I don't actually know.
There is, like, different types.
foster homes, care homes,
and then sometimes you can just go to, like, a respite,
so it's, like, different things.
I just got an apprenticeship.
Oh, well done.
So what would your, kind of, hopes be
for when you get the qualification?
And, hopefully, you get the job after the apprenticeship?
I want to go to university.
Yeah? And do what?
I feel like I'm in a proper beauty salon.
Tailored individual training is what makes this place so effective
in helping young people like Tyler.
But the centre is run by a charitable trust,
and needs all the help it can get.
It would just be really good if people understood what went on here,
and valued what this place brings to the young people's lives.
And we will see what we can do as a church, practically,
actually to meet the needs of the community around us.
It's early December
and a heavy blanket of snow has fallen across the diocese.
Four-year-old Edmund is enjoying his first-ever snowball fight.
-Almost as much as his dad, Father Matthew.
Have you made an angel?
It's a winter wonderland
in the Black Mountains.
But unlike his dogs,
the Reverend Nicholas Lowton is not in the mood for frolics.
I, personally, hate snow.
Because it's just a nuisance, as it's being at the moment.
I don't mind it being up on the mountains,
it's when it's down here it's not so good.
But, no, that does look...
There are two weeks to Christmas,
one of the busiest times in a vicar's calendar.
Of course, Christmas, if we are going to be pious about it,
which I can be, um,
Christmas begins on the evening of December 24th.
I think what's sad for some people
is that by the time Christmas itself actually comes,
they're probably fed up with the whole thing.
The Advent season is one of preparation,
and prepare yourself does not mean getting all the shopping in,
getting all the presents bought,
and getting all the cards written.
It means preparing yourself, um,
for the great and wonderful message that we hear at Christmas time.
Back at home...
It's the season to be jolly.
But there's not a bow of holly to be seen in the vicar's study,
where preparations are underway for Craswall's Carol service.
Well, we start with Once In Royal David's City,
because if we don't there'll be some sort of international incident.
We've then got See Amid The Winter's Snow,
which is curiously prescient.
Ding Dong Merrily On High.
That's put in as a teensy-weensy bit of a joke, because,
you know, it's going to be a disaster with 250 people singing it.
Silent Night, Holy Night - that's OK. The First Noel.
The First Noel, I actually hate.
Because it's far too high, and it's...eurgh!
I've put in, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
We always have that one, cos it's long.
And if you're going to take a collection,
then that's a useful to have in.
And then we have Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
That's one carol service, isn't that good?
So, all I need to do...
..is another 250 of those!
How much time have you got?
Further north, in Much Wenlock, it's looking a lot more like Christmas.
Could be good, just watch the tuning ever so slightly.
And, as the choir rehearses for their carol service...
..it's starting to sound like it too.
But whilst the church is keeping it traditional,
Reverend Matthew Stafford prefers a less restrained look
for the rectory.
Come on, Santa, ho-ho!
I mean, the lovely thing about the Christmas story
is that we're reminding that God's love extends to all.
God wants our light to shine.
Right, the countdown to Wenlock Christmas.
Five, four, three, two, one...
Yes! It works.
Setting up the piano is my favourite bit.
Usually the choir at some point will come over Christmas,
and they all gather around the piano and we all sing carols.
So I like to make sure that the piano is just right.
By the time you've gone through all the Christmas services,
you're not overly sociable,
so we like the fact that you just close that rectory door,
get the dinner going, have a gin and Dubonnet,
watch a bit of trashy telly,
sit in front of the fire, and we're quite happy, aren't we?
With Matthew devoting so much time to caring for others,
his wife, Julie, is focused on care needs closer to home.
Both their teenage sons, Conall and Oran are on the autism spectrum.
Now that the boys are older, and can be left, you know, for a few hours,
it frees me up to maybe help other families.
Having children with learning difficulties, many people judge you,
and judge the way you manage your children,
or challenge how they behave or interact.
I wouldn't have them any other way.
And the reason why they are thriving is team effort.
I have to say, it's my Julie that has given up her career
to ensure that their needs are met,
and we were very fortunate that we were able to do that.
History is going all right.
I used to say I didn't like history, but I've taken it back now.
Oran is studying for A-levels, but like many a teenager,
he needs a bit of a push.
You know, you have autism, but you are a typical...
that grunts, "Urgh! What, Mam? What? What do you want, Mam?"
I wasn't the brightest ticket in the box, and I don't mean that unkindly,
-but I wasn't...
But, I mean, it's a different kettle of fish for you, Oran,
because you are a bright lad.
You've got the potential to get three decent A-levels.
Just give it your best shot.
Just have a go.
Just have a go. So that's why your dad is twitchy, because, you know,
I don't want you...
-To turn out like your dad!
I don't want you... Ha-ha, to make the same mistake as your dad did,
-and not use...
-Not waste your time...
-Not use your time wisely.
At Holy Trinity Vicarage,
Ruth's boys are making the most of the snow.
But the vicar herself has had some bad news.
Horizon training's lease has expired.
They have to raise £55,000 to secure new premises -
money they don't have.
I can't believe it.
Currently, the plan is that they would like to buy some premises
that are further down the road, but they need quite a lot of money,
so we are trying to raise awareness of that, get people to donate,
get them some way to raise this money.
The training centre badly needs funds,
but Ruth's keen to help in other ways too.
Today, she is taking the midweek communion service
for the faithful few.
We get anywhere between five and ten, sometimes 12.
-Good morning, everybody.
I hope you're not too cold, and I hope you're in good voice.
Amongst Ruth's congregation are people with life experience to offer,
and time on their hands.
One of them is Rita, who lost her husband three years ago.
I just couldn't cope with going home to this empty seat,
and this one day I just turned into the church,
and I was having a real...
..anxiety attack, really.
And basically, they rescued me.
And I've been coming here for the last three years, ever since.
They teach them maths and English, and they teach them carpentry,
and building work and catering, and beauty and ICT.
The training centre needs volunteers
to help its students with one-to-one support.
Yeah, we're just trying to ask people to
volunteer a bit of time.
And Rita has already put her name down, haven't you?
Rita is fantastic.
Rita is the grandmother that everybody wants.
I'm not sure she'd like me saying that, but she's just gentle,
she's patient, she's got this lovely sense of humour,
and this twinkle in her eye, so for her going to volunteer,
it will just be a very gentle presence,
just an encouragement and a support to those young people.
In the north of the diocese, in Shropshire,
there is a different kind of youth project.
Tickwood is owned by Edward...
..who has transformed his family farm
into an outdoor learning centre
for young people with special needs.
-Well done, Lewis.
Edward is keen to get the church more involved,
so he's called in local vicar, Matthew.
I'm glad those snowballs are not stones!
-THEY ALL SING
-# So glad you're having... #
Matthew already knows Edward from the church choir.
Along with other skills, singing is encouraged here
as a great way to boost confidence.
What we're doing, in this very small way at the moment,
is practical experience in farming, in gardening, in cooking,
and then for some of them it's doing a qualification.
But a meaningful qualification.
The aim is that the young adults that come here
actually are better prepared for the workplace
than your average young adult out of mainstream.
Here you are, my loves.
I just hope I'm doing it right.
I'm worried there might be a stampede!
One of the farm's most remarkable success stories
is 27-year-old farmhand Ian.
Here you are, Ian. You're going to have to show me what to do.
Do I just have to sprinkle it along, do I?
Like Matthew's sons, Ian is on the autism spectrum,
but he also has a severe learning disability.
Ian had the most complex needs of anybody on the farm.
He didn't really speak, he didn't look you in the eye,
just completely within himself.
But over the last two years, it's been staggering, the change in him.
So much, in fact, that he's even picking up the bug for singing.
Do you know Silent Night a little bit?
-# All is...
-Where's Simon Cowell when you need him?
I know! I'd definitely vote for you, Ian, any day.
Well done, Ian.
This is not just about doing jobs, it's about social life,
It's about talking. It's about him feeling part of the community.
With Ian's new-found love of carols,
Matthew might have the perfect community occasion.
Do you fancy coming to the carol service on Sunday night?
-Please, half past six then.
That's a date then.
And then you can improve the quality of Silent Night, that night.
I'm really quite speechless and humbled.
We live in this age where we're quick to make judgments
about people, and write people off.
And here is a guy that's thriving, and making a difference,
not only in his own life,
but in the lives of other people
by the contribution that he's making here at Tickwood.
So, well done, Ian, all I can say.
Nurturing challenging young people requires time and patience.
Hello. I've come to read with Keegan.
In Hereford, church volunteer Rita
has arrived for her first mentoring session at Horizon training.
She'll be working with 17-year-old Keegan, a gifted carpenter,
who struggles academically.
I can't read and write.
Nobody's really got an answer for it.
I wish there was one.
They say I can't see the words, I can see the words,
but I just can't put them in to, like,
reading form, basically.
But I'd love to just sit down and read a book.
It's this kind of help that Ruth is hoping
church volunteers like Rita can offer.
-How are you?
-I'm Jeff. I'm the construction tutor.
-Nice to meet you.
Keegan, this is Rita.
-Nice to see you.
Yeah. She's coming to have a chat.
I think there is a gulf between the church and young people...
..but I do think the church needs to make that first move
in order to bridge that gap,
and to show young people that the church is not there
for what they can get out of them,
but the church is there for what we can offer them, and give them,
and how we can support and encourage them.
-Nine and three are?
Keegan is studying maths today.
-And add one more?
So, three down.
He can handle the sums, but he needs help with the instructions.
Look at the example below, that's here,
and try to answer these sums in the same way.
So the example is 16 minus 4?
Two down, carry one.
Our congregation have experience, they have skills,
they have time to offer.
And elderly people benefit from having an experience of the life
that's within young people, so I really think it works both ways.
He's very good at the practical stuff, I just hope...
..it clicks with him eventually, the theory side of it all.
He's got a really good future ahead of him.
She was nice about it. She was actually helping me.
If she does come back, it would be nice...
..but I won't be shocked if she doesn't.
Just down the road at Holy Trinity, it's a busy night
for Ruth, Matthew, and the West Hereford team.
Can you tell I've folded lots of service sheets in my time?
Tonight, they are holding an auction of promises
to raise funds for the church.
£30? 30 bid.
We've got tickets to Gloucester Rugby Club,
a limited edition print,
we've got a walk-on part in a pantomime,
which I think is going to be quite a popular one.
We've got a ride in a Porsche with a rally car driver.
We've got meals, we've got tickets, we've got experiences.
We've got loads of stuff.
29? 30? 30 bid.
One lot has caught the eye of Ruth's husband, John.
A much-needed night out, complete with a baby-sitter!
£40. In the middle there, seated.
I'm trying to ignore how much money he's spending.
Will anybody give me five? Selling at 50.
32, thank you.
Curate Matthew Cashmore is after a walk-on part in a panto.
I'm having this!
But someone else has his eye on the prize.
His boss, team rector Rob North.
You can have it.
Going at 85, £85. 85 here. 85.
It's been a lot of fun.
Made quite a bit of money.
Um, yeah, and there's a good atmosphere, so...
Yeah, I think it's gone really well.
Thank you all very much indeed.
You've been a wonderful congregation.
Hello, how are we all?
-Excellent, thank you.
With just six days until Christmas,
Nicholas is getting a little more into the festive spirit.
Tonight, it's the Craswall carol service.
Hello there, how are we all?
You are wonderful.
Twice in one day, I note.
It's the first time ever I've done carols here.
So I thought it might be quite interesting
to see what the response was
and, from what I can see, we have a church which is embarrassingly full.
It'll be lovely because, if the church is full,
people are going to sing really loudly. Won't you, Janet?
Let's get this show on the road!
# Once in royal David's city
# Stood a lowly cattle shed... #
The funny thing about Christmas
is that it's probably the one episode in the Bible
of which people have some sort of knowledge.
What would be really wonderful,
would be if people knew more of the story of Jesus's life,
Jesus's death, and Jesus's resurrection.
For to us a Child is born,
to us a Son is given.
His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor.
The Christian message is about a life of sacrificial love,
culminating in the greatest act of sacrificial love
the world has ever known,
followed by the joy of the knowledge...
..that death is nothing and Jesus is with us.
Now, that is... The knowledge of that, can only be life-changing.
In Shropshire, Much Wenlock's annual carol service
is about to begin.
When do I blow it out?
At "Once in royal"? Or after "Once in royal"?
-After you've gone in.
It's a big night for the choir
but sitting at the back of the church,
it's an even bigger deal for Tickwood's farmhand, Ian.
He's accepted Matthew's invitation,
much to the delight of his boss, Edward.
It's fantastic that Ian could come to such a large gathering,
in close contact with lots of people...
..and lots of noise, it's brilliant.
Singing in church holds a particularly special place
in Matthew's heart.
I learned to read through singing.
I didn't actually read till I was seven.
And it's no coincidence that I actually learned to read
by singing in a church choir,
and that's why I love the New English Hymnal.
# Bless all the dear children
# In thy tender care... #
Singing lifts people's spirits.
And you go away feeling that much more refreshed,
and have a greater perspective
on what to and what not to worry about.
The blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
rest upon you and those you love, this day, this Christmastide,
and always. Amen.
So, thank you ever so much for coming, Ian.
Take care. And you have a happy Christmas, all right.
What do you say? Ho-ho-ho!
I think we need to strive for a more tolerant society.
Regardless of who we are,
nothing should prohibit anyone being able to thrive,
and make a worthy contribution to society.
For many, Christmas is a time for reaching out to others.
What do you call two happy mushrooms?
Ruth and her colleagues are at a Christmas feast
for Holy Trinity lunch club.
It's a much-loved social group for church members,
many of whom live alone.
Why did the tomato blush?
Because it saw the salad dressing!
Oh, terrific, thank you very much. Thank you. That's wonderful.
They've chosen to eat in the cafe at Horizon's training centre,
as a gesture of support.
And with the centre facing an uncertain future,
Ruth has a little bit of good news.
We've agreed that some of the money
that we raised from the promises auction between the four churches,
is going to go to help the work of Horizon training
in this time when they've got so much need,
and need to raise so much money for these new premises.
So I'm really pleased about that.
And trainee carpenter Keegan has a new mentor.
I popped back in to see Keegan, and in the New Year,
I'm hoping to see him at least once a week.
And he seems a lovely lad,
and I think we should get on well together.
Let's have a toast to a very happy Christmas,
and to all those who've provided for us today.
Christian life is borne out in love.
So whether it's Horizon, whether it's homeless people,
whether it's visiting, whether it's showing love to a bereaved person,
it's all borne out of God loving us, through Jesus.
A vicar's life is to be part of the community that you serve,
and I could not imagine doing anything else.
I absolutely love it.
The festive season is a busy time for clergy in Hereford Diocese, which is covered in an early blanket of snow. But whilst there are services to prepare for, there is also important pastoral work to be done to reach out to the wider community. Vicar Ruth Hulse visits a local training centre for young people who have struggled in mainstream education. But when she discovers that its future is threatened due to funding problems, she resolves to increase the support of the church.
In Shropshire, Matthew Stafford is lending his support to a local farm, run by a member of his choir, that helps young people with special needs. Here, caring for animals - not to mention plenty of singing - has achieved spectacular results. In the Black Mountains, Vicar Nicholas is snowed in. His spaniels enjoy the snow more than he does, but it gives him a welcome opportunity to prepare for his carol service and offer his thoughts on the carols he loves, and others he hates.