Month: February 2009

The Kings Castle

The Kings Castle

What could Elvis, Rob Parsons and cot death possibly have in common? I have a suspicion that the answer involves a certain lady who does not possess a wooden heart. More likely this hard headed woman responded to an invitation by telephone from Rob Parsons (of 60 minute father fame) to support a charity event in aid of research into cot death. However, Fiona Castle had not envisaged herself embarking on the mystery train at 4.45am on New Years day and ending up in the sea in South West Wales, at the start of their conversation.

Funny how deciding to follow that dream she had made the night before meant donning blue suede shoes, charity shop leather trousers and a black wig and dark glasses as an Elvis look a like. Sometimes when we get involved in something bigger than you or I we don’t imagine how funny we might have to appear to others. Yet Fiona cared little that suspicious minds might cast disapproving looks and wonder if she was actually the devil in disguise as she joined Rob Parsons and the hoards of others who gathered at midday outside the local pub, locally known as Heartbreak Hotel.

Fiona gallantly gave a few words to those present, including the local press, and what seemed like the entire village. Embracing her own humanity she acknowledged that ‘fools rush in’ and perhaps she might have been better to return to sender the invitation! However, fuelled with passion for a great cause she announced it’s now or never, as she encouraged all fellow Elvis impersonators to jump into the sea to protect the lives of little ones. Around 40 Elvis would be’s who had just finished crying in the chapel, braved the -1 temperatures and plunged into the icy waters knowing they’d never walk alone even if they went under together.

After a minute and a half Fiona emerged victoriously despite looking like a bedraggled hound dog, and feeling all shook up she tried to dry off in true canine fashion. Still feeling very damp she returned to the little cottage that belonged to Rob Parsons in order to put something warmer on and prevent a fever. Opening the door Rob was surprised to see Fiona’s dripping attire. Fearing for his carpets she suggested ‘I could drop my trousers before I come in’! Fortunately Rob saw the amusing side to Fiona’s concerned remark and tactfully suggested she remain fully clothed until she reached the bathroom.

Once dry and fully dressed as herself, Fiona acknowledged that thanks to the rolling sea the lives of vulnerable children had been supported and a community brought together. Rob remarked ‘this will be always on my mind’ as they parted company and the blue moon rose across the sky line.

Perhaps Fiona’s next charity event will be somewhere dryer and warmer. Viva las Vegas!

What ever you decide Fiona, we’ll fondly be musing that’s the wonder of you.

So what about us mere mortals who shudder at the prospect of donning a black wig, or being submerged in freezing water or even offering to drop our trousers for the sake of a good cause? Whilst becoming an Elvis look like might not be your ‘thing’, how about seeing what charity events you could join in your area? A sponsored walk for breast cancer, a fun run for a local charity, or a pancake ‘bake-athon’ are all great ways to get to know a new group of people. Whatever you get up to let us know how you get on – with photos – and we can include them on the website to encourage others.

A Sure Start for 2009!

It’s a case of “New Year, New Job” for me this year. I’m now part of the “Qualified Teacher Team” for the six SureStart Children’s centres across our town.

Children’s centres are places where children under five years old and their families can receive integrated services and information. These services vary according to centre but can include early education and childcare, support for parents, access to specialist services for families, child and family health services and helping parents into work with links to the local Jobcentre Plus.

Sure Start grew out of the recognition that deprivation was blighting the lives of too many children and families in disadvantaged areas. The remit was to bring together early education, childcare, health and family support for young children and their parents. By 2010 there will be 3,500 children’s centres, one for every community to ensure that every child gets the best start in life. The Government’s vision is that every child and young person should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. The aim of Sure Start Children’s Centres is to improve outcomes for all children. As you can imagine, these aims sit very well with my faith.

I’ve only been in the job six weeks and already I have noticed lots of opportunities for all of us to make a difference in the context of SureStart Centres.

Local authorities have been given responsibility for childre

n’s centres. They are planning the location and development of centres to meet the needs of each area, in consultation with members of the local community. This is a great opportunity to be involved. Our area is looking to set up locality forums for each centre, at least some of which hope to include local church leaders.

And there are really easy practical ways to get involved too. Some centres accept donations of baby equipment (prams, cots etc) for distribution to those who could not afford to buy them. Some centres are looking for volunteers to contribute to the activities running in the centres. But most of all, it’s a great place to take your pre-school child or grandchild and meet people. Some people think that you have to be receiving benefits to access the centres but this is not the case. So pop down to your local centre, have a chat, meet some new people and maybe you’ll stumble upon a wealth of opportunities down a new path that God has prepared for you.

PS. Some of the centres have coffee shops – so rest assured us Activate girls can be kept in the level of coffee and chocolate supply that we have become accustomed to!

Sledging on a Surf Board

Last week we had the most amazing snowfall in the South of England, the best I have seen in five years of living in Dorset and the biggest for 18 years according to locals. Of course, there were disrupted plans, blocked roads and the pavements became treacherous for vulnerable people. But I was struck by the beauty of this new white-clad, sparkling creation as I woke up that first quiet morning. My children dashed outside before breakfast and came back in freezing and glowing at the same time.

There were difficult decisions to be made about journeys, work and school commitments. But as this snow is such a rare occurrence, I did my best to ensure that we were out finding a good place to sledge as soon as possible. Being originally from Northern Scotland, we still had a sledge in the garage and were able to dust it down. When we arrived at what I thought would be a quiet hill, there were lots of others who had the same idea and the excitement in the air was as noticeable as the screams of delight from children and youngsters hurtling down the slopes. What surprised me was the amazing assortment of sledging materials that people had gathered and were using. We saw a family jumping in together to an inflatable rubber dinghy. There were toddlers being gently pushed on baby changing mats. There was a family making brave attempts on an upturned surf board and quite a few on improvised kitchen cupboards or plastic bags. Living in a sheltered part of the south coast meant that very few families had custom sledges waiting for them in the garage or shed, there isn’t much point when it snows so rarely. Trying to make it to the sports or toy shop to buy one might have used up precious time. Waiting for a bargain one to arrive through an email purchase was not an option. The fresh shining snow was destined to only last a few hours and those who improvised and just got on with it were the ones to enjoy.
As I stood at the top of the hill I thought of the phrase ‘seize the day’. For us, it was even more immediate, ‘seize the hour’ perhaps. There were those who stayed at home, waiting for the chance to get prepared, buy a proper sledge in the future. Maybe next week, perhaps next year.
When it comes to sharing our faith, I wonder if we sometimes sit around and wait for better preparation, another course, a different day. Do we catch ourselves saying – ‘when I know them better’, ‘when I have more time’? Someone said to me recently – ‘Why has no one told me about Jesus dying for me before?’
Seize every opportunity to listen, be open, talk frankly. It doesn’t have to be custom built, just be yourself and go for it. God sent that wonderful snowy day and all we had to do was walk out into it. God will give you opportunities to chat about Him, look out for them. Whizz down those slopes…

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