So that was Christmas.
My first Christmas back in Oxfordshire.
In Pontypridd, people used to say - "This will be your busy time of year then!" and I would smile a fixed, polite-enough smile and nod. It really wasn't that much busier than any other time of year. There were services to do, sermons to write, people to see, stuff happening. Life. And a few days off afterwards.
Here having three parishes, I got to do Christmas three times over. So yes, it turns out Christmas is my busy time of year. Good job I really enjoy it! (Christmas; and the job, come to think of it.)
In a way it's invidious to pick out highlights, but I guess people will forgive me if I pull out one or two.
That Tackley Christingle was super - in no small part because it was such a surprise. We held it on a Friday afternoon after school as an experiment, and it worked. The school there were totally wonderful to work with, and really supportive - I am only sorry I missed the children singing at the Tackley Carol Service as I was at Steeple at the time. The Steeple Carol Service was fantastic - in no small part to the wonderful musicianship of Jonathan who played organ & ran the choir. North Aston was also a delight; I'm only sorry I had to run from one to the other! Miranda was tremendously prescient & chose music that Kings sang a couple of days later... Again, I am surprised by how good the choirs were in each of the churches. Remember: our largest village has around 1,000 inhabitants, so it's a bit like expecting Portugal to field a football team.
Here is a snippet of the Steeple Carol Service.
And another highlight was hearing the children from the school in Steeple sing a carol I wrote for them at their school Christmas service. Yes, inevitably - here's that too!
Crib Services are new to me. I've never actually done one before in almost 20 years of being ordained. Well, old dogs do learn new tricks. Steeple's was massive, and needed all the crowd control techniques I've learned over the years (never let them see the fear) in order to get to the money moment ("because you matter to God - and you - and you..." and suddenly we have pin-drop quiet) but meanwhile in North Aston...
In North Aston we had the epitome of rural ministry. Steeple has a Crib which can only be described as a mansion. North has a fold out table covered with sawdust, a candle lantern, and knitted figures. Simple and yet stunning. As we all stood around and looked at this naive scene, there was a sudden intimacy which was breathtakingly pure. I loved it.
And I will mention the last of those three, but not for the church services, which were glorious (stunning candles in Tackley, unbelievable attendance in North). No; rather I'm going for earlier in the morning when Harry and I went for our usual woodland path walk, and suddenly heard a noise up ahead. Harry started, and made to move forwards, and then froze to the spot. In front of us, facing away, was a huge deer. For a moment it was still, and then it leapt away - one, two three enormous bounds and it was off. The dog and I had been rooted to the spot as we watched, and only as the deer disappeared did Harry shake himself and set off to follow - but it had gone. A beautiful moment in the early sunlight, a gift.
Oh - One more thing.
There are a couple of lovely people here who have been in hospital over Christmas. So I popped across to Witney see them between Christmas morning services and lunch. Just for a few minutes conversation, just to wish them Happy Christmas, to read a little Scripture, and to pray.
And I confess that in that hospital, with the background noise of too-loud TVs and nurses calling down the corridor and the smell of disinfectant and the glare of cheap decorations - I was profoundly and deeply touched by the Lord who was born in a stable in order to be God with us. Always.