The Little Christmas Tree – some ideas for 2020

Last year, I shared with you how my children’s Christmas book had taken on a new resonance as we considered the need to protect our wild spaces – the home of so many beautiful creatures. The story is set in a wood, and the characters are the woodland animals. You can read more about it in last year’s post here. As we’ve been in lockdown, many of us have experienced a closer bond with nature, realising how important the natural world is to us. In simple ways, we can deepen that bond. I am finding it helps to care for the creatures I share my garden with – in the last few weeks I’ve built – or assembled – a hedgehog house, and put up a new bird feeding station. It gives me joy to watch the birds through my window, even as I’m typing away here.

This year, the story’s themes of kindness and hospitality, of gentleness and welcome, matter greatly. At a time when so many people in our community are facing loneliness and hardship, considering how we can best help when our usual practices of hospitality are not possible is very important. For instance food banks, and our Little Free Pantry, are a good way of giving and sharing if we can. A reverse advent calendar, where you add something to a box for every day leading up to Christmas, can be a way of sharing.

So that’s a couple of ideas that draw on the themes of the book. They might be appropriate for Advent this year, things we can do as individuals, households, or maybe schools. I’d like to share with you some ideas from other people, too…

I’m finding it’s really hard to think about Christmas this year – what might be possible, and what might be wise. It’s hard to think of not seeing those we love as we would wish, and it’s hard not being able to plan ahead. But we can begin. I am greatly encouraged that people are making plans, and beginning to get in touch and share how they’d like to use my books this year.

Here is the sparkly paperback edition

I’ll share something else about The Little Christmas Tree here, and then, an idea for another book another day!

The first idea comes from Janeene Streather, who makes engaging Youtube videos using BSL. Her videos are for the deaf community, their families, and schools – many of whom integrate some BSL into their classrooms and assemblies. You can find a link to her channel here.

She would like to make a BSL video of The Little Christmas Tree, as part of her series of stories for children. Once again, I’ll post more details when I have them. I hope to share the link with you, so you can easily watch Janneene.

For all of us, we are used to being able to visit schools, or churches, or share our work with communities in other ways, and are unable to do so this year. But we can share here.

Please do use these ideas and resources, acknowledging the source. If you’d like to use my book, I’d love to hear your ideas from you, and share them on here if you’d like me to.

If you’d like a copy, you may well be able to order through your local bookshop even if it’s closed. Alternatively, there are the usual online places. I’m particularly excited about this new venture, though, and commend it to you….

Bookshop.org is a new enterprise which supports local bookshops while selling online. It’s applying for B corporation status in the UK, which means it operates to high ethical standards and makes a positive contribution to communities. You can read a newspaper article about it here.

If you follow this link, you’ll find my book The Little Christmas Tree on sale there.

You can also find it on Eden bookshops, and all the other online shops.

Note and Correction:

In an earlier version of this post, I shared an idea for an outside nativity. I’d got my wires crossed and thought it was using The Little Christmas Tree. It will be using another of my books, The Bible Story Retold. You can read all about that here. Apologies for the muddle!

Melton Little Free Pantry – Half Term update

Apologies for the blur – my mask was steaming up my glasses!

It’s half term here in the UK, and there’s a huge row going on about how to provide for those children and young people who are entitled to free school meals – will they go hungry this week? It breaks my heart that there are so many children who are at risk of hunger in our country, and that we don’t seem to be able to get our response together in time for this short holiday – after all, we knew it was coming. One of the things this crisis continues to do is to reveal things that may have been hidden, or we may have overlooked. Child poverty is one of these, and it’s an affront to us all that we aren’t, as a society, doing better to look after our kids and their families.

Of course, we need to look at long term, systemic solutions which genuinely help families to live good lives, but that long term thinking doesn’t help much if you or your child can’t sleep for hunger, or the fear of hunger. And so, we see once again the kindness and generosity of so many individuals and businesses – many themselves close to the edge – doing all they can to make sure children in their area have enough to eat.

In the light of this national effort, St Andrews Little Free Pantry is a small offering of love and care for and by the community in Melton, Suffolk. It may be just what someone needs, though, to help them through this time. Small, local things can make such a difference. Anyone can come along and take what they need, no questions. So, although I’ve been writing about the free school meals situation, I do want to emphasise that the pantry is available for all, whatever your reasons for visiting. You can just come along, and take what you need.

It’s stocked by donations, and anyone can bring food or toiletries along. Just leave them in the lobby of the church rooms, or by the rectory door.

It’s a little tucked away, so I took some photos so you can see where to go beforehand, that might help.

St Andrew’s Church, Melton, Suffolk.

To the right of the church is this little lane. Follow the sign to the Rectory, which has a paper sign directing you to the pantry.

When you get to the Rectory drive, turn sharp left – it’s fine to cut across the end of the drive – and you’ll see a little path leading down the side of the church rooms.

The door is to your left, and the pantry shelves are just inside.

You will see it’s open every day this half term week, 9-5. Normal social distancing applies. Just come along, and take what you need, leave what you can.

You can read more about the Little Free Pantry here.

Other local organisations which will help:

Woodbridge Salvation Army

The Teapot Project

Little Free Pantry Update

 

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Thank you Elaine for the pictures.

Some local friends will know about the wonderful Little Free Pantry at St Andrew’s Church, Melton, Suffolk, UK.  You can read more about it here.  This year, during the coronavirus crisis, it has been a valuable way for neighbours to show neighbours some love and care, but it’s had a bit of a bumpy ride.  For a while, we had to close it down while the church building was shut, and then, when it had been running again for a while, the church tower was struck by lightning making the porch unsafe.

I’m delighted to tell you, if you hadn’t heard on the grapevine, that the pantry is operating again – but this time, from the foyer of the church room at the other end of the building.  You can access it via the little lane and the rectory garden.  We’ve been blown away by the generosity of people leaving food for one another. Word of the new location is getting out, and people have been amazingly generous. We’re so glad that people are able to use it to both give and take food, for themselves or on behalf of someone else.

The principle of the pantry is so simple:

Give what you can, take what you need.

Just come, no questions asked.  You don’t have to meet anyone, or explain yourself.  It is open
Monday to Wednesday, 10 am to 5 pm.

Church room foyer, access via the lane and Rectory garden.

If you are standing in front of the Church, facing it on the pavement, go to the right of the building, past the end of the wall.  There’s a little lane.  Turn into the Rectory drive and immediately turn left – you only have to skirt through, you won’t be disturbing anyone or anything – and you’ll soon be passing the church bins and by the door to the Church room. Do come.
It’s such a good way for the community showing love and solidarity at a difficult time.  We’re aware people’s financial situations may be quite precarious at present, and want you to know that the pantry is there to help you and your family, as a sign of the love of the community, and God’s love unfolding in this place.

To all who use the pantry,  to give or receive or both, thank you and bless you.

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Some of the additional supplies.

 

 

Little Free Pantry update

This is just a quick post to thank the wonderful people of Melton and Woodbridge for keeping the Little Free Pantry well stocked during the coronavirus crisis.

It’s in the porch of St Andrew’s church, and is opened by volunteers every day.  We aim to have it available from 10 am to 5 pm seven days a week.

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Thank you to Elaine for the photos, and keeping an eye on things.  Thank you to everyone who has participated, either by giving or by taking food.

 

It’s very simple.

Give what you can, take what you need.

The porch is open, and unstaffed, so you are free to come and visit the pantry if there is no one else there, without coming in to contact with anyone else. You are free to bring food, or take food, or both. It’s free, and freely available.  It’s a sign of neighbours loving each other, and of the love of God which holds us all.

 

It’s so good that our community is working together in this way, taking care of each other.  A hopeful sign.

 

News from the Little Free Pantry.

 

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The pantry at its Harvest Festival launch

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you  may remember posts about the Little Free Pantry at St Andrew’s Church, Melton.  It’s a simple thing –  a place where anyone can leave some tins or other food, and anyone can take what they need.

 

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Today at lunchtime

It was so sad that at the beginning of the lockdown we had to close the pantry for a while, but gradually, and in stages, and with much thinking, work and adjustment, it’s now up and running again!

It’s back in the church porch, 10 am to 5 pm, seven days a week.   There’s an extra table, with more space for fresh produce.
The ususal rules of keeping two metres apart apply.
It’s open for both giving and taking, no need to talk to anyone, just give what you can, take what you need.

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I do believe it is a particularly important neighbourhood resource at the moment.  Shopping can be difficult for so many reasons – you or a family member may be vulnerable, money or time or transport may be hard to come by, the shopping experience may be anxious for all the kindness of the shopworkers.  The pantry is here, a sign of love, and of the hand of friendship we wish we could extend.

We have been so encouraged that people are making donations, and withdrawals, are joining in with this simple way of neighbours helping neighbours.

There are two other little free pantries in church porches nearby that we’ve heard of – in Grundisburg and Hasketon.  Do tell us if there are more.  It’s such a simple idea, and it works well with social isolation, maybe more places would like to set one up.

 

So, thank you to everyone who is using the pantry in any way.  May it bless you.

 

A Poem for a time of isolation – Rooted

Update: 3rd April 2020.
While out for our household proscribed exercise this evening, we saw a pair of water voles playing in the stream where I saw the one in the poem.  We stayed still for quite a while, and watched them in and out of holes in the bank, and back and forth across the stream.  It was such a joyous thing to see!  That, and the loud birdsong, and clear air, made a simple walk deeply satisfying.

I wrote this poem some time ago, after the joy of seeing a water vole in meadows near our home.  It’s an experience I think about a lot.  I thought about it today…. I will get back to the poem later, I promise, but I can’t go there yet.  I can’t get to that place of stillness right away, I have to look at the things immediately before us as far as I can. Here is today, this morning, a very small beginning of a change in how we live…..

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It’s so sad, this keeping away from ones you love.  I, like many of you, have cried at the thought of keeping away from family and friends, and also cried when I have heard of doctors cancelling their weddings, and keeping separate from their own families, and working in such difficult conditions, to try to treat those suffering from the effects of coronavirus.

I thought about this on a small trip to the corner shop – not sure whether even this is a good idea, with the slightest of sore throats.  I put on some old leather gloves, thin, so you can still open a purse, and pick things up,  an old fashioned form of contactless.

There were hardly any cars, which was pleasant, and made it easier for us pedestrians to step into the road to avoid each other.  I am grateful to those who counterbalanced this distance with a smile, and a hello. Two items only, for everything, in the shop, and even so, there was little. I knelt on the floor to retrieve the second last loaf of bread from the back of the lowest shelf, and thought that tomorrow, I would start baking my own as I felt so bad taking it. There was someone I knew in the shop, and our distant conversation, and distant air kissing, seemed to start a ripple of laughter, as others avoiding contact found they could still smile and wave to counterbalance the dance of solitariness, of avoiding each other, we were all keeping up, without music.

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As an antidote, back home, I planted three rows of veggies – borlotti beans, butter lettuce, red chard – these gentle things help.  What also helped was doing something that might help someone else….Yesterday, I tended the Little Free Pantry .  It’s a perfect way for people still out, but who want to avoid crowded shops, to pick up or donate some food. I also added my name to the list of local volunteers happy to put things on the doorstep of others isolated inside.  A little of this can help with anxiety.  It can help us be reconciled to the distance we have to keep from loved ones.

If we have to slow down, if we have to disengage, then maybe, having felt the anxiety, we can see if we can find some gifts within it.

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Mary Oliver

Maybe, even as we acknowledge the weightiness and pain of the current crisis, we can begin to imagine how the world might emerge, how we might emerge, differently, from it.

Have you heard that dolphins have returned to Venice, and that those living in Wuhan report that the sky is blue, and full of birdsong now?   Maybe, if we live more quietly, we will live more rootedly, more connected to our place and its people.  Maybe, given time, a less frenetic, more sustaining way of being might be made.  Maybe, we have an opportunity now, for some kind of a beginning, if not anew, then perhaps differently.

What would you like it to be? What kind of world, what kind of way of living, do we want?

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HOW TO BE ROOTED

First, you must suspend
all effort, all purpose.

Simply crouch in the damp,
thick grass, and feel your
sense of self seep through
your skin, your feet, into the
air – the earth – the water.

And as the muscles
around your eyes slacken,
and you let in light,
you become aware
of a nuzzling in the
grass, an earth-dark
water vole sliding
into green water.

As your heart slows
a pheasant walks by,
bright among the grasses,
and three ducks fly low
under the oaks, the
beat of  wings
all about you.

Stay still, and you will
sense the scrape
of the crickets through
the back of your hand,
and the tiny spiders,
yellow with newness,
weaving through your hair.
So that, when the
strong green tendrils
of the earth begin to
creep about your feet,
you will know in wonder
that rare thing –
how the world is,

unseen.

 

May you be blessed, and well.  May you breathe deeply, and freely, may you know you are loved and connected to all, may you feel peace.

 

Jesus said, ‘I Am’ – for Lent. Chapter 2, Bread

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The Little Free Pantry  at St Andrew’s Melton. A community food sharing project.

John 6:1-15, 25-35

We are following my book for Lent – thank you for joining me.  I hope you find it helps.

As Lent begins, we think of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness, and the hunger and temptations he faced there.

Matthew 4:1-11

The first of these was to turn stones into bread, so it seems good to think about this first of the traditional I Am sayings at the beginning of Lent. Those two occasions of considering bread, or not, in the wilderness – the temptation, and the feeding of the five thousand – offer interesting contrasts.  You might like to hold them both in your mind as we proceed, seeing what light they might throw on each other.

Jesus fed a hungry crowd.  They had followed him to a remote place by the lake, where there was nowhere for them to get food.  There, he gave them bread to sustain them, and later he said he himself was bread – bread that came down from heaven, the bread of the life of the world.  Not surprisingly, they were mystified.

Some may be fasting during Lent, and this idea of following Jesus to a remote place, and finding that Jesus is bread, is coming to be your experience.  Maybe, imagining yourself into the story,  you see yourself as one of the hungry crowd.  Maybe you are one of the hungry crowd. Maybe lack of food is not a chosen discipline, but your economic experience.

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus spent time in the wilderness where he fasted, prayed and was tempted.  One of the temptations the hungry Jesus faced was turning stones into bread.  Jesus answers, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God””….. but as Jesus answers the temptation we are reminded of a deep thread in Hebrew thought – that the wisdom, the mind of God, the Word, nourishes and sustains us like food….. God feeds us like bread.  This way of seeing helps us remember that our inbuilt need for God is a deep hunger.

In Jesus, tempted in the wilderness, we see a paradox.  Jesus, this Word made flesh, feels hunger like us, needs bread like us.  Now, astonishingly, after this feeding of the hungry people, he says that he is bread, and that he will be broken for us.  This Word made flesh has become bread for us…..

Knowing that there is more than one sort of hunger, that the hunger of our hearts and souls is real too, does not mean that the hunger of the body is less important.  Jesus feeds the hungry people.  He feeds all of them.

Firstly, we notice who was fed: everyone, all that multitude.  Here we see the extravagant generosity of Jesus, and the extent of human need.  Bread was given to all the hungry people who were in the crowd: there is no payment, no worthiness criteria, no belief criteria in this feeding; simply, if you come, you will be fed.

All who need it receive bread.

The tradition of fasting in Lent was always coupled with acts of service.  As we think about hunger – our own, and others – we can think too of ways of feeding that hunger.  There is an abundance and a generosity in this story of feeding so many that can liberate us into our own giving. We think of the small child who gave the little he had.

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And so, we see what Jesus does with the little he has been given by a child: he takes it in his hands, gives thanks, and then gives it away…… He gives thanks for the little he holds before it is enough.  This is another practice we can engage with: thanksgiving.  It is a powerful way of shifting us from a perspective of scarcity and anxiety to one of gratitude, of noticing the good and the blessing and the small loaves among so many hungry people. …..

Jesus models many things here for his followers: compassion for the hungry, a desire to help, seeing much in little and giving thanks.  After all have eaten, Jesus tells the disciples to gather all the broken fragments up, and there are twelve basketfuls.  Nothing is wasted………..

As we seek to find ways of living out these I Am sayings, perhaps we too can be a people who gather up the broken pieces, so that nothing and no one is wasted and lost.  It humbles us, it involves us stooping and searching for each broken thing.  By gathering the broken, we are following Jesus’ instruction and example.  The kingdom is the very opposite of a throwaway society.

 

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Reflection and Response

Enough, not enough?

Sometimes we can look at the little we have at our disposal, and the greatness of the needs we see, and be overwhelmed.  Look at the exchange between Andrew and Jesus. What have you to offer? Where do you feel a lack? Meditate on this scene, bringing objects that represent what you have and where you feel a lack, and lay them before you.  Use words and paper if more practical.  Ask Jesus to bless them and give thanks for them.

Make a practice of always doing the little you can, and asking Jesus to bless it and multiply it.  What do you notice as you do so?

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If you have done the meditation above, and you have considered that you may have some financial resources, or cooking ability, you might like to move to the next activity.  If not, feel free to adapt to find some way to be generous – giving attention, a smile, a blessing, can transform things.
If you feel very empty right now, do think on the hunger of the crowd, and how they were fed.  It is good to ask for what you need.

Bread for a hungry world: social action
Feeding people was a sign of God’s kingdom.  How can we live that out where we are – open-handed – thankful for what we receive, ready to share? Perhaps there are food banks or homeless people near you for whom you  can buy food.  Perhaps you can cook and share what you have made. Perhaps you can support a charity that feeds the hungry.

If you are fasting from any  sort of food, you could consider buying it anyway and putting it in the food bank.  Our little local Co-op supermarket has a collection box for the Salvation Army.  Our church porch has a Little Free Pantry – simply a set of shelves that anyone is free to donate to, and receive from, at any time.  It’s easy to set one up. You can find out more following the link under the picture at the top of this post.

Let nothing be wasted.
Set yourself a challenge for the week: to avoid waste, especially food waste.

 

Think about these three things, and how to make them your practice this week:
gratitude, generosity, avoiding waste.

 

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Vincent Van Gogh

You might like to extend your reading with thinking about The Sower and the Seed or small seeds from the Sunday Retold series.

A blessing for food from Prayers and Verses

Lord Jesus, who broke bread beside the lake and all were fed,
thank you for feeding us.
Lord Jesus, who asked his disciples to pass food to the crowds,
may we do the same.
Lord Jesus, who saw to it that all the spare food was gathered,
may we let no good thing go to waste.
Lord Jesus, who gave thanks,
we thank you now.

 

If you’d like a copy of the book, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

 

A link to Malcolm Guite’s thoughtful sonnet on this saying can be found here.

Little Free Pantry in the East Anglian Daily Times!

Our regional newspaper, the East Anglian Daily Times, has picked up the story of Melton St Andrew’s community food project.  This is such good news!

It’s online now, you can find it here and it’s in today’s print edition, Thursday 5th December 2019.

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Take a look at the top shelf on those photos.  Do you see the model of St Andrew’s?  That was such a lovely surprise on Thursday, to find that a young person had made us a careful and colourful model of the church, and left it on the shelves for us.  Thank you to you. That was such a generous gift of your time and talents.  It seems very much in the spirit of the Little Free Pantry.

Generosity grows and spreads.
Here’s a close up of the article, although it’s easier to read online.

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I do want to say that this is a community project.  It’s received a huge amount of encouragement and support from the Church community – someone made the bunting, someone hand drew posters, people come in each day and check all’s well, people notice what goes quickly so we can replace it.  People from the whole neighbourhood contribute by both giving and receiving.

 

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Our pantry at Harvest

We started the project at Harvest, which was very appropriate.  What we’re finding is that we’re noticing things in the Advent readings that I, for one, hadn’t paid enough attention to before.

For instance, as we’re thinking about the prophets, and their message of hope in this first week of Advent, there’s this, from Isaiah 58:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
 if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
 The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

 

These words seem very powerful right now – as do, always, the revolutionary words Mary spoke when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  Two women carrying children.  This is my paraphrase of what Mary said:

I’m so full of joy my spirit is dancing
before God, my Lord, my Saviour.
God did not turn away from me
because I am poor, and now
I will be called blessed by all
the generations yet to come.

God, the great, the holy,
has done so much for me.
God brings down the powerful,
but lifts up the weak.
The well fed are empty,
and the table of the hungry
is piled high with good things.

God looks at us with kindness,
giving hope to the hopeless,
caring for those who trust him,
remembering his promises to our people.

 

We know that local community food projects are appearing in many places – and some are long established. We’re the first pin on the map for the UK on the Little Free Pantry website, and it’s a model that’s very simple, very easy to set up. We hope others will be encouraged to do something similar. Wouldn’t it be good if more community food projects sprang up all over the place?  Our hope is for a society where they are not needed, and we can work for that, as Isaiah says.  Change is possible, on the grand scale – the national scale, and on the very small scale too.

We can do both. We can make a difference this Advent.

Perhaps we can find some time for making and sharing, some moments of peace and connection, some moments to hold onto hope in midwinter days.

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Advent ring from The Chapel in the Fields.