Friday, December 02, 2011

And so a tradition was born

Yesterday I went out for lunch. Hardly earth-shattering news, you might say, and you’d be right. But it was a very satisfying lunch for me in more ways than the obvious one, because it was the 10th such lunch in a series that goes back to my early days as the vicar of three country parishes.

I arrived in the parishes in the spring of 2001, in the middle of the appalling foot-and-mouth epidemic which ravaged so much of rural Britain that year. On my arrival I found three welcoming and hard-working congregations, a number of deeply-worried farmers and a moribund branch of that stalwart Anglican organisation, the Mothers’ Union.  

Like the Women’s Institute, the Mothers’ Union can often be the butt of jokes and the victim of some misunderstanding, but it’s an organisation for which I have a great deal of time and respect. Yes, its members are mostly on the wrong side of 50, but that’s true of a lot of organisations nowadays, both religious and secular. In today’s pressured world, how many younger people, desperately juggling work and family commitments and also trying to have a bit of time for themselves, have much time or energy to spare for joining things?

I joined the MU, as it’s usually known to its members, twenty years ago, when I was curate in a small market town. The branch I joined was large and lively and made a big contribution to parish life. Its monthly meetings had interesting speakers and were very enjoyable and I quickly learned to value the way in which the MU encourages its members to get involved in a wide range of socially useful projects, from making tiny baby clothes for premature babies to running parenting courses or helping to staff contact centres for separated parents or crèches for those visiting prison.

In my time as a member, among many other activities I’ve knitted baby clothes, raised money for literacy programmes for women in Africa and collected toiletries for the local women’s refuge, so that women and children arriving with nothing can at least look after their personal needs.

So it’s hardly surprising that one of my priorities on becoming a vicar was to revive the local MU and make it an area branch, covering a number of rural parishes too small to support their own branch any longer. The new branch went well and as Christmas 2002 approached, the members agreed that they would like to mark the end of its first year by having a Christmas lunch.

In the past this would have meant going out to a local pub or restaurant, but the costs quoted for the special Christmas menu were higher than most could comfortably afford, so we came up with a splendid alternative. The vicarage had a very large living-room, easily big enough to put up a couple of folding tables and accommodate all the members comfortably. We made out a menu and asked each person which favourite dish she (or he – we had a husband and wife who were both members) would like to bring for our shared meal.

The lunch duly took place and it was so enjoyable, and the food so good, that we thought it might be fun to invite others to share their favourite recipes with us, and to compile a recipe booklet to raise money for parish funds. The recipes poured in and a week’s hard work on my part (it should have been a week’s holiday, but needs must….) saw the booklet compiled and printed in time to go on sale for the summer. I don’t know about other people, but I’m still using mine.

Two years later I moved to a new post in England, but happily the MU branch I left behind went from strength to strength under its new branch leader and was still flourishing when I retired and moved back to Wales. Of course I immediately rejoined and was more than pleased to find that the tradition of the bring-and-share Christmas lunch had continued unbroken.

Yesterday’s lunch was in the village hall and I duly turned up with my contribution, including the bread rolls for which I've been famed from the beginning, thanks to my bread machine’s infallible ability to make perfect dough. J  We sat at a beautifully decorated table, ate well, swapped news and had fun, and I came home feeling very contented, both from the excellent food lovingly prepared and in the knowledge that a small and very personal tradition was still enriching the lives of those concerned. Bon appétit!


  1. A lovely sounding tradition, Perpetua. I love collected and shared recipes too. The school my children used to go to produced one - well, I did it for them - and it became a treasured possession. (Some of the recipes were less palatable but the kids' drawing are lovely!)
    Long may lovely traditions last!

  2. Perpetua,
    I loved this posting! I got to see a picture of a delicious dessert--is it the one you made??? I got to learn about the Mother's Union, which I'd never before heard of. I got to learn about your contributions to that group, I got to learn about your own life as a curate (new word for me) and vicar!

    And all this learning came from such a well-written posting that moved along with such a gentle tone.

    Truly, this posting enchanted me.


  3. Thanks, Annie. We do enjoy it and lunch takes a loooong time. :-) I have quite a collection of this kind of home-produced recipe book in aid of various good causes and the recipes are usually very good. Tried and tested and sometimes with local specialities. Your children's school one sounds lovely.

  4. Thank you, Dee. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. I enjoyed writing it, because I really do think the Mothers' Union is worth a mention. You can read about its history and the things it does on its website:

    Sadly, the picture isn't of something I made, but illustrates a traditional British Christmas pudding and we did indeed have one yesterday and I'll have it again on Christmas day at our daughter's.

    A curate (more accurately assistant curate)is a trainee priest, who usually works under the supervision of the parish priest/vicar for about 3 years after ordination, before taking on sole responsibility for a parish.

  5. What a lovely tradition and so glad you could return to it.

  6. Yes, it was good to see it thriving when I got back, Fly. The sad thing yesterday was to look round the table and note the faces from 10 years ago that were missing. On the other hand there are new ones and that's how tradition renews itself.

  7. What an inspiring tale. I'm happy that you enjoyed the lunch and indeed that the tradition has been maintained. At this stage in my life I am painfully aware of taking out more than I put back, at least as far as the world outside my family is concerned; but I look forward to that situation changing as my children get older. Who knows, I may even end up joining our local branch of 'The Rural' (aka The Scottish Rural Women's Institue, I think)!

  8. I know what you mean about the missing faces...I used to go back to my first village for the salt cod evening on Ash Wednesday and noted the absence of some well kent faces over the years...but, also, as you say , the appearance of others...especially the youngsters who were kind enough to teach me to play their card games!

  9. Thanks, DB. It's a tiny tradition in the great scheme of things, but matters to those who keep it going.

    I know exactly where you are coming from in terms of outside involvement at your stage of life. Young children and other domestic and work commitments are all-devouring of time and energy. But this will pass and I think you would enjoy the meetings of The Rural. :-)

  10. A salt cod evening! What a way to start Lent, Fly. It would be good to see more younger people in the MU and I know some bigger parishes have them, but our tiny villages are over-populated with retired people and they are our very welcome constituency.

  11. Hello Perpetua! I enjoyed reading about this lovely tradition and thoughts of other groups I've belonged to came to mind. Your words, "its members are mostly on the wrong side of 50, but that’s true of a lot of organisations nowadays, both religious and secular" gave me pause, as I see that here as well. Younger people are so caught up in just getting by, they aren't afforded the luxury of belonging to a group of like minded people who share a bond of some sort.

    I've been fortunate to be a participant in the same book group for the past fourteen years, and our holiday dinner is coming up next Tuesday. Now, we are all "on the wrong side of 50" (some more than others!) and enjoy each other's company so much. Your post reminded me of how much I appreciate these women who have become dear friends.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving your warm comments. Blogging been a sweet surprise for me, as it has opened up my world to so many connections with people. I look forward to reading more about your world!

  12. Hello Sandi and welcome! Glad you enjoyed the post. I certainly enjoyed the meal and always do.

    Your book group meal sounds like the same kind of tradition and I know just what you mean about long association forging strong friendships. When in Scotland I go to a Knit and Natter group, who will be having their Christmas lunch on Wednesday. Sadly for me, but luckily for my waistline, I can only be with them in spirit. :-)

  13. It's a shame the MU isn't so popular with young mums. I suppose they do have their own gatherings but my daughter's generation always seem so busy. I've always been aware that the MU did lots of good work.
    How lovely for you to return to these traditional lunches and to know that this branch is still going from strength to strength.

  14. Hi Ayak. Yes, we don't get many young mums nowadays, but of course so many of them work full-time and have no time for meetings. The lunch tradition seems to be very well-rooted now and the branch, though not big, is thankfully thriving.

  15. liebe Kathy, dieses Halleluja-Ding hat mich schon vorletztes Jahr amüsiert! Wie schön, dass es noch im Netz ist und mich wieder erreicht. Es ist einfach göttlich. So sollte es sein, eine sich gegenseitig inspirierende Gemeinschaft.

  16. Liebe Perpetua- ist das Dein Name in diesem Netzwerk?-ich muss wieder Englisch lernen! Ich verstehe, dass es um Rezepte geht und Traditionen. Und ich frage mich natürlich: wieviel Kalorien hat das Mahl? Und ist das ein Hausfrauenclub? Und was nähst und bastelst Du? (knitting)Deine Marmeladenstory war wunderbar. Ich habe dieses Jahr zum erstenmal in meinem Leben Pflaumenmarmelade gekocht. Ich habe es hinbekommen, es schmeckt, aber erfüllt mich leider nicht! Kuss

  17. Nah, meine Liebe, Du hast es geschafft! Wunderbar. Ja, hier im Netz bin ich Perpetua – mein alter ego. :-) Sei herzlich willkommen auf mein Blog.

    Wenn Du es regelmässig liest, wirst Dein Englisch sich bald wieder verbessern. Du kannst immer auf Deutsch schreiben, aber ich werde halb und halb auf Deutsch und Englisch antworten, damit meine anderen Leser(innen) auch was davon verstehen werden.

    I’m very glad you enjoyed the Hallelujah Chorus video. It was new to me, although I know a lot of people saw it last year when it was made. I think it’s wonderful.

    The Mothers’ Union is a national organisation run by the church, mainly for women, although we do have men as members if they want to join. Our branch meets every month and we have speakers or do activities.

    In December it is our tradition to have a meal together, with each member bringing some food she has made. We definitely DON’T count calories at this meal!

    Yes, the story about the jam-pan is fun, isn’t it? I made lots of jam in France this summer, raspberry, blackcurrant and apricot. Your plum jam sounds delicious, but our plum tree didn’t have enough fruit for jam this year.

    As for my knitting, at the moment I have just started another pair of socks for my DH (dear husband). He loves my hand-knitted socks!


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