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
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’ Britain 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 . 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. Wales
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!