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Emulating Hercules

02 January 2015

"WE ARE a parish of 3000, with a large, cold, 12th-century church. We have no toilets or kitchen. . . refreshment provision with an urn and a bucket. . . We have been put into three very different benefices or groups over the last 14 years . . . have had no resident priest for ten years," writes Jose Maynard from St Peter and St Paul, Alconbury, in Ely diocese.

But things are looking up. The parish now has a resident priest, the Revd Mary Jepp, and the church is now in the benefice of North Leightonstone, which consists of seven villages about 15 miles apart. It has an average congregation of 15-20, with twice as many young families for Sunday Rocks, once a month.

The congregation's priority is to make the church more accessible with better facilities, a Herculean task given such a large, ancient building and so few resources - but of how many rural English churches can you say the same? The valiant few are working hard to bring new life to the church, and their latest venture was a Christmas Tree Festival just before Christmas. It was supported by the whole community and visited by many who were not churchgoers.

Thirty trees were decorated distinctively. There was a tiny tree covered in beaded ornaments. The local Book Club decorated theirs using the books they had read during the past year. A Tree of Knowledge included an 1882 Family Bible, topped off with a modern children's cut-out version of the Christmas story. There was a hand-knitted tree; the Scouts displayed their knot-making skills to make their tree from pieces of wood; a Remembering Tree was covered in precious names; and the Rainbows, Brownies, and Guides combined to make a spectacular tree covered in angels, ribbon, and snowflakes.

The festival was opened by the school choir and soloists, and the combined efforts of everybody raised a healthy £2000-plus towards adding the facilities the church needs.

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