Good times in Evenwood

Road sign in the Dales

Evenwood, in the heart of Teesdale

The role of a modern day Pastor is varied, particularly so in a small Church community like Evenwood where the Pastor serves not only the immediate congregation, but also the wider community. The small but dedicated congregation in Evenwood had been serving their community extremely well for almost eighty years before Chris and I came along and we wondered both to ourselves and to God, what our role would be in developing the Church. Quite soon after Chris came into post, we felt God saying to us that the Church was invisible. This seemed a rather strange thing to hear as the Church is an old Wesleyan chapel in the heart of the village. Everyone in the village has to pass the Church at some point, if not every day, then at least weekly. Moreover, just about every person who lived in the village had either attended Sunday School at the Church or one of the many after school clubs the Church ran, or if they hadn’t attend, their children usually had. Of course it wasn’t just the invisibility of the Church building that God was speaking to us about but the fact that the people of the village no longer looked to the Church to have their spiritual needs met.

We spoke to the congregation about this ‘invisibility’ and how we felt that was the area that Chris and I should work to develop. This was a difficult message to bring to a Church that worked flat out every week serving their local community in a variety of ways. Unsurprisingly, not everyone in the congregation was convinced that the Church was invisible and it took some time to persuade them otherwise. Interestingly (for us) a member of the congregation had been given a deep insight into this very issue and she shared with us what she felt God was showing her. We were very happy to hear what this lady had to say, as it confirmed to us that we were on the right track in terms of the work we needed to undertake with the Church.

In typical Evenwood fashion however, once everyone had been given a chance to put forward their own point of view, without exception, everyone rolled up their sleeves and said ‘Okay, what’s next?’. In the months and years that followed it would not be an exaggeration to say that the congregation have been known to breathe an occasional sigh of relief when Chris and I go on holiday, as it meant they could take a well-earned break. When a member of the Church Council retired recently from her role as Church Secretary, she said the past four or five years had been the busiest she had ever known but without doubt they had also been the most enjoyable.

It has been a great blessing for Chris and I to work with the congregation of Evenwood Assembly, they have been so committed to the work of ‘making God known’ in their local community for such a long time. Their tireless dedication has been awe inspiring. Without their unwavering support, Chris would not have been able to develop the comprehensive network of local allies that support the Church, including the Head of a local primary school, staff in an older person’s care home, local community police officers, local businessmen/women, other religious leaders and a local Councillor. This valuable network has meant that the influence of the Church has spread far and wide and has enabled us to bring vital services into the Church including Credit Union and police surgeries. Unusually, for a Pentecostal Church, Chris also gets asked to conduct weddings, baptisms, baby and wedding blessings and funerals for people living in the local area. Chris and other members of the congregation have also been invited to speak on local radio and to local newspaper journalists about the work the Church is doing in the local community.

To ensure the Church is able to met the needs of its local community in the long-term, Chris worked with the congregation to develop a modernisation programme that included implementing a child protection plan and training, a health and safety plan and training, a food hygiene plan and training, a first aid strategy and training and a disability access strategy. In addition to this, Chris has worked with a number of people to devise and implement a comprehensive Church media plan which has resulted in the creation of a Church website, a complete set of professionally published literature on the Church’s activities and a new multimedia facility for the main Church auditorium.

Although we didn’t set out to plan separate events for guys and gals, it did kinda turn out that way…

One of the things I was interested in doing was working with the ladies of the Church to dream up activities that the Church hadn’t tried before. We began by hosting a celebration of food/holidays that we called ‘wish you were here’. We decided to host a meal for approximately 35 ladies with a holiday theme that included table settings that were made out of pages from holiday brochures and then laminated, table decorations made from seashells, sand and flowers and all kinds of fun stuff. Food was spaghetti bolognese, cooked by moi and served with salad, garlic bread and lots of parmesan. After the meal we shared a word of encouragement from the Bible and then proceeded to beat the living daylights out of a stuffed donkey (a pinata) hanging from the ceiling – what a good night it was!

Recipe for spag bol, serves 6/8 generously

2 tbsp vegetable oil or sun-dried tomato oil from the jar, 6 rashers of smoked bacon chopped or 120g of ready-chopped pancetta, 2 large onions roughly chopped, 2 garlic cloves crushed, 1kg lean minced beef, 2x400g cans chopped tomatoes, 250g fresh or tinned mushrooms, 30ml of red wine vinegar (or less if you prefer), 2 fresh or dried bay leaves, 1 tsp dried oregano or a small handful of fresh leaves, chopped*, 1 tsp dried thyme or a small handful of fresh leaves, chopped* 8-10 sun-dried tomato halves in oil chopped or scissored into small pieces, Salt and freshly ground black pepper. A good handful of freshly torn basil leaves to scatter over when the dish is cooked, 50-80g of dried spaghetti per person. Lots of freshly grated parmesan, to serve *Or use 2 tsp of Herbes de Provence instead.

Heat the oil and then add the onion and garlic, gently sauté until soft and golden, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add the bacon and fry for a couple of minutes to seal before adding the mince. Fry until brown all over and then add the wine vinegar, tinned tomatoes and their juice, the sun-dried tomatoes and dried herbs. Bring everything to a gentle simmer and then pop into a low-moderate oven for about 2 hours or until the ragú is a rich, dark red, thick and perfectly delicious. You can also cook the mixture on the hob, but take care that it does not catch on the bottom of the pan as it thickens. Serve in generous portions with garlic bread and salad leaves and if you’re not avoiding the dreaded carbohydrates, freshly boiled spaghetti and/or home made chips. Bon Appétit!

Spag Bol - food for feasting

While the ladies and I were busy feasting, Chris was also busy arranging activities to amuse the men of the village. After a couple of false starts (Father’s Day celebrations never really took off) Chris decided to start a men’s breakfast club called ‘Honour Bound’. The idea would be that the men of the Church would invite their family and friends along to the breakfast where they would enjoy a traditional English breakfast with all the trimmings, followed by a word of encouragement from the Bible and fellowship. Well, the breakfasts, which were held every six weeks, proved to be very popular with an average attendance of between 18-30 men and children. They have been running now for almost three years and are as popular now as they were in the beginning. In fact, they have become so popular in the local area, that Chris has helped three other Churches to set up their own men’s breakfast clubs, which means there is a men’s breakfast meeting just about every other week in the Teesdale area. Good times!

Aside from Christmas and Easter which are a time of joyous celebration in every Christian Church, one of the most cherished events in the Church’s calendar is without doubt the Mothering Sunday celebrations. Our Mothering Sunday preparations start early in January each year and it’s not a week too soon! Once we have decided on a theme for the event, it’s all stations go in terms of organising the on-going preparations. Most of what we make is hand crafted, including invitations, table favours, unique gifts and room/table decorations, although on occasion we have had the invitations professionally printed by Vistaprint. This year we decided to host a Mothering Sunday weekend. We started the weekend off with afternoon tea on the Saturday for approximately fifty ladies and their children. After the meal, a local (and much loved) Anglican curate shared a word of encouragement from the Bible which was very well received. It was so lovely to see the tables beautifully laid with cakes, sandwiches and of course, dainty china tea cups. We took up a collection for the Smile Train which raised £900 and hosted our annual ‘Women of Courage Award’. The Women of Courage Award is presented to eight women annually. Anyone can nominate a women to receive an award, they don’t have to have been through difficult circumstances but invariably most of the women have. There is rarely a dry eye in the house when I present each women with their gifts. Every time we host the Women of Courage  Awards, I think this is something we should do more often, it’s so good to honour each other and to appreciate each other, especially if we have been through trying times.

We rounded off the weekend by hosting an extra special meeting on Sunday evening. Again, this was a time of celebrating all that God has given us. It was a joyous service and much enjoyed by all who were present. And, of course there was cakes, pastries and more tea after the service. Good times indeed.

One of our many Mothering Sunday celebrations

One of our many Mothering Sunday celebrations


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