Thursday, December 16, 2010

A letter from Cape Town

Happy Christmas to you all
I thought this would be a good time to pen a brief update and circulate it via the Abbey Blog to let you know what we have been doing. Our family arrives in two waves to spend Christmas with us on Sunday and so this seems a good time to try and capture the first three weeks.
Settling in and settling down was both easy and took longer than expected! Richard and I have loved our apartment above offices in Adderley Street which is the Oxford Street of Cape Town and comes complete with Christmas lights - athletes in one display and a nativity in the next!! We are also just 5 minutes walk from the Cathedral - which has a labyrinth!!
Today is a public holiday so the 7.15 daily Eucharist is delayed until 8am and an interfaith walk around the main worship places of the city begins at the Labyrinth at 9am. This is organised by the Cathedral committee for reconciliation and justice with whom I was privileged to meet. Many of the folk here played significant parts in the fight against apartheid and the Cathedral had a significant role in that so there is a real passion to interpret the themes of justice and reconciliation for our own days and to be active in these areas. The interfaith walk is in its fourth or fifth year and the Mayor joins in!
Last Sunday we went to St Cyprians in Langa to the kind of African service people talk about: 3 and a quarter hours long and in Xhosa - although Fr Antoni kindly slipped in the odd English words every 15 minutes or so to help us keep track. What struck Richard and I even as we walked in was how like Church of the Holy Spirit - the ‘mission’ Church of St Mary’s Kenton it was. This was where Richard did his early scouting and we both attended Holiday Clubs. (I believe that a Greek Orthodox community now worships there). We stayed to lunch - kind of the equivalent of the lunch club Christmas dinner but VERY different. During the service all the ‘indoor members’ of the Church who are not usually able to attend were called forward - bags of groceries for their Christmas were blessed (by me!!) and distributed and after the service they were given lunch in the church hall. The catering was vat sized (I have the pictures to prove it!) Like many churches St Cyprians has an outreach programme and they feed those who can’t feed themselves at lunchtimes during the week. They are supported in doing this by their link parish in the Diocese of York.

We have made the most of our time off here as well - highlights were a half day at Cape Point and another half day in the V and A Waterfront. We did a trip down the coast to Hermanus and have done two glorious sunset drives along different coast roads. Last Saturday evening we did a special Jazz tour which involved going to musicians houses eating with them and listening to them talk about their music and their history -t his was organised by a company called Coffeebeansroutes who do good - slightly different tours. Absolutely fascinating and we came home turned on the telly and there was our host of a couple of hours ago narrating a programme about Jazz!! Then on Sunday we went to a concert in the Kirstenbosch Gardens - fab venue for concerts with Table Mountain as a backdrop to the stage. I hadn’t really taken much notice of Freshly Ground (World Cup song Waca Waca artists) but they are great - we have the CD but decided not to join the mile long queue to get it signed just joined the mile long queue to get out of the car park instead!!!
As you can tell we’re getting a lot of opportunities to do things we might not normally do! We’re also enjoying working together - as I write we are sitting opposite sides of the kitchen table working together having just stopped for lunch. This is a real blessing!
So what next! As I said our family joins us for Christmas and after that we set off for Kimberley. We had hoped to travel by train but can’t, so instead we shall drive - taking in a little of the Garden Route on the way. In between starting and finishing this letter I have been on the interfaith pilgrimage - too much to mention here so look out for another instalment!
With our love and prayers for a blessed and joyful Christmas
Sue and Richard

Monday, September 6, 2010

Traditional Skills: Crafts that Built the Abbey August 2010

Even the weather did its very best for us over the August Bank Holiday weekend, just testing us with only one sharp shower on Sunday afternoon, which did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm that characterised the three days of the Traditional Skills event.

Not only did we have skills aplenty on display, in the guise of the supremely talented craftsmen and women, but also the passion that goes with a love of the crafts and skills they continue and the materials they work with. Watching these people in action and listening to them talk about their work was a true privilege, and gave the visitors an illustration of their enthusiasm for what they do.

There was enthusiasm unbounded for the hands-on opportunities, displayed by both the young and not so young. Hundreds of commemorative bookmarks were produced under the guidance of the Bookbinders; hundreds of holes drilled in pieces of wood with hand tools, and medieval joints demonstrated by courtesy of the Woodworkers; machine- embroidered motifs were proudly taken home, and perhaps have even given two teenage boys thoughts for GCSE choices! Stone was chipped and stained glass arranged; iron was shaped at the Blacksmith’s forge and letters were shaped with the Calligrapher’s quills.

The Wallingford Scouts, providing refreshments and supervising the car park as a means of fund-raising, showed modern youth in a very positive light and were on hand to help, cheerfully and enthusiastically, whenever a job needed doing.

There was so much to watch, talk about and do that many visitors had to return more than once. Everyone involved loved the event – the craftspeople spoke highly of the genuine interest shown by the visitors and of the happy atmosphere. The visitors loved what the craftspeople provided for them. Those of us involved in the organisation just loved to see it happening as we had envisaged it.

The reactions and comments from the craftspeople and the visitors leave us in no doubt that Traditional Skills is a very special event. By its nature its outcome is immeasurable. We can only wonder whether one day someone will announce that what they saw and did at Traditional Skills took their life in a certain direction.

Perhaps anyone who may have thought that we had simply organised a repeat of the 2008 event will realise they missed a real gem in 2010. Those of us who were there know we were part of something very special which will live long in the memory.

(Blogged by Sue Dixon, principal organiser behind the Traditional Skills 2010 event)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Reflections on the First 6 weeks of Priestly Ministry

After spending a year serving as a Deacon in the Dorchester Team Ministry at the end of June came the time for me to be ordained as a priest. For the four days prior to the ordination itself I went on a retreat, along with 34 others to be ordained priests in the diocese, to Cuddesdon. This time allowed for some reflection and prayer before the momentous day itself and was a welcome time to step back from the business of ministry, enabling me to reflect on the year past and the years to come.

The ordination itself took place on a splendidly sunny Sunday on the 27th June 2010. I was fortunate that the ordination to the priesthood took place in Dorchester Abbey where I have a spent a lot of time over the previous year alongside five other candidates for the priesthood (including my wife Hannah). The service itself was lovely and ably conducted by Bishop Colin Fletcher, who is my area Bishop (Bishop of Dorchester). The archdeacon of Oxford Julian Hubbard preached a good sermon, reflecting on the similarities and differences between a wedding service and an ordination which gave us food for thought.

After the service a different sort of food was provided in a hog roast in the cloister garden which many people from the team attended on a sweltering afternoon. Most managed to find some shade from the trees to sit down and eat together. As usual the hospitality and cooking skills of the team were on display, with a good array of salads and desserts provided alongside the roasted pork.

From that day on there have been a series of firsts for me. My first celebration of communion came the following Sunday when I took the eight o’clock BCP service at the Abbey. This quiet and prayerful service seemed to me to be a low pressure way of celebrating for the first time and it was a great privilege to do so. After this service we had breakfast together with pastries hastily fetched from the local Co-Op and freshly made coffee, which all went down well.

The following Saturday saw the first wedding service I conducted, which was a nerve racking experience. So may things that I had to remember! Fortunately I was assisted by a good team of churchwardens who looked after lots of the practical issues. All I had to do was get the words right and avoid the ‘Holy Goats and Holy Spigits’ from Four Weddings and a Funeral. All passed off very well and a good time was had by all.

Looking back over my first six weeks there, in some ways, has been very little change in going about my daily business of ministry, but in some ways things have changed enormously especially on Sunday mornings. No longer am I assisting with communion services I am now taking them myself and sometimes even doing them solo. I look forward to many more years of offering my priestly ministry to the Church and hope to continue to grow in the knowledge and love of God and help others to do the same.

(Blogged by David Cleugh, newly ordained priest of the Dorchester Team Ministry)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Come Experience the Traditional Skills Weekend 28-30 August 2010

With three weeks to go before “Traditional Skills in Action – Crafts that Built the Abbey” we are down to the last details. We started planning this event immediately after the conclusion of our first “Traditional Skills” in 2008 (all these photos are from 2008 event), which attracted 3000 visitors over the weekend and resulted in many requests from both participants and visitors to “please do another one”. Several of this year’s craftsmen were with us in 2008 but we also have people joining us for the first time and new crafts and skills on display.

How do the skills of today’s craftsmen compare with those of the medieval craftsmen who built Dorchester Abbey? Have the tools, the techniques, the materials changed much in the intervening 900 years? Come and meet the contemporary craftspeople and ask them.

As well as having the opportunity to be close-up to highly-skilled, modern-day master craftsmen and women, try your hand at many of the skills for yourself – possibly the best way of discovering that the experts make it look much easier than it really is, or perhaps of realising a talent you didn’t know you had!

Entry to “Traditional Skills” is FREE and the event is open from 12 noon to 6pm on 28 and 29 August and from 10am to 4pm on Bank Holiday Monday 30 August – whatever the weather.

The sculptors, the blacksmith, the builder and the man who does wattle and daub will certainly be hoping that there will be no rain in Dorchester-on-Thames over the August Bank Holiday weekend.They will be demonstrating their skills under the cover of a marquee in the Cloister garden whilst the woodworkers, the calligraphers, the bookbinder, the stained-glass artist and the embroiderer will be demonstrating their crafts inside the Abbey. We don’t have room for the butcher and the baker this year - and the candlestick-maker (i.e. the silversmith!) finds himself working in Scotland – maybe we'll see him next time!

(Blogged by Sue Dixon, organiser behind the Traditional Skills Weekend 2008 and 2010)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wycliffe Student Summer Placement 2010

I am Judith Griffin (below), a first year theology student from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (left) and hope to be ordained into the Church of England next summer. At the end of the first year we need to have 5 weeks on a work placement where we will gain experience of a church environment which is different from that of our own. I have come from an inner city church so I was keen to know more about country parish life and ministry.

I was completely overwhelmed by the kindness and the warm welcome which I received from everyone whom I met in Dorchester. I was particularly struck at how much time many people give up volunteering for so many roles within and associated to the Abbey. The hard work and team spirit enables this historical place of prayer to be open and accessible to everyone. I was amazed at the variety of events and services that are available that reach out to all different sorts of tastes, needs and age groups.

Under the excellent leadership of Sue and the willingness of the volunteers to coach me, I feel that I have been privileged with the best experience that I could have ever imagined. I have learnt so much practically, but what stands out as a continual thread is the community and the way in which people relate to one another in love and understanding. Through Sue’s example the practical aspect of being a priest and being part of such a community is something that I can see is lived and enjoyed and is not contrived or something confined to a 9 to 5.30 perspective.

I will take away many valuable nuggets of experience and remember my time at Dorchester with warmth. This positive time has added to my excitement about the prospect of becoming ordained and I can’t wait to get out there and use what I have learnt this summer.

Thank you Sue, to you, your family, the team and everyone who I met; it was like being part of a large family .......and I shall also miss the cake!

(Blogged by Judith Griffin, Wycliffe Hall Ordinand on a 5 week placement at Dorchester Abbey during June/July 2010)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Discovering Dorchester Archaeological Schools Visits and Public Open Day 2010

Saturday 24th was a very busy Excavation Open Day on the allotment site for the Discovering Dorchester Community Archaeology Project, with well over 250 people visiting the site. This was the culmination of the July excavations by Oxford Archaeology and University of Oxford students; as Education Officer for the Project, I was pleased with the very enthusiastic response of children and adults.

My name is Jo Richards (seen in background of picture below right). I have worked in professional archaeology throughout my career; for many years as an archaeological illustrator and reconstruction artist, and more recently in the field of archaeology education, heritage interpretation and exhibition design. As a freelance adviser I also demonstrate late medieval plant use and 14th century needlework. I believe the current term for this is ‘portfolio working’!

This is my second summer in Dorchester-on-Thames, since I was recruited through Oxford Archaeology South. I work closely with Oxford Archaeology and the University of Oxford, who are directly responsible for the archaeological excavation programme, thereby providing a broadly historical and site-specific educational programme. In conjunction with the educational work at the dig I collaborate with Margaret Craig at Dorchester Abbey and John Metcalfe of Dorchester Museum, and we have had a very successful season, with over 70 pupils from two local schools visiting the excavation on the allotments site.

On these visit days, we ‘rotate’ groups between the abbey, museum and excavation, where children and their teachers and helpers have a site tour to see archaeology in action. There is a dedicated education marquee, and children can experience a number of activities including finds-washing, using micro-digs, examining tiny snail samples under the microscope and design their own roman coin/roman road/roman pot. After a site tour, I give a brief introduction to timelines, local history and what archaeologists do, including a chance to try on a hard hat, high-visibility jacket and a pair of enormous steel-capped boots!

It doesn’t stop there! There are Roman and Saxon Loans Boxes available for Oxfordshire schools to borrow free of charge throughout the year. I am available for pre-visits to schools before the excavation season starts, and in 2011 we are looking to expand this opportunity further. A number of teachers and parents have been very enthusiastic about the opportunities for hands-on experience of archaeology – there is no better way to enthuse the local community about the impressive and unique historic landscape on their doorstep.
(Blogged by Jo Richards, Discovering Dorchester Archaeological Educational Officer)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mayors and Chairs Welcome Dinner

On a sultry (but dry!) Monday evening on Monday 19th July 2010, a large group of almost 80 people gathered for drinks on the lawn outside the Abbey. Principle guests were the Mayors and Chairs of the County, district and town councils from across Oxfordshire together with their partners.
The hosts were the Bishop of Dorchester, Colin Fletcher (photo right), and Oxfordshire’s Lieutenancy. Some 20 of the County’s 35 Deputy Lieutenants and their partners were there to welcome the guests. The Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard (photo left), and his wife were also present. The Rev Canon Sue Booys, generously lending the gloriously spacious Abbey for the evening, enabled it all to happen.

The main purpose of the evening was to wish the Mayors and Chairs well at the start of their Civic year; to give them an opportunity to meet and mingle with each other, and for the group of Deputy Lieutenants, increasingly engaged in activity across the County, to get to know their opposite numbers in the Civic Community.

Being a Mayor or Chair is an onerous task: the list of events which they are asked to attend and be involved with is very substantial, and continues unabated through the whole of the Civic year. The impact that they can have, particularly in encouraging volunteering activity and thanking people all over the county for the tireless contribution that so many make to the well being of their local communities, is of great importance. This is true especially at a time of real economic austerity in public services, when the demands on our Civic authorities and the volunteering sector is greater than it has been for many years. So the evening was a big opportunity to thank and support and encourage our Mayors and Chairs, and to forge links with the Lieutenancy which should help both sides to do their jobs more effectively than would otherwise be the case. But if this makes it all sound too serious, it wasn’t. Drinks were followed by dinner in the Abbey – delicious food prepared and served by Sean and his team from the White Hart. A seating plan for the first course was matched by a free for all seating for the pudding giving maximum opportunity for guests to mingle and talk and gossip and moan and discuss current issues and problems. Some (short!) speeches were part of the mix.

At the end of dinner, all guests were invited to move down into the Chancel where Bishop Colin said Compline, a service which has been used in the Abbey, at the end of the day, for hundreds of years stretching right back to the Abbey’s 12th C monastic traditions. It is a service which encourages quiet contemplation and thought at the close of what had no doubt for all been a busy Monday, but more importantly an opportunity to think quietly about the challenges ahead. An appropriate end to a very special evening.

(Blogged by the Lord-Lieutenant of Oxford, Tim Steventon)

On Women Bishops ….shark infested waters, expectations and the media!

I was going to blog from General Synod but I’m much better at ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ (Wordsworth) – or at least the relative tranquillity of home compared to Synod. There are some great synod bloggers whose blogs you can find at if you want a flavour of Synod as it went. If you read them – especially Justin Brett’s (a good friend) you might understand why it’s taken me a week to write!!

For the second or third time now I’ve been at a meeting of General Synod about which it has been possible for the press to report that the Church of England has agreed to have women Bishops. The reality is that it’s a long way off yet - rather like the Kingdom in R S Thomas wonderful poem of that name!* Therein, as they say, lies the problem. Most places I go people have read the papers and offer their congratulations – but do I feel like cheering? Frankly – No!

Of course I would be delighted if the Synod had made this decision and I AM pleased that we have taken another step along that path. BUT I am also really dismayed for a number of reasons.
First the ‘shark infested waters’ – if you have read the Bishop of Oxford’s Pastoral letter published immediately after Synod ( you’ll know that I have said this! Over the last several years two groups of people with strongly held views have, for the most part, gradually come closer together and really do not now stand so very far apart. Asked by their leaders for generosity and compromise they have done their best - one side is no longer asking for a ‘single clause measure’ (women can be Bishop’s full stop) nor the other for a ‘third province’ (Church within a Church) so we have moved. The water between us that Synod – and the Archbishops – failed to bridge is that of ‘transfer’ versus ‘delegation’. Would a woman Bishop be really a Bishop if she had to transfer her authority to someone else and could someone who genuinely believed she wasn’t a Bishop accept that she could delegate her authority?
The most dangerous ‘sharks’ are lack of trust, fear and the taking of public positions. I’m not yet certain whether the waters are murky and the sharks just magnified by my own worst fears – or whether they are deep and much too dangerous to attempt a crossing. I could never do those ‘reasoning’ puzzles about single boats, foxes and hens crossing to the other side of such rivers when I was at school but there were people who could and I wish they would!! However, in our present situation that’s tantamount to asking someone to wave a magic wand to do work that I need to do by the sweat of my own brow!
Another reason for my dismay is that even people of good will don’t really grasp how it feels to be a woman in this debate. At Synod I sat in a meeting of friends and colleagues (albeit of differing opinions) when three men talked about whether I might want to be asked to offer my opinion. This was so much like what it sometimes feels to be a woman in the midst of these discussions that I was reduced to tears (VERY embarrassing). I’m not convinced that anyone much understood why!

Finally I am dismayed by some of the press reporting – interviewed by Phil Mercer and Malcolm Boyden on Radio Oxford I recognised myself, even if I knew I’d been typically long winded, at once the great advantage and worst disadvantage of a live interview!! In print half a reply can be reported as the whole and it can sound rather different from your original comment! Having read the interview with the Bishop of Fulham in yesterday’s Sunday Times (Women priests made me take up smoking again is one of the tamer comments!) I can only hope that he feels the same! Reporters are looking for adversarial positions and we often seem only too willing to offer them – or too careless not to. Maybe we should ALL refuse all interviews – and NOT do blogging and maybe then we would find it easier to talk and trust!

And for the record … lest you want to ask … there are many women in the Church of England who will, I believe make wonderful Bishops – and I long for the day when that is possible. But it is for God and the Church to call them not me – or any journalist – to name them!!

*Here’s the poem – what it says is worth more than all the reams of paper expended on Women Bishops!!

The Kingdom by R S Thomas

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.

(Blogged by Rev. Canon Sue Booys, Rector of Dorchester Abbey)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Life on Placement

As an ordinand in training at Cuddesdon (photo left), I had a conversation a few months ago with the tutor responsible for placements about where to spend 4 weeks in the summer. Having spent 9 years as a Church Army Officer, I have a fair amount of experience in the Church of England, but always in places with one church, one vicar. I asked, therefore, to have a different experience: to go to a church that was part of a bigger team.

I can’t imagine anywhere that would have given me the breadth of experience in such a short space of time as I have found at Dorchester Abbey. Granted, it has been a particularly busy month (meeting Bishop Colin 6 times in a little over 2 weeks is indicative of the number of special events that have happened), but I have learnt much from the day-to-day life of the Abbey and Dorchester Team as well.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Team is blessed with an array of highly capable leaders – both lay and ordained – and it has been a privilege to meet and chat with many of them. The breadth of gifting obviously extends into parish life with so many people serving their parish church in numerous different ways. I was especially impressed with the way that many people from across the Team came together to provide hospitality so effectively for the Ordination Service a couple of weeks ago.

There are lots of things I could talk about regarding this time on placement, but I will limit myself to two more things which I will take from my experience in Dorchester. The first is the team of Churchwardens and Assistant Churchwardens, with particular people having particular responsibilities within the Abbey – it is something which I have not experienced before, yet makes perfect sense, and seems to be working well – an idea which I may well pinch for the future! I am not surprised that a parish which is part of a wider team should have effective teams within itself as well (and there are many more teams besides the churchwardens).

Finally, it has been a real privilege spending these few short weeks witnessing the way that Sue works, as Team Rector. It is a hugely demanding task, being both named incumbent for this particular cluster, and also leading the whole team (and that is without taking into account the additional responsibilities that come with being Area Dean). I have been impressed with the way she models leadership, and have appreciated her insights about taking time off. We had a very interesting discussion about Sabbath the other week, which has given me much food for thought for the future.

May I end by saying thank you to all those I have met in this short time in the Dorchester Team, especially those who have very kindly given up time to talk about life in the Abbey and/or team. It is hard to believe that this Sunday is the end of the placement, but I intend to go out with a bang (perhaps literally – I will be speaking at the Family Service, and balloons will be involved!!) I hope to see many of you there, but whether you can make it or not, I wish Dorchester and the Team every blessing for the future.

(Blogged by Chris Routledge, Cuddesdon Ordinand on a 4 week placement at Dorchester Abbey)

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Dorchester Lecture, 24th June 2010

One of the highlights of the year for the Friends of Dorchester Abbey is the Dorchester Lecture. For the past five years eminent speakers have spoken to us about aspects of morality connected with the area of their own expertise. So far we have kept the speakers in house –the House of Lords that is – and to date Lord Hurd, Baroness Neuberger, the Bishop of London and Lord Winston have inspired us and brought to the Abbey an audience of fascinating and fascinated people.

Last week we welcomed Lord Carlile QC. An eminent lawyer, for fifteen years a Liberal then Liberal Democrat MP and in 1999 created a Life Peer, he is now the Government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. This is probably a subject on which not many of us have reflected overmuch but in the current climate it bears examination from all of us.

Lord Carlile asked the question ‘Terrorism: have we got the law right?’ He spoke about the balancing act required between protecting
national security and the rights of the individual. Anecdotal illustrations
of stop and search techniques by police of a top Asian
lawyer and an elderly white couple helped demonstrate the conundrum facing law-makers and enforcers in achieving that balance.
Lord Carlile welcomed the Home Secretary’s announcement that very day of the retention of the 28 day detention without charge rule for the next six months whilst a thorough review of anti terrorism legislation is undertaken. No woolly liberal he.

So timely was our lecture that both the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian used it as a focus for interviewing our speaker and running articles. After the Lecture and a hastily swallowed supper Lord Carlile was whisked off to London to appear on Newsnight with the inimitable Kirsty Wark who managed to pronounce Dorchester quite intelligibly in her introduction!

At the next meeting of the Trustees of the Friends we will be considering whom to ask to speak to us next year. Should we stay with the House of Lords or should we jump ship? All suggestions very welcome.

(Blogged by Anne Kelaart, on behalf of the Trustees of the Friends of Dorchester Abbey)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Educationally Unique

I have always felt that Dorchester Abbey can offer everyone, from the young student to our more mature visitors, a fabulously unique educational experience. This has been brought home to me this week more than ever as the Abbey hosts NAPE’s annual Festival of Voices. This event brings primary schools from all over Oxfordshire together to sing in unison within the beautiful Abbey setting, conducted by Kevin Stannard and Peter Hunt. It was enjoyed by an enthusiastic audience of parents and siblings and some dignitaries, including the Mayor of Wallingford and his wife.

As I sat listening to the Tuesday night performance it struck me how it recalled the earlier medieval traditions of the Abbey when the monks would have sang in plainchant in the choir, the area where the 300 children were staged en masse, their high voices resonating in the vast Abbey space. The varied musical programme offered a range of songs from around the world, such as the traditional Congolese ‘Banaha’, the swirling melody of the Ghanaian ‘Senwa Dedende’ or the Jamaican 'By the Rivers of Babylon' where we were all encouraged to join in, to more popular tunes such as Abba’s ‘Money, Money, Money’ and Elvis’s ‘Jailhouse Rock'.

The children clearly enjoyed themselves with plenty of smiles and jiggling gestures when required! The final song of ‘World in Union’ evoked a sense of social harmony and accord world leaders can only aspire towards. As a collection was taken for ‘Save the Children’ the children provided an encore reprise of a few of the melodies, to the great enjoyment of the audience. Their performance highlights how much so many owe to so few, as these massed children and parents do to the teachers, conductors, musicians and all who assist with the staging of this tremendous week long event.

As this event demonstrates every school visit to Dorchester Abbey is unique, just as every individual child is unique. In the week prior to this one I hosted an educational visit to the Abbey for over 60 children. Because each school is as unique as each child I aim to create an equally unique visit. Thus I enjoy being able to meet with schools before their visits to the Abbey, thereby discussing particular syllabus requirements, individual ideas and to explore aspects of mutual interest for their students.

Although the school had enjoyed previously visits to the Abbey they were excited by the opportunity of exploring new educational trails and innovative activities, resulting in a programme that included a religious and cultural ‘scavenger hunt’, an investigation of our knights and the heraldic window enabling them to design their own coats of arms, as well as the perennially popular activities of sketching and brass rubbing. They also enjoyed combining these activities with their own personal written responses to the Abbey which culminated at the end of the day in a selection of the best ones being read out by the students from our Victorian pulpit. The variety of responses ranged from personal prayers to astute descriptions of the space, but each pupil read their contribution out with the lilt of excitement in their voices and an extreme sense of achievement.

In addition to these events I have also been going out to meet teachers and introduce them to what the Abbey and Dorchester has to offer them and their classes through INSET presentations. The current educational watchword is ‘cross-curricular’, which is something Dorchester excels at! As well as the obvious RE (Religious Education) links, we have history, geography, art and architectural heritage, and music in spades! Not to mention the many other links we could make. The wealth of history not only the Abbey, but Dorchester and its geographical surroundings, has to offer is certainly unique. I explain how Dorchester declares the significance of its past geographically to the children from afar before they even arrive, as they see the two domineering mounds of Wittenham Clumps and then the Abbey tower becomes just visible through the trees as they approach the village.

I have demonstrated our newly arrived Museum Loans Boxes, which contain original artefacts and replica items from the Anglo-Saxon and Roman periods, complete with lesson materials and supporting books, all of which are free for schools to borrow. This initiative has already proved to be very successful for the schools who have borrowed them so far. We are also going to stage a Key Stage 2 ‘Pilgrimage and Worship’ study day for schools in June 2011, which is currently in the initial planning stage and which we might develop further Loans Boxes.

July sees the return of our Musuem-Abbey-Archaeological site visits, where schoolchildren have the opportunity to see archaeology in action and try their hand at some dig-related activities. Just the type of method that brings history to life for students and teachers alike! (Go to for further information on the Dorchester Dig!)

Here ends another educationally unique month, I look forward to many more!!

(Blogged by the Abbey's Education Officer)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

(Not only but...) Tuesday Coffee Mornings in the Abbey

We have established regular ‘Coffee in the Abbey’ mornings (every Tuesday 10-11.30am) since April and this has proved to be an enjoyable, varied and fun event for all involved! No two weeks are the same, even though we do have our regulars who return from week to week. All are made welcome and so too would you, if you feel like popping in for a coffee, a chat and a biscuit! But we thought we would give you a little insight into what you might expect if you did decide to join us!

First, you will find a friendly welcome from the volunteers who vie with one another to provide you with a wonderful cup of fresh filtered Fair Trade coffee and a biscuit too. The atmosphere is always friendly, relaxed, and never subdued! You will find that the coffee mornings are a nice place to meet with friends old and new. We always welcome any visitors to join us. Some visitors, who might have just come in for a brief look around the Abbey, linger long over the coffee and company they find. Furthermore it is amazing what you can find happening during one of our coffee mornings and what you might accomplish: from the filling in of a tennis form, to discussing the finer points of village life, through to arranging social events!
Moreover babies are made very welcome indeed! Charlie and Alastair, our youngest coffee morning converts (though milk only for them, of course!), frequently find willing arms to cuddle them, knees to be bounced upon and melodic voices to coo over them.

Don’t be scared but sometimes there is a dog collar present (yes, of both varieties!). Thus we welcome well-behaved owners (and their accompanying dogs!) who pop in for a cool down after their morning constitutionals.

Sue (the vicar) often makes an appearance, having to endure a barrage of heckling from the volunteers to boot! David (the curate), who is not a coffee man, is given special treatment with his very own mug of tea. We find these mornings prove invaluable as a good way of meeting with the clergy on a very informal and relaxed basis.

If you feel the need for quiet reflection instead, then you need only walk into the ‘body of the kirk’ where you’ll find the St. Birinus Chapel set aside for peaceful contemplation. Even when we have a school group in, you’ll find the children well behaved and quietly enjoying their Abbey experience.

Come and join us any Tuesday morning between 10-11.30am and you’ll find we will welcome you with our friendship, laughter, childish giggling (not only from the babies!), relaxed chatter and even a bit of gossip (sssh!). Hope to see you there next Tuesday!

PS Don't forget the Friends of Dorchester Abbey present Lord Carlile speaking on 'Morality and the Law' for the annual Dorchester Lecture on Thursday 24th June 2010 at 7.30pm. Tickets on the door. You can read about the Lecture in next week's blog.

(Blogged on behalf of Catherine, Carol-Ann, Claire, Sue and all the Coffee Morning Volunteers)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

“Only a link in a long chain” On being a Dorchester Abbey Museum helper

I am ‘old’ Dorchester – nowadays in more ways than one! I feel like a museum piece myself sometimes because people come over all shiny-eyed and peculiar when you tell them you are Dorchester born and bred, and they want to know what it was like ‘in the old days’. So there am I, an exhibit amongst other, even more fascinating, items explaining my links with the place, this building, and life in Dorchester on Thames in 2010.

I volunteered to help at the museum when we returned to the village in 2001. Mine had been a long absence – since 1966 – and I returned to rather a different Dorchester from the one I had left all those years ago. But the museum was still there and I thought it would be an interesting place to spend a few hours usefully, and a good way to meet interesting people. I knew Edith Stedman, the formidable and very amusing American who started the museum way back in the 1960’s. In her book A Yankee in an English Village (1971, Dorchester Abbey Museum) she describes a late Dorchester afternoon in June rather like the one I enjoyed last week:

“There’s that lovely purple-gray light on the stones … its absolute peace gives a sense of remoteness, of timelessness of being only a link in along chain.“

Why don’t people wearing rucksacks take them off when they come to the museum? We had five visitors wearing back packs this week and they all sidled around the exhibits like packhorses on a cliff path. People ‘just nip in’, sometimes while they are waiting for the famous tea room to open, and often, at least half an hour later, they are still quietly “oohing and aahing” over the wonderful treasures we have.

Children are indulgent with the adults who accompany them. They listen patiently to cries of “Oh, I had a desk just like this when I was at school” and “See this cane? You got whacked with it if you were naughty.” Once the adults have moved on to examine other exhibits, or to browse in the shop, the children then get on with the serious business of taking turns to be teacher at the high desk, wearing the mortar board and gown, calling the register. Many of them also value the special table with items that may be picked up and examined – the fossilised sea-urchin, the bird’s nest with eggs intact (this is a real favourite) and the pieces of pottery dug up by archaeologists at the allotments.

It is great that although some exhibits are permanent we also have new exhibits. The lovely new display cases which show the archaeology are proving very popular. My favourite really old thing (I am not too good on dates and historical periods) is a ‘thread picker’. I am not sure if it is bone, or wood but, although it’s only about three inches long, its silky polish and smooth surface conjure up an image of some unknown old “Doddestr’un” bent weaving at a primitive loom, somewhere near our broad bean patch, a very long time ago.

And now to my favourite not-so-ancient exhibit. Way back my Granny’s neighbour was Mr Dick Jerome. He lived on the corner of Crown Lane and Queen Street and was a master woodsman. I remember going up to Wittenham Clumps on my bike and standing at a respectful distance watching him make hurdles. He was a man of few words, (“Awright?” “Yes, thank you, Mr Jerome.” “Awright then”) but as long as you kept quiet he went on working as if you were not there. Deft, quick, confident, orderly – stacking the hurdles against a tree as they were finished. It is wonderful to see such an interesting display dedicated to his story – you can see a miniature hurdle that he made for an exhibition and his working tools, kindly loaned by his family.

There are bonuses to be had when volunteering at the museum. You get a cuppa and a piece of cake from the kind tearoom ladies. People pop in for a chat. You meet folk from all over the world. I once met a woman from Birkenhead who knew my husband’s family back in the 1940’s. I met my great auntie’s nephew and his mother (for the first time) and learned a lot about the history of Dorchester’s gravel pits. Mairi Metcalfe came in last week and we spent a happy time while I tried to remember the names of people, long dead, bless them, in lovely old black and white photographs donated for safe keeping.

I could go on – I haven’t told you anything about my Grampy who went to school in the Guest House in the late 1800’s, the award-winning Cloister Gallery, the gift-shop, the village history display boards, the Community Archaeology Project, the brilliant walks around Dorchester leaflets (people can never get over the fact that they are free!). If you want to get to know more about the village and meet some lovely people, consider volunteering for the helpers’ rota. If you are from Dorchester and love the place, or new to the village and care about its history, and if you have not been into the Museum for a while or ever, do pop in. Be a link in that long chain that Edith Stedman wrote about – be part of the place, even if only for the afternoon (but please take your rucksack off – we can keep an eye on it for you, and please don’t shout across the museum because it spoils the children’s concentration). Thank you.

Next time you can read about the new 'Tuesday Coffee in the Abbey' sessions which have become a regular fixture for many locals, as well as the occasional visitor.

For more information about the museum see
(Blogged by Denise Line, volunteer Dorchester Abbey Museum helper)