Christmas was just around the corner for the inhabitants of Highfinch which nestled on the edge of the Pepperstock Hills where the Lily Green Hollows Golf Club separated the village from the Hamlet of Lily Green, which made up the parish of St Martins Church.
It was the first time for quite a few years that Jenna Lawton had approached the season with a boyfriend, although calling him a boyfriend was pushing it a bit as he was almost forty, but then she wasn’t exactly a girl at 37.
It was also the first time she had approached it as a Vicar.
Another significant difference was something that also hadn’t happened for quite a few years and that was she would be spending it with her baby brother.
Brian Lawton was 33 years old and had been medically discharged from the Downshire Light Infantry due to injuries sustained in Afghanistan when he lost most of his left foot.
Brian had led a rather rudderless existence since leaving the Army in the previous January, until mid-October when he made one of his infrequent phone calls to touch base with his sister who was at the time the de facto Vicar of St Martins in Highfinch while the Reverend Mortimer was recovering from a heart attack.
Everything that subsequently followed began with a simple question on the innocent phone call.
“So how are you sis?” he asked jovially and she burst into tears.
Unable to get any sense out of her over the phone he said
“Ok I’m on my way”
Fortunately he wasn’t a million miles away as he and another ex-soldier were doing some security work in Sharpington and it was his day off.
However once Brian arrived to comfort his older sister he never left as she suggested he stay with her permanently at the Vicarage and he agreed and also suggested he might find work at the Golf Course.
In truth Jenna had no doubts whatsoever that they would welcome him with open arms at the Golf Club because the manager of Lily Green Hollows, David Pike, was on the parish council and she had already broached the subject with him and used her influence.
But Brian was not the only newcomer to Highfinch and the Vicarage that year because two weeks after he took up residence he and Jenna were joined by the 30 year old replacement Curate, Rosie Coulter and Jenna and Rosie took to each other from the first moment they met.
But even with, Nick Faulkner, the man she loved, at her side, and her brother Brian on hand for support and an eager young Curate to help with her with the burden she was not looking forward to Christmas with as much enthusiasm as she had in past years.
Because that particular year she saw the normally joyous event of the Christmas church calendar as nothing more than tiresome obstacles that had to be overcome.
The month of November began in a much happier vain when Jenna and Nick began dating, firstly to bonfire night display at Sharpinghead and then on Saturday Night he took her over to Purplemere and they had a lovely meal at the Runcible Spoon.
The next day Jenna was in a wonderful mood and it didn’t take an expert to know why and Brian was very pleased to see she was looking much more like her old self and seemed to have fully recovered from the malady of despondency that had afflicted her when he first arrived and she thought the Bishop was going to transfer her.
Jenna was also on very good form in the pulpit and she delivered a very inspiring and enlightening sermon.
However it wasn’t long before a gloom descended over her when she remembered that even before she reached the first hurdle of her Christmas marathon she had another problem to solve first.
A local man called Henry Gold normally played Santa at the St Martins Christmas Bazaar and had done for many years but since his sad demise earlier that year it had proved difficult to replace him.
However Rosie thought she had the perfect solution.
“What about Brian?”
“Yes, he’ll need a bit of padding but I think he’ll be a natural” Rosie said “He’s got lovely broad shoulders”
“I think that’s a great idea” she said and kissed her check “Well done”
Jenna walked into the lounge at the Vicarage and she said
“What?” he responded suspiciously?
“I have a task for you”
“And what’s that?” Brian asked
“I need you to help out at the Christmas Bazaar” she said
“Oh ok yes I can do that” Brian said a little relieved to get off so lightly
“Excellent” she said “We just need to get the ladies to alter the costume”
“Hold on what costume?” Brian said “I don’t remember agreeing to a costume”
“The Santa costume obviously” Jenna said
“I am not going to dress up and Santa” he said adamantly
“But you have to, you can’t sit in Santa’s grotto in your ordinary clothes” Jenna insisted
“What grotto?” he asked
“You’ll make a wonderful Santa” Rosie added
“That’s not fair, you’re ganging up” he said indignantly “ganging up isn’t fair”
“I’ll let you know when you’re needed for the first fitting” Jenna said as she left the room
“But Jenna?” he called
“Can’t talk, I’m going to lunch with my boyfriend”
A moment later her head appeared around the door and she added
“I rather like the way that sounds”
Brian spent the next five minutes trying to fathom how she had managed to rope him into playing Santa at the St Martin’s School Christmas Bazaar without him even realising what he had agreed to and in fact he was left with the impression that he actually volunteered.
However she became more troubled the closer she got to the first obstacle to be conquered in the marathon which came on
November 29th, and that was the First Sunday of Advent.
But despite it being a test of endurance she got through it without a hitch and with it successfully under her belt she should have been able to approach the next leg with renewed vigour.
However it soon began to look as if she wouldn’t get there with her sanity intact.
The day after her success Jenna was in the church Hall with a small team of ladies who were on hand to affect alterations to Brian’s Santa suit.
It was obviously the team of ladies who did all the work while she looked on, but the lack of activity gave her time to think and time to think meant time to worry and it didn’t go unnoticed.
And at the Vicarage that evening Brian broached the subject with her.
“What’s the matter sis?”
“Christmas is the matter” she replied
“But you love Christmas” he reminded her
“Yes but It’s such a busy time, there is so much going on, Advent, Christingle, Carol Concert and the Bazaar and everyone is watching me to see if I screw up”
“But you’ve been here for ten years” he said “this is hardly your first Christmas”
“Yes but it’s my first Christmas as the Vicar” she said worriedly
“Look you’ve already ticked off the first Sunday of advent and the Bazaar is totally covered, so stop worrying” he reassured her.
Despite her brothers words of comfort she still approached the Second weekend of Advent with little confidence and when she got to Friday lunchtime it suddenly got a whole lot worse.
She was in the Church Hall where she was waiting for Brian to arrive for the final fitting for his costume when her phone rang.
Jenna hung up the phone and muttered something under and almost knocked her brother over who just happened to be coming the other way.
“It’s a total disaster” Jenna blurted out “Trevor Gurney has appendicitis”
“Oh no” Brian said “is he ok?”
“What?” she said as if confused by the question
“Trevor” he clarified “is he ok?”
“Oh shit,” the Vicar exclaimed, “I never thought to ask”
“So what’s the disaster then?” He enquired
“Trevor is the chief Elf to your Santa,” she explained
“So what’s the problem?” he said “can’t we just find someone to fill his shoes?”
“It’s not his shoes that are the problem” Jenna explained
“He’s a six foot stick insect with a bum like a twelve year old boy”
“Oh” Brian said unhelpfully
“We can’t get anyone else with their own costume at this late stage” she went on
Brian went to speak but she was in full flow and cut him off
“No! We can’t hire a costume they’re all gone, and if we put one of the volunteers in Trevor’s costume they will just look ridiculous”
“Don’t you think a six foot Elf is ridiculous anyway?” Brian remarked
“He’s a very good Elf” Jenna said indignantly “and he supplied his own costume”
“So let me get this straight we need someone six feet tall, stick thin with an arse like a 12 year old boy” he asked
“Yes” Jenna replied crossly, “That’s why it’s a disaster”
“I know just the person,” he said
“So let me get this straight we need someone six feet tall, stick thin with an arse like a 12 year old boy” he asked
“Yes” Jenna replied crossly, “That’s why it’s a disaster”
“I know just the person,” he said
“Really?” she asked doubtfully
“Really” he said and taking out his mobile phone he got up his contacts list, scrolled down and hit call.
“Rosie? Where are you?”
“I’m here” she said suddenly emerging from the Church Hall
“What are you doing tomorrow?” he asked and put his phone away.
The Vicar paced up and down like an expectant father while looking her Curate up and down.
“I don’t believe it, the solution was right under my nose all the time” she said
“Will you do it?” She asked eventually
“Do what?” Rosie asked
“Be the chief Elf to my Santa” he said “You are uniquely qualified”
“Ok” Rosie agreed
“Sorted” Brian replied
“Thank you God” Jenna said looking to the heavens and crossing herself “and thank you Brian”
“You’re perfect Rosie, I can’t believe I didn’t see it” she said
“You obviously don’t spend as much time looking at her as I do” Brian said and then blushed at the realization that he’d said it out loud.
Jenna pretended that she didn’t notice but Rosie did and she was smiling as she went back inside.
Jenna just kissed his cheek before going off to belatedly enquire about Trevor’s state of health.
On Saturday morning Jenna and Rosie left the Vicarage very early as there was a lot still to do in readiness for the Bazaar.
By the time Brian arrived at St Martin’s school at 11.00am she was fussing around like a mother hen, uncharacteristically wanting things just so.
“Hey sis” he said
“You’re cutting it fine” Jenna said crossly
“There’s plenty of time” he said
“There’s still so much to do” she retorted
“Ok just calm down” Brian said “it’s all in hand”
“Look it’s not just a Christmas Bazaar you know we’re making Christmas memories” Jenna said “it’s important for the children so it’s got to be done right”
Just then Rosie came through the door behind him
“Hello Santa” she said brightly
“Hi Rosie” he said “Hey why aren’t you in costume?”
“Some of us have had a very busy morning Grouchy Clause” Rosie said
“Come on Rosie your costume is through there” said Jenna and lead her away to one of the offices, but she paused by the doorway and let Rosie go ahead of her gave her an appraising look and declared to her brother.
“You were right bro she does have a bum like a twelve year old boy”
“Yes she’s perfect” she heard Brian say and smiled and left him with the drama teacher Cherry Overton-Brown who showed him in to the grotto where he was to be fully regaled in the red velvet suit and sat on his throne where Cherry would apply the finishing touches to his beard, wig and hat.
Jenna was much relieved by the end of the afternoon when everything was over and done.
All the feedback she had heard was that the new Santa had done a very good job so she went to find him and thank him, she had been sharp with him earlier in the day and he hadn’t deserved it.
To get to the grotto you had to enter via an adjoining classroom, like an anteroom, where the walls were hidden behind red velvet drapes, decorated with tinsel and coloured lights.
The adjoining door was slightly ajar so she looked through the gap into the magical grotto.
Leading to the throne was a snow covered path and on one side of it was a festive tableau of snowmen and reindeer and on the other side Santa’s sleigh was parked.
The huge throne was in the furthest corner surrounded by Christmas parcels where Brian, fully regaled in the red velvet suit was sat on his throne, and sitting on his lap was a tall and flat chested Elf and they were kissing.
As the resident celebrity of Highfinch, and the Vicars boyfriend, Nick Faulkner, was both the guest of honour and the raffle prize draw master.
But with the draw complete he went in search of his own prize draw, namely the Reverend Lawton and he caught up with her in the ante room to Santa’s grotto and she was peering through a gap in the door to the grotto.
“What are you looking at nosy?” Nick said
“Shush” she said and put her finger to her lips “Come and have a look”
He tiptoed across the room and also peaked through the crack in the door and could see Rosie the Elf snogging Santa Claus.
“Well, well” he said “Just wait until Mrs Claus finds out about this”
“Oh I think she already knows” Jenna said
With the resounding success of the St Martins School Bazaar and the added bonus of discovering her brother and her Curate were in love she breezed through the Second and third Sundays of Advent which meant she was on the home straight.
The Trifecta of Christingle, Carol Service and the fourth Advent Sunday which were on consecutive days.
But she was in a great frame of mind and was brimming with confidence.
However a phone call from on Wednesday morning threw a spanner in the works, it was from Lee Shuttlewood, the church warden.
“Oh God, It’s just one thing after another” Jenna said “It’s Christingle on Friday and then the Carol concert”
Jenna hung up and let out a muffled yell.
“What’s the matter? Is life testing you’re patience sis?”
Brian asked cheerfully
“No it’s testing my faith,” she retorted without humour and left the room.
“Now look what you’ve done” Rosie said and followed quickly in the Vicar’s footsteps.
“What was Lee saying anyway?” Rosie asked hoping she would be able to give her some words of comfort
“The sound system and the visual displays have packed up” Jenna replied “Christingle is in three days”
“Oh no” Rosie exclaimed and started crying and then Jenna had to comfort her.
The Christingle Service has become ingrained in Anglican worship though it had its origins in Eastern Europe.
The Christingle Service is a Service of candle lights where long ago people gathered in the street, sang carols and collected gifts to help the less fortunate in the community.
It is a beautiful candle lit service of hymns, carols, recitations and bible readings, but Christingle goes beyond a candle light service and it tells a story.
A story is told with the symbolic use of specific items, an orange representing the world.
A red ribbon tied around the orange to symbolize the blood of Jesus shed for his people.
Toothpicks decorated with dried fruits and sweets placed at the four corners of the orange representing all the people of the world and a lighted candle in the centre of the orange representing the gift of the light of Christ to the world.
After about 10 minutes Jenna and Rosie were sitting in the kitchen feeling sorry for themselves when they had a visitor.
“Hello!” a voice said
“Who’s that?” Jenna asked
“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten me already” Nick said as he appeared in the door way.
“Oh Nick” she said and threw herself into his arms.
Brian had been feeling rather guilty about his earlier flippancy with Jenna so he phoned Nick.
“So what can I do to help?” he asked
“Nothing much” she said “unless you know anything about the sound system”
“Well no” he confessed
“That’s not my area of expertise, but I know people who know people”
“Really?” she said suddenly encouraged.
“I’ll makes some calls” he said
Two hours later, Greg Scott, a friend of Nicks pulled up outside St Martin’s.
Nick introduced him to Jenna, Rosie and Lee Shuttlewood and then they all went inside.
After giving him a brief tour they left him to it and waited in the vestry until he was done.
The waiting was awful, no one spoke and they all feared the worst and Jenna was convinced that Christingle and the Carol Concert would have to be cancelled or simplified significantly.
“So what conclusion have you reached?” Nick asked
“Well it’s not a complicated system,” Gregg replied “I can easily patch it up in the short term, and after Christmas we could look at a more permanent solution maybe even replace the whole thing”
“We don’t have much money” Jenna added
“That’s not an issue” Greg said “I wouldn’t have a business at all if it wasn’t for Nick so I’m just repaying a long overdue favour”
After Scott had gone Jenna said
“It’s divine providence”
And burst into tears.
Gregg Scott was good to his word and had the audio visual systems working like clockwork.
He did have to swap out the visual displays as the circuitry was fried on the old ones but he had the work completed in plenty of time for Christingle which was On Friday December 18th.
Gregg Scott had the work completed in plenty of time for Christingle which was On Friday December 18th.
First of all the children assembled at the church hall in their Sunday School groups and made their Christingle lights and when all the congregants were seated in the church the children carried them proudly in procession into the church where they were lit for the service.
It was always a big hit with the children which was why Jenna wanted it to go smoothly, which it did.
The Carol Concert was on the following night and was an all ticket occasion and as always it was performed to a packed house.
The sound system was excellent and the new visual displays came into their own.
But as successful as the concert was there was no time for Jenna to rest on her laurels because the next morning brought the Sunday Service and the lighting of the fourth candle of advent, the final leg of the trifecta.
From the moment the service ended she relaxed and as she stood in the doorway with the breeze stirring her brunette hair,
The difference in her demeanour was palpable, her intelligent green eyes were laughing again and broad toothy smile was on full display.
She still had Christmas Morning to contend with but that pretty much took care of itself, she had written the sermon, the readings had been selected as were their readers, the hymns and carols had been chosen and the slideshow for the visual displays was done.
So she was looking forward to a few stress free days off.
The day following the last Sunday of Advent was Nick’s Fortieth birthday so as soon as she was up and dressed she walked round to his house carrying a little gift bag.
She stood on the door step and knocked on the door and when it opened she said
“Happy Birthday old man, I come bearing gifts”
“Well thank you” he responded and kissed her “Come in”
For his big day she had booked a table at the same restaurant where they had their first serious date, the Runcible Spoon in Purplemere.
It was an expensive restaurant especially for her but she felt it was important.
As a result her present was a bit less than she would have liked to have spent on him, but she made what little she had count by buying something he would appreciate.
Nick wasn’t just a TV Sports Presenter he was a sports aficionado.
In fact he was writing a book on the subject, so while she was browsing at the Christmas Bazaar there was a stall selling second hand Bric-à-brac including a small selection of books and amongst them was an old book from the 1970’s entitled ABC of Soccer Sense by Tommy Docherty.
She was sure he would like it until he started unwrapping it and then she thought it was a bit naff.
“Wow” he said “this is one of Norman Giller’s”
“Is that good?” she asked
“Yes it is” he replied “Where on earth did you find it?”
“Do you like it then?” she asked
“I love it” he replied and kissed her
On Christmas Eve Nick suggested they take a walk over to The Kingfisher over in Kingfisherbridge.
They had taken a walk over there on a rainy lunchtime back in September before he had to leave to work on the Rugby World Cup.
They hadn’t been back since, she thought it was sweet of him to think about going back.
It was about a mile and a half walk from Highfinch but it was a much brighter day as they walked towards Hawks Wood on Christmas Eve than the previous occasion.
They had a couple of drinks and some sandwiches and then they headed slowly back.
As they were walking back through Hawk Wood he said
“Look this is where we almost got run over”
Back in September they were so busy concentrating on hearing what the other was saying above the beating of the rain that they didn’t notice the mad cyclist approaching them from behind.
In fact they only knew he was there when he shouted
“GET OUT OF THE WAY, I’M NOT STOPPING”
They jumped sideway just in the nick of time.
“You Godless heathen” she yelled at the errant cyclist
As Nick was falling backwards and instinctively reached out to grab something while he was falling but the only thing in reach was Jenna so he landed on his back in the wet bracken and she landed on top of him.
“Yes and that’s where you almost kissed me” she said
After jumping clear of their assailant they lay there nose to nose on the wet ground for a full minute before she said
“This is awkward, and not a little compromising for a woman of the cloth”
“Indeed” he agreed desperate to reach up the infinitesimal distance to her lovely lips and plant a kiss on them
“A less gentlemanly man than I would probably take advantage of the situation”
Then he rolled her over onto her back and pushed himself up and helped Jenna to do the same, “But alas I am”
“Trust my luck to find myself lying in the undergrowth with the only gentleman in Highfinch”
And a smile began around her green eyes and a broad toothy smile spread across her pleasant demeanour.
“I seem to remember that was where you almost kissed me” he retorted.
“Well we could just kiss now instead” she suggested so they did.
“You know the old saying” he said “life begins at 40”
“Yes” she replied “Are you going to go all philosophical on me?”
“What I’m trying to say is that my life began before I was 40, because it began when I met you” he said
“Mine too” she agreed
“And there is only one thing that that could possibly improve on that beginning” Nick said taking his hand from his pocket
“So will you marry me?”
“You want to marry me?” she asked staring at the ring
“Of course I want to marry you” he said “But if you say no I’m happy to try your Curate, I do like a brunette”
“Don’t you dare” She said and snatched the ring