Rev Arthur Jenkin stood at the glass door leading out to the widow’s walk, seemingly staring into the darkness at what would have been a view of the village, except for the dark clouds covering the midnight sky. But what played before his eyes was a like a film of the last number of years.
Both he and his wife Jean were country born and bred, although they’d met in the City, he studying theology and she working. As a young man Arthur had claimed he would never marry a brunette and Jean, as a parson’s daughter, had sworn never to marry a parson. Cupid, however, had other ideas and dark haired Jean had soon won his heart and she, sighing but accepting that the love of her life was destined for a career ministering in a parish.
Their early married life had seen them living and working in big towns and the City. Rev Jenkin was a keen observer of human nature, a good listener and a practical man with lateral thinking skills that helped him see solutions to problems. All of which helped to make him a valued minister and the Synod Committee that appointed ministers to parishes used his abilities to help parishes in trouble.
All this trouble shooting eventually took its toll, which the wise heads on the Committee realised, so when the Jenkin family was offered a placement in a village they were keen to accept.
Jean had just one reservation which she kept to herself; many of the manses she’d lived in, both as a child and as a minister’s wife, were old, cold, dark and draughty. Several of the newer manses they’d recently inhabited were poorly built or cheaply renovated although adequately heated. She feared that this village’s manse would be of the old, cold variety.
When they arrived at their new home Jean groaned inwardly as they all gazed at the two storey manse set on the hill near the church. A red brick house from the Victorian era, it at least afforded views of the Village below and out over the valley, and the front rooms would get most of the winter sunshine. Let’s look on the bright side, thought Jean.
“We’re very proud of our Manse,” commented Antony Fraser from the Parish Council. “It’s been recently refurbished from the Church funds, and we hope you’ll be very comfortable here.” Jean tried her best at a winning smile. She’d learned the difference between what men and women classed as “comfortable living” and was sure, if the house lived up to her expectations, Mr Fraser would be a bachelor.
“Come along inside.” Antony Fraser had opened the gate and was heading up the path to the front door. Jean braced herself and followed shepherding her children, William and Kate, before her with Arthur bringing up the rear.
What appeared before them, once they’d crossed the threshold, stopped Jean in her tracks.
“It’s pretty classy, really, isn’t it. “ Antony beamed proudly as he showed the astonished family a beautifully renovated, light filled, warm home.
As the church roof was not in need of repair it had been decided that the Manse (and its inhabitants) would be the beneficiary of the current Church fund. Sir Thornbury, as Chair of the Church fund, believed Christian forbearance did not extend to living in a large, cold, draughty, outmoded house and as such had donated much of the renovation funds himself and had supervised the remodelling and refurbishment, skilfully carried out by Zac and his team.
The family rapidly settled into their new home and village life. The children soon made friends, having developed that knack through necessity caused by moving so often. Young William liked to ride his bike exploring the surrounding countryside and was often in the company of Colin Evans, with little Stevie hanging around whenever they let him. Kate had lots of friends who visited each other’s houses to play.
As was her duty, Jean expected to head up many of the ladies’ committees, but was delighted that this responsibility was often shared with Lady Mavis who became a friend and confidant.
Rev Jenkin had been very pleased to see his precious family adapt so quickly to village life. He had braced himself for troubles and hardships among his parishioners and had been a little nonplussed at first to find that they didn’t need him to the extent of his previous parishes. It gave Arthur time to breathe and, he supposed, smell the roses as that old saying went.
Then he’d had a request from a former colleague explaining the situation of a young musician. Philip Wagstaff arrived as the new Choirmaster and proved very adept at his new job, but Rev Jenkin knew the young man was troubled. As much as he tried, Arthur couldn’t reach Philip and all he could do was reassure him that if he needed to talk he was there to listen. A recent visit by Celia Evans’ sister Emma seemed to have changed Philip and while Arthur was delighted to see his choirmaster smiling and happier, he couldn’t help feeling he’d failed somehow; he hadn’t come up with a solution.
On the other hand there was old Ben Crosley who’d recently lost his wife of some 40 odd years and was grieving badly. Rev Jenkin had had some experience of death and loss with his parents’ passing but he had no experience of losing a life partner and all his training didn’t seem to bring him any ideas of how to ease Ben’s suffering, other than to assure him of his helping hand and ear when needed.
Too, there was Mrs Watson, that grumpy recently retired school teacher. Arthur was convinced there were closely guarded secrets there but she was too prickly to get anywhere near.
Rev Jenkin despaired of being of value to either of these parishioners.
Soft footfalls behind him brought him out of his reverie
“What are you doing?” Jean asked.
Arthur wrapped his arms lovingly around his wife, drawing her close. “Ruminating on my flock.”
“Have you sorted the sheep from the goats?” she asked with a mischievous smile.
“Just about. Thinking about a special few.”
“Hmm…..and Mrs Watson and young Philip.”
“Philip seems to be more contented these days. I think Emma has something to do with that,” She felt him nod, “Feeling superfluous?” He nodded again. “You don’t have to fix everyone, darling. Sometimes things will work out by themselves. Different from the situations you used to encounter, I know. Besides there’s that lovely part of your job; you’ve christened baby Essie and there are two weddings coming up, and church attendance is at an all-time high according to Lady Mavis so you’re doing lots right!”
She paused “And you know you will find a way to help Ben and Mrs Watson.”
They stood silently together for some moments. Then the clouds covering the moon broke apart and its silvery beams drowned the scene before them showing up the houses and sparkling off the snow covered ground, roofs and trees. He gazed with fondness at his sleeping village.
“Come back to bed.” She took his hand as they walked back to their bedroom. Jean was right, he thought, it wasn’t always up to him to “fix” things, and with guidance he would be able to help those people who were in need and minister to those who required the day to day services of a parish Reverend.Squeals of delight broke out in many Village households as Christmas Day dawned and children discovered that the shortbread and Fanta, the mince pies and milk or the Christmas cake and carrots had been consumed by Father Christmas (and the carrots presumably by the reindeer) on his visit overnight. Stockings had been filled and extra gifts were strewn around fire places. Excitement knew no bounds as the stockings were emptied and presents unwrapped.
Parents eventually chivvied their offspring to breakfast and dressing and out the door. Greetings echoed in the chill morning air as families made their way up the hill to the church. After a welcome and the first carol, Rev Jenkin asked the children to come to the front. Once they were settled he asked what they’d received for Christmas. “A train set!” “A doll!” “A new football!” “A kite!” Answers flew thick and fast. With the help of a story board the minister explained what had happened on that first Christmas and the children listened and watched in fascination as the beautifully illustrated cardboard characters made their appearances on the felt board and the age old story unfolded.
At the end of their session, little Jane Evans asked Arthur what he’d received for Christmas and was horrified to hear that the Jenkin family waited until after the church service before present exchanging took place. “We’d better finish now then!” she cried much to the amusement of the congregation.
Following the end of the service parishioners waited patiently in the aisle, exchanging news as they made their way out. Mindful of Jane’s discovery, they nevertheless wanted to greet and thank their new minister for a fine Christmas Service and Arthur was overwhelmed by his parishioners comments and thanks for his ministrations. William and Kate danced impatiently near their father, eager to get back to the Manse and their awaiting presents. Eventually everyone had left and they each grabbed one of his hands and pulled him away. Arthur pretended to protest but the children, giggling, pulled harder and won the play.
Jean was waiting for them with hot drinks and a variety of treats. The family members took it in turns to play “Santa” giving out the presents, and the Christmas tree was soon bare of gifts. A delicious roast lunch followed by pudding put them all in the mood for a slumber and quiet afternoon. With the fire ablaze and the tree lights twinkling, the children played quietly with their new toys and Arthur and Jean read and dozed and watched their contented children.
Jean reached out and placed her hand in her husband’s and squeezed it. “Still happy we came to Christmas Village?” she eventually asked. “Very,” Rev Jenkin replied leaning over and kissing the top of Jean’s head.