Monthly Archives: December 2015

Jailbreak!

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It seems that the rain at our carol service was just the beginning of what was to come. Last Thursday, the day of our carol service, marked the beginning of storm Desmond in Lancashire and Cumbria. Although the rain seemed pretty abundant on Thursday, it only escalated as the weekend went on. By Saturday night, we had severe flooding around the city and the whole city lost power.

With little else to do in the dark, I went to bed early and waited for things to be back to normal, however, when I woke up, we were still left without power. I managed to find a church that was actually still going ahead with their service and it was lovely, even sitting in a slightly chiller than normal community centre, watching our breath as we sung out our acoustic carols. Because, if there’s one thing you can depend on in a situation, it’s solidarity. There was no phone signal and no internet anywhere, the only means of communication were word of mouth or carrier pigeon. I wanted to call home and thought it might get to the point where I would have to call on the neighbours for landline phone usage. Apparently it’s okay to introduce yourself to the neighbours in times of flooding, snow or fire. I might try that next time, “Hi I’m Abi, I live next door. Yes, the one on fire, that’s the one, it’s nice to meet you.”

As it was, we decided to take a stroll into town. For one day at least, it was anarchy in town. The river was high and raging, RNLI lifeboats were making their way round the ring roads and the streets were buzzing with people. The shops were all closed and people simply didn’t know what to do with themselves. People were queueing outside closed shops without knowing why. It’s amazing how much we depend on power, still at every pedestrian crossing I pushed the button and waited. People with electric cookers couldn’t cook anything, get money out or go to the shops to buy any alternatives. Everything was cancelled. Christmas meals, Christmas balls and Christmas concerts, even university was closed, all teaching, exams and deadlines postponed until the new year. It seemed Lancaster was cancelled. It was a shame, although it’s very difficult to be angry at anything called Desmond and sound like you mean it.

It was like when a Southerner catches wind of potential snow warnings and immediately rushes to the shops to stock up in case they never get out. They then look outside and it’s like someone has sprinkled a box of icing sugar on the floor and they are eternally grateful that they now own aisle four of Waitrose to help get them through these hard times. However, unlike what Southerners pass as snow, these weather warnings were real and slightly more severe.

It really did put our carol service into perspective, the rain we had on Thursday was the rain that caused these floods. It feels a bit more now that if we can put on an open air carol service in a castle, in the midst of the storm, we really can do anything with the help of God. The rain came down and the floods really did come up, but we can be safe in the knowledge that our house will stand firm. It appears God can answer prayers in elaborate and unimaginable ways. I prayed that I wouldn’t worry about my deadlines and would somehow be able to meet them all, I prayed that the weather would hold off on Thursday so we could hold our carol service and I prayed that even with so much on this week, I would find time to relax after burning out slightly over the last couple of weeks. Funny how things work out sometimes. Well, all I can say is that there’s a good chance all the left over sandbags and bottles of parafin from Carols in the Castle came in handy with the power cuts and floods.

On campus, our Great Hall turned into a refugee camp for those evacuated from university accommodation, with students covering the floor in sleeping bags, some queueing for hours for food and bedding. I ended up queueing for a good while in town for a payphone as few of them were actually functioning before being told there was a small amount of intermittent signal up the hill just outside the castle.

By Sunday evening, I was left to reading Sense and Sensibility by candle light until our power came on after six. I then decided to leave this state of relative luxury to join my less fortunate friends as they dwelled in the dark ages and I was glad I did as a couple of friends said they were going home for Christmas early the next morning. To be perfectly honest, I thought it was quite a rash decision and couldn’t imagine being home the next day expecting to have another full week, let alone trying to pack for the holidays late the night before leaving, with such short notice. Either way, we had our own sort of carols by candlelight that night, singing as we cooked in the dark. After a while I went back home and stayed up in the chaos of the crisis, watching our own town on the news, while appreciating electricity. The plan was to spend the whole of the next day watching mindless Christmas films on loop and opening my house to anyone who might want to do the same and share in the power party.

Somehow I was still up by half past eight the next morning and by nine o’clock I had decided to go home. At this time, whilst sat in my pyjamas in the living room, my friend offered me a lift part of the way as there were no trains out of Lancaster, which I gratefully accepted and was told they would be here in two hours. Half an hour ago I had a week to get ready, I now had two hours to get dressed, pack for the holidays and say goodbye to my friends. I have never been so spontaneous in my life. And thus began my jailbreak from Lancaster. By eleven o’clock I was on the road with the two friends that had told me they were going home yesterday, on the way to an unspecified train station. Within ten minutes, the plan went from Shropshire to Warrington before deciding on Wrexham. I willingly agreed because to be honest I had no idea where Wrexham was and was happy to be at any train station that could get me home. The plan from Wrexham was yet to be confirmed.

As it turns out, Wrexham is in Wales. I knew it was going to be costly to get home, but at this point I had little choice so I went up to the counter and for the first time ever, bought my train tickets back from uni on the day – I’ve got a railcard and an overdraft, hit me. I also made the mistake at the station when they asked if I wanted to upgrade to a return ticket and I panicked and said yes. I then realised I did not want to return to Wrexham. I was however glad to have got so far out of Lancaster with such ease. I did also believe Wrexham was significantly further south than it actually is which I learnt the hard way when we stopped for lunch and I was served gravy with my chips, letting me know that I had at least another four hours still to go on my journey. Don’t get me wrong, I like gravy on my chips, I was just slightly disheartened to find out that I was still far enough North for it to be normal.

It wasn’t long before we were back on the tracks though and a little over nine hours after setting off and approximately eleven hours after deciding to go home, I was in my warm dry house having discovered my parents had invested in a coffee machine. Life was good. On the way home however, there was another city wide power cut in Lancaster and although it came back again for most, it is looking like power may be lost again in the near future. I got out while I could due to more severe weather warnings in the immediate future and the potential of travel disruptions. My prayer now is that others can do the same and get home safely and that both power and general normality will be restored soon 🙂

 

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Carols in the Castle

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Ten months ago I was sat watching Nativity! the film and we joked in a Christian Union exec meeting about how cool it would be to have our own carol service in a castle. Like all good jokes, it was laughed at, but last night, ten months later, I stood in Lancaster Castle singing carols and hearing the Christmas message with the Christian Union and about 800 others.

But these ten months didn’t just happen. After we decided to take this idea seriously, about six weeks ago, time was pushed to put it all together and it’s true, I have absolutely loved being a part of it all. It was something we had never done before. So much planning and preparation was needed, it was by far the biggest event we have ever attempted, and it seemed for the last week I was weirdly floating between uncontainable excitement while simultaneously in touching distance of a minor breakdown. Even when risk assessments and production schedules slowly crept into sleepless nights and urgent prayer, it was still fantastic. It’s fair to say, we held absolutely nothing back. We even went as far as sending a personal letter of invitation to the queen, getting endorsement for our event straight from Buckingham Palace. We were so excited we had a continual countdown going from about two days beforehand reminding us just how many more hours we had to wait. From carolling in the square, to newspapers, to giant banners, we wanted to make sure there wasn’t a soul around that didn’t know this was happening – our Facebook event alone reached over seventy two thousand people – more than we could have ever imagined.

On the day, the stage was up (the very same one used by the Queen no less) and the marquees were all carefully decorated with fairly lights as the natural light disappeared. The driveway up to the castle was lined with people on either side holding proper fire burning lanterns to welcome everyone that came in, it really was special and I have to say, I’ve never put on a Christian Union event requiring quite so many bottles of parafin and wine before. Half an hour to go and the choirs, singers and musicians were all sounding beautiful, it was starting to feel really quite magical and really quite real. Everything was in place. Every minute was planned.

Unfortunately, if there’s one thing we all know about life, it’s that it doesn’t always go the way we planned. Some things are simply out of our control.

In the lead up to the carol service I kept thinking if only one person’s life is changed tonight, every effort will have been worth it. It seems I was challenged as to whether I truly believed this when the weather had other ideas about our event. The wind and the rain certainly did put our marquees to the test and I don’t think we can say all of them passed. And, I’m not sure how many of you have seen the film Nativity! but we certainly did have a Nativity! moment when water got into our system and cut all power. Unfortunately in our case, it was slightly longer than a moment and the majority of the service commenced without power but, just as the children in the nativity came together and made it work, we really came together as a Christian Union, everyone was there whatever was needed and the brass band played and the carols continued. And I do believe it still stands, the Good Shepherd would leave 99 sheep to find the one, if just one person’s life was affected by the service last night, it was all still worth it. We may not have had power for all the carols and performances and we may have had to make do and mend cutting out a lot of our programme but miraculously, there was power for the Christmas message. We still had more people than we’ve ever had to a carol service before, willingly standing outside in the rain to hear the Gospel and as wet, cold and bedraggled as they all were, they all left with smiles on their faces saying how much they still enjoyed the event.

It can be heart breaking to see something you’ve put so much into not go as planned, like a doctor that gets too emotionally attached to a patient. We threw absolutely everything we had at the carol service and it seems the weather did too. But, Proverbs 19:21 says “People can make all kinds of plans but only the Lord’s plan will happen.” The thing is, just because things didn’t go the way we planned, doesn’t mean they didn’t go according to any plan. No matter how hard it is and how impossible it seems to understand sometimes, it is so humbling to be reminded that God’s plan is always greater than our own.

Sometimes when we find ourselves caught up in urgent prayer, and things aren’t going to our own plan, it is easy to forget just how much God has already done for us in getting us that far. One song, to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, seems to sum up the night perfectly for me:

In unity we’ll stand as one,
As family we’ll go,
Shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand,
Into the great unknown,

For all that you have done for us,
In every battle won,
We’ll raise a song to bless our Lord,
For all that you have done.

It was amazing to see just how bright and cheery everyone in the CU was packing down after the service and how everyone came together. Quite frankly, it was a miracle that we had more guests than we’ve ever had before to a CU event, despite torrential rain, that there were still smiles and songs into the night and that we did actually put on a carol service, in a castle, with next to no electrics. Somehow, even after the service, spirits were high, the venue was still flooded with joy and pack down was relatively uneventful with the overwhelming support from all the local churches. We were inundated with encouragements from church leaders, guests, CU members and members of the public about how much they enjoyed the event and we gave out lots of gospels and had enough refreshments for all. We can never know all that’s going to happen and we can never plan for everything, I guess that’s the beauty of life, but if there’s one thing I’m really happy about, it’s that we get to do it all again next year 🙂