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Summer!

Hello – and sorry it’s been so long! We hope you’re enjoying the long, sunny days and warm evenings. I’ve really loved watching plants grow, smelling the lavender and roses, and sitting out in the garden whenever I get chance. Such a lovely time of year!

Since the last blog post, we went to my sister Marianne’s wedding up in Harrogate, which was a beautiful occasion! It provided a good opportunity to see family, too, most of whom we usually only see at Christmas.

Ben’s work at the café is still going well, and his monthly community coffee morning (‘The Living Room’) seems to be fairly well-attended and enjoyed by all. His one-day-a-week respite work is going well too, with lots of trips to restaurants and the cinema!

My work is ever-evolving, and I’m thankful that this week I’ve been given the title and salary for the job I’ve been doing for the last two years! This has been a shift over the last couple of years from Community Building (helping people to get to know their neighbours, to make new friends, to explore and implement their ideas for their neighbourhood, to start new groups and activities, to pursue their passions and use their talents alongside others in their area, etc) to mentoring and supporting other community workers from other organisations – while retaining a little of the Community Building work myself too – and some consultancy with organisations and groups that want to better understand Asset-Based-Community-Development (ABCD). It’s not been easy, especially as a number of the community workers I support have been consistently pulled in different directions by their employers/funders/stakeholders/managers. I don’t think this will ever really change, to be honest, and much of my work has been helping people find ways of growing in resilience and ability to gently justify their work to those around them. One big work-related change for me has been the office move – we are now based in central Cheltenham, in a beautifully-renovated building that looks like it’s come straight out of an interior design magazine! Transport is a bit of a pain, but could be worse.

Ben finished his counselling course the other week, and is now qualified up to Level 3. He’s hoping to do the Level 4 course at some point, but not immediately – it will be good to have a break from it. Our weeks were revolving around it – there was a session every Thursday evening, and homework to do that filled up every Wednesday evening, and one full Sunday each month, plus assignments and presentations to work on in between. It was a big commitment on top of everything else, and although the course was very stimulating, thought-provoking, useful and enjoyable, we were both glad when it finished! So after a year or two’s break, he hopes to potentially continue on to Level 4, which is a much greater time commitment (about 3 or 4 times the amount of time spent on the Level 3 course!) and a much greater cost too. We’ll see where we’re at in a year or two, and consider whether it’s a possibility at that stage. (At one point he was hoping to continue straight on to the Level 4 course in September, but the time and financial commitment, as well as the academic workload, led us to push it back – and then this decision was solidified by the discovery that neither of the two top organisations that offer the course locally will be running it this year!)

My painting courses, greetings cards and jewellery sales all seem to be continuing well, though I’m not looking for any new opportunities to expand it at this stage! I’m still speaking at WI meetings and the like semi-regularly with stories from some of the cross-cultural trips from 2012-2013, which is good fun and brings in a bit of income too. In recent months it’s been a struggle to find any time to paint (outside of teaching sessions with individuals and groups), or to write, so I’m now trying to cut back on some things in order to prioritise a bit of enjoyable rest – partly for the sake of my health, which has been variable. We’ve been spending time more intentionally learning Finnish, too, in the hope of one day being able to converse properly with some of Ben’s relatives in Finland, and perhaps one day even live there for a year or so.

Going ‘away’ to work somewhere long-term is still on the cards (since people keep asking), but as yet we still don’t have a specific place or project in mind. We’re in touch with a few favourite organisations about possibilities – but we also recognise that we don’t need to rush; that the time here in Gloucester working semi-normal jobs and learning lots is equally important.

We’d love to hear your news! Please do keep in touch, and let us know how you’re doing.

Have a lovely Summer!

Ben & Kat

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Spring!

Hello! We hope you’re well and enjoying Spring! This is a wonderful time of year – it’s lovely seeing the flowers starting to appear, and smelling the blossom everywhere. I’ve been enjoying planting a variety of things in our little stretch of soil beside our front door, watering it whenever the rain doesn’t, and watching it grow. And in the warmer days of recent weeks Ben and I have been making the most of the communal garden, sitting outside with a book or eating outside on camping chairs. We even had a few evenings playing badminton in the garden, which we haven’t played in years and have thoroughly enjoyed, despite the tendencies of Poundland shuttlecocks to lose their heads…!

In February we had the pleasure of going to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, for Ben’s brother Tim’s wedding! He married a lovely Iranian woman called Jalaleh, and we had a lot of fun getting to know her, and members of her family, during that week. It was a beautiful wedding, and Tbilisi was a fascinating city to explore! It was great having time away with Ben’s family, too – a very refreshing holiday, full of delicious food and lots of good wine. At some stage we hope to visit Jalaleh and her family in Iran. She is in the middle of applying for a spouse visa to come and live with Tim in England, and nobody is quite sure how long this will take; in the meantime she’s still living and working there, and Tim is living and working in England, and from what I can gather they’re both drowning in paperwork to try to get her here.

Speaking of family weddings, my sister Marianne is about to get married, next month! So I’ve been spending time organising and preparing for her hen weekend, next weekend. I believe my Mum’s life is currently consumed with making beautiful purple wedding decorations… We look forward to seeing lots of my family at their wedding next month, as well as celebrating with them (presuming that she and I survive the hen party!).

Ben’s work is going well. He recently cut down to three (long) days a week at the café, where he is doing some normal café work and some more intentional community-focused bits and pieces. He’s also recently started doing respite work once a week as a personal assistant for a friendly young man with Cerebral Palsy. Ben’s enjoying getting to know him, and has had his eyes opened somewhat to issues of accessibility across Gloucester and Cheltenham – many places and facilities really aren’t easy for people in wheelchairs to use!

My Barnwood Trust work is multifaceted, as always. One of the main things I’ve been involved with lately is supporting new community builders working in parts of Gloucester City, who are in the process of forming a new CIC (Community Interest Company) into which various people from the County Council, City Council and Police will be seconded. It’s been a fascinating journey. Thankfully I have little to do with all the forms and documents involved in the formal setting up of the CIC – my work is primarily supporting and mentoring the individual community builders, sharing practice and coordinating team meetings. I’ve also been working on a Community Building Toolkit/Guidebook which will eventually be made available for community workers across the country, after being polished up and piloted with the CIC. I’m still involved a bit with the two villages that I started work in, about three years ago, but primarily through supporting residents to continue the community building work in their own social circles now that I’ve stepped back – and also working with residents and professionals who have connections to an area of housing that is being redeveloped by the Trust. I’ve continued to support community workers and community-building-groups in more of a consultancy capacity in the North Cotswolds and a little in the South Cotswolds, which has been fascinating. And I’ve had some involvement working with someone from the Diocese to support vicars and churches to build community in their own contexts, which is becoming more visible this year through workshops and a handy written resource. We also have an office move coming up – probably in early June, though some staff are moving in to the new place at the end of next month. We’re all a little nervous about how this will work out and what it will be like, and I have some personal concerns about the impact it will have on my time and my finances – but we’re working through those details and I’m sure in a few months’ time we’ll have figured it all out and be very happy……

Ben is still enjoying his counselling course, and due to finish Level 3 in a couple of months’ time. It’s been a big time commitment and he’s put a lot of work into it – and is recognising how useful the different skills are for different areas of life and work. He’s hoping to continue on to the Level 4 course from September, which is a significantly bigger time commitment (and cost), and will go into more depth. He hasn’t yet made the application to join the Level 4 course, but is still thinking and praying about how it will work in relation to existing commitments, jobs and the like.

My little side-projects seem to be ticking along nicely: supporting artists to get their artwork/photography professionally printed onto A6 greetings cards; teaching acrylic painting courses (3 different groups, each meeting monthly); speaking at WI meetings and the like about some of my experiences in different cultures; selling jewellery at events and online; and occasionally doing some painting – including recent experimentation in paint pouring, which is great fun! I’ve also been working on two writing projects (with two others on the back-burner as well): one about Bolivia, involving some of my own memories as well as a variety of stories from Operation Restoration staff and some of the kids that have come through the projects. The other is an attempt at creative writing – my first fiction project (based on a true story), which has been very enjoyable! If you’d like to read some of the latter, do let me know and I can send over a chapter or two as a taster. I think I’m about a third of the way through the first draft.

This week we had the APCM at church (Annual Parochial Church Meeting – like an AGM). It was good to celebrate together some of the lovely things that have been happening in the church over the last year, and to think about some of the things that we’d like to focus on or work towards over the next year. The new Vicar and family have been with us just over a year now, and seem to be settling in – they’ve been a great encouragement to Ben and I, and we’ve enjoyed getting to know them.

Going ‘away’ to work somewhere long-term is still on the cards (since people keep asking), but as yet we still don’t have a specific place or project in mind. We’re in touch with a few favourite organisations about possibilities – but we also recognise that we don’t need to rush; that the time here in Gloucester working semi-normal jobs and learning lots is equally important.

Our car, Minty, is doing really well at the moment! We’ve had her over a year now (!) and I don’t think we’ve been back to the mechanic at all yet in 2019! We’re very pleased, and hope to have lots of roof-down days in the coming months as the weather warms up a bit.

Please do let us know your news and how you’ve been! Enjoy Spring, what’s left of it 🙂

Ben and Kat

Merry Christmas!

Blog

Hello! Hope you’re enjoying the Christmas season and not feeling too stressed by it all. Here’s a little update from us…

Ben’s work is going well; he’s a ‘cafe mission worker’ in a lovely cafe owned by the Baptist Church in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham. He’s finding ways of encouraging people to talk to one another, and ways to connect with the wider local community. He’s enjoying this new part of the role – it’s challenging him to think creatively in a different way!

My work is also changing: from January I’ll be supporting and mentoring a team of new community builders. This will be a new challenge, while still continuing most of the work I’m already doing with community workers in different parts of Gloucestershire and with churches.

The car seems to be doing ok at the moment, though we had a scare a couple of weeks ago with the alternator not working. We got it fixed within a few days and the car has been fine since. Never a dull moment!

For Christmas we’ve come Up North for a few days – never quite long enough to catch up with all the people we’d really like to see, but we’ve managed to have coffee/lunch with a few friends and relatives and will now spend Christmas just with my family. Then on the afternoon of Boxing Day we’ll head down to Wraysbury to see Ben’s family (hopefully arriving an hour or so before his sister and her family leave – we’d really like to see them, if we can make it there in time!), and probably stay there until New Year’s Day. This will be a lot more relaxed than being here in Harrogate because we don’t know quite so many people there, and we’re looking forward to a few days’ rest as well as spending time with his parents and brothers.

My art/jewellery/cards business is going well – I’ve been figuring out tax returns this month too, which has been quite an experience! The last two months have seen lots of jewellery sold at Christmas markets and in shops, and quite a few new card designs released. The DeeperCards Designers programme has been more successful than I could have imagined since it started in Summer, with thousands of new greetings cards being produced every month by a wide variety of talented artists, photographers and designers. It’s wonderful seeing people sharing what’s meaningful to them through art and greetings cards, as well as seeing more FSC-certified and eco-friendly cards replacing the usual shop-bought cards. (Let me know if you’d like more info…)

Ben is thoroughly enjoying his counselling course – even keeping on top of all the homework and assignments! He gets on well with the other trainees and the trainers, and loves the content. He’s finding himself putting it into practice in everyday conversations too, which has been fascinating – excellent skills to have. This level 3 course finishes in September, and he’d really like to do level 4 afterwards which would enable him to pursue it professionally. We don’t know how we’d afford the Level 4 course at this stage, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there!

The Youth Alpha course went well, and several of the youngsters expressed that they’d like to do the course again and bring friends! So we might run it slightly differently, but will find a way to make that possible in the new year. They‘re a mildly challenging but fun group of people, and it’s been great getting to know them and also hearing how the course has impacted their lives.

Lately I’ve been working on a few new writing projects as well (surprise, surprise!), including a book for Operation Restoration, the charity we worked for in Bolivia who have homes for teenagers who lived on the streets. Various staff in Bolivia are now involved, as well as the founders who are now trying to retire to England – a number of the youngsters who are in the homes or have been through the projects are sharing their stories which will be incorporated in the book, as well as stories from my own experience and others who have worked there for several years (and the founders). Exciting!!

We’re still in touch with our favourite mission agencies about the long-term future but have no concrete plans at this stage.

Not sure there’s any other news from us – but please do get in touch and tell us how you’re doing!!

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Autumn!

Hello again! Hope you’re enjoying the beautiful Autumn colours all around.

Great news – our wonderful car, Minty, passed her MOT today (after failing on four different points a fortnight or so ago)! We’ve relieved and very happy.

Ben’s job is going well, and he’s excited about developing his new role as Café Mission Worker and seeing what will come of that. So far he’s organised an afternoon tea event to bring together some of the more isolated people in the community, and is about to start regular ‘Living Room’ afternoons with coffee, cakes, interesting speakers, and most importantly a safe space for people to mingle and form new friendships. He’s also considering starting a ‘talk to me’ table in the café, where people can sit and chat with one another if desired – and home visits (with free coffee and a good chat) with housebound residents. Various other ideas have been floating around of course, but he’s trying to focus on one thing at a time, so the Living Room gatherings have become the current priority.

My work is going well too, and I’m now more officially a ‘guide’, supporting and mentoring various community workers across the County (both paid professionals from other organisations and residents who would like to engage more deliberately in this work in their free time), as well as supporting various churches to explore ways that they can meaningfully engage with their communities and utilise the Asset-Based-Community-Development model. I’m now also working with someone from the Diocese to create an Asset Mapping resource, and in the New Year will be supporting her to run workshops with a few different churches that would like to more formally engage with community building in their own contexts. I’ve also been tasked with creating a community building guidebook/toolkit resource that can be made available both to enthusiastic residents/Connectors and to professional community workers in the future. So I’m stepping back from the hands-on community building in Barnwood & Hucclecote, and a couple of new and slightly different projects will take my place there in the near future, run by some of the residents that I’ve been working with.

Last month Ben started a year’s counselling training with a local Christian organisation called the Listening Post, and he’s thoroughly enjoying it – though not particularly keen on the essay-writing involved. This takes up every Thursday evening and one full Sunday a month, as well as a marked ‘journal’ in between sessions and some essays dotted throughout the course. He gets on well with the other participants – and we realised we had connections with a couple of them (small world!). He loves exploring some of the tools and methods that are useful in becoming a fantastic listener generally, and, in time, potentially a decent counsellor too. The course is 50% practical, which Ben finds very useful and enjoyable, role-playing counselling scenarios in small groups and learning from one another.

My ‘DeeperCards’ project has somewhat grown and taken off over the past few months, with between 20 and 30 designs going to print every few weeks since June, having expected (or hoped for) it to be around 20 designs every quarter…! It’s been really inspiring to support so many artists, photographers and creative people in their first steps into the world of greetings cards, and to see their confidence grow hugely as people complement their work (and buy their cards). It’s also been fantastic watching some of the designers use their greetings cards as a way to share their story and to talk to their friends about what’s most meaningful in their lives! And it’s great to see so many environmentally friendly greetings cards being bought and exchanged (recycled and recyclable, FSC-approved, plastic free etc) rather than the usual shop-bought ones. If you know anyone who might like to have their artwork or photo(s) printed onto beautiful, professional-quality A6 greetings cards, do give them my contact details or direct them to www.DeeperCards.com/Become 🙂

Various Christmas markets and the like are coming up in the next month or two – November is usually my best business month for the JewelleryOfLove sales. Hopefully this year it’ll help to cover the costs of Ben’s counselling course. I also hope to start writers’ retreats in the near future (probably the New Year, unless people express interest in doing one next month – I have a lovely venue provisionally booked for Friday 23rd November just in case…). There are three streams of these day-retreats: a creative writing toolkit day with various exercises to learn and practice together; an ‘escape and write’ day in which a few writing tips and tools are explored and there’s time for participants to work on their own writing projects in a peaceful and inspiring environment; and a self-publishing day for those who are ready to make their finished book available to the world through Amazon (walking participants through the steps involved and actually publishing their books by the end of the day, and celebrating with Prosecco or mocktails before leaving). Watch this space to see how things go…

Another project I’m working on at the moment is a book for Operation Restoration, the charity that Ben and I worked for in Bolivia. Originally this was going to be simply our own stories and memories, but it’s expanded and will now include more stories from others who are heavily involved in the organisation, including its founders – hearing a little about the history and how it started, as well as the day-to-day things and some of the lives of the youngsters who have come into contact with the organisation. Exciting!

Ben and I have been running a Youth Alpha course in our church, with the Vicar, and this has been going well – we’re now preparing to take eight young people away to Viney Hill Christian Adventure Centre next weekend. How has it crept up on us so quickly?! The course will finish at the start of December, and we’ll be thinking with the young people at that stage about what’s next. Again, watch this space for updates.

I think that’s all our news for now. And what about you? What’s going on in your life? What’s been on your radar lately, and what have you been up to? Do let us know – we’d love to hear from you!

Enjoy Autumn, and keep warm 🙂

Ben & Kat

End of the Summer

Hello again! Hope you had a wonderful Summer.

Lots has been going on since we last wrote a blog post. In June-July we found ourselves participating in (and helping a little with) Gloucester Theology School, a new initiative started by one of our former lecturers. The topic this time was Creation to New Creation. It was great fun and made us think about all sorts of things – we especially liked the group dynamic as it was a very diverse selection of people with rather varied theological views and ideas. A thoroughly enjoyable time with friends new and not-so-new! If you’re in Gloucester and think your church or small-group (or a group of friends!) might like to try these sessions, do have a look at GTStheology.org, and Dan will be delighted to chat with you about it. Our church might potentially consider doing some sort of intro-to-theology with GTS at some stage, too – we’ll see.

We had such a fantastic fortnight in Finland this month with Ben’s family. We stayed in a cottage on the edge of a lake with his parents, his two brothers, his sister and her husband and two kids, and spent time with relatives and old family friends. There were lots of aunts, uncles and cousins to see – but somehow it still felt like a lovely relaxing, restful time; probably due to the fact that we were surrounded by forest and had a beautiful lake to swim/boat/paddle-board in. I wrote down some little musings, which can be found on Amazon if you’re interested: Colours of a Whisper. After Finland we had a lovely few days in Tallinn, Estonia, exploring our favourite fairytale city and catching up with some friends there too. The combination of Finland with family and Estonia on our own felt like the perfect summer break.

I’m delighted to report that our car, Minty, has not had to visit our mechanic, Mike, for about six weeks – and is still healthy and strong! At some stage over the next month or so we’ll probably drop in to get the battery checked, the oil changed and the cigarette-lighter replaced (I’ve been bringing a power-bank to charge the Sat Nav on long journeys since the lighter plug stopped working a few weeks ago), but nothing urgent.

Ben successfully ran a cream tea event earlier this month to launch a sort of friendship group at the cafe where he works, bringing together people who might otherwise struggle to make friends and don’t often see people. He’ll soon be dedicating every Monday to some sort of community work – bringing people together, networking, visiting housebound or isolated residents in their homes (with free coffee from the cafe), spending time chatting and praying with people where appropriate, etc. They’re looking into different models of cafe-mission and gleaning ideas from some of the other concepts and projects that are out there; for example, he may end up doing some RenewCafe training at some point. Open to new ideas too!

Ben’s also about to begin a year’s counselling training with the Listening Post in Gloucester – this introductory course will bring him up to Level 3, with potential for doing another more rigorous year afterwards which would qualify him to pursue it as a profession if desired. His training starts next week (!) – he’ll be attending sessions every Thursday evening and one full Sunday each month, and will have coursework, reading and the like to do in between. Regardless of whether or not he ends up pursuing further training after this year’s course, he’s looking forward to learning skills that may prove useful in his current work and in any future work, and outside of work too.

I shall be selling greetings cards, paintings and books to help cover the costs of the course – do let us know if you’d like to make a donation, though please don’t feel under any pressure to do so.

My art stuff is going well. I was part of a group exhibition at New Wine this year for the second time – 8 paintings and a few hundred cards were sent, and some sales were made. It was the first time I’d done a large-scale event with ‘naked’ greetings cards (without cellophane wrap) and I wasn’t sure how that would be received. Obviously, with cellophane wraps the cards look much more professional, are easier to display and easier for buyers to flick through (and buyers don’t need to remember to collect an envelope), and cards are protected from damage. However, a growing concern for the environment has led me to stop packaging my cards in cellophane this year – even ‘recyclable’ cellophane is unlikely to be actually recycled by most buyers and the making of it is just as harmful as producing the non-recyclable stuff – so this year I sent the cards loose. I was very nervous, especially since the curator told me that all the other greetings-card sellers have theirs wrapped in cellophane, so mine would clearly stand out as less professional than all the competition. But, surprisingly (and possibly because some buyers share my concern?), my cards sold better this year than last year! This has been a huge encouragement to me to keep making those little sacrifices, little changes for what I believe is right, even if it means taking risks.

The new(ish) DeeperCards Designers project is going well, too. After the wonderful learning curve of the first collaborative print-run in May, the second batch went to print this morning. The artists who participated in the first batch seemed delighted with the results, and the artists participating in this batch seem happy with the process so far (they should receive their cards next week). I actually had someone advertise the project to me last month – I met a new friend for coffee and she started talking about this DeeperCards thing she’d come across and how she’d like to try it, and that with my painting I should maybe consider it too. I was very pleased! …The next batch will be going to print at the start of October, so if you’d like to submit a design or know someone who might like to have one of their paintings or photos on greetings cards (or even Christmas cards!) then drop me a message, or see more details at DeeperCards.com/Become 🙂

I’m not going to be starting the MA in Contemporary Missiology next month, since it’s not funded by the Gov Student Loan after all (and although I’ve been told that the Redcliffe scholarship and bursary are both available to me, these still only cover a quarter of the total costs). Perhaps next year; we’ll see. I considered starting an online-learning MA in Community Development, but would really struggle not being able to attend lectures and have the learning community to talk to; perhaps I’ll reconsider and start it anyway next year – we’ll see.

The focus of my job is shifting slightly; I’ll be putting more time into guiding and supporting other community development practitioners and Connectors, in order to make the work further-reaching and more sustainable; and will also be spending more time writing and developing Community Development resources. This will mean my job may become a little more office-based, but at this stage I don’t mind so much, since I believe it will have a greater positive impact than my hands-on CB work.

In other news, Ben and I are about to start a Youth Alpha (with the fantastic new vicar), beginning next weekend! We have 15 young people signed up, and are looking forward to seeing what comes of this. Prayers appreciated!

Thanks for reading, and please do keep in touch 🙂

Ben & Kat

Summer

Hello! Hope the heat and dry weather aren’t causing you any problems…

Here’s an update from us:

Over the past couple of months we haven’t done anywhere near as much gallivanting as we’d been doing when we last wrote! Having said that, we’ve just returned from a lovely weekend in the New Forest for a friend’s wedding, which was an opportunity to catch up with some of the people we lived with in Bolivia, as well as staying with some wonderful friends who live down that way. Most enjoyable!

We’re looking forward to some time away next month: ten days in Finland with Ben’s family, followed by five days in Estonia. We’re very excited to see the relatives in Finland and to have time to relax by the lake and in the sauna, and of course the food… Then a week or so after we get back to the UK we have a weekend away in Pembrokeshire visiting our friends in Goodwick – August is an exciting month!

You may be wondering how our car, Minty, is doing. She’s absolutely fantastic, and we love her to bits! She’s needed a little TLC in recent months. The front and rear brake pads were no longer safe or legal, so those were both replaced, and since replacing them they no longer squeak loudly whenever we use them – yay! The indicators and horn wouldn’t work unless the lights were switched on, so we replaced the Comms unit (with indicator stalks, airbag etc – the bit behind the steering wheel), and discovered that the new one no longer makes any noises: we’re getting used to the lack of indicator-ticking, and no longer relying on the car to make a ‘bong’-sound at us when there’s a problem such as the lights being left on or the door being left slightly open. The driver’s door made a loud cracking sound whenever it was opened, but our mechanic has sorted this out. Both wing-mirrors ended up falling off (!), so we bought new ones and Ben heroically fitted them himself, with a little help from YouTube. He also fitted new windscreen wiper fluid dispensers on his own (accompanied by a Youtube video with instructions) – I was impressed!

Next week, the ‘back box’ is being replaced. We had noticed that the exhaust pipe was falling off, so kept some wire in the boot to tie it back on in case it came off completely, but now the silencer at the end of the exhaust pipe has fallen off and so the engine is very loud. It makes it look a little like we’re trying to be impressive, driving a convertible with a very loud engine – it actually makes us feel a little uncomfortable knowing how disruptive and annoying it could be to those around us. So the whole back box is about to be replaced, and we’re hoping the new one will last a while! We’ll see what the next car-related drama could be… Thankfully, thus far all the changes we’ve had to make to Minty have been non-life-threatening to the car and fairly minor issues; nothing engine-related or battery-related etc, so we’re hopeful that she’s still got at least a good couple of years left in her!

Our jobs are both still going well – Ben’s has recently developed in quite a promising way… He had been considering looking into other work, since the café is now at a secure enough place for him to move on should he choose to do so, and he had been dreaming about making paninis so wanted to get as far away from café-life (and retail in general) as possible. Also he had been hoping to do something that engages more with people, in a meaningful way, rather than spending all his working hours making coffee and meals, waiting tables, operating the till, cleaning up etc – they had employed him because of his missions experience/interest, and had led him to believe that this would be a major part of his role. Until now that wasn’t really possible, since the café didn’t pay enough staff to free up any of his time to intentionally have conversations with people, or pursue the vision in any way.

However, this month he was told that he can use most of his Monday-hours intentionally pursuing the vision of the café as a sort of mission for the church, to serve the community in whatever ways they might be most useful to those in greatest need in the area. He has several ideas that are under discussion, and hopes to begin with visiting more isolated residents, and connecting them up through some form of Friendship Group that can meet at the café. They also hope to start a ‘talk to me’ table at some stage, where people can sit if they want to chat with others, and people can make connections with one another who may not otherwise feel able to do so. There are a few other concepts floating around as well, but if you have any ideas they’d be more than welcome!

Not much change with my job, though I’m conscious that it’s now only five months until the big Office Move – so wondering whether to change jobs before that point or try to figure out transport options. Watch this space!

The little art business (‘Kat Gibson Art’) has now rebranded as ‘Meaningful Art’! See www.Meaningful-Art.com. This feels a lot better now, as the focus has shifted from me and my paintings being sold for the sake of making money, and is now much more about encouraging other artists in various ways – to explore and express what’s most meaningful to them. This is multi-faceted: through workshops and painting afternoons/evenings (in which, as well as looking at painting techniques and the like, we talk about what people consider to be most important in life and how to convey some of those themes and stories in their artwork); through story-sharing both using my own paintings and encouraging/supporting other artists to share their work and what it means to them; and through the DeeperCards Designers programme (in which artists can have their paintings, drawings or photographs printed onto greetings cards, with opportunity to tell a little of their story or what the painting is trying to convey on the back of each card – encouraging artists to get their artwork ‘out there’ but also their stories, testimonies and what they consider to be most important in life) – to name a few. Exciting!

In other news, I finally got around to doing something with my little stories and memories from the pre-Bolivia ‘Gap-Year’ trips: see As The Sparrow Flies on Amazon! It was great fun writing it all up, and lovely seeing it in print and hearing people’s thoughts and comments on some of the stories. Do give it a read if you haven’t yet done so!

Our new Vicar and family seem to be settling in very well, and we like them a lot. They have a real passion for prayer and discipleship, and are good at engaging with families too. They have started up a weekly prayer group and have been encouraging and teaching people in the congregation to talk to God in their own words; they have transformed the monthly family service into a very child-friendly and enjoyable experience; they have introduced ‘Experience Creation’ in the local arboretum for families to explore the nature of God through nature and wildlife once a month; they have supported Ben and I to go ahead with a Youth Alpha course from September; they are about to start some kind of women’s ministry; and so much more! They’re fab. They’ve been challenging people out of their comfort zones in a gentle and respectful way, and their humility and grace is an inspiration to us all. It’s been wonderful getting to know them, and we hope that we can be somehow useful or supportive to them as they continue their ministry here. Do pray for them!

In September Ben hopes to start a year-long counselling course with the Listening Post, a local Christian counselling organisation. The year’s course will qualify him up to Level 3, and if at that point he decides to pursue it as a profession he’ll do another year which will get him Level 4 and the possibility of working as a professional counsellor. Regardless of whether he takes the second year, the first year’s course will hopefully equip him for other areas of work – and life – and also be a useful tool on the mission field, at some point.

I’ve been considering starting an MA in Contemporary Missiology this Autumn; we’ll see if that ends up happening! If I were ever to do a Masters, now would be the ideal time: we don’t have kids; I work a 4-day week; (for this particular course especially) we live very near where the lectures take place and the Library; we’re not yet ‘away on missions’… I’d really like to get back into theological study (and don’t mind the idea of having to write the essays – at the moment!), and would love to learn more about different contemporary models of mission work in various contexts. I imagine Asset Based Community Development will come into it, too. I find the idea really exciting, but had not pursued it until now because of the cost. I recently realised that the Government now offer Student Loan for Masters – so this would solve that problem!! Again, watch this space…

That’s all for now! Keep in touch, and have a lovely Summer 🙂

Ben and Kat

Another update 

Hello! Hope you’re enjoying the warmer weather as much as we are.

A few highlights from the past couple of months – 

At the end of March we visited Falmouth for a fantastic few days’ break in a flat belonging to friends of ours. Then in April we were all over the place! We visited Darlington for a long-weekend with my wonderful grandparents. We visited friends in the Czech Republic, in Silesia (near the borders with Poland and Slovakia – so we spent some time in Poland too, and for a while on one of our hill-walks we were technically on Slovak land as well…), which was a really lovely week, and quite emotional seeing our friends there after six years and meeting their new baby. We visited Goodwick in Pembrokeshire, for a refreshing beach-and-hills weekend with friends from Redcliffe. And my parents came to visit Gloucestershire for a weekend, staying on a nearby caravan site beside a beautiful canal, so we had a great time with them.

Of course we probably couldn’t have done any of these things if it wasn’t for our amazing new car, Minty. After the dramatic death of our lovely 2001 Corsa, Freddie, we were blessed with not only a functional vehicle, but THE BEST CAR IN THE WORLD. It’s a convertible (!!!), so we’re having a tremendous amount of fun with the roof down whenever it’s dry. It has red leather seats and a wine bottle compartment. The front seats can recline to the extent that they’re almost flat and can be easily slept in. We even found, after joking that it’s a Bond-car, an eject seat lever!! (It doesn’t quite project us through the roof, but certainly makes us jump!) 

We are discovering Minty’s personality over time – for example, we now know that the indicators WILL usually work so long as the lights are on – and we keep some wire in the boot just in case the exhaust pipe falls off… Mike, our mechanic, says he’ll get around to fixing the cracking noise that the door makes, and possibly some of the squeaking and creaking too (suspension? And brakes) alongside other tweaks… We absolutely adore this car, and have made use of many opportunities to take friends and relatives for a drive with the roof down! And we’re immensely thankful to Clive, who has owned Minty from new (fifteen years) and managed to keep her running for over 125,000 miles so far. What a trouper!

Jobs are going well for us both. In Ben’s case, his former manager is returning, and there are now enough trained staff that it’s possible for Ben to move on at some point this year, if he can decide what he wants to do! In my case, my bosses have moved on (“organisational reshuffle”), so we’ll see what happens when a new head of department is recruited in a few months’ time. I’m also making the most of the last year of the conveniently-located Manor office, before we all have to move to Cheltenham next year (at which point I may have to change jobs due to transport issues) – and there are lots of little things going on in the communities where I work, which is good.

In our church, we have a wonderful new vicar who started two months ago, who has a passion for prayer and discipleship. He’s been ambitiously and determinedly introducing different styles of prayer in various contexts – we love it! We’ve very much enjoyed getting to know him and his wife over the past couple of months, and look forward to seeing what God does over the next year and beyond in the church. Exciting!

In other news, the art courses didn’t end up happening (yet), but I’m now offering one-off courses and workshops for which there has been a great deal of interest. I’m also thoroughly enjoying supporting other artists to get some of their designs printed on greetings cards, which is going very well so far – see http://www.DeeperCards.com/Become 🙂

Ben has learnt to play Clare de Lune on the piano, and it’s been absolutely beautiful to listen to his practicing over the past few months. I hope that at some point soon we can move house so that he can have his real piano to play on rather than the keyboard… We’ll see! (And I’m still playing the harp, but still not very well – though Ben seems able to pick it up and play it so beautifully with no effort or practice whatsoever! He has to sit on the wrong side of the harp and play it ‘backwards’, as this helps the strings make sense to a pianist brain, apparently. I find it very inspiring, but also a little frustrating that it comes so easily and naturally to him because of his musical background, in comparison to my very basic playing after many hours of practice!)

Recently I’ve discovered what a wonderful experience it is to process life’s ponderings in the form of poetry. I never knew how liberating it would feel to write poems (if I can call them that!) and give voice to the things that bubble around in my head, in a wide range of styles. So in March-April I wrote 64 poems, which are now available in book form from Amazon, under the title “Prayer and Triviality”. Do give it a read and let me know what you think!

Have a wonderful Spring – enjoy the sunshine! 🙂
Ben and Kat

Spring!

Hello! Hope you’re enjoying the Spring weather and plants, the longer evenings and slightly warmer afternoons.We’re writing this from sunny Falmouth – a wonderful Sunday-to-Wednesday holiday staying in a beautiful flat (belonging to friends of ours) overlooking the sea. Been very much looking forward to this long-weekend away!

Ben’s job is still going well – the cafe is at the point where it’s a sustainable business that isn’t any longer struggling to stay afloat, which is fantastic and means that the staff can now have more of a focus on the vision for the cafe, and on how they might make it more ‘missional’, whatever that might look like. We’ll see what happens!

My job has been taking me with increasing frequency to the North Cotswolds in addition to the work in Barnwood and Hucclecote, but in more of a guide/support capacity – talking with people, groups and organisations who want to do ‘community building’ in some way but want to talk through how to begin. The offices will be moving to Cheltenham in early next year, so there have been lots of internal meetings about that, too – and about what things will be like when we get there.

Thanks to all who have spared a thought or a prayer recently for our car situation… Freddie, our beautiful little 2001 Corsa has finally given up on life, it seems – or at least the mechanic has made it quite clear that he’s costing much more to keep fixing than he’s now worth (and sending messages that say if we scrap him now we’ll get £65 for him…). More or less every month for the past year – and every week for the past couple of months – we’ve been back at the mechanic’s place for another fix; usually something different each time. It was getting a bit silly, and for some time we’d asked ourselves whether we can realistically afford to keep spending money on fixing different car-problems each month. We were looking forward to several long-ish journeys over the next couple of months and weren’t sure that Freddie would manage even the first of them – so we prayed for a solution.

Then two weeks ago (Monday 12th) I broke down in Upper Rissington and was rescued by a very helpful breakdown recovery man who jump-started the battery and told me to blame the cold weather… The following day on the way back from Northleach lots of smoke started coming out of the engine, so another breakdown recovery man came to my aid. He said various strange-sounding things and I wasn’t quite sure that he was entirely sober (including “well, it’s 50/50 whether you’ll blow up on the way back to the mechanic but I’d say give it a shot! After all, there’s a 35% chance that any vehicle could blow up on any journey at any time!”), but that’s beside the point. Either way, in the end Freddie made it back to the mechanic’s workshop, and there he stayed for several days, and Ben continued to cycle the 20 miles each day to get to work…..

While I was waiting on that sunny Tuesday for the breakdown bloke to arrive, I got a text from a friend requesting prayer for something, and asking how I am. I said (after of course agreeing to pray!) that I’m sitting in the sunny Cotswolds listening to birdsong and waiting for breakdown recovery… Again… He then said he’s recently got himself a different car and wondered if we want to use his old one for a while! So that Friday, ten days ago, we acquired a gorgeous silver Peugeot 206 convertible!!! The owner has put us as named drivers on his insurance and said we can try it out for three months, and “if it lasts that long” can hold on to it…! I’m told that she was christened Ermintrude, so we call her Minty. She’s absolutely beautiful. (She even has a wine-compartment between the back seats!! Haven’t used that yet…..) We never thought that we’d drive such a fabulous car as this. She’s done 230,000 miles over 15 years but we feel very confident and safe – she doesn’t make any of the strange noises or smells that Freddie does/did! We haven’t yet scrapped Freddie but will run him gently and occasionally until the MOT runs out next month. A slow goodbye. And a huge answer to prayer – just baffling really! I can’t count the number of times we’ve laughed and marvelled at the fact that we’re driving such a snazzy vehicle. We even drove the last 45 mins into Falmouth with the roof down – it was surreal!

In other news, the big art exhibition seems to be going well – I know I’ve sold at least one painting, and have also had people sign up to both the Canvas Stretching course (a one-off session) and the acrylic painting classes which will hopefully start after Easter. I’m due to take down the paintings this Saturday, so looking forward to trying to find space for them all, once again, in our little Maisonette! There’s a possibility of storing a few of them on the office walls at work, so we’ll see if that happens. A few are also on display in Tarbosh Cafe in Gloucester city centre, alongside 90 pieces of my homemade jewellery, which I believe is selling well!

Not much more to report, really – except for the exciting upcoming weekend-trips next month: to Darlington on 6th-8th April to visit my lovely grandparents; then to Návsí in the Czech Republic 12th-18th April to visit some wonderful friends who have recently had a baby; then to Goodwick in Pembrokeshire 27th-29th April to visit some other friends (our former Greek and Church History lecturer and his wife) – a full-on month! We are very blessed to have the time and resources to be able to go and visit such wonderful people.

That’s all from us – but do keep in touch! Thanks again for your thoughts, messages and prayers 🙂

Have a blessed Easter,

Ben and Kat

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! A new year – a time for thinking back, thinking forward and contemplating where we are at present. So here’s a little update from us, perhaps in place of a Christmas letter.
The past year, for Ben and I, has been almost unbelievably ‘normal’ – fulfilling the expectations of the average British person’s year. Never something we thought we’d say at the end of any year…! We both have stable and semi-normal jobs; we rent a lovely maisonette in a very nice part of Gloucester, not far from a lovely little arboretum; we’re fairly heavily involved in church life (which we can almost see – and can certainly hear – from where we live); we have a happy marriage and nice little hobbies, and are still NOT expecting or planning children in the near future (clarified here in an attempt to stop folks from asking, again and again).
Some weeks (and months) over the past year have felt quite draining and almost purposeless – those weeks when one spends each day counting down the hours until one can get home and rest, and counting down the days until the weekend when one can recover from the stress and tiredness of the week and prepare to do the whole thing all over again. I suppose we haven’t yet got used to that full-time-working-life thing that normal British adults do. Will we get used to it? Must we? It does sometimes make life feel like it just goes on and on with no real purpose, like running on a hamster wheel, exhausted but still running…
Having said that, there have been some absolutely lovely moments in 2017. We had some great weekends away staying with friends – we visited Goodwick in Pembrokeshire for a weekend with a former-lecturer-friend and his lovely wife; a weekend in Duffield, Derbyshire, for a fantastic weekend with College friends; a weekend in Darlington visiting my wonderful grandparents; a weekend in Burgate, Hampshire, visiting some of my favourite Elim people – and others too. We’re blessed to know some really fab people. And we went on the most wonderful Church weekend away to the Forest of Dean with church friends in Spring – such a relaxing retreat, with beautiful gardens and fantastic food, and of course good company.
In 2017 we were blessed with some awesome holidays too… In Spring we were offered opportunity to stay in some friends’ flat in Cornwall for a long-weekend, and had a wonderful holiday there enjoying the beaches and exploring. Over Easter we had the joy of visiting a good friend in Israel for a week, who showed us the sights and generally gave us a fantastic time enjoying her company (and such good food!), and taking a little time away from ‘normal life’ to unwind and reflect. Then in Summer Ben’s best mate Tom got married to the lovely Rosa, so we had a once-in-a-lifetime trip to New Mexico for their first wedding – enjoying the wondrous hospitality of Rosa’s amazing family; followed by their UK wedding which was held in a Bishop Palace, where we had the privilege of staying with them over that weekend and other weekends since while they sort things out in the UK in preparation to move back to Japan later this year. 
Throughout 2017 Ben has learnt skills involved with management in addition to his ‘normal’ cafe skills, as he is now the deputy manager in a much more prominent way than he was at the start of the year. Finally now, this week, he’s been able to cut down to a 4-day working week (still 36 hours a week) which has been a huge relief after an exhausting end to 2017. He has continued playing and making music in his spare time and is a fantastic composer – with various music machines (synthesisers, drum pads etc) with which to record sounds and create new tracks. It would be wonderful if we could put a piano somewhere in the flat, but looks very unlikely due both to space limitations and neighbours. So, keyboard it is, which is still wonderful in itself.
Throughout 2017 I learnt more about conflict management and encouraging peacemaking between people, as it seemed to be needed almost constantly in my working life. There were some nicer moments, too, when people’s lives start to change for the better and people begin to make friends and gain confidence and pursue their dreams – playing a small part in those stories makes all the rest worthwhile. I was also glad to be able to cut down to a 4-day working week in 2017 after receiving two promotions throughout the year – having Fridays off has been a wonderful relief for me as the work is rather emotionally and mentally exhausting at times, constantly having to innovate and find ways forward; constantly on the lookout for hints and opportunities in communities and in people’s lives and mindsets, and pursuing those. So Friday became my Painting Day, which has provided a lovely opportunity to think and pray and process all that buzzes around in my mind during the week, while painting. It was nice to sell some paintings in 2017, and a fair bit of jewellery too; to launch Jewellery Of Love and see it take off a little in the lead-up to Christmas… Also in Summer The Art of Surrender was published and made available on Amazon in July, which was very exciting and a little strange. And I’m still playing the Celtic harp and enjoying it – though still can’t claim to be very good at it!
I wonder what 2018 will bring. We plan to visit Finland in Summer, but other than that perhaps only God knows… And we entrust this year, and every year, into His hands in the hope that He’ll do something with us: teach us, challenge us, use us. We’ll see what happens!
Happy New Year, once again, from us – may your 2018 be full of peace, good memories and amazing people.
Ben & Kat

Autumn Update

Hello! Hope you’re enjoying the lovely Autumn colours.
As ever, thanks for your prayers for us 🙂 We’re both quite well – and lots is going on as usual. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my new 30-hour (4-day) working week and the ability to spend more time painting, and Ben’s been enjoying teasing me for being a part-timer as he’s now gone up to full-time hours in his role as deputy manager at the cafe. He’s been taking on more responsibilities, and in reality more or less every weekday he now works 9 or 11 hours including the commute (depending on whether he’s opening or closing the cafe – even longer hours on the odd occasions when he does both), so is quite tired when he gets home! He may cut back down to a 4-day working week in the New Year, depending on how he finds this new schedule. (I think it would be a good idea to do so.) One possibility that Ben has been considering is potentially cutting down his hours to make time to teach piano privately. He is qualified to do so but hopes to take an online tutoring course (having done some research and found some good options) before beginning – and there are various other practical / logistical things to consider such as space for storing a piano etc. I have no doubt that he would make an excellent piano tutor and that he would not struggle to find students – it’s just getting around to it that holds us back at this stage, and considering whether it’s really something he wants to pursue and invest in. Some time in 2018, hopefully – watch this space.
Similarly, I’ve started advertising my new Art Tuition courses, having written the curriculum for 24 SOAP sessions (school of acrylic painting) and bought all the necessary resources for the first five sessions of both the teens’ and the adults’ classes. A few other short courses (including Christmas courses) have also been devised and prepared, and are being advertised. SOAP will begin more or less as soon as four people have signed up (hopefully next month, or potentially December or even the New Year depending on what people want), and the Christmas courses and the one-off Canvas Stretching class will go ahead on the dates specified so long as four people have signed up to each of them in good time. (Www.KatGibsonArt.com/Courses) There has been a fair bit of interest so far, and I’m pretty excited! So by Christmas 2018 it may be that Ben is a piano tutor and I’m an art tutor (both part-time, working ‘real jobs’ part-time as well)! What a strange thought.
We’re still a little overwhelmed with options for the long-term future, and still seeking God’s guidance. It would be lovely if we could know at this stage whether or not we’ll still be in England in ten years’ time, so as to consider whether to begin looking into things like buying a house (which we may even consider regardless, as an investment towards the pension, though being able to pay for a deposit still feels like worlds away at the moment) – but we’re trying to just trust God to lead us in our day-to-day situations and see where we end up. Lots of opportunities and open doors and exciting options, and we’re trusting God to show us the right way at the right time. In the meantime we’re throwing ourselves into life here.
Our church is currently without a minister (so we’re in the “Interregnum”) but we’re looking forward to the interviews in November. I’ve been asked to be involved on the day and am excited to see what will happen. This past few months has been a hectic time for the church, but it’s been very good. People have been thinking hard about potential changes, and indeed considering making some real (small) changes even now – such as restarting the house group and considering its purpose and direction. On the back of reading the rather exciting ‘aims’ stated in the Parish Profile, Ben and I have sent lots of ideas as to things we can do NOW (during the interregnum) to work towards some of those – and I hope one or two of them are being or will be considered. There is some reluctance to think about such things at this stage, in recognition that anything that changes now may be changed again (or changed back) as soon as the new vicar arrives and says what he/she wants or thinks. So, we’ll see what happens. The deadline for applications was early this week, so do pray for the shortlisting process, the applicants, and the people who will have the final say at the end of the day. 
Book sales are going well, and from the comments and messages I’ve received it seems to be blessing people. The thought that people I don’t know have read what I have to say is still quite strange to me, but I’m glad it’s useful to people. I’ve been asked to write an article about it for the parish magazine for next month, so perhaps people in our church will take a bit of an interest…! There’s a possibility that I may do a book celebration next year once it’s got a few reviews etc, as several people have asked after a book launch etc which I never did (and it may be too late now). We’ll see. On Sunday I preached on Surrender (at a different church), and was reminded yet again of how different ‘preaching’ feels to ‘doing talks’. I haven’t preached in over a year but have done many talks, as well as led workshops and sessions etc, through work and had subconsciously presumed that it would sort of feel the same. It did not. And, to be honest, even though with preaching I am usually more passionate about what I’m trying to communicate, I now find it infinitely more difficult, intimidating and stressful than ‘speaking’ in a secular context. I suppose this was heightened (or another dynamic or layer of complexity was added) by the fact that I already knew most of the people who attended the Sunday service but through work. There were people there that I’d met at the local scrabble group, and the quilting group, and the bowls group, and a teacher from the local school, etc – who knew me as a Community Builder, not as a preacher, writer or even Christian. I found it quite odd. Anyway, it’s over now – and perhaps I’ll stick to writing in future rather than preaching 😉 
I think that’s it for our news… Thanks again for keeping us in your prayers! Do keep in touch – we really love hearing from friends from different stages of our lives. God bless!