We've just passed the 3rd anniversary of our move to Bristol, which regrettably bears no relationship to the number of Christmas letters we have sent out since then. And some of you may distantly remember prayer letters, while others will not, and some of you will have followed news on our web-site, and others will not. So where to start?
The beginning is too long ago, so where are we all now? The things that haven't changed: we are living very happily here in Abbeywood, with Steve in the attic; and attending Highgrove Christian Fellowship. Ian is still at Sea Mills Junior School, in his last year there, and Alan at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School. The main changes: Philip joined Alan at St Mary Redcliffe last year; Paul is working full-time as General Manager of the Crisis Centre (among other things); and Sue is working part-time as Administrator for One25 (among fewer things).
Another change: this year we have had two holidays, one as a family: the first since we moved. In 2000 and 2001 Philip and Ian went to an August Cub and Scout camp, which gave Paul and Sue the chance to go to Brunel Manor, leaving Alan at home with Steve, which Alan found preferable to coming with us! This year there was no summer camp, so what to do? The first answer was a February trip to visit Mark and Sue Howe in France, taking Ian and Philip while Alan was on a school ski trip to Austria. And the second was a week at Manor Adventure in Shropshire, which involved all of us in doing interesting things like abseiling, assault courses, canoeing, high ropes and rafting. (All right, Sue didn't actually do all of that, but she was jolly useful at rafting having had the chance to watch how Alan did it and pinching his ideas, which worked extremely well. And she got the biggest bruise, from falling off the raft!)
Ian at 10 seems the least laid back of our sons, willingly organising others in order to achieve his goals. Equally, he has perfected a policy of passive resistance for things he doesn't want to do (school projects!) which it is hard to overcome. Somehow he's never caught the reading bug: although he is perfectly competent he would rather not bother. But each year at school enables him to demonstrate his abilities, and he had great fun at his School Camp in June. (Postcard read: "Dear Mummy, I miss you and my toilet.") He's been in the choir and a percussion club, so we've enjoyed several performances through the year. And he's just started piano lessons, and will even practice when he can! He was a generally enthusiastic Sixer at Cubs - apart from helping at Jumble Sales - and has now joined Philip at Scouts. The Crusaders class at Highgrove which started earlier this year was so much that he would have liked it to happen every day! Crusaders clashes with Scouts so he's waiting for an older Crusader class to start, hopefully in January. Pre-teenage trend: talking incessantly to his friends on the phone.
Philip, almost 13, was happy to crown his days at Junior School with a 6 in his Maths SATS, and made the transition to secondary school with reasonable ease. Nightly homework is still a shock to his system and a bothersome distraction from the computer. Teachers also seem to have unreasonably high expectations: for example, that accurate work in Maths should also be tidily presented. He was very happy that his friend Will was moving from Sea Mills school with him, and he has made other friends who also live locally. The daily bus journey enables him to continue reading voraciously: after his third reading of Lord of the Rings and as many Discworld books as we could lay hands on, he's now turned to the Thomas Covenant series. He's Senior Patrol Leader at Scouts, which is not always easy, but he takes his responsibilities very seriously, and always enjoys camping, even early in the year! He's discovered the Internet in a big way and is often to be found giggling over funny stories on some of the gameboy sites. Pre-teenage trend: grunting as verbal communication.
Alan hit 15 this summer. He made his GCSE choices with a few surprises, and his teachers are happy so he must be doing some work sometimes, despite appearing to spend every waking hour either playing computer games, watching tv, or on the Internet. He gave up his paper round in February after having his bike stolen, but he had used the money earned to pay towards that school ski trip, an experience he repeats next February. He was also chosen to do an Outward Bound course, identified by the school as someone who would benefit from this by developing his leadership skills… For a boy who never voluntarily undertakes physical activity, his willingness to participate astonishes and delights us. He spent his work experience week in France, working in the Cybercafé which Mark Howe is running. (Postcard read: "Mark says I should send you a postcard so here it is.") He's continued to do some PERL programming for Mark, which has allowed him to buy his own computer. Commissions accepted! Phone or email for discussion of rates. Teenage trend: going to bed and getting up as late as possible, but working his way out of grunt mode into a pleasant young man.
How Paul moved from working for Europe Now to running the Crisis Centre is described in more detail on the 'Ministry Update' sheet. In brief, we failed to recruit any Snowball students after the first 'trial' year, which left him free in October 2000 to step in - initially part-time and short-term - to manage an outreach ministry to 'street people' in the centre of Bristol when the founding director's health deteriorated. As time went on several things became clear: that Snowball was unlikely to run again in Bristol in the near future; that Paul was very good at the outreach work; and that the post was available full-time and long-term. His appointment has now been made permanent.
Meanwhile Sue realised that with Paul working longer hours and not from home, it would be sensible for her to work shorter hours so that one of us could be home for the boys after school. She asked Knightstone if she could reduce her hours, but it wasn't possible to recruit anyone to job-share with her. Reluctantly she gave notice, and very reluctantly her manager accepted it. She was able to reduce her hours while working her notice, and to continue working there until she found a part-time job. Last November she started with One25, a charity working with vulnerable women - if you want more details, please ask - and really enjoys it. The hours fit well, and even if the boys don't appreciate her presence, the gentle reminders about homework are certainly needed. Knightstone hasn't been able to replace her, which says something.
Of course, there's more to life than work. Sue's somehow been daft enough to get involved in setting up a local out of school Club - you'd think she'd have learned! - and is Treasurer of the SOS (Sea mills Out of School) Club. The big difference is that there has been a fully functioning management committee from the start, so other people have made an enormous contribution. However, the start of the Club was extremely hectic and Sue is definitely never ever ever doing this again!
Paul has a slightly more varied schedule. It's hard to keep track of everything he gets up to. He's a Director of Voscur ("The voice of Bristol's community and voluntary organisations") and of the Sea Mills and Coombe Dingle Community Project (a local body working to regenerate this area). He's on the Community Evangelism Team (a group of church leaders with a heart for evangelism and community action) because he leads the Bridgehead Church, which is part of the Crisis Centre's work, and through Voscur, is one of the voluntary sector's representatives on the Bristol Partnership (the Bristol LSP). Sue objects strongly when she sees he is going out more than three evenings a week, but she is often too busy herself to notice.
Paul is also on the BCAN (Bristol Christian Action Network) steering group, and runs the BCAN Homeless Forum which, in September, started running a monthly training programme for volunteers. Over the past year, the Homeless Forum has become the best known part of BCAN's activities, and one of the most significant parts of the Evangelical Alliance's work in Bristol.
Paul and Sue are both part of the Highgrove leadership team, and Paul also serves on the steering group of the Churches Together in Sea Mills which unites the three local Christian Churches and has organised a number of local events including a ceilidh over the last year. Apologies for the long list and brief references - you can find out more about most of these things by looking at one of the web sites Paul maintains, or just by phoning or writing to us!
Of course, there's more to life than work or meetings - we have managed various activities with the boys (including a visit to the local arboretum, Lord of the Rings and both Harry Potter films), and various activities without them (including the occasional meal out, the tourist bus trip round Bristol, and the best part of a day in the local spa, sharing a Jacuzzi and several saunas).
Our families continue to thrive: Paul's father has made an excellent recovery from major heart surgery last year, and his Mum and brother Roger had a hectic few weeks of hospital visits. Highlight of their year was a trip in a hot air balloon! Sue's parents have moved to Newbury, which does make it easier to visit even if we still don't do it very often. Sue's mum has had a lot of problems with neuralgia and her Dad needs minor surgery soon. They are now dog-less which makes the distinction of grandparents 'with the doggies' and 'without the doggies' anachronistic.
Ray and Diana are well, still in Oxford. We saw them recently when we celebrated Barbara's birthday: she and Mike were enjoying a brief break 'doon sooth' before having builders into the house. The celebrations were at Pip and Philip's house in Newbury, so their three boys enjoyed having their cousins to play with. Peter, Jo and Timothy didn't make it from Cambridge: Jo is expecting twins in January and can't travel.
The housewarming mentioned in our last letter went really well, and we were delighted to see so many people from so many places. Since then, too many folk to mention by name have stayed with us for a night or two, and the spare room is still available if you would like to come and visit.
We are very grateful to all of you who continue to send us your news, especially as we continue to be so inefficient at replying!
With our love and best wishes for Christmas, the new year, and until we see you again,
Paul, Sue, Alan, Philip and Ian Hazelden