Christmas rush for priest with seven flocks

For most of us, the run-up to Christmas is fraught with stress and worry as we try to balance a busy schedule.

But as you rush around the supermarket and stay up late wrapping presents, spare a thought for the Rev Andy Simpson, who tomorrow will preside over a total of seven parishes.

Mr Simpson, from Skirlaugh near Hull, is gearing up for his second Christmas in his role and knows he will be rushed off his feet. “It’s crazy,” he said, “but it’s wonderful. Once Christmas is over my immune system will give up and I’ll rest up for a week, but for now I’m raring to go and every day is full of events and appointments.”

Since his appointment in September 2012, he has looked after seven parishes, which include the eight churches of Bewholme, Catwick, Ellerby, Long Riston, Rise, Sigglesthorne, Skirlaugh and Swine.

A typical Advent Sunday for Mr Simpson starts at 9.30am with Holy Communion; this week it is at Old Ellerby, a small brick-built church. The service takes about an hour, then he packs up his robes into a blue suitcase and rushes to Long Riston for another communion service at 11am.

He said: “I really enjoy the communion services; they’re the most serious and sacred ones I preside over.”

Following this he goes home for some lunch before venturing out again at 2.30pm in a reindeer hoodie for a toy and carol service at Catwick church.

“This was a special service where people could bring along presents, which will be donated to needy children.”

A quick dash to Sigglesthorne church sees Mr Simpson pick up his guitar and join the music group to perform at a family Christingle service at 4.30pm.

He said: “I put out an advert for people to start a music group and got a fantastic response. Now we have a group that plays at Christmas time as well as Easter and I love joining in on my guitar.”

By now most vicars would have finished for the day, but Mr Simpson has introduced a new addition to the Christmas programme with Beer and Carols in one of his benefice pubs.

“I started this last year, in my first Christmas here and it proved very popular,” he said. “Many of the carols we sing nowadays were originally written not for the church but to be sung in pub and at gatherings. I choose carols that reflect this, such as God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and The Holly and The Ivy, both of which tell the Nativity story in a very straightforward, simple way.

“I ask the church wardens from each of the churches to tell me which services they would like over the Christmas period and I do my very best to accommodate them. The hardest one to sort out is always the midnight service on Christmas Eve as I have three churches both wanting this and as it is a Holy Communion it has to be done by someone who is ordained.”

Mr Simpson has managed to get a colleague to conduct one of the services, which just leaves the problem of the other two. “I decided to do what other churches do and hold a ‘Bethlehem Midnight Service’ as when it is midnight in Bethlehem it is only 10pm here. That means I can do that service at Sigglesthorne then get to Skirlaugh to do another one at 11.30pm.

“When the clock ticks over to midnight, and you realise that this is the time Jesus was born, and what that means for the presence of God on Earth, it is awe inspiring.”