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  • Reorientated?

    The last Psalms service, with its reflections on Psalms 40 and 96 was well attended, despite the imminent Bank Holiday, and even drew two of those rare phenomena in preaching - compliments.  Granted, one was simply to say that someone had (sic) 'heared every word for once' but it was nice to get some thanks - and somehow it was in keeping with the theme of 'new hope' and 'future hope.'

    Early in the service I tried getting the congregation to recall what the last two weeks had focussed on.  I'm just glad there is no OFST-preach as their failure to recall anything about the pslams of orientation was so spectacular I would hve been put into special measures immediately!  With a bit of prompting we managed to get some recollection of the disorientation themes from last week, so maybe it was just unfair to expect anyone to recall 14 days ago, even with a recap 7 days ago.  Ho hum.

    The one real compliment, was that someone had found the service to be 'just what she needed' because she had been feeling rather low and needed to get a glimpse of hope to help her hang on in there.  I am glad that at least someone felt she had benefited from my endeavours.

    The Holiday Club celebration service, which took place 2 hours later, was a very different affair.  Most of the children and their parents came along and there was a reasonable turn out from the four churches involved.  It was a decidedly zany affair but people joined in - not sure St S&B has seen any kind of dancing in the aisles before, never mind the 'Pyramid Rock' hand jive!  And as for playing musical statues or using an inflatable crocodile in worship...  Towards the end of the service we created a prayer collage, when people were invited to write or draw a prayer topic on a 'pyamid' (triangle of paper) and glue it to the picture.  Most people joined in, and looking at the prayers afterwards was really quite a moving experience - prayers for parents mingled with prayers for Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and Afghanistan; thanks for fun alongisde prayers for peace; a picture of a cat next to a prayer for a childless couple.  Many of those who came along were not regular church attenders but most joined in this act of prayer.  I think that people had a good time, the children sang their socks off and were thrilled with their prizes; but above all of this there was new hope and future hope as people of different Christian traditions and none entered into something that expressed our eschatological hope in Christ Jesus.

    All then shall dwell in his glorious light

    Races long severed His love shall unite

    Justice and truth from His sceptre shall spring

    Wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King.

    So we sang at the end of the 'normal' service, and so we prayed in pictures at the Holiday Club.  If we can live this reorientation then maybe we indeed 'hasten the dawn of the day, when this new song God's creation shall sing, evil is vanquished and Jesus is King'

  • Because it's worth it!

    Why do we organise a holiday club for "only" eighteen children (if you read my earlier post, we had a few extras as the week went on)?  Each year the sceptics ask me whether it's really worth all this effort for so few children and when (so far) none actually start coming to church.  Each year I bite my tongue, acknowledge their concern and wish that rather than questioning they'd commit just an hour or two to get involved in it.  Granted, it's not everyone's cup of tea (though seeing the local clergy in shorts and Egyptian wigs/hairdos has got to be worth a laugh) but it really is worthwhile.

    This year our children really learned to work together in some of the team tasks, learned to share and take turns, and discovered some of their unique gifts and skills.  We thought quite a lot about families - about how brothers and sisters can fall out; about how people can be mean or sneaky; and we also thought about love and forgiveness.  We changed the (naff in my view) memory verse for a modern rendering of Psalm 46:1-2a 'God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble, so we will not be afraid' and used it to encourage the children to think about God's presence.

    Sure, we prayed about wobbly teeth and injured cats, but these are important to our children.  At their request we also prayed for orphans and for people affected by the plane crash in Russia and for a big sister who is in the army.  Today, in our last prayer time one little girl said "I wish Jesus was still alive" - what a gift of a comment, opening the way to share something of how he lives in our hearts and is our special friend.  No altar calls, no "sinners' prayer," just a week of fun and discovery under the quiet gaze of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph and Jesus... and of each of us.

    Why do we do it?  Because they're worth it.


  • Now, get out of that without moving!

    "Catriona, that girl says black is a colour but it isn't 'cos my Mummy says it's not"

    Don't you just love the things seven-year-olds (not sure of hyphemation here!) tell you during holiday club!

    So, is this little girl being taught A level physics already?  Or does Mummy say that black is not a colour because it's so, well, black?

    My solution, rather than to try to explain about absorption or visible spectrum was simply to say that both were 'sort of right.'  Thankfully this seemed to satisfy her and she returned to colouring her picture of Joseph being reunited with his brothers.

    I typed the question "is black a colour?" into Google to see what the real experts say, and the official verdict seems to agree with me, both are 'sort of right' as it all depends which side of the 'perception/physics' fence you are on.

    At least no one asked me who made God...

  • Disorientation - Personal and Communal

    Last Sunday we had our second look at the psalms, and some 'disorientaton' with Psalms 13 and 137 in full.

    We began with an interactive bit where I asked people to name 'storms of life' or 'situtations of struggle.'  I had decided that when I listed these I would group them according to whether they were primarily 'personal' or 'communal.'  We got a good long list, though only one was 'communal' - interesting.  We revisited this later in the service.

    Psalm 13 and the permission to shout at God seemed quite a timely message: in the last seven days many of our folk have encountered life's storms either personally or among those close to them, from redundancy to sudden death, relationship breakdown to terminal illness.  Being reminded that God is quite big enough to be shouted at seemed a good thing to be acknowledging, as did the challenge to Christian denial of struggle.

    When we returned to our list, and people were invited to think of things that affected whole communities, we were able to pick up topical connections: many local businesses struggle and shops are closing; families or friends are affected by war or terrorism.  Even our own recent experiences have been of a community facing struggles.

    Psalm 137 is an odd mixture - the start which once found its way to the top of the UK singles chart and the horrendously violent ending that sounds like incitement to religious or racial hatred.  It allowed us see something about how whole communities can struggle together and about the risks of being open about feelings.  Whilst God is not going to grant requets for violence towards another race, it is easy to see how pain or even justified anger may lead to sinful responses.  Very briefly we touched on terrorism and its links with religion, but more thought about how Jesus reacted to those who crucified him - seeking forgiveness not revenge.

    On reflection, I think the timing of this service was right - people did need permission to shout at God and to be alerted to the risks of allowing anger to turn to bitterness or hatred.  Through our hymns and songs we found some signs of hope to balance the gloom, without going over the top into either denial or triumphalism, e.g. Graham Kendrick's 'For the joys and for the sorrows' and the old Boys' Brigade favourite 'Will your anchor hold'. 

    Next Sunday we look at 'new hope' with Psalms 40 and 96.  It has been an interesting little sereis to work on, and I hope has brought some useful insights to our folk.

  • Hidden Depths

    Two days in ancient Egypt and we are getting to know our fellow travellers quite well.  Fifteen children have joined us and seem to be getting along well together.

    I am always fascinated by the assumptions about children's spirituality and understanding.  never more so than when it is assumed that "churched" (horrid verb, 'to church') have so much more insight than those who have not had this process done to them.

    Today the video extract began with Benjamin and Jacob expressing their sadness over the loss of Joseph and Rachel; Jacob even had a good psalm-style rant at God.  Not very accurate Bibilically, but I'm sure with a ring of authenticity.  This brief scene obviously struck home with one little girl, who when we got to prayers at the end of the morning asked if we could pray for children who don't have Mummies or Daddies.  She has no church background, unlike one boy who knows the answers to every question and, after bouncing about happily all morning asked that we could pray for him as he has a cold.  Maybe he had, but I'm not convinced!  I know which one I feel had the depth of understanding and had grown through being with us today.  But then there is the additional challenge of how we help our churchy children move from head knowledge and even professed faith to spiritual growth and maturity.  Answers on the back of a camel please!