The spirituality of play

October is a month where the family project has been filled with sacred moments that have come from engaging with play. Playing is something we all did as children; it enables creativity and imagination to flourish and opens our minds to engage with the intangible. Sadly, during adulthood our opportunities to play become less frequent. Some of us may play by having a sport hobby such as netball or running. Yet, this type of play can still come with a structure or rules. Structured play such as this is good for us ; it increases our heart rate which is good for our physical health. It can help us connect with people who have this shared hobby or interest, combating loneliness and helping our mental health. Yet free flowing, imaginative and unstructured play is harder to find beyond school age.

Messy Harvest, which happened mid-October, had moments of this unstructured play. Adults and children alike picked up playdoh to create shapes. Some made food shapes which were related to the theme of harvest. Yet others simply sat allowing their imagination to make something different, using their hands as tools to sculpt and shape almost without thinking. As this happened, conversation flowed naturally and a sense of peace and calm descended on the faces of adults who were unknowingly resting through this action of play. As an observer this seemed a sacred moment; a moment where play enabled the peace that I associate with God to be felt perhaps momentarily by the person in play.

 Graveyard Stories also provided opportunities for families to play. The different activities were structured but allowed space for creative play to flow through each individual as they made prayer wands and decorated bat biscuits. However the real playful enabler was the storyteller. Alongside the quiet that comes when a story is about to begin, there were murmurs of interest as well as bemusement. These slipped away as people became captivated by her playful art form. Her stories brought the laughter and humour of God into the night.

There is the oxymoron of a comfortable unpredictable element to listening to a storyteller. Not knowing the shape of the story is both captivating whilst also leaving the listeners on tenterhooks. The moment of not knowing what comes next enables a space for wonder. This moment of play seems to echo the ongoing reality of those who hold a faith; the oxymoron of both the struggle and comfort that one can find in wondering about an intangible being.  Although holding a faith is about having knowledge, I think it is more about being comfortable in the space of wondering. Wondering isn’t a sign we don’t know the details; it is about acknowledging the element of mystery and unpredictable parts of creativity or in a faith context, the Creator.

A key part of play is imagination. Too often, we forget the power and importance of imagination. Einstein recognised the limit of knowledge when he said : ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’ When we allow ourselves to play, tapping into our imagination and into the intangible, we enable moments to occur that aren’t quantifiable but are very precious and at times sacred. This Christmas period, amongst the busyness, maybe we should spend some time playing and allow ourselves to be open to meeting with the fun loving, peace bringing, wonder giving Creator.

Storytelling in the graveyard

How our talents can shape our world…

St. Patrick’s Youth Group began again late September with a number of Year 5’s- Year 8’s coming along for the first time. Plus, some of our old crowd returned filled with stories of summer that they couldn’t wait to tell us. It is always fascinating to watch a group dynamic alter as established people in a group weigh up and then begin to slowly connect with the new faces that who have arrived. I am pleased to say that after a few icebreaking games it was as if the group had always been together. St. Patrick’s Youth Group young people are becoming exceptionally good at welcoming and including the newcomer. Keeping an eye out for who may not be being included enough and making space for that individual. We are still hoping to welcome some more newcomers to our youth group so please feel free to come along on a Tuesday night if you are in Year’s 5- 8, it runs from 7-8.30pm at Endmoor’s Village Hall. Every session we have a workshop of some kind! This term we have had den building, street dancing and an introduction to scouting workshop. The next few weeks we will have a circus skill workshop plus Christmas based workshops too. We hope there is something for everyone.

Some of the messy activities completed and ready to be taken home by their owners.

Messy Harvest was held in the Methodist Church on Sunday 13th October. We had a fun afternoon of different activities ranging from making Joseph’s technicoloured dream coat to thinking about the food we eat and the impact our choices has on our environment.  It was lovely to see so many families enjoy time together in this setting where creativity and questioning was encouraged, embraced in what we hope was a relaxing environment. Fantastic story-telling and also some great on the spot acting meant we could think about how Joseph’s gift of interpreting dreams meant that he was able to guide the rulers of the day to look after the crops, share the food and ensure no one went hungry during a season of famine. I was left pondering how all our different gifts could contribute to making our world a fairer and more sustainable place to live. This month I invite you to spend some time reflecting on what qualities and gifts you have that may help, in a small (or even a large) way, change our world for the better. If, like me, thinking about yourself doesn’t come naturally, maybe ask a friend or family member what quality, talent or gift they see in you that makes you different, perhaps a joy bringer or an enthusiast in a certain field. By identifying our own unique talent or quality it can help us all grow together more as a community and it may, like in the story of Joseph, be vital in looking after the town, country or world we love.

Community Calling

The Family Project always enjoys the start of a new term as it means the return of different school-based projects and the renewal of good relationships, exciting conversations and the familiarity of the steady rhythm that school life can bring. Drop-In at St. Mary’s School in Kirkby Lonsdale begins on the 16th September. This is a space for any parents or guardians of children at St. Mary’s to come and have a cup of tea and a slice of cake at the end of Monday afternoon from 2-3pm. We hope this space feels like a haven, a place where you can come for a chat knowing someone is happy to see you and is ready to listen. We are in the family room, located near the nursery and some of the family project team are there every Monday during term-time.  If you are a new parent to the school do come along and say hello. Drop-In can be a great way of getting to know other parents and hear about family activities that are happening locally.

Messy Harvest is also coming up on October 13th 3.30-5.30pm in Kirkby Lonsdale Methodist Church. As I write, we are currently in the middle of planning this event and as a team we are very excited. We are trying out this form of gathering as we hope it will appeal to different learning styles and ages whilst also creating a feeling of community and belonging. The basic structure is to have a variety of different activities all related to a story in the Bible. The Bible story is retold throughout the activity time and then is acted out during the celebration time. The celebration is a time where we share our achievements; what we are proud of making during the Messy Harvest event. After these things have been celebrated and the story has been acted out, we gather together to share a meal. As I have mentioned in other blogs, I believe something special happens when people sit and eat alongside one another; barriers of shyness and awkwardness often disappear once a meal begins. It is at meals that golden conversations occur. Kirkby Lonsdale Churches are known for providing good food and this will be no exception! Please come along and give this event a go. Afterwards, we would welcome your insight into how to make this event better as we hope to launch other forms of Messy events soon. If you have always found church difficult but are looking for a way of connecting with your local community and engage with faith in a new way this might be something to try. Equally, if you are simply looking for a community, this could be it. Please drop me a line with your thoughts, if you go/went to Messy Harvest, to me on:

What do you see in the people you meet?

On the first Saturday of August, storytelling, welly throwing, teddy bears and much more could be found at The Glebe field (behind the Rectory, next to Ruskin’s View). This was The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, hosted by the local churches for our local community. We were blessed with good weather, cheerful volunteers and plenty of visitors who popped in for the strawberries and tea alongside the option of a teddy bear photo booth shoot, some traditional village games plus the chance to hear some stories in our story yurt. We loved seeing some of you take time out of the busy summer holidays to come and be part of this community event. 

As Family Project Leader, events like these make my heart sing. I love seeing the connections that are made over a cup of tea, or an attempt at throwing bean bags in the right order up a ladder. Conversations flow more naturally when we are doing something else. Better still if that something else is fun and joy giving.

Face Painting

I see God in these moments. The moment when a sibling helps another sibling, enabling them to get the best possible score at the ladder game. The moment a young person makes a wise suggestion of the way to improve a procedure and they are listened to by an adult who quickly adopts this wise idea. The laughter between parents and volunteers as they set up a quick picture at the photo booth. The conversation in the corner where people are sharing news, glad that they caught this person, at this moment in time. God, for me, is in all these moments.

Teddy Bears’ Photo Booth Photo Credit: Peter Gregson

Too often, I think we look and perhaps only see God in the bigger moments of life. In the times when the world seems dark or alternatively seems bright; times of sadness or celebration. God is in these times too. Yet, the God that is in the simple exchanges, laughter and moments of unassuming selflessness, is the God that I think we would all benefit from trying to notice. I believe God is in and with all people, even people whom we least perhaps expect and that is something that is hard, at times, to comprehend.  When you notice God in people, you gradually learn to see the depth and complexity of God. Most of all you notice that God is always present, always working and always ready to listen.

As a community we are very good at looking after one another. Since moving here, I have been able to see God clearly at work in the people I have met and the places I have visited, be that pub, community centre or school. Events such as The Teddy Bears’ Picnic simply allow me the time to reflect and ponder these findings, possibly aided by the stunning sunshine and perfectly ripe strawberries- a reflection again of God in nature. I hope in September we can each find moments where we spot God in a person we meet, know, love or perhaps, in the complex nature of God, even spot God in those people with whom we struggle.

Conversations over tea and cake

I have often thought most things can be eased by a piece of cake and a cup of tea. Perhaps, that says a lot about my priorities in life and what brings me comfort. Yet, I think there is something we almost cannot name, that happens when people meet together over food and drink. Some have described those breathing space, peace giving moments as sacred encounters. I like this idea as it suggests the sacred and those special moments of encounter can be found in the ordinary and every day.

This last academic year, the Family Project has worked with St. Mary’s Primary School to open a Drop-In space on a Monday 2-3.15pm. This is a time for guardians to drop-in to the family room and find a place to sit, have a cup of tea/coffee plus some cake/fruit. The main purpose of Drop-In is to provide a listening space, a space where guardians can be heard and receive some tlc before they pick-up their children from school on the first day of the school week.  For the volunteers who have worked to create, what we hope, is a welcoming space for families to enter, it has been a wonderful experience connecting with different families through this project.

As some guardians have returned weekly it has given the space a real sense of community that comes with an element of continuity but also happens when food and drink appear amongst those who gather. We look forward to Drop-In restarting in September. Hope to see some of you there!

On August 3rd, we look to continue enabling new conversations and gatherings in our community with our Teddy Bears’ Picnic which will take place 2-4pm at the Glebe, or in St. Mary’s Church if it is wet weather. Bring along your own picnic and enjoy an afternoon of traditional games, story-telling and fun. Strawberries and tea/coffee will be available to purchase on the day too.  

Artwork in St. Mary’s School

June and the start of July are times of endings and transitions too, when students move from one form to another, or even face the reality of leaving for another school. This can be a very hard time, one of mixed emotions, including sadness, excitement, fear and hope. The completed artwork, designed by Pauline Kaye and created by Year 3 and some of Year 4 in St. Mary’s School, seems to capture some of these different human emotions whilst also reminding all those in transition that they are not alone. God is with them during this tricky time. They remain held by God in all those uncomfortable, as well as the comfortable, times.

Hope to see some of you on August 3rd 2-4pm for the Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Please remember to bring a teddy bear with you to increase our community further (other well-loved stuffed animals also welcome).

Conversing with God and our planet.

 I have had the privilege of going into St. Mary’s School to have conversations with a different class every Monday about prayer. This last term we have been exploring Imaginative Prayer. Imaginative prayer is when a person listens to a Bible story being read and then uses their imagination to place themselves in the Bible story at some point, to discover a new perspective or connection with the story and God. Many of the children in St. Mary’s enjoyed trying this style of praying. I suspect those who played video games or who had stories read to them engaged quickly as they were used to visualising and immersing themselves in a wider narrative that was not of their own making.

We have been exploring the story of Jairus and his ill daughter, who Jesus restored back to life after arriving at the house to a crowd saying she had died.  We also heard the story of the woman who had been ill for years but then touched Jesus’ cloak in the crowd and was healed. This healing took place amidst a crowd whilst Jesus was walking with Jairus to visit his sick and dying daughter. It has been interesting to hear how different children in different year groups have responded to these intertwined stories. Many children considered how scared the woman must have been when she touched the cloak and then Jesus realised someone had touched him. Some thought she must have been relieved to no longer be ill.  Others considered the crowd around Jesus: how loud and cramped it must have been. Plus how the noise may have been intimidating, even to Jesus! Others became members in the crowd struggling to see Jesus. A few children became disciples who walked with Jesus through the crowd and onto Jairus’ house. Some thought about the daughter raised from the dead; what would she have felt waking up to Jesus? It was fantastic to see children (and teachers) trying out this new form of prayer. Not all found it easy and that is perfectly normal. One way of praying doesn’t work for everyone. It is a case of pray as you can, not as you can’t.

Green Warriors embracing the mud and mess

Green Warriors, at St Patrick’s School in Endmoor, have spent these last few weeks growing kale, preparing wildflower beds and planting some new trees. It has been a time of a lot of mud, laughter and growth. In Green Warriors, one of the Bible verses we have been looking at is The Great Commission where Jesus talks to his disciples about them going out into the world: ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’ Mark 16:15. There are many versions of this statement in the Bible yet the one from the book of Mark is slightly different from others as it mentions creation and the need to tell the good news to everyone, not just humans. This is a radically different message in many ways. At Green Warriors we discussed how this means more than just talking about God to people but putting those words into action; action that shows creation the good news too. This is where the care for the environment and the need to look after our planet is part of this great commission, one that children throughout the world are responding to inspiringly and one that Green Warriors have embodied throughout this last year. It is always good to remember that our actions are part of our wider conversation with the world and God.

In between times.

When many of you read this, Easter will feel a long time ago. Yet writing this in early May it still feels rather recent.

My favourite day of Holy Week is Holy Saturday. This is the day between Good Friday which included Jesus’ death on the cross, to Jesus resurrection on Easter Sunday. It is the day where I imagine Jesus friends and followers, all those years ago spent time unsure what to believe, and whether Jesus really would return as He had said or if they had misjudged everything. The in between day is a day I resonate with best. The day of uncertainty, of questioning and anxiety of the unknown. A day where the then current world view of the disciples would have felt unsafe and muddled.

Over the last few months I have had so many conversations with people about faith, doubts, what counts as belief and what doesn’t. I think this Holy Saturday could be a day for the muddled, thoughtful, reflective and questioning folk. As part of the Family Project we are trying to find ways to create spaces for these uncertainties, questions and doubts to be held, heard and if it feels right, explored together.

Often children are the example we should follow when it comes to matters of questioning and doubts. They ask questions openly often without fear of what the person listening may think, in a way that enables an honest and deep conversation to gather quickly, taking the listener unawares. Pauline Kaye and I went into St. Mary’s school to help create an art piece with Year 3 and some of Year 4. The design was created by Pauline with input from the children. The picture below is not the finished piece, but it shows the mosaic created with these children, whilst they talked about everyday things; their family, pets being ill, who was important in their life. It was a real privilege to hear them share their thoughts and feelings so openly. When it came to be talking about the display and how it links to the story of Easter and Jesus presence in the world today, the children once more led the way, with their ideas of words that could be added to this art piece. They instantly understood the connections but took the ideas further, drawing links and conclusions about the image they were creating in ways that were at times bemusing, inspiring, thought-provoking and some simply filled me with joy. There needs to be more spaces for these exploring conversations. I suspect amongst many of our own doubts and questions there will be contemplations that cause others to wonder, be inspired, pause or smile. I firmly believe this is where the mystery of Holy Saturday lives on but also that the inspiration, pausing, joy or wonder point towards the next day, where the mystery becomes clearer.

The mosaic design that is part of a larger display that will be at St. Mary’s school.