The gift of individuality

St. Patrick’s Youth Group adult leaders have been encouraging the young people who attend to have a go at leading different parts of the Youth Group. The Youth Group, which meets at Endmoor Village Hall every Tuesday during term-time, has five sections to it. We begin with a welcome, followed by games, a workshop of some kind, followed by reflection time and finally food together. The young people who attend are between Year 5 and Year 8 (9-13 years old). Currently, we have a core group of 7 young people at Youth Group, who attend five different schools. All of them are true individuals, bringing different gifts and qualities to the group. Despite their differences they are joined in their desire to encourage and support one another. I learn a lot from watching the dynamics between this diverse group of young people.

I enjoy popping in every month, to see the changes that have happened, as the group becomes tighter and friendships are cemented. On my visit in February I could see a change in confidence in everybody, as the leaders had encouraged ownership of different sections of the Youth Group. One young person ably led our welcome and encouraged their peers to honestly say how their week had been. The openness of the sharing was quite a thing to see. Some brought worries or concerns that they aired amongst the group. It clearly felt like a safe space for them. They were listened to and when appropriate advice was offered by fellow peers and the leaders,time was given to this act of listening and sharing. It felt essential, some might call sacred.

The night I joined them, I had arrived ready to lead a game but instead paused and asked if anyone else would like to lead this now well-known activity. An individual who is normally more hesitant offered. I asked if they wanted me to play the game too or help in leading. It was with pride I heard the response: ‘You play, I can lead it…’ They were confident and clear with their instructions. The young people were eager to help when their friend perhaps altered something, either playing along or gently reminding them of the next bit of the game.

I think all of us can learn from a group like this. Everyone can be themselves. Individuality is totally encouraged but respect for everyone is required. Patience has grown in this group as they have learnt the importance of listening to each other and truly hearing what each member is trying to say. Too often in the world we have become keener to correct or rebut, rather than listen to try and hear what a person means. It means wires can be crossed easily if we focus too much on how something is said rather than on the meaning. This group of young people, with their different backgrounds, is used to having to listen closely to one another. They are keen to give each other time and are at ease with one another to ask questions either to clarify a point or gently question a thought or perspective. I hope all of us can adopt this more gentle and easy forgiving tone when listening to each other.

Green Heart made by one of St. Patrick’s Youth Group. They suggested that during February you wear a Green Heart on your sleeve, to show your love for the environment.
We love this idea. This individual has a heart to care for birds.  

New Year, New Prayer Pattern

New year is known for resolutions. One I have been trying to keep for quite a while is to explore new ways of praying. Why this?  Well, to quote a wise six-year-old: ‘Because prayer allows us to hear what God is thinking about.’

Prayer doesn’t come naturally to me. I wonder if it comes naturally to any of us. I suspect prayer is similar to connecting with a person. The more time we spend with them, the more we really hear, learn and begin to understand that person.

However, to want to spend time with someone you need to find a way of connecting with them. At the start, it often feels awkward. Given time, relationships can progress into deeper connections. For a life-enhancing relationship, time, commitment alongside grace and humour by both parties is vital.

The most helpful tip I received in relation to prayer was when I underwent a week of guided prayer. I explained to my prayer guide my struggles with prayers, how too often I felt no connection at all when I prayed out loud. How I never seem to get close to the deeper connection. I knew logically God is there for everybody but I wasn’t experiencing that. He looked bemused and then asked “Have you tried praying differently? “

The prayer guide’s question made sense when I compared prayer to learning styles. Learning styles can help us connect with God as it allows us to discover that within each of us is our own route to God.   

We all learn differently and today schools deliberately use different learning styles in class, so everyone can learn using their best style. The four that are most talked about are visual learning (by seeing), auditory (by listening), kinaesthetic (by doing) or reading/writing (through words).

Knowing how we learn best, I believe can help us when it comes to connecting with people or even God. Every week I visit a different class in St. Mary’s School to explore new ways of praying using the different learning styles. This term we are using images to help us think about and perhaps connect with God. I have used images by the artist Hannah Dunnett. These use a combination of imagery and words- hopefully giving those who are visual or reading/writing learners the opportunity to connect, through prayer, with God. However, I also ask questions aloud to guide people in their prayer time, enabling auditory learners the opportunity to connect. This time I couldn’t find a way to incorporate kinaesthetic. This means next time we will focus on a prayer style that is kinaesthetic.

I encourage you all to try a new style of prayer at some point this year. If you fancy trying some of the prayers using Hannah Dunnett imagery I include one below with some questions. You can either read or speak these questions out loud to yourself. Or you can simply use the image as a way of connecting in prayer with God.

Questions to reflect on: How does this art make me feel?

Find a word you like in your art work. Take your time and pick a word. Focus on it. What does this word make you think about?

Does this artwork help you see God differently?

Art and photo by Hannah Dunnett

Christingle- a new perspective

It has been an enjoyable few weeks of Advent, as the Family Project has been into local schools and nurseries with different activities and stories to help us prepare for Christmas. One of the activities I have created with several young people this term is making Christingles. Most people will have seen, if not held, a Christingle in their lifetime. It is normally made up of a candle, red ribbon or white ruffle, orange, sweets and cocktail sticks. Every part is a symbol which helps people remember an important part of God’s work in the world. Two of the key parts are the candle, which helps us think about Jesus as the light of the world; the orange is the symbol of the world and the candle sits in the orange.

Yet, this time I have spent time exploring a different part. Something not normally focused on when it comes to Christingles. I have looked at the silver foil, which many people put beneath their candle, before they sit it into their orange. It seems an insignificant part of the Christingle. Its purpose is to catch wax drips.

However, over the years I have looked at the silver foil and added another meaning to it. The silver foil has become a symbol for humanity. You and I.

It sits beneath the light of Jesus (the candle). Christians say it is Jesus who is the light of the world when we look at the candle on the Christingle. It seems an odd phrase if it isn’t familiar to you. It is used to explain how Christians believe that Jesus’ teaching is the way we are called to live our best lives. It is the way we are meant to live. A way which reduces hurt to each other and the world in which we live. His example is meant to guide us, a bit like a torchlight guides someone lost,walking in the night. That’s why when we look at a candle on the Christingle we say it is a symbol of Jesus who was and is the light of the world.

The piece of foil also sits in the world. It sits in the orange which in the Christingle symbolises the world. We are asked to do the same. People who believe in and/or follow a God are still connected to the wider world. They shouldn’t just stay amongst people who think or believe the same things as them. The world can teach us things too. After all, we believe God created the world and saw that it was good.

Yet, the world (orange) is illuminated by the candle, symbolic of the light of the world a.k.a Jesus. The illumination suggests we should be able to see the world differently, some would say more clearly, perhaps with more empathy and understanding, by looking at it through the light or message of Jesus which incorporates the loving gaze Jesus holds. Jesus’ key message was of love. Love for one another. Love for everybody with no exceptions.

However, a key thing or part of foil is that it is crumpled. Therefore, the light it reflects from the candle isn’t perfect. The light does not bounce off perfectly like from a mirror. You cannot see an image of the candle in the foil on the Christingle. It is a constant reminder to me that even when we look towards the light of the world, read and learn about Jesus, we can never and will never be a true reflection of who Jesus was and is. We can be guided by Jesus, but we are human and a bit crumpled too! Therefore, when you meet someone who follows a faith, it is good to remember that their actions, although hopefully shaped by the loving gaze of their creator, won’t be exactly how God or Jesus or their creator would act. Sometimes it might be near to it. At others time it won’t be like it at all.

Foil also has another element to it. It absorbs and retains heat. I like to think that the more we look towards the light of the world, a.k.a Jesus, the more we might take in his warm positive love, retain some and hopefully send some back out too to those around us who need it most. Again, it won’t be perfect, as the heat on a foil is never as strong as the source of the heat, which in the Christingle is the candle, a.k.a Jesus the light of the world. Therefore, the love you may receive from one another will never be as strong as the source of the love of our creator.

I hope this Christmas you can sense some of the love and some of the guiding light of our creator. Even at a lesser strength this love should feel on some level positive to the recipient. That is the true test as to whether the reflection has any element of God within it.


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.