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.

Once upon a time…

Storytelling and the art of writing plus telling a good story is always a skill I have admired greatly. I am always in awe of the storytellers of this world who make this complex art form appear very easy.

This March I was lucky enough to be invited to the Moravian European Youth Conference. This is an international conference held by the Moravian Church for anyone who works or volunteers with children, youth and families and has a connection with the Moravian Church. The theme this year was storytelling. At the previous year’s conference, those gathered had begun to create a story book to tell the history of the Moravian Church and its development across the world.

We met in Berlin. On arrival I was greeted warmly by our hosts at Berlin central station. Soon, we headed to Checkpoint Charlie to find our accommodation and to meet everybody. Eleven of us had gathered for this conference, from across Europe: the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic and the UK. Some of the people living and working in the Netherlands were also from Suriname too, so the sense of this being a global gathering was felt deeply.

We spent time together hearing about one another’s work, the different projects and approaches to ministry that connects with young people and their families. There was a commonality that most practitioners had strong links with local schools, some even worked in Moravian schools, but all saw work in schools as a necessity to engage with the local community and families. I found it interesting that one person was currently employed as both a youth worker in a school and a social worker. There was a sense that the remit of youth worker didn’t quite fully explain all the work that is involved in working with families and the different needs and dynamics that is unique to each family. His role was soon to be merged into one job title of youth worker, but he was keeping some of the aspects of the social worker role in his new remit.

Storytelling, and how to convey a story to people of all ages, was a topic that was discussed at length, across the different languages, when it came to bringing the story book, beautifully written last year, to life. We chose to focus on making this book for ages 4-6 but with the awareness that it has to connect with the adults, who will sit and read this book to the children. The key thing was to work on the graphics and to create a flow throughout the story. The talented artist Paula Flöter came and showed us her work. She stunned us with the level of detail in her drawing; something that would entrance children and be something an adult would engage with because of the beauty of her designs. We were happy to commission her to go and take our ideas and make them into the beautiful artwork to accompany our simple wording.

The book will hopefully help show the history of the Moravian church through a main character ( I won’t give this bit away) and this character will visit different places across the world to see what is happening and to learn more about the story of the Moravian Church. Every country at the conference spent time working on individual pages, but we also spent a lot of time together to create a style and a flow that we felt fitted our target audience.

I came away from this conference inspired by the creativity I had been surrounded by all weekend. It left me thinking about storytelling once more and how the strategies used at this conference could be applied to my role as Family Project Leader. In the future I want to remember to always ask: who is best to tell this story? How do we ensure the story is well received? Is the story part of a wider narrative and if so, who reading or hearing this story would or wouldn’t be aware of it? All of us are storytellers as all of us have stories to tell. Yet the skill comes in the delivery and that is something this conference amplified for me.

Observing the connections and connecting moments on a cold day in February.

One of the brilliant aspects of being Family Project Leader is working and connecting with different groups and agencies. One of the charities I work closely with is NISCU or Northern Inter-Schools Christian Union. NISCU visits the same primary schools as I do and we try, where possible to support one another’s work and visions. One of the clubs I support NISCU with is Jammie Dodgers. Jammie Dodgers is a Thursday lunch time club at St Mary’s School run by NISCU worker Bea. Here young people meet to hear a bible story, do a creative activity and play some games. Plus, as the name suggests, everyone who attends receives a Jammie Dodger.

At the start of February, it was NISCU’s Vison and Prayer Week. I was invited to join NISCU on a prayer walk around Kirkby Lonsdale. For those who have never done a prayer walk, I will try and capture the essence of what they are here. We began by meeting in St Mary’s Church. After a warm welcome, drink and introduction to one another we gathered and held a moment of quiet before heading out to walk up towards the Rugby Club. The Rugby Club, is for many a place that is familiar, a place where families connect on a Sunday, a place where families share life together. We wanted to go and visit this space, to help us reflect and pray for all the families, past and present, who use this space. Somehow by walking into a space, it can be easier to reflect, pause and pray for the people who use it. You gain a deeper connection. I suspect it is linked to being truly present or mindful. Bea suggested we all spend a few minutes looking at the different sponsors who had a stone laid at the Rugby Club. Some were obviously families, or family firms. We prayed words out loud or in our heads; God heard both types of prayer. We then carried on our walk, talking and chatting, reflecting and occasionally thinking creatively as we meandered to our next space. We gathered once again, this time standing between St Mary’s, QES & QES Studio School. We thought about all the different families connected with these sites; through children, teachers, cleaners, builders etc. Once more we held silence and a couple of people prayed out loud. After this we headed back to St. Mary’s Church to warm up and then leave for the rest of our days. After this exercise I was struck by how many families in one week will have been in Kirkby Lonsdale. I thought too of how many families I connected with each week and how much these connections energised and inspired me. I wonder too if you might want to pause and think of who you connect with in a week?

 Prayer walks force me to stop and pray. They appeal to my slightly kinaesthetic brain; it is often easier for me to think and pray whilst walking.  Thoughts and prayers which normally whizz through my brain arrive in at a steadier pace on prayer walks. Perhaps this month, you too might give prayer walking a go? Prayer helps me discern what to do next in my job and my personal life. Prayer can be done in many ways and many forms…but that is for another blog post.

Feeling like the world is a bit dark? Gather those you call family and escape to the pub…or up a hill…

At the start of this year, I had the pleasure of exploring Christingles with Casterton, Sedburgh Preparatory School and Endmoor Youth Group. The Christingle is one of my favourite services. Created many years ago by a Moravian Bishop, John de Watteville, as a way of explaining to children about the light of Christ, the Christingle is still a symbol that causes a child-like wonder and joy to those who experience it. Christmas is a time of light and hope, where our focus is naturally turned to the Christmas story and the birth of the Light of the World, which the Christingle candle symbolises. Yet, during dark January that light can easily be forgotten, or not looked at so readily. It has been a challenge for me, in this dark month, to find that light so clearly.

Cliff College captured by John Andrews

A week at Cliff College, a place of learning, studying and this time a glimpse of snow, helped that light beam more brightly for me in January. I went on a course to look at family ministry in more detail. The course itself was packed full of information, ideas, theories and wisdom. Yet, the thing that made the course for me was the people who led and attended it. They all worked with and saw how wide the term ‘family’ is, referring as much to the single adult as to the multi-generational, full to the rafters household. Too often we consider family to simply mean an adult or adults with child(ren) under the age of 18. However, family is so much more magnificent and complex than that. As Family Project Leader, this is something I have always known to be true, but the real challenge is how to listen, learn from and walk with the different family structures we encounter. It left me holding onto this question: How can the church today become a wider family for every family?

It is a huge task. Yet the conversations at Cliff College, with my fellow peers, gave me hope, that this is something the Church can do. It just takes time, listening, mutual respect and a lot of family minded forgiveness and patience. The best conversations at Cliff College happened, for me, whilst walking up hills or in the pub. Walking has a reflective quality. It slows you down, yet allows your brain to think and digest in a way sitting in a classroom never quite does, in my experience. Pub time, is a time where we speak openly, honestly, share our hopes and fears at equal measure. To be family or even a community, if family is too strong a term, we must be honest with one another. We need to find settings where these honest conversations can happen. I hope the Church feels like a place where an honest conversation can happen for you, but if it doesn’t perhaps try a walk or time in the local hostelry or coffee shop with those you consider your family or wider family. It might help re-find that Christingle light that we lose all too soon this time of year.

From the hilltops near Cliff College
Photo: John Adams

Remembering moments of light and darkness.

November and December have been months that have flown by: packed with excitement, new experiences and the warm familiarity which comes with the season of advent.

One of my November highlights was going to a Fresh Expressions Conference in Penrith. A Fresh Expression is a new form of Church that is developed for a specific culture or context. It often doesn’t look like our current image of Church and works for individuals who don’t connect with other forms of Church. The Conference had a variety of speakers all involved in Fresh Expressions that were happening around the country. It was an inspiring and thought-provoking day.

The following day (Remembrance Sunday) I had the gift of being able to join Mountain Pilgrims, a Fresh Expression initiative. We went on an adventure together not far from Catbells. It was a moving and memorable experience for me. Being in nature, listening to the wind, trudging through mud and heavy rain, touching sphagnum moss used to clean wounds on the battlefields, all of these experiences grounded me and placed me in a space where I was able to reflect in a deeper way about the wars I had heard of from my relatives, through my own reading and the media. As we walked, chatted, stopped and observed we seemed at times to have unspoken moments where we rested and wrestled in the present and the past collectively and individually. I think it was one of the most profound, bitter-sweet occasions for me; it brought me closer to the God of love and light and also the one, who in my eyes, understands and walks alongside those in pain or hardship.

by Ian Haylett, fellow Mountain Pilgrim.

The joy of advent and the anticipation of Christmas was felt distinctly when several members of the Rainbow Parish team were invited into St. Mary’s School to help deliver Experience Christmas alongside Headteacher Mr Jones. Experience Christmas is a series of stations that bring to life various parts of the Christmas story. I was given the station that explored the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel visited Mary, telling her of the news she was going to give birth to Jesus. All the classes took turns visiting the different stations and it was a morning filled with thought-provoking questions and great conversations from the young people. I reflected with some of Year 6 about the reality that Mary was probably a teenager when she got this message. It was a stark reminder to me that we should never underestimate or fail to listen to young people. God works in and trusts all of us. He trusted a teenager to do this huge task, a task I suspect older people would have shied away from doing. Teenage Mary changed the world; they could too.

Imagining Mary’s homelife pre-Annunciation.