Sanctuary to Sacrifice – Reflection on barbed wire for Remembrance #ThankYou100 #RemembranceDay100

The opening moments of our Service of Remembrance, St. Barnabas Darby Green 2018 (Photograph courtesy Graham Hartland)

It is always tough to try and convey the Gospel message, alongside paying appropriate respect to those who have fallen during WWI and in conflicts since. Today in this centenary of Armistice was no exception. However, it was an immense privilege to lead people in Darby Green in their Service of Remembrance, which thanks to the creativity of church members and local Guides, Brownies and Rainbows was focused around two falls of poppies, one inside, and one outside.

Below is a transcript of roughly what I said, alongside images of the barbed wire used in two forms; some made for me to use safely as a visual aid, and some of those made by the congregation from pipe-cleaners. 

Activity:

Can anyone tell me what ‘sanctuary’ means?    Refuge, place of safety, hideout, hiding place, shelter…

What sort of things might you look for if you were creating your own sanctuary?  Hidden, covering over you, protection…. (the children talked a lot about tree houses and hiding under the bed, to which I referred later informally.)

Sanctuary Wood, Flanders (photographed in 2017)

Does this look like a place of Sanctuary? Video of birdsong in Sanctuary Wood, Flanders (2017)

Now, if I play it again, imagine there are no trees, noisy bombs going off around you rather than birdsong, and lots of mud being thrown up into the air as the bombs hit the ground.

Does it still look like a place of sanctuary? No…. not if you’ve used your imagination as I suggested!

I wonder if anyone can tell me what this looks like? Piece of barbed-wire

The British Army used it around places of sanctuary called trenches which were created for soldiers to hide in.  Barbed wire was also used in rolls and piles higher than you or me, making it impossible for people to get through.

An informal war memorial in Sanctuary Wood made from the bombed stump of a tree, and barbed wire. (Photographed in 2017)

In WW1, around all of the trenches in Sanctuary Wood in Belgium where the video was filmed, there would have been a lot of barbed wire. The only barbed wire there now, is wrapped round tree trunks snapped off where they were bombed in WW1. Today they are used as a war memorial, a place to remember those who died there.

You each now have the opportunity to make a piece of barbed wire – and before the adults get all worried, we’re using pipe-cleaners, not real wire! In each of the paper bags you’re going to be given, there are 7 pieces of pipecleaner, 1 long one, and 6 short ones. You can twist the short ones, round the long ones, to create a very simple piece of barbed wire. Hand out, demonstrate, create.

The makings of pipe-cleaner barbed wire.

As you look at your piece of barbed wire, think about the things that keep you safe, the places you might think of as a sanctuary, the people whom you feel safe with, or somewhere you hide if you play hide-and-seek. It might be your home, or your bed, a favourite place on a walk; a parent, an animal or something entirely different.

Would barbed wire (show real thing) really help you create any of those feelings and emotions?  No!

Hebrews 9:24-28 (Contemporary English Translation)

Talk:…

… Often the places which we might describe as a sanctuary are not as simple and straightforward as we might wish. There are times when we feel vulnerable once again because something within them changes or disappears. Barbed wire around a trench was as much a danger to the soldiers that it was meant to protect, as it is to those whom they were being protected from. In the First World War, many thousands of people died because they got caught up on the very barbed wire that they had been using for protection in their place of sanctuary.

The sanctuary that is being talked about in our Bible passage is God’s presence. In the time before Jesus, people had tried to make a special place which they called a sanctuary, which they called ‘holy’ and carried around with them. But it became dangerous to them because it became more important to them than God himself, and they got hung up on it.

Jesus was was also in effect, a soldier; in his case, he was God’s Son following God’s orders. Jesus died, because he got caught up on the barbed wire of the people who he was actually trying to help misunderstanding who he was. People killed Jesus because they couldn’t understand that God’s love for them, and God’s wish that they would have a permanent place of real sanctuary and safety with him. That is why we describe Jesus as having made the ultimate sacrifice.

Barbed wire and pipe-cleaner crowns of thorns

I took my length of barbed wire, twisted and looped it around itself, and asked what does it look like? A crown of thorns.

If we loop our sections of pipe-cleaner barbed wire around on themselves the same way and twist the ends, we also have something that also looks like a crown of thorns.

In this way, we can be helped to remember that Jesus sacrificed his life to help others come into God’s presence, and that the motivation for that was his love for us. When Jesus lived two thousand years ago, we were not alive then, but he still knew that we needed to live in a perfect place of sanctuary at peace with one another, and that is only possible in God’s presence.

Remembrance Day can in some ways become a sanctuary; a place of safety in which are able to come together to remember those who in the past have sacrificed their lives. Some died because they loved and sought to protect their country and a way of life. Some died because they were following orders. Some died through no fault of their own. Some died to save the lives of friends, or to protect people because they realised that you do not have to know someone to love their right to life. It is good that we are a community which believes their sacrifice should not be forgotten.

The danger is that, like barbed wire, Remembrance Day can become a difficult obstacle in itself. For those who have experienced the explosions and dangers of warfare themselves, it is dangerous because it brings back those memories and it can be difficult to live with the pain and emotions that causes. For many of us, the danger is that we only remember on this one day of the year, the sacrifices that other people have made in the past.

Barbed wire crown of thorns on Cross of Remembrance, Darby Green 2018 (Photograph courtesy Graham Hartland)

Barbed wire, especially when it is twisted into a crown of thorns, is a helpful reminder that we must never forget all those whose lives have been sacrificed to enable us to have the freedom to love one another and to live in relative peace. As a reminder that Jesus died with a similar crown around his head, we are encouraged to remember that this safety also gives us the freedom to discover what it is to live in the sanctuary of God’s presence. We will only live at peace with each other if we are willing to offer people a place of safety and sanctuary with us, and as Jesus understood only too well, we made need to make some sacrifices ourselves, to make that possible.

The barbed wire ‘crown of thorns’ was placed on the simple wooden cross that stands in church, adorned also today with poppies.

 

 

Light of the World – Creator God helping us shine our lights

I’ve got a new, warm, long, black coat, and today, much to our local headteacher’s amusement, I hid a set of Christmas lights wrapped round myself under it! Why? Because at school the long run in to Christmas is starting. Gently you understand, not too Christmas, just a little creation orientated ‘light of the world’ stuff.

I also thought I was going to end up teaching the kids a song, but they already knew the chorus, and we had great fun singing it acapella, lustily, and with much clapping, and without a tape or an instrument in sight!

In case this might help anyone else, here’s what I did:

NB: I checked first with the head for epileptic students who are flashing light sensitive, and set the light sequence on my lights accordingly under my coat.

 

Ask the children to use their imaginations (eyes closed) to think about what they feel like when it’s very dark? Have they ever experienced a power cut? Have they ever woken up in the night and felt frightened of the dark?

When God made the world, the Bible says that the very first thing that God did was to create light:

Genesis 1:1-5

So when we think of light, we can think of our creator God, and all the good things that he created, starting with light. God switched the lights on!

Why is that light so important? e.g. we can see more clearly, so it keeps us safe, guides us, plants to grow etc.

God came to the world as Jesus, human like you and me, and Jesus referred to himself as “the light of the world”, and suggested people who follow him always have the light of life with them, and are never in darkness. (John 8:12)

Jesus was God’s Son, so, God is both the creator of light and light itself!

We’ll think more about Jesus as the light of the world as we move close to Christmas.

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Practising ‘dress-up’ the night before – I wore my loudest flame-coloured clerical shirt for the actual Act of Worship!

Is there anything slightly different about the way I look this morning? (Have my big black coat on done up tight, over battery powered Christmas lights.)

I’m dressed in black, and still got my coat on. BUT I’m meant to be a follower of Jesus, I’m meant to be living in the light, in fact Jesus says to all of us:

Matthew 5:14-16

That means I’m meant to have Jesus light with me, to be lit up, a light to shine before you! A light that reflects God’s light out into the world. What could I do?
I think I need to take my coat off! (Reveal Christmas lights.)

But it can’t be just me who shine’s God’s light. (Ask teachers for a volunteer to be lit up.  Ask their name. Wrap them in a set of lights, and switch on.)

Now, do you think we can walk round like this all the time? No?!

In which case what sort of things can all of us do that will help shine God’s light in this school, in our families and in our community? How can we shine with God’s light?

Listen to the children’s answers, and value them.

Unwrap volunteer, and invite them to sit down.

We’re now going to ask God to help us be light’s in the world, that shine good things out that other people can see. If you want to agree with what I’m praying you can say ‘Amen.’

Thank you God that the first thing you created was light.
Thank you God that the light you made helps plants to grow, and animals to live, and us to feel safe.
Thank you God that you came to us as light in Jesus, the light of the world.
Jesus, help us to follow you, so that we can shine as God’s light to the people around us.
Amen.

 

Song: This little light of mine – inspired by this YouTube version but without the instrumental back-up

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. (x2)

The light that shines is the light of love,
Hides the darkness from above,
Shines on me, and it shines on you,
Shows you what the power of love can do.
Shine my light both bright and clear,
Shine my light both far and near,
In every dark corner that I find,
Gonna let my little light shine.

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. (x2)

Let it shine…
Let it shine…
Let it shine.

Additional verse that I didn’t teach this time:

Monday, he gave me the gift of love;
Tuesday, peace came from above.
Wednesday, he told me to have more faith;
Thursday, he gave me a little more grace.
Friday, he told me to watch and pray;
Saturday, he told me just what to say,
Sunday, he gave me the power divine,
To let my little light shine.

Harvest prayers #VisitorChaplain #WinchesterCathedral

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Harvest at the Nave Altar of Winchester Cathedral, October 2017

One of the particularly lovely bits of my monthly cycle of ministry is acting as a Visitor’s Chaplain at Winchester Cathedral. My normal pattern of activity during a shift is to perambulate the Cathedral, chatting to fellow volunteers (often guides) and staff like virgers, any visitors who want or need time to talk, and sometimes members of Cathedral Chapter or Diocesan staff. 

I make a habit of sitting quietly for a few moments and writing fresh prayers that are pertinent to the moment: the activities in the Cathedral that day, the liturgical season, and world events. These I then use when I lead the ‘Prayers on the hour’ that punctuate the Cathedral day and remind visitors of the purpose and significance of the building.

And lastly, I tend to keep my mobile phone camera to hand, to catch the light through windows, the Cathedral decorations or community displays, or anything else that strikes me as significant or important ‘in the moment.

This week, the harvest display was still up after last weeks celebrations, so my photographs and prayers reflect that:

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Harvest Flower – Winchester Cathedral 2017

Dear God,
As we take time in this holy place to acknowledge your presence, we remember that you do not rest simply in buildings dedicated to your worship, but through your Holy Spirit walk beside us as the crucified Christ, in the joys and traumas of our daily lives.
As we celebrate the gifts of your creation in this Harvest season, we ask you to encourage the political leaders of this world to work for peace, that we might beat the swords, guns and armaments of our nations into the ploughshares, water wells and irrigation systems that will enable us to feed the world family.
We pray that together, in this way, we might bring hope in the name of Jesus.
Amen.

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Fine needlework on the lecturn of Winchester Cathedral – Harvest 2017

Lord God,
Around us we see the work of human hands wrought from your creation in stone, and wood, and glass, in stitch-work and flowers. So often this place resounds to the human voice in prayer and song.
Thank you for the skills of all those who celebrate your Word and Power and make for us this place of peace and restoration. Continue to gift those who care for this building with the wisdom and love that enables it to glorify your name,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Praying in Advent through five festivals

5-candlesRegular readers will be aware that I’m currently on placement in the North Hampshire Downs Benefice. One of the mini-projects that I’ve been focusing on is leading the prayer element of a couple of Prayer Suppers in the Parish of Odiham.

Alongside the re-ordering of the physical church, the people of All Saints Odiham have also been focusing on prayer as part of their own re-ordering as a community of Christians. The ‘bring-and-share’ style suppers (an hour for fellowship and food, followed by an hour for prayer) are a part of this process, and the vicar and I will be reflecting on how they have gone before I complete my placement.

This particular hour of prayer was inspired by the Service of Five Candles celebrated each Advent Sunday in All Saints Church, Minstead in the New Forest (where I grew up). That service involves children processing five large ‘pascal’ sized candles with appropriate motifs, readings and collects, one for each of the five main Christian festivals. It was brought to the parish in the 1960s by the then Rector, Rev’d Clifford Rham.

This pattern of prayer involves ordinary-sized candles, shorter but appropriate readings and collects, and uses them as an inspiration for prayer, which need not be restricted to the bullet point suggestions provided.

The attached document forms a folded A4 sheet that anyone could use for a an Advent reflective service or similar. The illustration above shows how the five candles can be used and decorated.  advent-hour-of-prayer-through-five-festivals

If Jesus chose to return today? An Advent reflection

p1090449cwI’ve been preparing some Advent materials, and in doing so found this old reflection, dated November 2006, so as I started Reader Training and before this blog was started!

It is by way of a response to the following questions:

If Jesus chose to return today, how would you react?
What might you say? How would you feel?

 

Why did you not come sooner?

Don’t get me wrong Jesus,
it is good to have faith rewarded.
But if you’d come last week those
four soldiers would not have died;
If you’d come last year those
bombs would not have shattered lives;
If you’d come twenty years ago
millions of children would not have suffered.

So why now Lord? Why here?
Why this room, these friends?

Is our pride, our business,
our self sufficiency and security,
really part of the pain you’ve come to relieve?
How can we be worthy of your interest?

Come to the kids loitering in our street,
our friend who lies in a hospice;
Relieve the bereaved, the prisoner
or hassled mother coping on her own.

Relive their pain, forgive their sin,
remove the evil from their lives.

And then, perhaps then…

consider me.

p1090456cw

I’ve missed the point:
I see it in your eyes and feel it in your touch.
You are there too, aren’t you Lord!

If you’ve come back, you’re here for all;
Each house, each home;
each hospital and prison;
Each tank, and battlefield;
each parliament and throne.

Your Majesty, now considers …
me;
Replays the video of my life,
freeze-framing those moments in the journey,
When I forgot to phone a friend,
to say a prayer, to comfort a relative,
To leave a space,

for you.

And now Lord,
on my knees,
At your feet
surrounded by your glory…

I wait upon you.

Photos by Graham taken at St. Mary’s Old Basing, December 2014

Prayers for #Remembrance Day based around a sonnet by Malcolm Guite

I have been asked to do the prayers for the Remembrance Day service in one church of the parish in which I have recently started a two month placement. In an effort to both step away from standard forms of published prayers, and to feed my own need for creativity, I have written the following. The words of intercession are wrapped around the words of a sonnet written by the well-known poet-priest Malcolm Guite (published in his book ‘Sounding the Seasons’,) and conclude with more formal words from the Church of England’s, ‘New Patterns for Worship’.

I hope Malcolm will forgive me if he’s not sure his sonnet should have been used this way, or if my words don’t live up to his wordsmithery. I also hope that the parish in which they will be spoken can relate them their own feelings and emotions in the silences that will be offered, and that you, if you have need, might feel free to make use of them. [If you do, please let me know when and where via the ‘comments’ facility.]

 

 


November pierces with its bleak remembrance

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Photograph by Graham Hartland from the Devonshire monument near Theipval, France, reminding us not only that this is 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, but that the Jews whose kin would die at the hands of the Nazis in the Second World War faught as an integral part of the Allied Forces in the First!

Of all the bitterness and waste of war;
Our silence tries but fails to make a semblance
Of that lost peace they thought worth fighting for.

Lord God, as we remember with gratitude
the fallen of generations past,
The faces and wounds of those
still very much present in our living memory;
We beseech you again
as heirs of a conflicted humanity,
for that peace which passes all understanding,
And the faith that trusts in your unfailing love.

[Silence]

Our silence seethes instead with wraiths and whispers
And all the restless rumour of new wars,
For shells are falling all around our vespers,
No moment is unscarred, there is no pause.

Jesus Christ, who spoke calm to the storm,
Healing to the diseased and lame
And the assurance of a future to the hopeless;
Make your voice heard by the leaders of all nations and peoples,
That they, with us,
might act with true justice,
Love mercy,
and walk humbly with you our God.

[Silence]

In every instant bloodied innocence
Falls to the weary earth, and whilst we stand
Quiescence ends in acquiescence,
And Abel’s blood still cries from every land.

Holy Spirit who stirs our hearts to compassion
In flickering images
That flow with the blood of careless inhumanity;
Let the sparks of our inadequacy and frustration,
Be ignited into the flames of action,
That together we might be prepared to be
Your answer to our fervent prayers.

[Silence]

One silence only might redeem that blood;
Only the silence of a dying God.

Blessed Trinity, who reached into your broken world,
Through the redeeming power of the cross and resurrection
To break the power of darkness;
In your endless grace,
Work in us to restore the knowledge that silence
contains not the seeds of apathy,
nor the truth of lies,
But the fruit of your Kingdom come,
And the hope of eternal life.

[Silence]

In darkness and in light,                                              NPW J6
in trouble and in joy,
help us, heavenly Father,
to trust your love,
to serve your purpose,
and to praise your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.      

 

 

One Holocaust, or many? #DontStandBy #HMD2016 #KS2

Holocaust Memorial Day IMG_0231Today I have lead an ‘Act of Worship’ in the Church of England VA Junior School of the parish I serve.  It has to be based on the Christian faith, but today’s brief is to link Holocaust Memorial Day  with the theme of responsibility for the wider community.(UNCRC: Article 38 – Every child has the right to be protected and cared for in countries affected by war)

Building on the fact that a colleague used the story of the Good Samaritan last week, I will be using the following material, which others may find thought provoking, or helpful to reflect on today.

Excerpt from the story of Corrie ten Boom, the daughter of a watchmaker in Holland. Here is what she says about life after the Nazi’s invaded Holland:

The true horror of occupation came over us only slowly. During the first year of German rule there were only minor attacks on Jews in Holland. A rock through the window of a Jewish-owned store. An ugly word scrawled on the wall of a synagogue. It was as though they were trying us, testing the temper of the country. How many Dutchmen would go along with them?

And the answer to our shame was many…

On our daily walk Father and I saw the symptoms spread. A sign on a shop window: JEWS WILL NOT BE SERVED. At the entrance to a public park: NO JEWS. On the door of the library. In front of restaurants, theatres, even the concert hall…

One noon as Father and I followed our familiar route, the sidewalks were bright with yellow stars sewn to coats and jacket fronts. Men, women and children wore the six-pointed star with the word “Jood” (“Jew”) in the centre. We were surprised, as we walked, at how many of the people we had passed each day were Jews…

Worst were the disappearances… We never knew whether these people had been spirited away by the Gestapo or gone into hiding before this could happen. Certainly public arrests with no attempt to conceal what was happening, were becoming more frequent…

It was [on] a drizzly November morning in 1941… that I saw a group of four German soldiers coming down the [street]. One of the soldiers un-strapped his gun and with the butt banged on the door [of our Jewish neighbours house.]… The door opened…and all four pushed inside…

[Later my sister Betsie and I saw] Mr Weil [our elderly neighbour], backing out of his shop, the muzzle of a gun pressed against his stomach. When he prodded Mr Weil a short way down the [street], the soldier went back… and slammed the door…

A window over [Mr Weil’s] head opened and a small shower of clothes rained down on him – pyjamas, clothes, underwear. Slowly, mechanically,… He stooped and began to gather up his clothing. Betsie and I ran across the street to help him… “You must come inside!” I said, snatching socks and handkerchiefs from the [street]. “Quick, with us!”

Corrie ten Boom, ‘The Hiding Place’ p67-71 (Hodder and Stoughton, 1971)

 

 

The greatest commandment: Mark 12:28-31

Listen and watch very carefully the story this lady is telling: (this is the official video for HMD2016 https://youtu.be/_mk6xNumdgc

Jesus, you asked us not to stand by
when we see people who are suffering and in need.
Help us to show that we are willing to share responsibility
for caring for those who have nothing,
wherever they have come from,
and whatever their nationality or faith.
Amen.

[My husband is a secondary school teacher who will be using different material on the #HMD2016 theme in an assembly tomorrow. It can be found here.]

Prayers for Harvest

Harvest decorations, St. Mary's Old Basing 2014
Harvest decorations, St. Mary’s Old Basing 2014

I’ve just prepared some prayers that I hope might be used at our Harvest Festival this Sunday by young representatives of the local Uniformed Organisations that attend. 

In the spirit of gratitude and with thanks that they were initially inspired by a quote I found here by William Wilberforce (which I’ve edited marginally to make the English scan better for contemporary ears) I share them for others who might have (even) less time than I. The first two are in language that I hope is simpler, and therefore easier for younger children to read. Feel free to adapt and edit to suit your context.

INTRODUCTION:                     

The famous Christian politician William Wilberforce once said:

“Great things have small beginnings. Every downpour is just a raindrop; every fire is just a spark; every harvest is just a seed; every journey is just a step; because without that step there will be no journey; without that raindrop there can be no shower; without that seed there can be no harvest.”

Thank you God that you made this big and amazing thing we call the world. Help us to enjoy the rain, the sun, the moon, the rivers and sea, and all the animals and plants that are here with us.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Thank you God that you have made some plants and animals good to eat, if we look after them. Help us Lord, to take care of all your creation, and not to use so much of things that they run out.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Thank you God that you created in everything the potential for growth, especially the seeds that grow into plants that feed or give homes to us or other creatures. Lord Jesus, help us also to grow into people who love you, and who can encourage others to love you too.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Thank you God that in the small things of life, we can see your love. Please give courage and patience to all those who care for people and places of the world that are damaged, lonely, lost, ignored, hungry and hurt. Help us to help them and to learn how we can care for others too.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Thank you God that with life you also created death, and from the cross on which Jesus died came new beginnings and renewed hope. Lord Jesus be very close to those for whom the loss of someone or something special has created a big empty space, and fill their hearts with the seeds of your love.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Remembering loved ones past and present at weddings

Registering my first wedding in the Bolton Chapel of St. Mary's Old Basing. Photograph: Tarran Patterson
Registering my first wedding in the Bolton Chapel of St. Mary’s Old Basing. Photograph: Tarran Patterson

One of the joys of this summer is to have presided at my first weddings.

The first was the fulfilment of a prophesy, at least for me, as having a vision of me officiating at my first wedding had been one clergy friend’s encouragement for me to seek selection for ordination! I am most grateful to Tarran Patterson, the photographer on the occasion, for snapping the photo here as I completed the registers without me being aware of it at all, so that I have a visual memory of the occasion. We are blessed at Old Basing with room for official photographers to take a few photos during the ceremony without intruding into proceedings at all, and she managed to do that brilliantly, which was a gift to a rooky priest.

Today’s wedding was my last for this year. The bride will be ‘given away’ by her mother, as sadly her father died a few years ago, and is laid to rest in our churchyard. She asked to lay “his” button hole on his grave before she entered the church so he is included in the day, so I suggested that we not only do that, but we say a prayer as we do so. She, her sisters, and particularly her mother, seem very grateful for being able to ‘fill in the gap’ in this way.

Loved ones are always more acutely missed on such occasions, especially when they would have otherwise fulfilled a special role. At my first wedding the bride paused at a siblings side when coming down the isle to give them the flower token that their daughter would have carried, had she survived infancy. Another lovely touch that it was easy to enable, and we also remembered the child by name in the prayers when acknowledging other deceased loved ones, parents again.

When we rehearsed last night with this weeks couple, it was also decided that I would pray a blessing over the whole family, so that their children feel not only part of the occasion as bridesmaid and pageboys, but visibly included in God’s love in a special way too.

Needless to say there’s not a standard prayer in Common Worship for either circumstance (that I could find anyway, as this is not a blended family) so it was time to turn to and write my own. With a little encouragement from Rev’d Ally who confirmed my use of language fitted with the tradition of my serving parish (my incumbent being away), I shall be using these on Friday (as this blog post goes up).

A prayer at the graveside of a parent (in this case a father):
Gracious God
We remember at this special moment
the example of love that N shared with his family.
Understanding that he rests with your saints in your glorious presence,
but acknowledging his part in today in the symbol of this flower,
may each person here
know that N’s prayers, comfort and goodness are with them,
and that with Christ,
his love for them is never ending,
through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A blessing for the family:
Father God,
as N and N stand before you with
A, B and C,
may they know your presence in their lives together,
experience patience, trust and truthfulness among each other,
and trust daily in the example of love that is in Jesus
that together they may live joyfully
through the power of the Holy Spirit,
that is at work in all our lives. Amen.

How do you talk about God with pre-school children? Prayers and Bears!

George, a prince among bears - soft focus to protect his identity ;-)
George, a prince among bears – soft focus to protect his identity 😉

There’s something about ministry that means you end up with challenges you never expected to face. Leading a ‘Pram Service’ for pre-school children once a month is high on my current list of challenges. It’s name was the first challenge that I noticed: there are few who have prams these days!

I’ve watched the vicar do it once, with I have to say what appeared to be minimal planning, but he’s clever like that despite feeling a tad out his depth on this himself, I think it’s fair to say.

I was asked to do October’s. At the last minute he was called away to give someone the Last Rites, so wasn’t there to see the result. I used the lectionary for the day for inspiration (Like 11:5-13 The Lord’s Prayer) to focus on prayer, working on the basis that if you can’t teach very young children (some pre-speaking and crawling) anything else, giving them the confidence to talk to God, and making it fun was probably a good idea. I created a hand-prayer sheet. If they had the skills they could draw round an adult hand, otherwise it was simply something to take home to the family to encourage them to pray together (Hand Prayer sheet). We also blew bubbles when we prayed thank you at the end; I talked about God taking up our prayers as the bubble burst. Interestingly, I forgot to pray the Lord’s Prayer at the end as I had intended, I probably should have. An unexpected joy was having a mother confident enough to breast feed whilst I told the story.

These were both ideas I half knew about, but I wasn’t sure if I used them appropriately. However, I was greatly encouraged when the following Sunday a Dad I’d not met before stopped me after our little Family Eucharist service, and told me his daughter had come home talking about the hand prayers and blowing bubbles! Perhaps I’d done something useful?!

Asking around on-line a bit, someone introduced me to the Teddy Horsley books by Prof Leslie Francis et al. I’d not met them, and nor have my parish, but they looked a good idea, as they try and relate to ideas pre-schoolers experience. They also suggested a useful ministry for a beautiful teddy bear I’d been asked to re-home (another story entirely). @CoventryCanon (aka Good In Parts) whose knowledge of such things I deeply respect, also said how much she’d always wanted to start a ‘Prayers and Bears’ Service in her previous parish. I got rather excited at this point: this might be a way forward!

2014-11-17 12.34.56 cwLast week my teddy, now named George, helped me tell the Teddy Horsley Night Time story as we thought about the nights drawing in, all the noises of Halloween and Fireworks nights (for those who could or would talk to me), and how God cares for us. George proved a great ice-breaker – he seemed to make me more approachable, and he’d been taken off by one of the pre-speaking children before I started! The book links to Psalm 91, but doesn’t suggest craft activities, so I came up with an incredibly simple two minute ‘sticking feathers’ activity! The Lord will cover you with his wings Ps91

Last night, with both George the Teddy and some bubbles present, PCC affirmed what the vicar had approved, that from January the Pram Service will be re-launched as ‘Prayers and Bears’.

Although I can sing a reasonable action song unaccompanied when our pianist can’t make it, I have no training in how to approach children who often are pre-crawling, or very shy. I have just the one child of my own for several reasons, one being we discovered when we had him that I don’t “do” small children. God it seems has other ideas!

So, I’m looking for the collective wisdom of more experienced ministers on this. What have I done wrong so far in how I’ve approached them and the materials I’ve used, and who or where are the best places to get training in how to be better at it? I’ve been told for example that ‘Godly Play’ isn’t necessarily the best idea for pre-school children. Right, or wrong? What gems of wisdom and experience can you offer?