29 August 2011

"we, who are many, are one body in Christ"

I am back home after spending a week at ministry training summer school. It was a wonderful and exhausting week. And my overwhelming sense at the end of it is that I was not only welcomed into that community, but have already come to belong to it. That, in turn, left me with a feeling of belonging to the Anglican Church more widely, and to the Body of Christ more widely still.

What a pleasure, then, to stop on our journey home for communion at a little Anglican church where a diverse group of people were welcomed.

St. Martin's Church, West Drayton
There were several white-haired ladies already present when we arrived. Gradually elderly men arrived as well. Then two young women with bold platinum highlights in their hair, and a young man with tattoos on his neck and arms - a large rose spreading from his left shoulder up to his left ear, and a row of what looked to be Hebrew letters across the back of his neck. I was so struck by his tattoos that it took a while for me to notice that he was holding an infant in his arms. When I asked, at the peace, he replied that the tattoo said father. All these people were white, but the congregation also included a middle-aged man who looked Chinese, and a young black man.

Like we have at our church, they had a re-usable leaflet containing the order of service. But unlike ours, theirs was season-specific. And, as Vandriver spotted even before I did, the cover was in the color of the season. Inside the front cover was a description of the season. I won't repeat it all, but here is a little of what it said: We need to remember that Ordinary Time does not need to be "ordinary, or plain or dull" and it is not meant to mean that somehow we get a break from the Liturgical Year. The opposite is true: Ordinary Time celebrates the mystery of Christ in all its aspects. Many important liturgical celebrations fall during Ordinary Time, including Trinity, All Saints and Christ the King. ... As we journey through Ordinary Time may there be nothing 'ordinary' about our encounter with our Lord and Saviour. 

What I noticed was this information: There is an area in the south side (near the font) that has been set aside for carers and toddlers to use during our services. There are book and quiet toys to keep children occupied. And so there was!

It included crayons and Bible storybooks, as well as other activities, and was within view of the altar and even the organist (depending a little on where you sat). A Sunday School for the over-3s ran from the start of the service, with children re-joining the adult congregation for the entire Liturgy of the Sacrament.

But it wasn't just the provisions for children and the presence of a visibly diverse congregation that showed off the welcoming nature of this church - we were made welcome. We were greeted as we entered the church (by the same woman that I later saw helping an elderly man find his place in a large-print service booklet), and because we had apologized that we might have to leave early because we had a plane to catch, we were amongst the first to be ushered forward for communion!

So it was just a natural extension of the feelings that the week of summer school had left me with - a real sense of belonging to a community within a wider body. For so much of my life, I have interpreted the question How was church? to mean firstly, "How was the sermon?" and then, "What hymns did you sing?" and "Who spoke to you?" Well, yesterday we sang several familiar, beloved hymns and were given a competent, evangelical sermon, but what I took away with me was several images (the children's area; the hanging aumbry with a funny dove above it which looked like an angel from where I was sitting; the secluded, walled churchyard; the tattooed father holding his baby; the stained glass depiction of the crucifixion and ascension which I turned to gaze upon during the Eucharistic Prayer) and above all the sense of belonging.

25 August 2011

meeting the Good Shepherd face to face

Like many bloggers before me, I feel that through blogging I am making new friends, even though I have yet to meet these new friends in RL - real life. One is Leslie, who blogs at Thoughts from the Sheepfold. I keep meaning to add her blog into my list on the right, once I decide how to classify it, since hers is not a blog about Godly Play but Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

CGS is the big sister, or maybe even the mother, of Godly Play. Both programs follow certain Montessori educational principles, both use the notion of sacred space and value silence, and, in the words of the Rev. Joyce Scherer-Hoock, "Both methods strive to provide Christian formation rather than education". Moreover, both place great emphasis on Christ's identification of himself as the Good Shepherd.

Today I read on Leslie's blog that the co-founder of CGS, Sofia Cavalletti, died on Tuesday at the age of 94.
the Magnificat transcribed by Sofia (via cgsusa)
Leslie writes, She was a woman of great strength and intellect, who loved God deeply and cared passionately about the spiritual lives of children. 

I join many others in rejoicing at our confidence that Sofia has gone to meet the Good Shepherd face to face and to live in his celestial pasture.

(Leslie's post: With Thanksgiving for Sofia: I just received the announcement below from The National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd ...)

20 August 2011

Being Present with the Invisible

Auguste Deter (first documented case of Alzheimer's Disease).
I'm off to start my ministry training with an orientation and summer school, and so for the second time in a week am linking to others rather than writing up a whole post about our own work. The first link is to a short blog post about Godly Play ministry to Alzheimer's patients. The second is a considerably longer article about the same work.

Ministry to those with Alzheimer’s Disease: My mother has Alzheimer’s. We recently moved her to a nursing home where she could receive the 24-hour-a-day care she needed in order to be safe. So I was particularly interested in a workshop led by The Rev. Lois Howard, Deacon at a recent Christian Education Day in Lexington, Kentucky. Lois has a ministry of presence and relationship with folks who have dementia. And she brings Godly Play to them.

Being Present with the Invisible: Ministry to Alzheimer's Folks Using the Godly Play Model: by Dn. Lois Howard, The Church of the Resurrection, Jessamine County, KY. (You might need to scroll to page 10.)

(If you're brand new to my blog, you might also be interested in this post about an elderly man from two weeks ago.)

16 August 2011

welcoming a new children's ministry blog

I ran across a new blog last week: "Motley Play." (Isn't that a great title?)

 German Federal Archive
The author, Cathy, says she wants her blog to be "a place to discuss the pedagogical, wrestle with the theological and decide to act on the illogical".  And she's certainly jumped in with both feet, with a post entitled, I wonder ... Is Godly Play Ethical?  She sets up a dichotomy: those adults who feel that "raising up children in the way they should go" requires a fairly heavy hand vs. those who are genuinely inspired by the Montessori principles behind Godly Play (and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd), feeling able to trust to that the Holy Spirit will move in the classroom and touch all the children where they need to be met.

Although I felt that she was preaching to the converted in my case, it was a good reminder to me that I need constantly to be letting go in the classroom. I sometimes get disappointed that the children so often choose art materials over the story materials, for example. I mustn't let myself start over-selling the story materials, or trying to coax out the sort of responses that I want or expect. Let it go. Trust.

Welcome, Cathy. I hope you get the kind of dialogue you're seeking!

08 August 2011

getting ready for Fall

(photo by stf)
We were back in Junior Church yesterday for the first time since Pentecost (me) or Trinity Sunday (the children). This was a sort of "taster" before we start up properly in a couple of weeks. I told the Holy Family story and we had an extra-long work session.

Because I'm starting ministry training, I won't be able to continue leading on a weekly basis, and stf will also be unavailable for much of this year. But stf has kindly volunteered to kick off the autumn schedule with a session on the 21st. I've got a Sacred Story curriculum planned for the autumn (including both Godly Play stories and Bible-based children's stories for reading aloud), and I believe that several parents are willing to help out in order to keep Junior Church going. We're still looking for leaders and especially adult helpers to ensure that we can offer sessions every Sunday, but it's looking good!

The children came in as if it has been no time at all since we last met. The room was familiar to them and they fell comfortably into familiar routines, most of them being the way we ( = I ) prefer to do things, and a few being behaviors that I'd like to curb - *wry grin*. We had two new children in the circle, and after the session they told their mother that they'd like to come regularly!

When it was almost time to go home, a grandmother, visiting from abroad, helped me clear up. Her grandson came into the room again as well, and acted as a guide for her. I was amazed and delighted that he identified the Pentecost story (I haven't blogged about this yet, but I felt that my presentation of it was not a success), even using the word Pentecost.  He also answered her questions about the Church Clock (It's about telling time. These are all the Sundays, and this is Christmas).

Here's a photo of the two of them looking at the Advent / Christmas materials:

Heavenly Father,
please guide us this Fall.
Provide the leaders and helpers we need.
Reveal yourself to your children, young ones and grown ones.
Help us to recognize the Green Grass and Cool Water that you shepherd us to,
And give us courage and wisdom for the dangerous places.
We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

06 August 2011

guest post: One miracle at a time

Written by Finnglish Mum on 6 August

A few weeks ago I decided to take my 5 year old “Monkey” to our regular Sunday Service. She used to come along with me but since the creation of a regular Junior Church she has only rarely joined me at a “grown-up” service. With Junior Church taking a break over the summer months, this was an ideal opportunity to celebrate our faith together. After the service, I wrote the following as a comment for Storyteller on her blog entry about creating the Circle of the Holy Eucharist cards in June.

I just used these cards with "Monkey" for the first time at today’s service. THANK YOU!

I think this is the first time she has sat through a whole "grown-up" service without insisting on drawing or running around and without getting bored! She sat on my lap for the sermon and listened quietly to that and everything else!

We followed the cards together - sometimes peeping ahead and sometimes waiting for a "surprise". She grinned with glee when she recognised someone in a picture, especially Mummy!

It also helped that she knew both the readers and the interceder so I think paid them more attention than otherwise and, of course, the last time she came to a "grown up" service was before the new format Junior Church... She has obviously learned SO much from regular attendance at a Junior Service (not just an escape from the main service!).

She was the only child there and so was not distracted by anyone else, this probably helped, too ;D

Since writing this, we have been together to two more Sunday Services, both with Grandma, visiting from London. Grandma was reading on one occasion, so Monkey watched out for when Grandma should go up to  the front.

She was completely unfazed by Grandma’s involvement in the service; it seemed to her to be completely  natural to see a family member standing up to speak.

So, a huge THANK YOU to Storyteller, Vandriver & stf for teaching my Monkey how to behave at church!

drawing by Sannaksenaho Architects,
made available for media use by the art chapel
I wish this newly found responsible behaviour translated to other churches... we visited the Faith, Hope & Love exhibition at St Henry’s Art Chapel last week and I was so upset and embarrassed that Monkey & her little brother, Mouse, ran around the whole time screaming. The chapel should be so serene and beautiful and we were unable to really enjoy that beauty on this occasion. I even tried invoking the influence of Junior Church – “would you behave like this for Storyteller & stf? You know you should walk slowly and quietly in Junior Church and in the Cathedral, so why are you running and shouting in this church?” Unfortunately it had little effect!

Oh well, I can’t really expect miracles.

Finnglish Mum

03 August 2011

Godly time

One of the ideas that Godly Play has opened up for me is that we can be with God in play, and in "just being". I don't suggest that we should dispense with corporate worship, but I have been stretched by notions of wordless prayer, active prayer, and time that I cannot even call prayer but nonetheless seems to be Godly.

Last week a few of us traveled to see an architecturally famous church. A 98-year-old man leant on my arm, and the two of us walked slowly up a side aisle. He began to puff and pant, and so as we entered the chancel I urged him to sit down. We sat together and looked around a little, and then I got up to speak with somebody else. I looked back and was surprised and moved to see the man hunched over his cane, mouthing silent words. I thought, "He's praying!"

We soon left the church and meandered through the grounds before making our way to the parking area. Another able-bodied person helped the man to a bench. When the time came to leave the man had his head back and was gazing at the church tower viewed against a bright blue sky, and at birds circling overhead. I could not bring myself to interrupt him. 

Photo by john shortland, used by permission

This is a man who is essentially house-bound, as neither he nor his wife drive any longer. He has so little short-term memory that he cannot really hold a conversation, enjoy reading, or even remember to remove his shoes when he goes to bed. His wife told me that he can no longer cope with church services, even on the rare occasions when younger relatives visit and offer to take them.

Yet there outside the church I had a powerful sense that he was engaged in Godly work: admiring the birds' flight and enjoying the sun. He was engaged. It called to mind the Montessori quote I posted recently - the child who concentrates is immensely happy. And again, I thought of Godly Play - we have all the time we need. Surely there was no rush to take him to the car. The others could wait another few minutes.

Photo by Adam Jones (cropped by Storyteller and used by permission) adamjones.freeservers.com

[You might like to read another post about all the time we need.]

[The photos I've used here show a different church and a different old man - they are publicly available photographs and I am grateful to the photographers for sharing them.]

[In May 2012 I edited this post, deleting one phrase: he is not demented. At the time of posting, I believed dementia to refer only to hallucinations and severe errors in reasoning. I have since learned that it is used much more broadly for the loss of a range of brain functions, including memory.]