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Wanting Mummy

This afternoon, Debbie got back from a weekend at the annual Children’s Ministry conference in Eastbourne. Managing the children and preparing for this morning’s service has been quite a stretch since she left around 5:30 am on Friday. (She had another call to make in Sussex first.)

It hasn’t been the juggling of responsibilities so much, although that has been a factor. Anyone who spotted that today’s sermon only appeared on the blog in the early hours of this morning rather than yesterday evening as usual will get a hint of that.

This morning, we loaded up my car with all sorts of distractions to occupy them during the service, since it was one of the alternatve weeks when Sunday School doesn’t happen. Scrap paper, pens, cuddly toys and games all made their way to church – where we were told that two current Sunday School teachers and one former teacher had arranged a session especially for our kids, knowing I would be coping on my own with them while trying to lead a communion service. How kind is that?

No, the real issue has been dealing with the children’s emotions while mummy has been away. They are used to her being away for a day or two here and there, normally dealing with something to do with her house that we retained when we married and which we let through an agent. However, familiarity with Debbie’s short term absences never makes these times emotionally easier for them.

They coped better this time – there is a pragmatic virtue in keeping busy, maybe in the short term. So after school on Friday we went to the supermarket and bought some treats. (Bribery is good, too.) Yesterday, after Rebekah’s regular Saturday morning ballet lesson, we headed into town. Mark wanted to check one of our two Waterstone’s branches to see whether the one book he doesn’t have in the latest Thomas the Tank Engine series was in stock. It wasn’t. Rebekah wanted a visit to her favourite place of worship, Claire’s Accessories, a place of torture for males, and so Mark played up something rotten while we were in there. On the way back to the car, a detour to Millie’s Cookies  at least gave us the chance to sample their raspberry and white chocolate flavour.

It all broke down yesterday tea-time. Debbie phoned for a chat with the little monkeys before they headed for the bath and bed. Rebekah told her how much she was missing her, and Debbie replied that she would be back with some presents for them, something I knew from a text message she had sent me in the afternoon.

“Mummy, I like presents but I want you more than the presents,” was Rebekah’s devastating reply from the heart.

And I thought, if only more of us could reply like that – to one another, and especially to God.

Christmas Is Really For The Children …

… to quote an old Steve Turner poem. Well it will be tomorrow for me. I’m not posting a sermon on the blog tonight, because neither of my services tomorrow demands one. In fact, they demand I don’t deliver a typical sermon.

In the morning, I sit in on a nativity service at one of my churches. The Sunday School will perform some drama, my Anglican colleague will lead the service, and I get to give a short talk.

I’ve drawn on an idea from a new book that I’d like to recommend as a useful resource at this time of year for preachers, ministers, worship leaders and musicians. It’s co-written by Lucy Moore of Messy Church fame, along with Martyn Payne. It’s called Bethlehem Carols Unpacked: Creative ideas for Christmas carol services. The book tells the background stories to eleven famous carols and then gives ideas for how to use them in worship, be it ‘adult’ or ‘all age’.

So I looked up the carols that my colleague Jane had chosen and adapted an idea for use with children in connection with The First Nowell. It’s a simple idea around the theme of birthday parties. What kind of people do you invite to your birthday party? God invited the most unlikely of people to celebrate the birth of his Son. The shepherds were ‘unclean’ and the magi were Gentiles. Those you would think more likely either just gave academic answers and did nothing (Herod’s scholarly advisers) or actively opposed Jesus (Herod). We have an ongoing party with Jesus: it’s called the kingdom of God. And it’s our privilege to invite all sorts of unlikely people to join that party. Were I expanding this I might draw in the Parable of the Great Banquet to give something for the adults to chew on, but I probably won’t have time.

Then in the afternoon I have a Christingle service. Although the (Church of England) Children’s Society is largely responsible for introducing this service to the UK in recent years, it is very appropriate for Methodists to celebrate, because its origins are Moravian from 1747. The Moravians, of course, were highly significant in influencing John Wesley towards his ‘warmed heart’ experience of 1738.

For those who don’t know the tradition, there is plenty to fill you in on the web, but briefly everyone is given a decorated orange. Each part is symbolic. The orange stands for the world, so we shall begin by thanking God for creation. The fruits (e.g., dried raisins) and sweets attached on a cocktail stick represent God’s good gifts. We shall lead that in the direction of Jesus being God’s best gift. The ribbon is for the blood of Christ, so I get the difficult part of the service where I have to lead a brief, simple prayer thanking God for the death of Jesus. Finally, the candle is for Jesus the light of the world, and as we light one another’s candles while standing together in a circle we enact our rôle as lights in the world, sharing the light of Christ.

Afterwards, we’ve invited everyone to stay for a free family tea of sandwiches and cakes. We’re hoping that our publicity to two local primary schools and the pre-school that uses our school hall will make for contact with plenty of non-church people.

Say a prayer for us, will you? This church hasn’t had a Christingle in years. It’s a new event to many, however old hat it is elsewhere. It is requiring hard work from many people.

One of my churches in the last appointment had to run two identical Christingle services every Christmas Eve, because it was so popular. They had a publicity advantage in being smack next door to a big supermarket, and also with the timing of Christmas Eve afternoon, when families might specifically look for a child-friendly Christmas celebration. We don’t have either of those factors in our favour, and couldn’t have gone for Christmas Eve due to a highly successful crib service every year at the parish church. But we do want to bless the community with God’s love and build our relationships with them. It was striking at our last Messy Church event a couple of weeks ago how the fact that we insisted on not charging made an impact on some parents. We want to bless them with a Gospel message and Gospel action tomorrow.

So if you could squeeze in a prayer, we’d be ever so grateful. Please leave a brief message in the comments section below to let us know you have said a quick prayer: it will encourage us. And obviously, feel free to offer any other comments in the usual way.

Delighted

I do not get excited about church business meetings. I’ve even arranged my next sabbatical, rather like my last one, so that I miss two Synods. God so loved the world that he didn’t send a committee, etc. – that’s my feeling.

But last night I had an encouraging Church Council. We’ve recently had a review of our circuit and all its churches by a small team from our District. I hadn’t expected much from the process. Oh me of little faith, as it turned out.

So our main business yesterday evening was to discuss five recommendations the District team had made for this particular church. They weren’t all appropriate to us, because in some cases the team didn’t have exhaustive information on the church, and their Maths became the ‘two plus two is five’ variety. In other areas, their recommendations needed filing away until a later date.

But … what excited me was the way we riffed on one theme and created something new. We began from talking about how we might have more contact with those who hire our premises, but we got onto the question of children. We have several different ways of connecting with children – Sunday School, Messy Church, Craft Club, Holiday Club, Boys’ Brigade, school assemblies. But we realised that just putting on something for children is aiming at a soft target. (Sorry, that’s a lousy metaphor, but it’s the best I can think of.) However, if we are to be truly family friendly we need to offer resources and outreach for all generations.

So the Council grabbed an idea I’d first floated rather quickly a couple of years ago. We need to operate things like parenting courses to the local community, and do so on neutral territory such as the community centre or a pub function room. In fact, they developed the idea further: not just parenting, but marriage courses and bereavement sessions. We thought we might be able to offer one of these courses a year. It doesn’t matter that we’re a small church: we can work with those whom God has given us, as opposed to pining for those we don’t have.

Hence, I’d be interested if anyone reading this blog has positive or negative experience of particular resources or courses. A quick surf has found the following:

Parenting The Parentalk Parenting course; 21st Century Parent from CARE for the Family; a course from the Family Caring Trust.

Marriage The Marriage Course and The Marriage Preparation Course from Holy Trinity Brompton; 21st Century Marriage from CARE for the Family.

Bereavement Harder to track down Christian courses. The only one I found with a Christian basis was one run at Holy Trinity Brompton, The Bereavement Course, but it isn’t a package you can buy and run yourself. It’s just something they run at HTB.

These are just my initial quick trawl. I’d be delighted to hear whatever comments you have about positive or negative experiences or impressions of different courses

UPDATE, SUNDAY 19TH OCTOBER: I also put this request on the Family Friendly Churches’ Trust email discussion group. Two people have spoken highly of the CARE for the Family courses, and mentioned one or two others of theirs about which I didn’t know. One person has suggested debt counselling or money management courses. I have heard good things about Christians Against Poverty’s CAP Money Course.