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Sabbatical, Day 47: How Could I Forget My Daughter?

Pressed for time in blog writing last night, I made an unwise choice. Yes, I enjoyed writing about the bozos in the High Street, but how could I overlook the achievements of our wonderful daughter?

Yesterday was a terrific day for her. We saw her take the lead when her class led school assembly, sharing on a trip they’d had to Braintree Museum to explore Victorian life a couple of weeks ago. All the class said something, but Rebekah had to kick it off. Clear voice, good projection, nicely paced. Could  make a preacher of her yet.

Later in the assembly, the Deputy Head presented her with a certificate to mark the Maths test she passed last week. She looked so proud, in the right way. At the autumn term parents’ evening, her teacher had told us that Maths was her weakness. No longer, it seems. Not only did she pass this test, we had the spring term parents’ evening on Tuesday night, and she is attaining standards in numeracy ahead of her age now. So there has been a real turnaround. She has worked hard, and the teacher has done well with her.

Meanwhiles, Mark, according to his teacher, ‘can do everything’, and she’s having to hold him back on his reading because he’s so far ahead of the others. On its own, this would have worried us, but she discussed strategies with us for making a bit more of the books they’re expecting him to read that they know are below his capabilities. The real concern is his lack of socialising with children of his own age. 

Collecting the children from school yesterday, we were greeted with a very red Mark. Not only his hair, but blotches on his skin. We kept him off his swimming lesson. This morning, he was much better and we sent him in. However, by morning break the school had phoned me and I went in armed with Piriton. That did little, and at the beginning of lunchtime came the second phone call. We brought him home, and with the school anxious that he might be infectious with something like slapped cheek, Debbie took him to the doctor, where they had to wait alone in a side room before seeing a GP who wasn’t sure what it was, but said just to keep him off school tomorrow. Poor lad, ever since going full time at school in January, he’s struggled to do a full week any week.

Meanwhile, back at yesterday afternoon, Rebekah was fit for her swimming lesson. Once a term, the swim school tests the children. Yesterday, she passed her 20 metres badge, so great elation and more reason to eat chocolate!

Today, she is happy too, because another milk tooth fell out, thanks to a cherry cake that was served for dessert at school dinners. It has been irritating her for days. Tonight, it was not difficult to persuade her to sleep, because she is anticipating a nocturnal appointment with the Tooth Fairy. And in the tradition of a children’s book we once read about the dental sprite, she is sincerely hoping this tooth was clean and sparkling enough to find a home in The Hall Of Perfect Teeth. Our next door neighbour told her there would be an extra reward for such teeth.

Fat chance. The standard £1 coin is in the envelope with the TF’s letter. We’re not getting stung again.

Meanwhile on the sabbatical front, I still haven’t ordered any more books, but having a Myers Briggs personality type that likes to keep my options open, it was fatal today to receive a catalogue for church leaders from Wesley Owen. As I flicked through, hoping not to be tempted and take it on an early trip to the paper recycling sack, I was accosted by a few titles that could have something to do with my research. Not the ministry and personality type stuff, but the dialogue between traditional understandings of ordination and our contemporary missional context. 

So step forward Ministry By The Book by Derek Tidball. Prepare for Exile: A New Spirituality and Mission for the Church by Patrick Whitworth sounded interesting. And Evaluating Fresh Expressions:explorations in emerging church: Emerging Theological and Practical Models edited by Martyn Percy and Louise Nelstrop sounded like it might be useful as a critical voice from outside my tradition to ask hard questions about new forms of church. If anyone reading this has read any of these books, please let me know what you think in the comments below.

Sabbatical, Day 43: Worshipping, Not Drowning

This morning I headed off to church on my own. Debbie and the children went swimming. There were a few reasons behind this parting of the ways. Firstly, when I’m not sabbaticalling, the Sunday School at Broomfield is only alternate Sundays. Debbie doesn’t feel she can make the children sit through an adult service regularly, so she began taking them for fun swims to boost their skills. Yesterday, they said they wanted to go to the pool again.

A second reason would be that I’m still uneasy about missing worship for anything other than illness. I attribute that to my upbringing in a church family. There is something positive about keeping the Sabbath that is important to me. I’m going to find it hard next Sunday: not only is it Mothering Sunday, it is also Rebekah’s birthday, and I know there will be pressure for us to miss church and go out somewhere.

But there is a third reason. I can’t swim.

I had some lessons at school, but at primary school they were scuppered by a traumatic experience. I saw my best friend held under the water. That did things inside a seven-year-old’s mind, and I never recovered. Going onto secondary school at eleven, the games teacher was the macho sort who was aggressively unsympathetic to any boy who couldn’t swim. All he did was haul me across the width of the pool by a rope.

I’ve never seriously revisited the issue. When Debbie and I were on honeymoon, we spent a few days at an hôtel with a pool and she offered to help me learn. Since it was her, I didn’t mind. But I just couldn’t grasp it.

Every now and again, she asks me to take adult lessons. I feel there are so many fear barriers I would have to cross. One is whether I would be humiliated again by a teacher. Another is how I would cope without my glasses on. (I’m not a suitable case for contact lenses – long story.) And some other things. Yet I am one who stands in a pulpit and tells people that Jesus can help them through the painful memories of their past. One day, I’ll have to find a way of dealing with this. Right now, I’m not sure how. I only know it will have to be gentle.

As for the worship, one or two parts really struck me, not least the Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent:

Almighty God, 
whose most dear Son went not up to joy
but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory before he was crucified,
mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross,
may find it none other than the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How many times have I heard those words? How often have I read the biblical passages on which they are based, not least Paul’s words in Philippians, where he wants to know Christ and the power of the resurrection, but only through ‘fellowship in his sufferings’? Today, however, they were a living word for me, making sense of the down times and the dry spells since coming to Chelmsford. Perhaps these will prove to be ‘the way of the cross’ and that hope is coming.

It certainly tied in with what Paul, the vicar, preached about. He changed the Lectionary Epistle reading and preached about how we can face darkness as Christians. He should know. As he said publicly on this occasions, and has said before, he has battled depression for thirty years. It was an honest and hopeful word.

One lovely thing today, and one sadness. The former came this afternoon, when we took the children out to a playground in a local park. There, Rebekah saw someone from school. He is permanently in a wheelchair, but had been at the swimming pool this morning. He had thought Rebekah must be in Year 3 (she’s in Year 1). She asked if we could go and speak with him and his grandparents. We made a new friend, someone we can now speak to when we see him at the school. All because Rebekah made the overture of friendship. She’s learning missional before she’s six.

The sadness was to learn that another couple we know are separating. That is three couples is less than a year. Two of the couples are Christian families. Our hearts now go out to this couple, and to their children. Our prayers go up for their pain.