This weekend, the 2 St M's Youth Groups have a collective birthday. Regular readers will know that I see our young people as quite definitely something to celebrate, so we've been partying with a vengeance! After a chaotic skittles evening in the local pub, the younger kids went home and the older group settled down (or do I mean hyped up) for a sleep-over in the Parish Centre, to prepare for this morning's Birthday Eucharist. We had a ready-made theme in pilgrimage, as members of the group will join National Youth Pilgrimage to Walsingham in August. Sadly, the complexities of family diaries mean I won't be going with them (and even if I could, I'd have to somehow leave my priesthood at home, as Walsingham is a shrine where the ordination of women has emphatically not been welcomed with joy). We planned, created, and generally had a splendid time working out our theme,- though when I headed for home at 1.30 we were still a banner short of a procession, and a birthday cake short of a picnic. I did worry slightly, since we'd made much of the banner (which will go to the Shrine) in our order of service...but I should have known that those kids won't let little things like sleep stand in their way. When I returned at breakfast time, the banner was complete, the cake being iced and the emotional temperature pretty sunny really.
Of course I had the statutory panic....we were under-rehearsed, potentially chaotic, and St M's does tend to like its worship just so. I spent a wee while before the service doing as much PR work as I could, but in the event I needn't have worried. The service positively overflowed with joy and excitement,- I caught the most surprising people joining in with the trees of the field that clapped their hands, as we went out with joy!
Afterwards in the vestry I thanked the MC of the day for his relaxed attitude to a service in which anything could happen, - and generally did. His reaction? "I'm a jazz musician....I believe in creative improvisation".
Dear Lord, please could that attitude could spread among your people here? It would be such a refreshing gift.
Meanwhile, back to Koinonia. I am so very proud of those kids (yes, even the ones who periodically visit this blog! Hi girls! ;-) ) and this morning they really shone! For a while the group has divided itself neatly between those who are very much part of church life (choristers, bell ringers etc, who've all been confirmed and are thoroughly at home on the premises) and a group (whom I tend to think of as the Footballing Fringe) whose only contact with church is via the youth groups. As usual last night, I delivered my pre-Communion pep-talk, speaking about the welcome available at the altar, asking the kids to think seriously about whether they wanted to receive Communion or a blessing, and reminding them that this was a holy meal, to be treated with reverence and love. I knew that in the past one or two members had found the Eucharist confusing and even embarassing, so I stressed that there would be no problem whatever their decision, that they were loved and valued equally in any case.
This morning, every one of the "Footballing Fringe" opened their hands for Communion, and each of them responded to the Gift I offered not with the traditional "Amen" but with sort of "Thank you", which I could only echo in my heart. I didn't cry,- but it was a very close thing!
Happy Birthday, dear Youth Groups, happy birthday to you!
Keep on shining.