This is proving to be a rather flat out sort of week, but with so many lovely things along the way that I'll have to sneak a few minutes to blog some of them, even though I ought to be doing all sorts of other stuff (notably another funeral address...that makes 3 in 7 days...and revising the Weddings Database - as next year's bookings are coming in thick and fast now..)
However, before I do...let me just purr a little.
Monday - I had the chance to go into Valley Church School and talk about India, as part of their "Global Awareness" week...It was just such fun to revisit my pictures and to share them with a new group of children. They listened beautifully (they are staggeringly attentive at assemblies, bless them) and seemed to be thoroughly engaged. They also did a very good job of learning "Wide wide as the ocean"...and were amused when I told them that, though I had learned it in England from my mother, who had in turn learned it from a Scotswoman who taught it to her in China, when I'd tried to teach it to the children in Bangalore, they sang it back to me, since they had learned it there long ago...Suddenly, the song became itself representative of the truth it proclaims...God's love, encircling the world.
Tuesday - some really good pastoral encounters, visits that caught the right people at home at the right moment, phonecalls that connected where they needed to and my first visit to a school which is just outside the parish boundaries of Church in the Valley, but whose school roll is almost entirely made up of children living in the parish. It's not the easiest catchment area, with alot of quite run down council housing and a slightly grey feeling to life...but the school is a real oasis.The head and her staff are utterly dedicated to welcoming and valuing every child and every family - a huge gift to these children, some of whose parents learned a very different lesson at school. We talked a little about ways in which we might work together, agreed some dates for the future, and then the deputy head and 2 year 4 boys took me on the Grand Tour. Wow! Some really inspired ideas..."The Dugout" - a kind of underground retreat cum toy library, available to all the children if they present a ticket...somewhere children can go if they are feeling grumpy or upset, and with an inner area, "The Cave" where they can curl up with fleecy blankets and giant soft toys. It was delightful to see these "Mr Cool" boys getting incredibly excited about a seriously huge toy sheepdog (which was indeed irresistably cuddly)...but even better to see the pure joy on their faces as they showed me their multi-sensory and wild-life gardens.
These had been the special project of their class, a gift to the whole school which had won them some much needed cash and some even more precious kudos in a national competition...These children of grey pavements were shining with pride as they picked lemon balm and mint leaves for me to smell, showed me a caddis fly that had just hatched from its case, explained to me which vegetables would produce first and hunted (in vain) for stawberries ready to eat.
It might have looked like a corner of a school playing field, but actually it was a foretaste of heaven.
Wednesday a foray to the toddler group that meets on two afternoons a week in the church hall. Though it is named "Valley Church Toddlers" that has been the extent of the link to date, and since nobody from the congregation has any connections I was uncertain how I might be received...This is very much a secular toddler group, - a space for parents to sit and chat while their children play safely. From what I can see, there's no formal structure to the proceedings, nothing like "circle time" when the whole group shares a focus - which makes it harder to see a route in. However, loitering with intent was clearly the right thing to do...I made dates to discuss baptism with 2 mums and engaged in a few renditions of Incy Wincy Spider to cheer up a weary young man who objected to waiting in his buggy till his mum had retrieved his sister from the melee. Best of all, when I suggested to the leaders that it might be nice if the nominal connection with the church could become something more real, the reponse was really positive.
Oh...and I've begun to trail the idea of "Messy Church" in conversations over the past couple of weeks ...and it does seem as if it might hit the spot.
I think I might be learning how and who to be here.