Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rites of Passage

You don't need to have read very many of my witterings here to realise that one of my greatest pleasures in this particular job is the excellent relationship with Valley Church School, children, staff - the whole community. Making space in our churches so that children can awaken the surrounding adults to the reality of God's presence is very much a guiding passion. I would never presume to say that I'm trying to enable children's relationships with God: in my experience, they have a far greater sense of God's presence, and an innate spirituality that it's a genuine privilege to spend time with them.
So I'm always excited when I'm invited to spend time in school, or, as yesterday, to go out and about with a class.
It was a Very Special Occasion for Year 6, their trip to the Cathedral for the Leaver's Service. During this week, our Mother Church will welcome 2000 children who are preparing to move on from Church Primary Schools at the end of term...but for the Valley children, the excitement began well before we reached the Cathedral.
As we boarded the coach, I was reminded of the sheer adventure that going ANYWHERE by coach represents to the young...Indeed, as the last time coach travel was part of my life at all regularly I wasn't that much older than the Y6s, I found myself sharing something of the same hopeful anticipation.
I don't think I ever aspired to quite their level of breathless wonder at the ordinary, though. That whole journey made me wish once again that Libby the retriever could actually talk! The way those children bounced and delighted in the most ordinary things was so reminiscent of her attitude on walks
"Kathryn,Kathryn....can you see the swing in that garden"
"I can see a horse...And a cow....and a train"
"We're going over the motorway..."
"Can you see the Big Wheel"
"Oh, look..I saw...I did...I saw a TEENAGER"
I wish we could hang onto that immediate wow factor! These, of course, are things I drive past regularly without a second glance - but the children helped me, for a moment or two, to see something special.

Then we reached the Cathedral.
"It must be really old. Is it about 100?" (On being told the actual age of the building..."No, they didn't have stone in those days did they?")
"This place smells....of holiness."
As the building began to fill with children there was a happy buzz. Valley School sang early in the service (and made their vicar cry - they were so very shiney and hopeful, singing about the light of love)...
Then came the mime - an interpretation of the feeding of the five thousand reflecting our diocesan theme in this Year of the Child, "Children for a Change".
It was, quite simply, was the children's response.
In the artist's interpretation, the boy with the loaves and fishes was clearly disabled, his walk a painfully slow lumber...He wasn't the brightest star in the firmament either, but when he reluctantly offered the fish he had caught so laboriously, when he suddenly realised that he WANTED to give his treasures to Jesus, when Jesus welcomed and affirmed him and held him in the sort of hug that should last forever, - well then everything changed.
He did indeed go walking and leaping and praising God...and as he bounded around the Cathedral, full of the joy of his restored mobility and new self confidence (I am one whom Jesus chooses to hug), gladly throwing the precious fish from his unemptiable basket to all whom he encountered (for this was truly an illustration of what it means to be blessed to be a blessing), the children caught and ate fish no-one could see, that were yet so real that I too reached for one as it was thrown towards me, recognising that this "fish" represented the grace of God, encountered unexpectedly in all its transforming wonder.
After that it was small wonder that the whole Cathedral stilled as our suffragen prayed...with that quality of stillness that, just once in a while (nothing like often enough), you encounter before the Post Communion prayer.
These children knew exactly Who they were speaking to, and why that conversation mattered.
Pure joy to be with them.

eta. Caroline's comments make it rather clear that writing about something when you really ought to be tucked up in bed, just so you can get something else posted on the "right day" is not a good idea.
Just to clarify, the service in the Cathedral wasn't a Communion (though this diocese encourages the admission of children to Communion, and it's on the agenda for many church schools at the moment, we're nowhere near the point at which the majority of children could receive - so it would be just as inappropriate to make the Leavers' service a Communion as she suggests!)...I was simply trying to find a moment with an "average" (is there such a thing?) Sunday congregation that could be compared with the holy silence the children achieved.
And the mime, - well, that really didnt feel like intentional evangelism. It was far more about the potential to make a difference that exists within even those who consider themselves to be small and useless (the persona of the child in the mime)...and the transformation that discovering that potential can make.
No idea if I've clarified or muddied, but had to make an attempt!
OK....move along now....


Caroline said...

hmmmm must remember, tomorrow, just on the offchance, to share my hard caught fish. I am just SO bored with the wheels. They are so passe.

oh, sorry, you mean the disability bit's a metaphor? right, ok. no problem.

(oh go on, you knew i would make some kind of comment...!)

Kathryn said...

Sorry had to be there...It kind of outshone its corniness and all sorts of other all too obvious flaws
Love you, despite my being dim and chronic.

Caroline said...

lol no problem. well, not your problem anyway. I'll expend my wrath against simplistic evangelism at more deserving targets than your good self! hug!

I'm actually rather more perplexed by the apparent fact that a service specially put for year 6 pupils is a communion service, from the core part of which I assume that all the kids are excluded? It's ok, kidlets, you're really really special, and jesus loves you loads, but the church just doesn't think you're old enough to understand the important bits so just watch the grown ups. watch and learn. watch and learn. oooh and have a blessing instead. Still i guess it wouldn't be proper church if it wasn't a communion service.

no, i have no idea either why i'm so particuarly riled by this beautifully written account of a very importnat service - whcih you're absolutely right i probly should have been at before i can really understand/ comment! blame the long day. sorry. love you. and jesus. and the C of E with all its faults. (no, actually, scratch that last one). (and feel free to delete this comment)

(and bizarrely the word verification is 'congareb' which i imagine must be some sort of ebbing congregation, which aptly sums up the c of e...)

Caroline said...

thank you :)