This past weekend was busy, exciting, challenging - and other things too....and as I reflected wearily last night I realised that almost every aspect had something to do with children.
It started with Saturday's Children for a Change festival at Gloucester Cathedral. Once upon a time, these festivals were an almost annual event, an eagerly anticipated date on the calendar, which was worth organising holidays around. I have very vivid memories of my own children engaging in a huge variety of wonderful activities to which they could never have had access in our small Cotswold village, of the excitement for all of us as we realised that we were involved in such a huge and creative diocesan family, of the sheer delight of watching the Cathedral turned upside down by invasions of under 11s...For a long time after one such festival, family visits to the Cathedral included a trip to one particular corner of the north aisle that, we swore, still sparkled quietly, thanks to a liberal application of glitter glue after I was let loose with a craft station of my own.
That was in the early to mid 90s, rather a long time ago now.I don't know why there was such a hiatus in the festivals (though I'd be willing to guess it might have something to do with funding) but Children for a Change was well worth waiting for. As we gathered by the statue of Robert Raikes in Gloucester Park, it didn't feel as if the turnout was particularly splendid, but once we began marching through the streets of Gloucester we realised just how many churches were represented..a long line that spanned a couple of blocks. Once we reached the Cathedral, it took ages to get us all through the doors...and I began to realise just how many were actually there. To see the nave cleared of chairs but packed with people was quite stunning. Such a fabulous space...so well used.
The Psalm drummers launched us into a really great day (do you think there's a market for "praise aerobics"?I'm sure I must have burned at least enough calories to balance the fabulous ice cream I enjoyed later)...A small but enthusiastic contingent from the valley church school explored everything from martial arts to climbing-walls, from handling snakes to poker work, with story telling, circus skills, wood turning (to produce fantastic spinning tops) and macrame along the way....We explored corners we would never normally have noticed...bumped into old friends around every corner and generally had a fantastic time. I was sad that it hadn't been possible to encourage more families to come along - those who feel that the church is remote and inaccessible might have been wonderfully surprised...but I'd tried, really I had, and those who did come clearly enjoyed themselves.
In time honoured fashion, Sunday followed Saturday, and this being the 1st Sunday in the month we offered All Age worship at Church in the Valley. As we were also welcoming the new curate I thought it would be good to talk a little about the distinctive calling of the diaconate, and we looked at different bits of the ordinal and tired to work out what that might mean for M, and for all of us in our own ministries too. At the end of the talk, he and I washed the feet of a gaggle of willing children, an exercise which I found incredibly moving and powerful.Those tiny pink toes...I wondered where those feet might travel, prayed that as a church we might do all in our power to welcome and to serve these little ones, and prayed with all my heart that they might always feel as happy and loved within the church as they do now. It was earlier in the talk, though, that things very nearly went off the rails. I'd been trying to get the children to explore what being a herald might mean and one in particular was heading cheerfully in the right direction, when a lady of a certain age, whose enthusiastic participation makes her a great ally on All Age Sundays, announced with great firmness
"No...a herring isn't a messenger. It's a kind of fish!"
So now you know. The curate will, from henceforth (until an alternative suggests itself) rejoice in the bloggy pseudonym
"The Herring of Christ".
What else are deacons for...?
The Herring of Christ (TM)is thoroughly good news for all sorts of reasons, - including the family he brings with him. Youngest herring (small fry?) is a very charming baby who all but undid me yesterday at Communion. I'd given the Sacrament to his mum, who was holding him to face me for a blessing. Youngest herring gave me his habitual beaming smile and reached out both hands to take a host from the patten.
Yes I know he didn't know what he was doing...(just as he didn't know what was being done on his behalf at baptism a month ago)...but still, he was reaching out towards Christ and I, a minister of Christ's Church, was constrained to gently push him away. It won't have hurt him, I'm sure - but it didn't do much for me.
My committment to inclusive church is total - and my sacramental theology has no problem with offering our Lord to the children who long for Him (not that I could stand it their way if I tried, really...)So why do I insist on toeing lines that pretty much nobody else present would even have noticed were there?
"Children for a Change", the theme of the diocesan festival, carries with it a dual message...that our focus should be on children for once, and that children can of themselves bring about change. Small Fry has certainly made me reflect once again on our attitude to the Sacrament...and pray and dream and long for change there.
"For everyone born a place at the table..."