In November 2007 at the interviews that preceded my appointment here, I was invited to dream dreams for a parish that I knew very little of. Being me, I'd imagine I talked alot about building community, and probably a bit about being open in every possible way - but I KNOW that I talked about School Eucharists. It felt then, and has felt ever since, like a major part of my calling to this place at this time.
So - I was appointed, moved in and have thrown myself into the life of the school with as much energy and commitment as I can find. I love our school dearly - children, staff, families, - the whole boiling - and it is a delight to spend time there, whether leading Collective Worship, listening to anyone who needs to talk, or serving as a Governor. Together we've survived 2 OFSTEDs and a SIAS, celebrated new buildings and church anniversaries...I've blessed each group of Y6 leavers individually, at their final school service at the end of the summer term, and taken my teddy to the "Teddy Bears' Picnic", which welcomes Reception children to our school.
I've rejoiced as school and church learn to work together - at least closely enough to run joint fund-raising events...It's all been lovely (and will, I'm sure, continue to be so) - but it wasn't til this year that my dream of celebrating the Eucharist in school, with those children, came true.
The Head and I had both had it on our agenda for ages but the timing was never quite right - til last summer we concluded that the only way we would ever reach the right moment was by creating it... I asked the advice of Sandra Millar, at that stage our diocesan Children's Advisor (she has now gone on to even shinier things for the C of E as a whole) - and talked about how, when we share the Experience Eucharist stations with our children, we always knew we were on holy ground when we reflected on the Last Supper and the promise "Do this and I will be with you".
From that reflection an idea was born - Experience Eucharist...A series of stations, like the other "Experience" journeys the diocese has produced, but this time taking the Eucharist apart and getting inside each part of the service. Sandra and I spent one long morning (no food in the house, so the poor woman worked right through lunch without so much as a stale cheese sandwich: I still shudder to remember this) bouncing ideas back and forth...We made pages of notes...then Sandra went away to turn them into something coherent.
More meetings, more discussions - and just weeks before she moved on to her new job, the draft for our pilot project arrived.
Of course, pilots being pilots, some things worked better than others - but overall it was completely and utterly WONDERFUL.
The stations were
Gathering- being God's people
Forgiving - making right the things that go wrong
Listening - realising that God's word makes a difference
Remembering - entering the story
Living - faith in the world
Thanking - all that God has done.
Over the course of 4 days, every class experienced the journey - and their thoughts and responses were, as ever, simply stunning.
Gathering & Thanking were "whole class" stations - so I was privileged to work through these with every child. I told them the story of the Great Feast, and we wondered about why those first invited guests had chosen not to come - and how those outsiders who were welcomed at the feast might have felt. Several children delighted me by suggesting that those who stayed away did so out of the kindness of their hearts - because they hoped that the host would turn his attention to including those who didn't usually get invited anywhere. Isn't that a splendidly optimistic view of human nature. We agreed, though, that it would have been better if EVERYONE had come along...Then we decorated a fabric square with our name & something to represent us - and were excited when all those squares tied together became the frontal for our impromptu altar at the end of the journey.
Forgiving featured the story of the Prodigal Son and some absolutely miraculous paper flowers...
"yes, just ordinary paper, yes, that's real water in the bowl"...
that we coloured, while thinking of something for which we wanted to say sorry. We then folded the petals inwards ("But my colouring doesn't show") and floated them in a big bowl of water...and watched, amazed, as they opened.
Sometimes they took ages -
"but", said the children," that's good because it can take a long time to properly forgive"
"Like a grazed knee healing" said one Y3
"Forgiveness is choosing to let go of your pain and open the hand of friendship to the person who has hurt you" said a Y6.
My colleagues who looked after Listening, Remembering & Living made their own discoveries along the way...then I was privileged to share the final station, Thanking, at which once again I told the story of the Last Supper - and of how, when we make Eucharist we celebrate all that God has done for us.
I have my own formula here
"Jesus promised that whenever we share bread and wine and think of him, he will be with us"
Each time - whatever the age of the children, whatever the stage of the school day, when I broke the bread and poured the wine there was a deep and holy silence.
As one little boy said, after the "official" service on Thursday
"You told us to remember and Jesus would be with us.
I did and he was".