back to?

I helped out at a holiday club this week.

I used to do schools work a lot of the time when I was a minister and I used to love holiday clubs. In an alternative future, I would have been running them all of the time. It was something that energised me.

I enjoyed dipping my toes in the water again, but it wasn’t nostalgia:-

-There is something powerful about ‘giving something back’ as a thank you for how your family have befitted from activities like this in the past.

— There is something lovely about doing something that has no payback for ‘you and yours’.

– And I loved the lack of pressure, of not leading or being responsible for the whole thing.

-It is good to be an ‘ordinary everyday’ Christian without the spotlight being on you.

When I tweeted it I hashtagged it as #goodtimes (which is a phrase I do not like too much), but I meant it. I was just glad to be there.

Ministers, schools and Christmas…

I got someone to come and play at a carol service from the community around a particular hospital.

He was a long retired headteacher: giving his time freely now because that was how he was formed and lived his life.

We had never met before that day and so we talked as he left. He told a story of being a headteacher and loving what he did- he breathed vocation.

Then he spoke about ministers whom he had used for school assemblies. He found few of them could actually do it. He felt that the problem was so many of them expected children to sit still while they ‘preached’ at them. There was an issue with power, with many feeling threatened, out of their comfort zone and not in control.

‘They expect the children to come to God…when God has to travel to the children’.

He was talking my kind of language. He was also talking Incarnation- God travelling to people, rather than waiting for them to come to Him. Of course: with the expectation that we do likewise: almost impossible to do if you hold onto power, position or prestige.

And that is a good point to end this year’s blog ramblings….

School…

Sometimes I actually get to notice the sheer loveliness of my work. This usually comes in unexpected moments. One such happened yesterday.

For many years I have been involved in ‘church classes’: voluntary extra RE lessons. These are only 20 minutes long, used to cover most of the particular school & I get to do Year 6. I usually work from 3 bases:

  • Respect- we listen to everyone & don’t laugh at any contribution.
  • I want to learn just as much from you as you from me.
  • I expect you to disagree with me: in fact I want you to.

I assume nothing & try to get those who don’t believe to be sure as to why they do, on the basis of ‘know your enemy’. Similarly, I try to get those who do believe to be sure why they do. I always operate within the school discipline. Personally, I find this much more fruitful: as Christians I think we should always realise we are guests on someone else’s territory & are not there to browbeat. It is hard to resist the temptation within the church to be a ‘slipper priest’: tiptoeing around the sanctuary and only ever being in contact with church members, or encountering those outside in contexts where you can be powerful/in charge.

I absolutely love doing this: I love going into schools!

We were trying to work out how to do an assembly in 10 minutes where we would act out the entire Bible. They were giving me lots of surreal suggestions which again, I love. I struggle if someone is too serious and can’t be playful.

After a while, I paused and asked ‘So what can you remember from previous church classes?’ One by one, parts of stories tumbled out, then full stories, then obscure details of stories. Suddenly I realised they had listened, they had interacted with what we had shared and it had begun to take route. Maybe it is because I am so tired at present, but I only just managed to stop the tears.

Sometimes you realise, sometimes it comes home to you, sometimes you see results….

…and I almost felt, as I walked through the village, like I was bouncing on air…

You’re gonna be a record breaker…

I sometimes get to do things, the reason for which I can only wonder ‘why?’ ‘how?’ or simply ‘whaaaat?!’

Today is one of those days: something that has not happened to me in nearly 15 years of full time ministry- I am going to be a Guinness World Records’ adjudicator. Apparently I have to wear a fluorescent coat, watch that everyone is participating and sign something. Then back to normality as I drive off to a funeral visit.  It is part of the Guinness organisation’s regulations that a neutral person (I have never thought of myself as neutral before) – and there are recommended job titles- observes.

This is one of the many things I love about what I do: the utter randomness & the chance to get alongside unlikely people, in unlikely locations at unlikely times. In fact, it seems that the more that this happens, the more relationships/links are built, almost unwittingly. I think I thrive most when I am thrown into these situations. Plus: it is in a school- I could spend ages in schools. There is something about the directness of children/young people that is both enervating & challenging.

Of course, most of this is not possible if you think ministry is all about standing on ceremony and ‘hiding’ behind a role. You mostly gain your dignity when you are prepared to lose it.

Also: as a child, I was bought up on the right wing McWhirter brothers and Roy Castle (in fact, when I saw Duke Special a couple of weeks back, I think I was almost as excited to find that Ben Castle- son of Roy- was in the band) & the ‘Recordbreakers’ programme., so I am living the dream…

Parables

I was introducing some kids to the parables in a year 6 lesson. Because of the National Curriculum and also because I think individuals should not be preached at, I tend to do this in a confessional way ‘I believe this’, ‘some Christians think this’ etc. Also, it gives people more space to think, be and gives them dignity.

Many at age 11 had little idea of what a ‘parable’ was, so we set out looking at stories & how we are creatures of story. Then we heard two short stories from Matthew 13: the story of the person discovering treasure in a field and I got them to get inside the story and imagine it and work out how it could be improvised as a play. I love doing things like this: whilst you are still ‘in charge’, you are constantly challenged and questioned: suddenly learning and growing comes alive.

Then we got to thinking: what could this mean? One person said something like ‘If something is worth something, you give up everything to try and get it.’

I will build on this in the next few weeks, but I wanted to say ‘you are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven’. Also: much as I like preaching, I wish I could get churched adults to interact in such an immersive, open and creative way. Of course, you would have to demolish pews etc….

Schools…

Recently I went to a school I often visit for a year 6 lesson. I have been involved in a few lessons like this in the past: visiting Christian rocks up, kids ask questions on an RE/Ethics topic they have been studying and then it becomes ‘open season’, no holds barred questions on anything.

I find it a fantastically liberating experience: children around this age are a good deal more honest and probing than adults. They are not embarrassed by asking any question. Perhaps long ago I would have developed a patronising smile, chuckled, and metaphorically patted them on the head; now I regard this communication a good deal more honest than most adult communication. They are also quite perceptive of their own strengths and weaknesses.

I can’t remember all the questions: it was all a bit of a blur: being put on the spot and questioned about anything and everything without a script & no deference is a rare privilege. I do remember the students being suprised when I said I still got angry and wanted to hit people, that often behind closed doors I swore profusely& also I was acutely aware that I often fell short of my own standards. But I also remember the listening (as opposed to ’embarrassed’) silence when I said that the point of following Jesus meant that he took centre stage in all your life & decisions…. and that maybe because of this, ethical decisions were sometimes harder than easier.

Whatever; wish I could do this more often, though I have a chance on BBC Tees tomorrow with 2 others for an hour talking about the news. Now that is a new experience and seriously scary…

Smoothing down

I love schools work/school assemblies. I have written about that more than once. If I could manage to do that most of the time…

…anyway, I was preparing for a school assembly yesterday (had it prepared and realised I had got the wrong theme; changed it and improvised a new one on the spot. Yes that was boasting. No I am not supposed to do that, but I did) and looking up parables that reflected the school theme of ‘helping one another’. I rejected at least a couple of parables that involved unfaithful servants being cut to pieces as I didn’t think that 4-10 year olds and their teachers would find that helpful.

Then I stopped- I had begun to smooth down the awkward edges of scripture. There may have been good reasons in that context to use a different story, but…. but…. it is a huge danger isn’t it? I suspect I may have been guilty of that on several occasions. Trouble is, when awkward, misshapen lives come into a church and only ever encounter smoothed down theology and worship we do one of several things:-

*Feel terribly guilty that we are not smoothed down.

* Learn that church is only there for the good bits, not the chaos.

* Reject it: it says nothing to now.

Hoping not to be such a good carpenter from now….

Why I like school assemblies so much….

school | NewburyToday.

I like school assemblies. I do a lot of Primary School assemblies where reaction is instantaneous. Where if you have not hit the spot you know it. Where questions come thick and fast and it is hard to stop them.

I also like senior schools. The idea that you have to ‘earn’ a hearing, that no one really wants to hear you; they are bored and sometimes it is a bit like gladiatorial combat. Where you pray hard, take a deep breath and say the words ‘It’s showtime’ in your mind.

I got this from a primary school this week. It was from a conversation after the assembly with two teachers. A child came up to them in class and said conspiratorially:

‘I know how the world was created’.

The teacher reflected on the teaching that the class had been working through on different religions accounts of this idea, and said ‘Tell me.’

The response: ‘God and Jesus saved up £1000 between them and went out and bought it’.

..and that makes it all worth it for me.

‘It’s stupid’

 

I was leading a 20 minute slot with a group of year 6 children yesterday. We were looking at parables and acting. I like acting out stories: sometimes I wish adults would more- you can get closer to the heart and you stop beard stroking and holding others at a distance.

We were looking at a couple of parables in Matthew 13:44-45- the story of a treasure in a field and a pearl of great price. We really got into them- making the story come alive for 10-11 year olds in 2013.

Then, the question: ‘So what do you think of these stories?’

The first response cut out the next 10 minutes of the lesson: ‘It’s stupid. These stories are crazy- who would give up that much to buy that?’ At that point, I awarded my honorary PhD and began to adapt the lesson: ‘That is exactly the point- they are stupid, exaggerated and they are meant to offer the possibility of a life change: well done.’

Never mind: if she ever does GCSE RE, they will educate her more fully and they will become ‘stories with a moral message’/ ‘basic spiritual truths’/ ‘Jesus’ ethical teaching’….. or anything else to make them safe and understandable. We’ve been doing that in church for generations…

 

Random rambles from a village minister:2

(maybe not this)…

So I was in this other school, helping to lead a lesson on ‘why bother to worship together?’ It was part of a GCSE syllabus and as I now have some experience with exams (which helps to get me to France for a long time every summer) and a brief stint part time teaching a couple of years back, I tend to get invited in to do things like this. I love it: it is hard to get into senior schools- once I am in, I really like being questioned and made to think.

I began to talk about why I think it is important to worship together and then one of the students wondered why protestant churches are so ambivalent to art. Why not, she said, use more art? Get people together in the same space and let them loose: it inspires me to think, she said. What about the idea that it makes people ‘work’ a bit more and provokes them into deeper understanding? Have you ever considered how it might open people up without telling them what to think?

It was an amazing insight; particularly as it came from someone quiet, who had to be drawn out and almost apologised for saying something that was ‘off message’. It has made me think about over loving words, encouraging divergent voices and not always listening to the most strident or articulate voice.

I really love schools….