Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pass it on!

I met a man who is known to all the children in Cheltenham … and yet none of them has ever seen him. Mums and Dads, and Aunts and Uncles … and even Grandparents too know when he has been about. They know when he is needed. But few if any have seen him.

And I met him on Thursday afternoon.

It was what you might call a Grand Parental afternoon. I was in charge. A pick-up from nursery … and then a visit to the bank – a fascinating experience steering a push chair with fixed wheels through the queuing arrangement for the post office upstairs in WH Smith’s, up the Promenade, bumping into Joyce Jones on the way, through the Open Air art exhibition – at 1 and a quarter, Grandson, Lake really enjoyed that. Through Imperial Gardens and on to Montpellier Gardens … and a great treat. A roundabout, a swing, a climbing frame and best of all – the railings that you could pretend you were a Lion in a cage.

Into the Garden Art Gallery for a taste of modern art – will he be an artist when he grows up, I wonder? Some might say he could have done better .. but I actually wouldn’t say that.

And then back past the back of the old telephone exchange, round by the Playhouse and into Sandford Park, a conversation with the men removing the kind of water cress that has taken over the ponds. One man had looked after those ponds for years, and then he retired last year and no one has taken on his job. But two people were doing it now. Wonderful! Across College Road and round the park … no, not to the playground. But to the back entrance to the Lido café. For a lovely cup of tea … and apple juice.

And there he was standing against the counter.

Weather beaten, his white van parked on the grass of the park. The conversation began with the weather and then quickly moved on … so do you look after the park. There are 53 playgrounds in Cheltenham, he said, and he was the one person to look after all them all and see that the play equipment. One man looking after all that equipment. And he had just returned the new bus – that’s brilliant, I said, it’s Lake’s favourite. And it’s brand new. Only been there since April. It will seat 10 and more youngsters and you can sit at the wheel and drive the bus! Wonderful.

That’s what I made through the winter, he said. So what are the place names on the bus – there are about four of them the children can change. Why aren’t they ones we recognise from the Cotswolds, I asked. That would be too dull, he said. One is where I was born in Cornwall, another is where my son lives outside Leeds, another is a place in France I go to on holiday.

Do you know, I said, one of the people in our church Marion Taylor who helps co-ordinate all the flower arranging lives in a flat overlooking Pittville Park. Her husband was an aero engineer at Staverton, and the country’s leading engineer on the Dove, an amphibious aeroplane. When he died Marion arranged for a replica Dove to be installed in the chidlren’s playground. For children to fly.

I made that, my new friend, informed me, I got all the specifications off the internet and made sure that the word Dove was there – not just painted on but gouged into the wood so it wouldn’t come off. And I have just given it a once over

And now I’m working on a tug boat but I haven’t decided where to put it.

Isn’t that wonderful. One man … no one ever sees him, but everyone knows when he’s been there. And the difference he makes is immense. And the impact he has on children immeasurable.

We owe him a big thank you.

And you don’t do all of that just because it’s your job.

Somewhere around there – is a passionate commitment to children …

I guess that’s one of the things we all celebrate today on this occasion.

A passionate commitment to children.

Friends, family – godparents – all come to this special occasion because the children in our lives matter, and for today, these two, Jamie and Matthew matter the world.

It’s also one of the things that has driven this church from the very start.

Within 25 years of its opening its first building was too small and a bigger church building built – but the first building on Grosvenor Street was then used for the next 80 years for children’s work. Sunday school, Day School, all sorts of youth groups, within 6 months of Scouting beginning nationally, home to Scouts, and then to Guides. And when in 1932 those two buildings were replaced by this building it was built in such a way as to combine on one site a church with rooms that can be used for children’s work. And they are well used through the week- from our new Baby Café on a Thursday morning, through Toddlers, to Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Guides, and then on Tuesday evenings our own Transformers group and on Sunday evenings Hy-Tec. And we are just putting all the plans together for our summer holiday club in the week leading up to the Bank Holiday.

Big commitment – lots of people make it happen behind the scenes. It is important.

What is it that we want to pass on to these children as a church family?.

Fun and games, a safe place to play, love, care. All of this is important.

There are four things I feel passionately about and I want to share …

The starting point for me comes in something Jesus said when he was put on the spot during the course of a heated argument he was having …

Mark 12:28-31

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’

Love God – for me that begins with an incredible wonder and awe at this incredible world we live in. I am up for hunting for fossils, looking at the stars, looking through a lens at an incredible world in miniature. A sense of awe leads me to the sense of one greater than anything I can see – the God who is above all, and beyond all and in all. That sense of wonder and awe and a sense of something beyond. That’s something I want to pass on.

Love your neighbour. If this is God’s world we care for it … and we care for one another in it. Everything else follows on from that. Let’s look out for each other. Be there for each other. Help each other all we can. Love one another. And there’s no bounds to who your neighbour is. The most unexpected person, the least likely person, the least likeable of people. That’s something to explore, and develop and tease away at.

The next thing I want to pass on to children through church is the space for some extra dimension in their lives. I feel passionately that our children need a sense of a spiritual dimension. For children growing up the world is full of noise, sometimes that noise can be troubling. It is full of busyness with a busy round of activities to do and things to go to … there are things to learn and to grow. It’s great seeing the things that they do in nursery, and engaging with others. Lake met a little girl from nursery on the bus. She just wanted to kiss him … he wasn’t into that at all. Then to school … and it’s a round of learnig and growing. But great pressures. Testing regimes, exams, schools pressured into giving first priority to the league table. The world children are growing up into is a scary world … not least with everything that’s going on at the moment.

And all those responsible for children recognise in some way or other the need for something deeper. Scouting has recently published a booklet for leaders – Rising to the Challenge – exploring spiritual development in scouting. At the beginning the booklet quotes the purpose of scouting ‘to contribute to the development of young people in achieving their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potentials.”

Under spiritual potential the identify five key principles.

develop an inner discipline and training
be involved in corporate activities with others
understand the world around them
help to create a more tolerant and caring society
discover the need for prayer and worship, both personal and shared.

That last one is the one I feel is valuable – and I want to share. And we share it in all sorts of different ways.

The thought that we can in prayer link in and relate to the God we hold in such awe – that this God is there with us in our praying. I like the activity of all that goes on in children’s work … I like the quiet too.

Transformers finishes by bringing the children into this space. There is something special. It’s the way most Sundays finish for me … as I come in at the end of Hy-Tec – and join in the finish. Worship with the band – and then a circle around the table – in the dark. And the quiet.

And that prayer is important.

Something to pass on to children … the notion that we can chat with God, as Becky put it, that God is close …

And that brings me to that final thought. For me all of this is wrapped up in one person whose story is very precious and can make a real difference. Jesus. What he teaches makes a difference, but also his presence with us, a friend. Can’t see him – but somehow we know he’s around. And he invites us to use words that I was taught as a child, taught at school, and words that are precious. The family prayer – worth passing on

Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name - that’s the awe and the wonder
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven - that God’s values take hold
Give us this day our daily bread - that daily needs are met
And forgive us our trespasses - the God we believe in is loving, forgiving
As we forgive those who trespass against us – a forgiveness we reflect
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil - a God who protects and guides us
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory – awe and wonder
Forever and ever. Amen. - is where we finish


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