Sunday, October 13, 2013

What it means to be a child-friendly church

On the second Sunday of the month our youngsters meet together for Breakfast and for Sunday Special.  This morning they were looking at the 'C' of commitment following on from the Summer Holiday Club that had sailed the 'C's on a cruise ship!    A number of the helpers described what they were 'committed to' and what they were 'committed to' at Highbury.

In the first part of the service they shared a wonderful collage they had done of the verse from 1 John 4 that challenges us to 'Love God and love each other'.

We then launched our Operation Christmas Child appeal for shoe boxes with a short video clip 

We then took up the theme of this year's Operation Christmas child 'From death and despair to Good News and Great Joy' and shared a wonderful passage from Isaiah 60.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 
For darkness shall cover the earth,
   and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
   and his glory will appear over you. 
Nations shall come to your light,
   and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 

The sun shall no longer be
   your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
   give light to you by night;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
   and your God will be your glory. 
Your sun shall no more go down,
   or your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
   and your days of mourning shall be ended. 

Grow up or enter the Kingdom
So, Jesus, who is the greatest
in the Kingdom of Heaven?
Unless you change and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven
So ... grow down!
And if you want to welcome Jesus ...
Welcome a child!

How do you get your kids through church without them ending up hating God?  That’s a massive question and I guess it’s one that every generation has grappled with.   At first sight it’s a question for parents and for people leading children’s work and youth work in church.

But that would be to miss the point.

Actually it’s a responsibility all of us share.   And it’s nothing new.

On Wednesday, 6th November RobParsons and Care for the Family are coming to the Town hall for a regionalevent that will ask exactly that question.   It is something for all of us to take to heart – and for all of us to reflect on.   By all accounts it promises to  be a good evening – have a word with Carolyn or with Tom after the service to find out more.

When we got our Child Friendly church award it wasn’t just because of eth work we do with children, but it was because of the way we work as a whole church family at being friendly towards children.

You can see that commitment to children and working with children at every stage in the church’s history.   It is right there in the gospels.  Indeed it is there in the one chapter which records Jesus speaking about the church and actually using the word church.

Matthew 18 is a key chapter in tracing Jesus’ understanding of what it means to be church.

And it’s mostly about children.    And what Jesus says gives pause for thought.

Among the buzz words in education are words that are all about getting to the top, being the best, reaching goals.


 Everything is tested down to the last detail, data driven analysis of performance in the classroom is geared to getting the best out of every child.  But I sometimes wonder.

Everything about growing up is just that.

It’s about growing up.  Reaching adult.

And then it’s all about the drive to get the top.

In many ways it all counts.  It is all important.  It’s dangerous to do it down.

But on the other hand, reports this week, suggest something in our education system isn’t working.

Jesus seems almost maverick in the response he gives to his disciples when they ask the question that our education system asks of every child and of every school – who is the greatest?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

There’s something very counter-intuitive there.

More words come to mind …

Unless you change and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven
So ... grow down!

Curious – maybe unacceptable.  Maybe not helpful.  Or maybe liberating!

Maybe we should value children not just for their potential but for who they are.

And maybe we should do the same for adults too.

Welcome a little child and you will welcome Jesus.

Jesus then goes on to speak of the way we must care for our children.

6 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!

Tomorrow we will be remembering Daphne.   She came to Cheltenham when her husband Reg and her brother David moved here with the National Coal Board Research people.   Daphne’s husband specialised in research into the gas chromatography – analysis of breaking down gases into their constituent parts.  Nowadays it is a mainstream scientific activity – then it was groundbreaking stuff in the development of smokeless fuels.

When we were marking Rosalind Franklin’s contribution to the discovery of  DNA Margaret instantly recalled her as one of the team contributing so much to research into carbons and into coal.

We may have virtually our coal mining industry but we continue to depend on coal.  Now coal is imported and we rely on the dangers of mining from far off Rissia, far off China.  And occasionally we hear of mining disasters.  But they don’t grip.

Maybe they should.

Mary Michael has brought the Aber Valley Male Voice Choir to  Highbury on a number of occasions. IN recognition of the support she and Margaret her sister have given to the choir they have been made Vice-Presidents of the Choir – a great honour.  And today the choir are marking the anniversary of this country’s biggeset mining disaster.

One hundred years ago an explosion in the Universal Colliery, Senghenydd near the home of the Aber Valley choir took the lives of 439 lives – some boys as young as 15 and 16.  The mine owners were found guilty and asked to pay fines and compensation which came to the derisory sum of £24.  The widows received the last pay package their husband had earned calculated to the precise moment of the explosion and not a penny more.

In 1901 81 our of 82 men working down the mine were killed in an explosion.

Mary asked us to play the recording of the song with its collage of photos that the choir have specially commissioned for the opening of a national memorial to those who  have lost their lives in mining.  Here.  I want to play it because it reminds us of the children whose lives are lost today in mining and in many industries we depend on.  Let’s remember that 40% of our energy comes from coal – and the largest producer by far of the coal we depend on is Russia where there have been 290 deaths in accidents in the last ten years.   Coal continues to take its toll … but at a distance.   We think of children impacted by those disasters – and with our flowers and produce Paula prompts us to think of the orphans of Syria.

He haunting words of the song ask ‘where have they gone?  Where have all the young men gone.

The song invites us to walk through the valley of the shadow, the valley of tears.

Deep in our hearts we will remember them

Aber Valley Choir – Senghenydd – the Song

Forever young they sleep in the midst of time
Deep in our hearts we will remember them
Deep in our hearts we will remember them.

In Matthew 18 Jesus speaks of what church is all about.

And for Jesus it is all about children.

Matthew 18:10-14

10 ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. 12What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

How easy it is to trivialise the Parable of the Lost Sheep.

Here it has a powerful message.

It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost!

Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones …

And then comes a wonderful thought, filled with mystery and yet filled with promise

For I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.

Song: The Lord’s my shepherd I’ll not want

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