Church – just part of the furniture of play

Much of my non-work time at the moment is spent in the dining room – or more specifically in Flower-lake City, T’s playmobil town. As you can see over the Christmas break a huge number of different buildings and sets have been put together, carefully arranged to form a town with a main street alongside an out of town area for the stables and the conservation and animal rescue center. It has given us the opportunity for hours (yes literally hours, I really wouldn’t want to keep count!) of storytelling, co-operative play (as long as I do & say exactly as I’m told of course; any of you with any experience of PDA will know what I’m talking about) imagination and stretching our thinking, and sharing outside the box.

As you can imagine it’s not always smooth sailing, there have of course been the usual obstacles because it is incredibly difficult for T to share the imaginative space and story tell with me. Sometimes we have to replay till I get it right, other times I get away with a suggestion or my own twist on what’s required – quite often with a lot of giggles. We’ve had a few moments when cats have wanted to join in too, which have proved a little tricky to navigate without meltdown. Those moments have brought back vivid memories of having to call A a ‘Giant’ whenever B’s games were changed or ‘ruined’ by her baby brother crawling or walking through – especially when he picked things up en route. Giving A a character took the intensity of the reaction away from him a little and over time became more of an expected part of the stories we played out with the dolls, marbles or whatever figures of choice we had organised.

The very first building as you go into Flower-lake city is a church. Over Christmas we had an exciting event in the community. Izzy & Charlie got married – we had no church at the time, and so we created a very outdoor wedding which suited them very well. But T got thinking, and Daddy made suggestions and our community church was created. A building that was in the loft (thank you Aunty E!), origionally a school building was found and cleaned and with a bit of card and imagination transformed into a welcoming church. Rev Ricky joined the town as our minister – still in need of a planned wardrobe change so she has a collar but very much becoming part of the furniture of the town.

What’s been so lovely to watch is the way Rev Ricky has got involved and the way the community has been using the building. I’ve found it so exciting to see T’s own experiences of church being played out so positively. To be honest sometimes (esp over the pandemic) I wonder if church is a positive for T at all.. or if she even wonders at why we do what we do. So what an encouragement. Rev Ricky has come in to do assemblies in the school – which is next door to the church, just as our church infants school is where we live. Most days she fetched the snacks and drinks for the school kids and drops them off. PE lessons have happened in the church space – with the stack of chairs neatly at the back out of the way of course – health and safety!

And when it’s church day in Flower-lake City a lot of the families come to a service, during which the children have their own teaching groups – acorns and mighty oaks (I’m pretty sure B helped name these groups one day when she popped in) – and they have their own notice boards to display their art work in the church building. Next plans Rev Ricky has are a mid week acorns group for the babies, and a movie night – always a favourite here where we live. I’m not going to lie, its also been a lovely excuse to do some mini crafting at the same time as trying my hardest to assist in the play as I’m asked to!

At-home-church: worship resources ‘when I am afraid’

Hi again – so the resources begin!

T & I had a chat this morning about this crazy idea and she was excited. So we thought about how we could help ourselves to worship this morning. She came up with all of these activities this time – enjoy. And do share pics, T will be very encouraged.

“What Bible story can you think of where people were scared like we feel today?”

“I know, the one with the Giant…”

David and Goliath – God is bigger!

Read: 1 Sam 17.

We read from T’s Adventure Bible, but this is a story found in most children’s Bibles too.

We chatted about how big and scary Goliath was, and how amazing and unexpected it was that David was so brave.

“What made David braver than his brothers and the other soldiers?”

“He knew God was with him!”

I was particularly struck by the repetition of the phrase ‘the Living God’ as I read the story out loud. The God we worship is not just a concept, or idea but real and living – powerful and active in this world and in our lives. He is bigger and stronger than the things that make us afraid.

Respond: paper crosses

T had a great idea to cut out cross shapes, and write our big worries on them. Then she wanted to fold them up (bringing the outside parts into the middle) and pop them in water to watch them open up and remind us our big worries can be given to God.

I wasn’t absolutely sure this was going to work – but we went with it…

It works!! We had a lovely quiet moment watching them and giving our worries to God.

Sing:

Every Giant will fall (Rend Collective)

God I look to you, Our God reigns (Hillsong)

Pray for others: Praying for our neighbours and town with lego

We had fun building houses, shops, and a park and thought about who was living where. What might be a big worry for them right now, and asked Jesus to help them.

We pray you find these ideas helpful and easy to use.

Saul to David: “Go and the Lord be with you!”

And David went out to face Goliath!

We can’t go to church tomorrow: Being church differently during Coronavirus

Andrew and I, like most of us, have had a week trying to get our heads around the impact government advice about Coronavirus and covid-19 is going to have on everything. From the food in our cupboards, access to education, concern for the vulnerable it is going to affect the whole of life for at least the next weeks and months. As I write this T & B are finally asleep, it has been an anxious evening with repeated checking of temperatures being needed for reassurance, and many many questions. Andrew & I are self isolating until Tuesday having been in close contact with someone who has been told they have the virus. It has brought it all into sharp focus.

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Church is going to have to look and feel a bit different as we follow the ever changing advice, and as Andrew particularly works on those adaptations it is even harder knowing we cannot be there tomorrow to be in community and to give and receive reassurance of God’s presence with us and his love & peace for us.

How painful, at a time where anxiety is high not to be able to go into the heart of the family, the community where we find support. How odd to have to do so many things differently at a time when for so many of us the familiarity of routine would be so comforting.

In Andrew’s letter to our church family he has reminded us of the connections we can have through phone and social media, through care for each other – even if it can only be food or a message left on the doorstep. He also reminded us that there are resources on the church website – sermons to listen to, and online devotions.

As we go through these next few weeks I will also be linking to resources that we find useful as we seek to be church differently.

Do follow on Facebook, Twitter and here where I will post resources and printables that we can use at home to help create opportunities for worship, reflection serving others and finding peace in God’s presence together in our homes. 

Joining in with fellowship lunches

IMG_20200216_172741075Our parenting has always been in the context of church life, which inevitably means fellowship lunches – bring & share – pot suppers – whatever we want to call them. You know, time after worship around food and together time with the church family.

It’s never been particularly optional being the vicar & family which means over the years I have had to come up with a number of coping strategies for us as a family to get through these as smoothly as we can.

It’s not that we don’t like them, or don’t think they’re important -we do. It’s that they’re perhaps one of the hardest bits of church family life for us as a family.

They are often noisy, and crowded – that’s a really good thing, but hard for us. There is an unpredictability about them; the room layout will be different, timing will be an inexact science, you never know what food there will be (even if quiche is a given in most churches here in the UK, what flavour!?!), or who might sit with you! So many unknowns. And you’re expected to eat, in front of people! Something that is at times an overwhelmingly paralyzing, stressful thing. There is almost inevitable sensory overload, and anxiety about the uncertainties, and the social demands –  together these can make a fellowship lunch both daunting and very exhausting.

I was reminded just this last weekend of all the years I have been alongside children and young people finding all this overwhelming because we had an 80th birthday in the family with a big meal at a carvery to go to. Not easy, but we did it.

So over the years I have got us through these meals using a variety of coping strategies and I just wondered if any might be helpful, or jog a new thought that might be helpful for you:

  • Using a social story about what might happen, what the room might look, smell, sound like. And what I can say if someone talks to me.
  • Taking a familiar chair – easy enough for us when B was small, partly because she was petite for so long our portable strap on any chair highchair could come with us everywhere.
  • Trying to face them away from the whole room in our choice of seats at tables rather than expecting them to cope right in the middle of it all facing all the other tables.
  • Allowing under table picnics and play as needed – and brushing off the looks and comments of others (life’s far too short!). In fact I have often found other children come and join in.
  • Taking the kids choice of food and keeping some back to make sure they get some at the table we sit at.
  • Bringing their own packed lunch.
  • A bag of distractions! Bubbles, games, fiddles and fidgets, a favourite book or set of little play things, colouring.
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  • Set challenges or play a game: how many people can you count wearing purple, etc. Or an ‘eye spy’ sheet of things to look for and tick off during the mealtime.
  • Not staying to the end, but leaving when the kids are reaching their limit – when possible.
  • Creating a breakout space – either bring a bag of stuff and a picnic rug, or organize to use resources from church. A designated area that’s there to escape to, slightly tucked away but safely in sight.
  • Negotiating how long we’ll stay, or what might be eaten (for example, eat one thing then we’ll go) – and sticking to the agreement.
  • Staying alongside rather than mingling, reducing the fear of people not known so well joining the table or coming over to chat.
  • Ear defenders.
  • Arrange in advance who will fill your table so there are no surprises – again not always possible.
  • Accepting that sometimes it will all go belly-up and there will be tears.
  • On that note I try to make sure there’s inbuilt time for recovery afterwards – though again this isn’t always possible.
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  • Daring to decide it’s just not possible or helpful to get there at all this time , and making the decision to give it a miss – trying not to ‘feel’ that. This is a tough one for many of us – hugs may be required!
  • Taking a travel cot to use as a play-den when little. Added benefit of the mesh sides shielding some of the constant movement in the room in terms of visual sensory input. Also the familiarity helped sometimes.

 

I would love to hear your strategies as a family, if you also find yourself wanting to join in with fellowship lunches.

 

faith adventure bags

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It’s been too long! I’ve missed being able to write.

We’ve been dealing with active school refusal (wish it could be called something else, it’s not really a choice) since Christmas. It has been a low level, continual rumble since she began school but has reached a crisis point that we don’t want to let unravel any further – so I’ve been rather out of routine myself as we’ve taken all that involves on – all that will be a different post perhaps when its the right time.

In the meantime I feel the need to share a joy-filled thing with you! There has been a new addition to our accessible service, ‘Sense of Space’, adventure bag library.

‘Sense of Space’ happens once a month in church, we’re a small fellowship of families all shaped in some way by disability, either seen or unseen. We meet to explore faith and grow in faith, to pray and worship using all our senses and very much learning together and from each other. Our adventure bags are a take home discipleship & devotional resource. My best description of them? I suppose they are an inter-generational, sensory rich, faith-story sack to dip in and out of during the time between our services to keep on adventuring with God.

This newest one is based on the wise and foolish builders. It’s in a bright yellow, soft touch bag. Thanks to a gifted early years specialist in our church it includes a beautifully made storm cloud with rain, along with a smooth, cold flat stone, a patch of rough sandy ground (made in hessian) and wooden bricks to build a house.

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Along with that – as with all the adventure bags, there is a key-ring full of ideas for adventures using the resources in the bag. Also the other collected together resources:

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I’ve tried to photograph so you can clearly see the authors and websites these are from. The colouring page drawn by Mandy Grace is from ‘ministry to children’, and the ABC scripture memory verses are from ‘unOrigional Mom’. Other suggestions include playing ‘Simon Says’ (listening and doing of course); a challenge to find out what ‘foundations’ are in the world of building & why they’re important; finding and reading the story in the Bible; using the studies included in ‘Discover how to read the Bible’ by Jeff White; a website to find out about Brother Andrew for children as well as the book for young people and adults; and a pot of play sand to explore and experience what sand is like & why it isn’t a great foundation for building.

All the resources are there to invite playful exploration and discussion that will nurture faith.

When we met last Sunday, a bag was being brought back having been enjoyed so once we’d all gathered we all listened to what had been tried, found out and enjoyed with an encouragement to choose one to take home! Couldn’t have been better if I’d planned it, it was a real encouragement to me.