Weird things happen to me all the time. This happened on Sunday afternoon.
It was 3.30 pm when I turned up with my guitar at a local church building within our parish, to help lead the singing. ‘Family Communion’ is one of our experiments that uses a non-traditional approach to ‘do church’ with a wider range of people than the regular faithful- but you never know what’s going to happen.
Today, I turned up to see a bunch of ten local kids at the back. We’ve had low-level trouble before, with walls being climbed, property outside being damaged, that sort of thing. Our curate found these ones hanging around outside when she was opening up, and invited them in- so there they were now, sitting at the back, eating their Pringles and being a bit rowdy. A few of our elderly congregation were also filing in, looking rather apprehensive at seeing the newcomers.
When it was nearly time to start, our curate (who knew most of the kids by name), invited them to come up and sit with the rest of us at the front, which they grudgingly did, with lots of giggles and occasional bleeps from their mobile phones. Yes, we were going to try and make this worship thing happen, altogether. I was inwardly cringing, but asked for a Pringle from one of the kids, and was given it. Making personal connections, you see. Always important, not that I know much about it.
So I set up my music stand and guitar to the side, sitting amongst our rather mixed congregation, and started strumming to give the place some atmosphere, as you do. One of the older people was staring daggers at the kids- she wasn’t finding this easy at all, but who does? I definitely wasn’t.
We began. After a quick introduction, our curate got me leading with a very simple ‘Thank you ‘ song which includes spaces for inserting different subjects, and I asked everyone for ideas. What could we be thankful for? ‘Me!’ said one kid, to giggles. ‘God loving us’ said another. We sang ‘Thank you God for loving us’, and added verses about our world and our families. Then our curate went straight into talking about a recent visit she’d made to a friend working with survivors of the Grenfell tower disaster, and the idea of God helping us to keep a heart that stays strong although the outside can be broken or bruised by the horrible things that happen in life. Despite some sniggers, most of the kids were listening hard. More beeps from a phone, and the others told him to turn it off. We wrote down subjects for prayer on post-it notes, handed them in for shared prayer, then sang another song about a faithful God being with us despite everything that life can throw at us.
Some of the natives were restless- so our curate gave them a choice: stay and take part or go out, and come back later for cake. A couple left, the rest chose to stay. We shared the Peace, asking the names of anyone whose names we didn’t know, then began sharing a simple communion liturgy. Everyone was taking part. One of the kids was given the job of taking the bread around, and saying ‘The Body of Christ’ as it was handed over. I began a song (‘Bless the Lord O my soul’) and the kids spontaneously joined in, some singing with real passion as they followed the words on the projector screen. We finished with a traditional hymn, and bless them, they all gave it a go- but at the end, asked if we could do the ‘Bless the Lord’ song again because they really liked it.
As we sat down later, talking over tea, cake and biscuits, some of them told me they wished their school taught them more about God and gave them somewhere to go and pray when they felt all worked up inside. As they left, those of us adults nominally in charge of events wondered and marvelled at what had just happened. God turned up. Worrying, really, when you think about it. What should we do next?