Monday, 18 April 2011

The Dales; A Place to Find Joy?

Programmes like ITV's The Dales are helping to keep a high profile for Yorkshire in the media at the moment. I watched tonight's episode with my nieces who had just enjoyed a day out around Brimham Rocks, Fountains and Brymoors, three of the many places they love to visit whenever they come to Yorkshire. When they arrive, they are so excited, they can hardly contain themselves until they have visited the places they remember and loved from the last visit! So a relaxing program about the Dales was a god-send after a hectic day of exploration. The Revd Ann Chapman's approach to church at Hadraw and Askrigg they found impressive - food, chatter, and interaction definitely captures their attention and interest in a way that conventional sitting in rows and listening does not!

The great thing about Adrian Edmonson's journalism is that he lets people speak and their enthusiasm shows through - shepherding, band practice and church look fun! This can only be good for tourism in Yorkshire, for the profile of the area and for churches!  I suppose Ann's approach to vicaring is a little similar; she lets people speak for themselves and picks up on the fun in life. I am not suggesting that her approach is only about fun, but, as my young nieces clearly feel, it is a whole lot easier to get enthusiastic about a church experience that shows people talking to each other, looking interested, laughing, interacting and remembering to talk to and about God than a church service which is entirely solemn, uses words about God that are incomprehensible and addresses questions nobody is asking (or asks questions nobody can answer.) I believe there are children everywhere, in almost every parish and community, who would like to come to church and who would like to worship God if we could find ways to take on board what our young people are saying to us about where they find God and how they discover life-giving joy and sadness and celebration.     

I recently blogged about the Regeneration Summit at which a couple of hundred young people met our bishops and archbishops. The messages there were that authentic  relationship (listening and talking) and interactive communication (a chance to react, to 'answer back' and to challenge) are as vital as the message itself. Children can listen to God, pray, be reverent, have spiritual insight, have opinions about God and learn through experience and mistakes; they can challenge adults to rethink ideas that have become over-settled and over-comfortable; and above all they know how to be joyous. Was it Teilhard de Chardin who said that 'joy is an infallible sign of the presence of God'? We don't need to be scared of letting go and letting children be themselves in church. We shouldn't insist that they necessarily adopt adult practices and we should be prepared to change the ways we worship to include them if our churches have got to the point where all our worship alientates young people.

We go to Gozo for many of our holidays. Gozo is the north island of Malta, a deeply Roman Catholic country. The small communities there are entirely rural. All the churches  hold vibrant patronal festivals - it seems there is a healthy competitive spirit to see which parish can have more fireworks, better street parties, more impressive processions, more fantasic displays of produce. I went once for Holy Week. The churches were packed out with young people and whole families. I realise there are complex reasons for this, but, certainly, it was all so much fun, you could see why people of all ages just couldn't stay away.

This may seem a strange message for a Holy Week post. Later, I shall be posting some of the talks I'm giving this week at Sharow which are certainly of a much more solemn nature. Even amongst the solemnity, political unrest and fear of that final week in Jerusalem there was space for love and joy, meals, anointings and conversation. It is only as our children are helped to experience these things as part of the normal life of the church family that they will grow into people who have courage and strength and faith to face the suffering and struggles that life also throws up. 

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