Matthew 18, 2-6; Matthew 19, 13-15
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes some of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’
Then the little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
I grew up on a farm in Kent near the river Medway. The village church was mentioned in the Domesday book, so dates from Norman times. We didn’t go to Sunday school but went to BCP Morning prayer. When I was older, if I stayed with an aunt and uncle, also farmers, I would join them in evening prayer services. Fast forward, when I was at Newcastle University, I often worshipped with the chaplaincy and at times visited other denominations in the area. Malcolm and I stayed in the North East and with our young family we worshipped at St Andrew’s (the local church), south of the river Tyne. The church was a modern building and often full of prams and pushchairs. A church where young children felt at ease and welcomed. By the time our youngest was 2 we moved north of the river to be nearer to the hospitals where Malcolm was working. What a contrast this church was. Families were encouraged to sit at the back, so as not to disturb the regulars. We could barely see or hear, but within a couple of years, Malcolm had an opportunity to work in Texas for a year. We rented out our house, and a friend introduced me to the First Baptist church. A contrast to any English church as the auditorium held thousands, with a stage that could host a choir as well as 2 grand pianos. We did have some wonderful midweek teaching sessions, but as a family were more comfortable on Sundays in a smaller church. Back in the north east, I joined the children in Sunday school as a helper but eventually a Leader. Even though the material had lots of good notes I realised how much I was lacking in knowledge. I was also helping with the youth club and we had some lovely weekends away. One day the vicar asked if I had ever thought of going into Ministry, and I was scared that he knew what I was thinking!
After 3 years of training, as a Reader, a minimum of 7 hours a week, I was told. (Who were they kidding), I studied a further 3 years for Archbishops Diploma for Readers. My research was Children in the Church, and I visited 17 churches, locally i.e., in the north east and included Marown, (11.15 service) on one of our holidays here. These churches all had children in the congregation for part or all of their service. I received my Diploma from the then Archbishop of York, at his palace in York and several months later we moved to the island. I joined the 3 Parishes, St John’s, Foxdale and Patrick, with Dalby. Cheryl Cousins and I started Activity mornings, in the holidays and half-term’s, and also Monday/Sunday club, a Sunday school run on a Monday after school (Rev Ruth from Cathedral remembers me, but I confess I don’t remember her or the boys as I was working with the younger children. When Lucy Moore started Messy church, I was so excited. Messy Church was similar to the activity days we had been holding, except they included the parents and carers. Sessions of fun, fellowship, activities around bible themes or stories and FOOD. As a pioneer minister I was encouraging and supporting other places to run Messy Church and twice I went to England for their conferences. Imagine a room, conference room, full of people, all ages from all over the UK and world talking about Messy church. What a privilege to be part of that movement. I have worked with Alex Brown and Ruth Walker SUMT, with Lifepath, Life matters and Stars and Open the Book. Lifepath works with years 5 or 6. They spend a day at Rushen Abbey learning about monks, how they lived and what they believed and a chance to talk to a modern Christian and their beliefs. Again, a privilege to be with 50-60 Christians, young and old, different traditions all prepared to give up 1 or 2 or even 6 days to be with the children. For several years, I was running Peel Messy Church, but lack of helpers forced us to close. Now Foxdale is open again and Messy Church once a month, but now an enthusiastic team, providing food, in a church, (with only a cold tap and port-a-loo). What imaginative people we work with.
I was told that, ‘Religion is caught, not taught’. I know my boys ‘caught’ the faith at St Andrew’s where they were so welcomed and encouraged. My daughter, the youngest, had a different experience north of the river.
Over the years, I have seen lots of changes, in church life, from BCP, to new forms, ASB and now Common Worship. I have worshipped with Methodists, Baptists and of course Church of England. I have visited Iona on several occasions where they are Ecumenical and all Inclusive. God doesn’t change, the Gospel message is the same but how we access this, worship and reflect our faith must change. When my Mum married, she had to give up work. When I married, I worked but when expecting my first child, gave up work. Now new mums have a time of maternity leave, and children often go to child minders, nursery or grandparents. Both parents working, often chaotic hours. Life has changed so why do we religiously stick to a service that fitted in with milking cows. (Many churches worship at 11am after the first milking session before the afternoon session.) I could go on how TV and cars have changed society that walked and met locally, and now we have technology and Zoom services.
It’s been fun reflecting on the many years I have been involved with churches. I am grateful of all the experiences I have had, and the church people I have known and loved. Thank you.