I love the church. Have I mentioned that? I LOVE the church. I think I always have. My mind is full of hazy memories of the Sunday school lessons, craft projects, songs, and friends of my childhood. I remember big buildings full of celebratory music and chatting people, running down carpeted hallways waving watercolor paintings with the sash of my dress trailing behind. In those buildings people knew who I was and I knew them. In those buildings I learned the first basic truths about God, the ABCs of the Gospel, and accepted them without realizing their startling and fantastic nature: God came to earth as a man. He died for me. He came to life again. He’s still alive, but I can’t see him. He’s coming back soon.
The church for me is many things. But one in particular to thank God for today: it’s a place where my children will hear the true story told by other voices. Norah’s been hearing it at St. Ebbe’s, a large evangelical Anglican Church we attend in Oxford.
In the picture above you can see Norah and her Daddy at service. Every Sunday the children begin in the service, and can choose a musical instrument with which to make a joyful noise if they wish. And they do wish. And it is joyful. The vicar also announces children’s birthdays and they are presented with a book before they leave for their classes. I couldn’t believe how many people remembered Norah and Harriet after their birthdays this fall and even remembered their ages. (Harriet’s wasn’t difficult!) On most Sundays Norah is a part of Woddlers, a pre-school group where she sings songs, listens to a Bible lesson, does crafts, eats biscuits, and plays with other children. The Woddlers sit in a circle of miniature chairs, screaming “Wake UP, Mr. Pipps!” to a green puppet, who helps to teach the lesson and has a sleepy disposition.
On Wednesday mornings we go to Sparklers, a church play group that is brilliant. The entire church is cleared of rows of chairs and play stations are set up. There is a reading nook, a craft table, a legos table, a dollhouse, dress-up clothes and a wooden slide. In one corner an enormous train set runs on tables, in another there is a play house with miniature furniture and dollies in baby buggies. These areas are closed off with dividers in the beginning, so the mums and children can sing songs and hear a Bible lesson with less distraction. Then the barriers are rolled away and the church erupts in very well organized chaos for an hour and a half.
Play for the children, tea and biscuits and fellowship for the mums. Brilliant. I find that playgroups in churches are a very common thing here. Most churches seem to have one. They are a great way to bring in families from the surrounding community and welcome them to the church. On my first day I found myself inviting a woman I’d just met to Sunday morning service. She’d never gone to a church before. I hope she keeps coming–the church is a wonderful place.