Growing spiritual muscles

Published: Thursday November 30, 2023

‘Hey! Christmas has come early for you!’

It was an understandable conclusion for someone to make as my arms were filled with branches of pinecones and a tin of spiced biscuits*. It was actually all in the name of a workshop on engaging with children and families through Messy Church, with friends and colleagues in our partner diocese of Vasteras, Sweden.

Barrie and I spent four days in the diocese. Along the way we got involved with traditional pancake making over a bonfire, made rag dolls, sang ‘Incy wincy spider’ in Swedish (at least we did the actions) played with toddlers, looked in awe at beautiful liturgy cabinets and play spaces in churches, ate lots of fika and drank lots of coffee as we visited parish settings, met people involved in local ministry with children, young people and families and participated in their activities.

One of the questions I often ask people is, “Why do we want to be church for children, young people and families?” One of the responses from a Swedish colleague at the workshop was, “to help them grow spiritual muscles”. I love this response, the idea that we build spiritual strength and a resilient prayer life, through which they will know God is accessible through all of life.

We hadn’t planned for this, but children and parents came to the afternoon session of our workshop. Their presence really focused our thinking and made me wonder how often we could have children and parents present as we plan and bring them more fully into our events?

During the celebration, a three-year-old climbed a ladder (all risk-assessed) to see what lay in the treasure box – just as Zaccheus climbed the tree to discover what treasure lay in Jesus. She was so thrilled with the box she had to take it home, a living parable. The valuable thing we touched really came from relationships and conversations as we shared our experiences of working with church in community and listened to other people and their experiences. We connected over our common aim to lift people up so they can see Jesus and “know that they are loved by God and have a place with the people of God”.**

The welcome we received, the worship we joined in with, the friendships renewed or begun have certainly helped our spiritual muscle growth. We have returned with a whole list of thoughts, ideas and conversations we would like to have and share with people, not least of which are those amazing play spaces.

Oh, and to complete our Swedish experience, we saw a moose and it snowed! So maybe Christmas really did start early for us.

* Branches for Zacchaeus to climb and heart biscuits for the love Jesus took to his house – in case you are wondering, we didn’t need to feed these ideas there was already an abundance of creativity in the room.

** Quote – the Revd Canon Dr Sandra Millar

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