Last Saturday, many people from across the Diocese gathered for the inspiring and informative event, ‘Under fives and flourishing’. When introducing the event, and particularly thanking so many wonderful volunteers, I stated that creating spaces for under fives and their parents and carers is one of the most significant things we offer as followers of Christ.
Those are strong words, but the early years of life are deeply significant in shaping and nurturing the long-term future of the individual, the household and the wider community. It is something I repeatedly try to stress in Parliament when so much of the focus of national and local decision-makers seems to be on how to use ever-decreasing resources to provide interventions for young people and adults in the present, when we are failing to look upstream and invest in early years and the ‘becoming’ of each child.
Our worshipping communities, schools and nurseries engage with and create spaces for under fives in so many different ways, and I sometimes muse on three big questions: Firstly, how strongly is this ministry valued, celebrated, supported and prayed for by the whole worshipping community? Secondly, how are our under fives’ spaces different from those run by ‘secular’ authorities and organisations? And thirdly, where are things happening for under fives in the wider community which we can increasingly partner with and in which Christians can be involved as they live out their everyday faith Sunday through to Saturday?
Our investment in little people, and the bigger people who care for them, is surely rooted in our desire for all people to encounter the fullness of life, as offered us in Jesus Christ. Thus, in those places where stories are told and the character of children is shown and nurtured in the stories they tell through play, I am thankful for all those who listen to the stories from the lives of the little and big people around them, and who seek to share their own story and the story of Christ’s love and hope through the actions and words of their encounters.
That desire to engage with the stories of different people, and to participate in spaces where people and places can flourish as their story continues, is at the heart of volunteering. I am deeply grateful for all those across our worshipping communities who volunteer within our church structures, and for all those who live out their faith in the wider community in places of volunteering. In this there is hopefully the discovery of the mutuality of giving and receiving as volunteers’ own stories are also shaped and enriched in places of relationship and community. For followers of Jesus Christ, it is about living, discovering and sharing the love and hope of Jesus Christ in being present to people and creation in all aspects of volunteering.
Community volunteering is a key theme within the plans for the Coronation, and the Bank Holiday Monday (May 8) has been named as ‘The Big Help Out’. It will be the focus of our diocesan cathedral celebration of the Coronation of The King and The Queen consort, which will be on the Monday morning before people return to local activities. Bishop Robert and I hope that many people who volunteer within our church communities and across the wider community will be present for the short service. Please do encourage those you know who volunteer in many different ways to book a place. It would be particularly wonderful to have a diverse range of ages, stories and ethnic backgrounds present among the volunteers. Details of how to book are here.
As of this week, there is also a new app which is open to the public to sign up for volunteering opportunities. I hope that worshipping communities will not only register their own appropriate volunteering opportunities (often opening the possibility for people in the wider community to begin to belong and explore faith), but will also continue to build strong partnerships with organisations in our communities. It is sometimes better to encourage people to build relationships and live out their faith by volunteering with existing events and organisations rather than always trying to initiate things as the Church.
Together, may we learn yet more about giving and receiving as we participate in the Kingdom of God, committed to the flourishing of people and place, and our desire for children, young people and adults to encounter Jesus Christ:
‘Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like an acorn that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge oak tree, and eagles build nests in it.”
Another story. “God’s kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread—and waits while the dough rises.”
All Jesus did that day was tell stories—a long storytelling afternoon. His storytelling fulfilled the prophecy: I will open my mouth and tell stories; I will bring out into the open things hidden since the world’s first day.’
(Matthew 13:31-35, The Message)
With my thanks and prayers this Lent.