“Little Clay Folk”

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Today I sent out the “little clay folk” (the people of God) into Parson Cross around Care Homes, Churches and other community spaces to be a blessing in these times …..

In these strange times, as the nation (and the world) experiences the Covid19 coronavirus pandemic, and we face isolsation, lockdown and restrictions around our day to day lives, it is sometimes been hard to think about how we might “minister” into this situation. Our church buildings have been largely closed, except where they are being used for frontline activities such as foodbanks, our worship has been taken online and into our homes, we continue to offer support to those grieving and mourning to the best of our ability – but it is all hard. The conversations through telephone or on social media  offering pastoral support have been crucial, but they miss out still on so much that is really important in our regular human interactions – the touch of a hand, a silent nod of sympathy, the embrace and hug of friendship, and so much more – all these things are largely absent at this time, and it hurts for so many of us.

In such a time I wanted to think of visible signs of embracing the community I serve in, the communities of Parson Cross, Southey, Foxhill and Longley in North Sheffield; then I remembered some work that I’d connected with some years ago towards the start of my time in the area. Back in 2011 Ric Stott* had produced a series of 40 clay men as part of an exploration of Lent, one of these clay men found its’ way to Parson Cross. We borrowed the idea again with a series of Advent Angels made by adults and children at Mount Tabor that we placed across the estate.

Over Easter I’ve been looking online at a few “Godly Play” resources, and came across the “people of God” figures, for those not familiar they are small wooden figures in various poses, with no recogniseable features and they are used in story telling to be the exactly what it says the “people of God”.  Now, I’m not one who thinks play (Godly or otherwise) should be the pastime only of children, and so I thought that combining these two elements – our “clay men” and the “people of God” might offer one way that I could offer a blessing to the area.

The first group of five (pictured above) were made at home, and each given a tiny placard to hold with a special, but familar, messages; this morning I took time to place them in various community spaces, with prayers and blessings in each space they were left. One was at Mount Tabor, my base in more usual times, I pray for a return to life that this place usually contains, a return of the people who value it as a place of love, hope grace and inclusion. A second was placed in the public space at Chaucer, it’s a space that normally would see people wandering through on their way to Asda, Farmfoods or one of the other local shops, they’d be waiting at the bus stop for a trip into town or down the road to Hillsborough, there’s the library and housing offices, and at the start and end of each school day the space would be filled with students from Chaucer School – but right now it’s empty, apart from the “little clay folk” I left; I pray that one day it will be safe again to enjoy the hustle and bustle of lively public spaces. A third figure was placed at St Pauls, on Wordsworth Avenue which has become the temporary home to the emergency foodbank in Parson Cross run by S6 foodbank and supported by PXI Projects; still around 40 households each week are coming to that place for food, which feels shocking to me that there is still such a reliance even in these most desperate of times. I pray that as we emerge from the pandemic that the country will re-assess why there is such a need in what is still such a rich nation, I fear however we may not and that demand will simply grow even higher. The final two “people of God” we placed outside care homes in the area (Deerlands and North Hill Road) – it is more and more evident that our care homes have been devastated throughout this crisis, their workers often left without inadequate protections and their reseidents left vulnerable to infection and early death. I pray for better protection, I give thanks for the love, care and dedication of the workers in these homes, I pray that families may soon again be able to visit, hold hands and hug those they love.

Love your neighbour, keep one another safe and I pray you keep well.

 

* Ric Stott – Clay Men (2011)

A Radical Christianity

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Last week I was fortunate enough to spend time with some wonderful people, and here a number of inspiring speakers.

First last Monday 8th May, the Chris Howson  was the guest speaker at Sheffield Church Action on Poverty, of which I am currently the chairperson.

Chris spoke to us about the challenges of the Gospel message and the call to a Radical Christianity, In particular he spoke of the need for:
1. The message of a Subversive Gospel to be proclaimed.
2. A Compassionate Christianity to be practiced.
3. A Christianity that speaks out for just whatever the cost.
4. The sharing of a Joyful Solidarity with the vulnerable, marginalised and oppressed.

On the Friday I had been invited to attend the Godly Play conference at Sheffield Cathedral, once again on behalf of Church Action on Poverty. The key speaker that evening was John Bell, well known through the Iona and Wildgoose networks an beyond. John talked about Jesus and the Miracle stories.

He noted that Jesus had “no set approach” to how he performed miracles, each used a methodology particular to its context, sometimes he uses touches, sometimes not …. sometimes they involved groups of people, others only one ….. sometimes they public, and sometimes private, to Jesus a sensitivity to context is crucial. John then went on to show how in the miracle stories Jesus also powerfully addresses powers, authorities and taboos – challenging them is at the very heart of the miracles.

Finally on the Saturday at the Godly Play conference, Peter Privett spoke to us about playful and childhood spirituality. He challenged us all to move from a focus on an “intellectual” faith, to a faith based on experience and wonder. Among the things he left us with were these words from the 14th century Persian poet, Hafiz:

“Every child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the God who ever does anything weird,
But the God who knows only 4 words.
And keeps repeating them, saying “Come dance with Me, come dance.”