Last Sunday was a full, happy day. It started with our little church baptising three of its (adult) members. I recommend this as a great start to any day…
We were kindly lent the Baptist church down the road for the occasion, and we filled it. Each of the baptees* had the chance to tell their story. Each story was completely different but similarly inspiring. Each of them conveyed finding something real after half a lifetime of struggle and a sense of disconnection from God and others. One woman said, ‘Now I know there is a living God.’
Time after time, people come to our church and find a God who isn’t interested in rules or rituals but wants relationship. They often come with a picture in their mind, ingrained perhaps from whatever church setting they knew as children, of a God who is a remote, disapproving perfectionist. Then they walk into the happy chaos of our church, where we can’t get through the notices without someone cracking a joke and the worship is heartfelt and skilful but not exactly slick and the speaker always gets heckled in a good-humoured way and nothing quite goes to plan – but where God is present, pouring out his love on us. They tend to burst into tears. They find a God who just wants to meet them, as they are, and love them, as they are, because that’s his nature. Which is very hard to handle when you’re not used to it. (We have taken to warning the people who join us that they will probably cry every Sunday for their first year – at least.)
My favourite moment in a baptism service is when the person’s face is just breaking through the surface of the water on their way up. With their eyes shut and whatever hairstyle they had cultivated that morning left behind in the water, they really look like they’re being born. Then the whole church goes beserk while they stand, dripping, either grinning and punching the air, or just quiet and wide-eyed. As a symbol of death, resurrection and new birth, it’s hard to think of anything quite as powerful.
So then 25 members of the church wandered happily off to a restaurant they hadn’t booked, creating panic, but somehow managing to get lunch for everyone anyway. We came home to wolf down some soup and start the play street. The two people we had invited to lunch from church misunderstood and went to McDonalds instead, but the family of five who I forget to mention to Mr Suburbanite did turn up, fortunately bringing their lunch with them. And so the happy chaos continued.
The street was cold but flooded with sunshine, and the neighbours started to come out, plus eventually the church families who had either eaten with us or been to the restaurant, and within 20 minutes I counted 11 children plus their parents out on the tarmac. (By the end of the session we think about 30 children had taken part.) Something I couldn’t quite believe I was seeing: the children of one of the play street’s bitterest opponents, complete with bike and scooter, out on the street with their dad. It transpired that he had always been more in favour of it than she had, and he’d managed to persuade her to let the kids join in. She could have quite easily have left her husband and kids to get on with it, but to her credit, before long she came out as well.
We also played host to a researcher from London Play, and three women from a street nearby who are about to apply for their own Temporary Play Street Order. There were some great photos taken as usual, but the image which is fixed in my mind wasn’t recorded. I was standing at one end of the street, looking up its length, and about seven children were at that moment racing into the sunshine towards me on an assortment of scooters and bikes. They were going at a cracking pace – tarmac being so much better for wheels than pavements – and the sunlight was gleaming off shiny handlebars and flowing hair and happy faces. It’s that sort of moment that makes you remember exactly you are doing this in the first place.
Our front door got wedged open early on in the proceedings and church people popped in and out for tea or to watch the rugby or to generally crash out. I had to resign myself to the fact that the kitchen hadn’t been cleared up properly after lunch, the sitting room was half full of stuff from the attic on its way to being thrown out, and the girls’ bedroom – where a bunch of children always end up – was a mess. Nobody seemed to mind, so long as there was somewhere to sit down and someone to talk to. I think that sums up what struck me about both church and play street on Sunday. They both dissolve barriers. Quite often at the end of a play session I won’t exactly know which neighbours’ house my children are at, but I know they’re okay. I know half the street has seen the state of my home, but I don’t mind. There are a number of people – some of whom I barely know – drinking tea in our sitting room, but that just makes me smile. The normal rules are suspended, people are chatting and laughing, and happy chaos prevails.
I should add the one bum note of the day – the Redster gashed her knee on the pavement during a wild game of chase. It was a deep cut, right down to the tissue. (Yuck.) Even that, though, had a sort of silver lining. A qualified nurse happened to be there when it happened, and her whole manner calmed the Redster down straight away; and the concern of the other children was really touching, including a new friend from across the road. We’ve been to the GP now, had it looked at and got some dressings and she’ll be okay. I guess if you entice children away from sofas and screens there is more risk of this kind of thing happening. But there is also a lot less risk of the ‘invisible harm’ caused to children who don’t get as much time running around outside as she does.
So there you have it. One happy day :-).
* I agree this isn’t a word but ‘candidates’ makes it sound like a job interview