What I hope will be the start of a wonderful tradition for Christ the Sower began today with the departure of 40 Year 6 children and 5 teaching staff to the Quinta Christian Centre in Weston Rhyn, a village that stands within a kilometre of the Welsh border, in Shropshire. What they will experience there cannot be wholly predicted, although we have placed them in the safe hands of a highly trusted group of instructors. What is certain, though, is that they will experience RAIN.
But amongst all the general wetness (and make no mistake, wetness it will be), will be the exploration of a week without parents, without maths (well, not much), and with a new community of friends that they are part of and that they have, by and large, only seen in school uniform and at desks. To explore each other’s bravery, food tastes, pain thresholds, personal hygiene habits, resilience and hidden abilities – this is more likely to build a school and class community than trying to write a number to three decimal places. Especially in the rain.
One of the reasons I am slightly distrustful of so-called “fellowship days” in churches – apart from the myriad opportunities to hide your real self under a cloak of spiritual respectability – is that it is in the doing that we learn to be. Jesus understood this, as did Mao, as did the Sikh gurus, as did Bonhoeffer. Life has to be lived in the full glory of our humanity for any community to be formed. You cannot serve in a “spiritual” way – you just have to do the washing up. You cannot have high-falutin’ ideas about education unless you get down and lead children through the cognitive mess they bring before you. In a former life I was part of a group of musicians called Wellspring. We existed to serve the church through music in a variety of ways, often on weekends at local churches, but also on longer residences internationally (my love affair with Prague started on a wonderful visit there in August 2000) but what we always discovered was that it was in the playing and serving together that we became closer and more committed to each other. More recently, I have been part of Epiphany, a new venture based mainly in the North West. Because of the job I do, it has been harder to get involved with the “mission” elements of their work, and so it has been much harder to build the relationships I have needed to sustain my commitment to the work. Sitting around of an afternoon talking about what we think God might be saying is not a substitute for real, nuts and bolts friendship in action. Those who engage in the work reap the benefits of the fellowship.
So it will be with the hardy souls facing the elements in Quinta. The action is everything. I will visit there on Wednesday morning and will expect already to see a group of children more closely bonded, wedded to one another by a common experience and mutual dependence, and braver and more resilient (and more aware of one another’s hygiene habits) than they were this morning, when, nervously, they set off.