Thursday, February 28, 2008

Additional Support Needs - applaud "The Den" team

Something that has delighted me over the past few years and has most certainly been God-ordained - and not the intentional plans of Lynn - has been the growth of a support team for children with Additional Support Needs (ASN).

You may have heard of the term children with special needs. The ASN legislation, which came into force in 2005, brought greater clarity (in my opinion) to the ways in which particular children may require support. Some children face barriers to "learning" and need additional support to make progress. Children and young people may need this help to assist them with reading or writing; to improve their access to school and its facilities; or to support their learning through difficult family or other circumstances. Additional support needs can be short or long term. Additional support may be needed for a child or young person who is being bullied, has behavioural or learning difficulties, is deaf or blind or has been bereaved.

Whilst the above is particularly apt for a school context, I paid close attention to this educational development, partly because I still work as a teacher now and then but also because I recognise that as a larger church we have a duty to take account of legislation such as this (although we are not bound to it in the way that local authorities are in educational provision).

I really felt that before God we had responsibilities to fulfill. The learning we want kids to do is to enter into a closer relationship with God and all of the things listed in the second paragraph can have crippling effects on the child's relationship with God.

I appointed an OUTSTANDING co-ordinator of additional support needs and over the years she has built a team of volunteers whom our regular Sunday morning team work very closely with, in an area called "The Den". I get alongside individual group leaders where they suspect some additional support may be needed for a child; I chat to the parents, introduce them to the ASN Coordinator and together we try to have a coordinated plan of action.This is the plan anyway - in reality it can take quite a few weeks to out-work. For reasons of confidentiality I cannot give examples of specific support needs; but they are beginning to be wider ranging than we initially expected.

The wonderful thing is that we can offer relief and support to parents who felt that they would never be able to attend a worship service without worrying about their child's actions and behaviours. But it's not about working as "child minders" - "the Den" volunteers attend the Kids Rock programme in a supportive role; reinforcing the love of God in everything they do; whether it's one-to-one with the child at the side of the room for a time or whether it's within the peer group. After completing a "Getting To Know You" sheet, we try to have individualised programmes; so that one child who loved the "New Light" Bible could have time just to sit looking at that with a volunteer. I cannot speak highly enough of the love and patience the volunteers have. I believe that there are battles over the lives of some of these children - again I cannot be specific - but for my part - and I know the other guys would echo this - we want to aggressively love the child and snatch them away from demonic or evil influences (yes - we have seen stark examples of this), speak the truth of God's immense love for them, nurture their experiences of God, go all out to support the parent(s) and build community.

This Sunday, one of the team reported back that a parent had expressed deep thankfulness to the point of tears. We see the "service" as an act of love and acceptance and simply what our Lord Jesus would want and do - and that is what motivates the team. They know there is deep value in what they do.

A. and I have always known that we were to "make ready"; to welcome more children from the community and more stressed out parents who did not know how they could attend worship with their child who had additional support needs.

And we are now seeing it. Last week, one of the daytime alpha mums who has never been to our church before brought her daughter to church. She was worried and stressed about it; she said her daughter may exhibit unusual behaviour (her words) for a church; and yet - at the end the daughter loved everything that had happened; she loved the worship and she experienced God and told this to all whom she met after the service. I am moved by the faithfulness of God - his words: "come to me" are for all who wish to come, regardless of age, status, condition or background.

And I ask for more.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Re: Lottery Ticket (see Friday) - did I win a million?

Do you notice the tidying up of my blog? I have updated the "Blogs I Read" column even though there are a couple of pals in there who don't post very much any more; one of them mentioned that he thought he might start up again so I will keep him there in case he changes his mind (who said women are fickle!?!) I've also gone back and labelled all my old posts so should you be fascinated by my random personal musings, they are all easily found in one collection. A bit like Luther's "Table Talk" book (!) I was slightly alarmed at how many posts are under the heading of "studies" but then, lots I have been processing over the past 4 years has informed my practice and this blog has been a place where I can tease some thoughts out. I'm a lifelong learner; always have been; I don't see this stopping when I graduate with the theological qualification.

Need to update the "things I'm reading" section next....

Monday, February 25, 2008

Shameless plug

I'm running a daytime alpha course at the moment and loving it as usual. I've written before about teatime alpha (snippets of our last teatime course is coming to a DVD near you sometime in May 2008. I'm just preparing myself for the fact that I should have got my haircut - no thanks to my dear colleagues who teased me mercilessly!) It's one of the most effective tools at my disposal in my work with families. I love building a sense of warmth in the group and letting the questions and comments flow. I love the whole ethos behind alpha. It's great! Give it a try if you haven't before - do consider some alpha training first! I can do this in my role of an alpha adviser so feel free to email me at if you need a hand with this. I'd love to see more churches running alpha in innovative ways that fit in with their ministry situations, which is what I have tried to do.

Alpha Scotland are holding a national vision day on Saturday 8 March at Bishopbriggs Christian Centre, Glasgow, from 9.30 til 4.30, lunch provided - please email if you want to attend.

I strongly recommend this day as it is gives an opportunity to hear how God is using Alpha round Scotland. I always come away from an Alpha event refreshed, envisioned, encouraged, blessed. Maybe see you there!

Addendum: talks to choose from:
Working with Eastern europeans in your community
Getting started with Alpha in the workplace
Getting started with Senior Alpha
Using Alpha to reach families (with yours truly in the hotseat)
Running the marriage course
Getting started with Prison Alpha and Caring for Ex-Offenders
How to run Youth Alpha in an hour or less
Follow-on ideas for after Alpha

Saturday, February 23, 2008

lovely day

It's been a lovely day. It started with coffee with my playground pals in Costa at 9am - unwind into the weekend, talk about our kids and families, inevitably chat about the weekends (and how to get rid of nits - but that's another thread) and topics to do with faith almost inevitably crop up as two out of the crowd of us are Christians but it's so natural. And the best thing is; that's not why I go. I love these women and their company and hanging out with them on Fridays and Mondays keeps me grounded, and strangely supports me in an important way because I'm just being me.

I have been offered some supply teaching days on Fridays recently - the money would be most welcome - but I have turned them down because I love my non-agenda "me-time" Fridays so much. I need to keep space for "me".

Then I went for a facial - my mum's Christmas present to me. Soooooo relaxing! Next, I found someone's mobile phone in the street and called the sensibly named "Ma" of the person (found in the SIM memory) who alerted her son that a stranger had found his phone and was keeping it safe and some hours later he picked it up from me outside the local school.

When he collected his phone he thanked me and said "I put a line on for you". He handed me a lottery ticket - with five pounds worth of numbers on it. What's a Christian who does not personally support the lottery to do with this? I thanked him profusely and decided in an instant that this was a lovely act of gratitude from one random stranger to another. Bless him tonight Lord for thinking of me in that way!

So if these numbers come up............? Check back on Sunday!

Then we went out for tea with the kids to a local bistro. Yum.

And now its 2am - I went out again at 9pm to a "soiree" with many of the bunch from the 9am "primary school mums" gathering as one of our number is moving away - great chat and relaxed company.

Thank you Father God for a relaxing day full of surprises, treats and friendships with people everywhere who don't know you - yet. I've loved today! I love these people and I feel blessed to know them!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Theological reflection on children and worship

Last week I said
"I will post some theological thoughts on this another day".

Some folks have said, both publicly on their blogs and in other public fora, that there seems to be controversy/challenges/issues around the inclusion of kids in worship. Why is this? Please do post your ideas anonymously if you like, in the comments below.

In my eschatological framework this issue will be one of the things that is changed and will be unrecognisable from that which some of us may see now; I love it that there will be thousands upon thousands singing praises to God him, worship him. Not sure if your age will be checked before you can join in!

Anyway, I digress.
Most of my thoughts on children and worship can be essentially distilled to the following points.

Do children have a contribution to bring to worship in the body of christ? - yes
Can children worship "in Spirit and in truth" - oh yes, yes, yes, yes.
Can they learn from adults in worship? - undoubtedly yes
Can adults learn from children in worship? - undoubtedly yes
Should all of their worship times be within their own peer group - in my opinion, no.
(That might make me unpopular. I understand clearly why some churches don't and I agree that it's better to have a well constructed worship/teaching time in a separate peer group than an altogether worship time done for the wrong reasons. As long as that's not used for an excuse for not re-examining it. I've now alienated all my N American readers - sorry John S!)

try the following:
* get children to draw something to illustrate God's greatness. Don't feed them too many lines. I asked our partnership nursery preschool kids to do this 3 years ago and we scanned and then projected their pictures on the big screen during a worship service. Wow - what they had drawn at age 3 and was worship (without a song being sung!)

* let children pray - I feel there is a danger of tokenism so please be careful with this one in your situation; it's got to come from a place where inclusion and nurture and encouragement is fostered. Oh...unscripted prayers are awesome. A fairly new 11 year old was blown away by what a 4 year old prayed out in our monthly "kids only" worship time - pure adoration towards her Father God. Another 3 year old expresses he loves God so much that he feels as if his heart is going to burst.

I'm actually weeping as I type this - God, oh that we expressed our deep love for you with such abandon, not for public show but because we simply love you as daddy.

* journey together with kids. That may not sound very clear and I would need to probably explain this to you in person. But to say succinctly - be real, be honest, don't go for funky shows with a myriad of puppets just for the sake of it if its not you (its not me for example!) - put your passion for God on display. Love God with all your heart and you lead by example.

I organise an annual residential weekend away for 10s and 11s and last year we found ourselves in an amazing experience of worship, about 20 of us. The 5 adults journeyed with the kids in the Psalm 95 experience of worship described in an earlier post. Together - not with any one leader - we entered into the presence of God.

Turning now to a very quick theological examination, we are probably all very familiar with Psalm 8:2 about children and praise but I also find the verses on praise and worship from generations very stirring {reference to follow; it's on my work laptop!}

I've now been formally taught to pay careful attention to what I read in OT as it will have an application for today (oh the joys of a formal theological education, it's been so good for me. I need more, I know!) But in the NT I pick up the words of Jesus in what must surely be one of the most noteworthy passages on children and worship. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey......

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant.

"Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him.
"Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read,
" 'From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise?"

I find it deeply significant that the chief priests were indignant at the children shouting out their worship. Religious spirits are offended! And even more significant that they knew who Jesus was; they seemed to have a knowledge of his greatness. Also, the indication in scripture is that these children were simply there, "hanging aboot" we might say; they weren't part of the Sunday School movement; nor Metro Ministries flock; nor are we told that their mums and dads are also present shouting praises. And Jesus himself reminds his listeners of Psalm 8:2. Time for me to use my favourite quote again (Judith Gundry-Volf ROCKS!):

“Children are not mere ignoramuses in terms of spiritual insight in the Gospel tradition. They know Jesus’ true identity. They praise Him as the Son of David (Matthew 21:14-16). They have this knowledge from God and not from themselves and because they do, they are living manifestos to the source of all true knowledge about Christ as from God.”

And I have seen this and heard this with my own eyes in the prayers and praise of unchurched kids summer after summer - they praise God with abandon, they just "know in their noah" that he's who he says he is; that his word is true; that he has power; that God's love is great (surely one of the best praise and worship songs EVER written: Great Big God vol 3 by Vineyard Music) How can we learn from these children? I sure know we can.

I'm ploughing my way through the reformers' various views of children (it's getting quite depressing!) and in some ways we (ALL of us) have come so far. Let's not give up valuing each other's contributions and let's be encouraged for there is a move in this country and others to recognise the importance of our children in worship.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

All Age

I *think* the all age service went OK - no-one ran out shrieking or anything. Well, if they did, the stewards didn't tell me.

What I really wanted to post today was to echo what Lorraine wrote: "who'd be a children's minister??"

.........because then you will probably become responsible for all age services.

Fortunately I love these with a passion. And so do most of the congregants (well, those who speak to me month on month do! Guess those who don't like them........stay in bed!) I love all ages being together. I love the opportunity to hear God speak to us and to respond to him all together, be it ever so briefly. I can't help but feel those who cannot relate to all ages together for a very short time are missing out on a rich expression of church. I used to be one of them, I'm ashamed to say. We spend 95% of our time in everything we do segregated and separate - from school to soft play to gyms with creche to the teenagers' closed door.

However, I am always plagued by the following agonies before, during and after all age services. I hazard a guess that not all of these trouble the adult preachers/service organisers. They're half joking; half serious; you decide which!

- Are there songs that include children?
{Check they're not patronising children's songs nor too wordy nor too abstract}
- Are there songs that adults like singing? Is there a hymn we can use?
- Is the service too long/too short?
- Have we read from the Word during the service?
- Is there something "meatier" happening in the service? is there a mini teach? If so, watch your language style, your use of jargon, the length and the appropriate use of visuals.
- have you got other people involved so its not just you? Are there testimonies? And are those testimonies given by equal spread of males/females/younger and older people?
- Do the teenagers feel included?
- Am I saying anything insensitive to those who are single or to those without children?
- Have I covered more than one learning style?
- Have I remembered to take the offering?
- Are my fellow leaders looking at their watches or getting up and pacing at the back?
- Have I contradicted anything that's previously been said up front in a previous week when I have been out of the service?
- Are the 3 year olds who are slightly too old for creche and slightly too young for more than an hour creating havoc in the foyer? How guilty should I feel about this? How much should their parents prepare for this? {note: I have lived through this and praise God - perseverance and teaching your child coping mechanisms do get you there. Not every one of us is engaged every minute of any occurrence happening at any place on Planet Earth!!! We teach lifelong skills :-)}
- Have I made a mess of the building with any visuals/props/chemicals?
- Have I maintained a godly balance between NOT PUTTING ON A PERFORMANCE and genuinely bring the Body together?
- Is what I have put together seeker-friendly?
- Have I got enough pens/paper/post-its?
- Is the worship leader OK with not having a long run of stratospheric and sustained sung worship? {note: I always feel it is very key to share the vision with; meet with and pray with the worship leader so that we approach the service together}
- Do I have to think of all this again in 6 weeks time?? :-) :-)

I can't deny the unmistakeable call (I really want to, sometimes) - I love doing this. It makes me grin from ear to ear nearly all of the time (OK, apart from half an hour this week) but I like and need my watering times......

How do you do all age (assuming you do?)

Friday, February 08, 2008


3 out of 4 members of my family have been sick this week. Horrendously, projectile-ly sick, thanks no doubt to this little thing

I've never been so sick. Midway through the night I laid my hands on my abdomen and prayed out loud: "God, take this away, make me feel better. I've got a meeting on tomorrow that I REALLY want to go to" (I was trying to practise my best healing prayers, so of course I added "in the name of Jesus") and I'm sure I heard a voice saying "uh-huh, what do you think I'm doing??"

Being sick, of course, is our body's way of getting rid of harmful substances.

But I've had to rest up and not go out for this, the second day.
Feeling sad that I missed a special team day!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

February begins

I had a real spring in my step today as I walked to work through sunshine and showers - I felt the warm sunshine (briefly) and I was reminded that dark January was over.

Then I was soaked in a sudden and heavy shower.

Ah well.

I'm currently working most days of the week for at least a little of the day as I am working really hard on a new initiative for my final practical theology placement (one day a week, alongside my "regular" job). I have set up three all age family cells for people who can't get to homegroups due to childcare committments. They are also a place where folks new to faith can come with their children as it can be hard for new Christians to settle into a large gathering of hundreds when they have come from the more intimate setting of teatime or daytime alpha.

These cells meet for two hours and revolve around a meal being shared together. Children of course do hive off to play as we all know that children can wolf a meal down in nanoseconds while adults actually prefer to savour and chew.

A key feature of these gatherings is that the adults get to talk to one another. I set a couple of aims and purposes out when meeting with the prospective leaders. I wanted the groups to be a place of nurture and also a place where people of all ages could "receive" and feel that they belonged - "being known" and "knowing others". For 40 minutes or so everyone is together in the one room for praise and prayer and an all age interactive "teach". I'm not going to go into all of how that works out in practice. Ask me in four months! But the first meetings have gone really well; I'm actually overwhelmed with the response of gratitude from the parents who have attended; many of whom are on their own; and some from other cultures.

And - hey - it's a pilot; a trial; there is no pressure on me to "perform" or achieve anything; if an element of the programme doesn't work and/or I made a mistake with the vision of this then I have been given the freedom, both by the college and by my supervisor to make a mistake. Quite humbling really, that they trust me so. But mistakes, as all you cuddly academics know, mean that I can reflect and modify my practice.

When you teach Social Subjects in a school context you frequently teach the same lesson to more than one class in a week, if the school practises rotation and not blocks (bit of educational jargon for you there)

I remember being exceedingly self-critical and reflective when one lesson went swimmingly and the same lesson apparently presented the same way seemed to crash and burn with serious casualties (my temper!) - what could I change? What could I have done better? I am actually looking forward to the reflective part of my placement.

Quite exciting really. I love any excuse to hang out with kids and their parents, as do the rest of my family.
What's exciting you just now?