Giving Them Wings

The bag got packed on Sunday as Monday was a busy day. A Zoom call took place a week earlier outlining all the expectations and timings and answering all the queries. The bus could be seen in the car park as we approached the school and all around the carpark were excited boys and bags and suitcases and mums and dads standing around trying to look calm and unconcerned as they waved goodbye to their sons and headed off into the day. 

Tuesday marked the start of the P7 residential and, as the day got nearer and all the preparations were made, it marked a big day in lots of lives. For many boys, it was the first time they would have spent a night away from home. For many parents, it was the first time their boys had headed away. Covid 19 had meant that many experiences like this hadn’t happened before and it was all new territory.

As someone who went to boarding school when he was 12, it made me wonder what my own parents felt as they dropped me off that first night? I remember heading off to work abroad at the age of 21 and seeing tears in my mum’s eyes as I boarded a ferry before catching a flight all those years ago. My own heart was bursting with excitement, a new job in a country I had never been to where I didn’t speak the language, how would it all go? You remember the sights, the sounds, the smells as you make that journey into the unknown. Meanwhile, there’s someone in your corner back home, rooting for you, praying for you, staying in touch as best they can in an era before mobile phones. There are piles of letters, (remember those handwritten things??) full of new experiences, impressions and thoughts as you try to describe these things that are unfolding for you.

I will always be grateful for the opportunities my parents made possible for me. When money was tight, they scrimped and saved to give us opportunities to study, travel, and share life skills to enable us to navigate all these different experiences. Even if they felt nervous or apprehensive, they gave us freedom to give these things a go and embrace all that life had to offer.

I think of how people come alongside to build up confidence and experience, and what a valuable thing this is in the ‘church without walls’.

Some years ago in the church, we had a youth worker called Peter who, along with volunteer leader, Chris, approached me about a youth led service once a month. They chose the theme, the music, wrote prayers and did a talk. As these services began, the leaders did quite a bit of the work, then they began to help the young people to prepare prayers and talks and interviews and, eventually, many from that group were confident enough to share their beliefs, to do some study and share their discoveries with the congregation in a most uplifting way.

In the recent pandemic, when so many churches went online as buildings had to close, I remember participating in an online course to explore questions of faith called ‘Alpha online’. It was hosted by a small independent church called Foundation Church. They made me feel so welcome and it was such a marvellous gathering point for community and exploring faith during the first lockdown. I received so much from taking part that, when it was possible to meet in person outdoors, I went for a walk with the pastor of this church, David. We walked around the streets of East Belfast talking faith and praying for each others churches, drinking coffee from a flask and looking for ways to help each other.

He helped me set up our first online course and, with all my misgivings about technology, he sent me someone to bail me out if I ran into difficulty. I duly did and Paul rescued me, showing me where I had gone wrong and giving me the confidence to run the course again operating all the technology. It takes people with patience, encouragement and belief to give you wings.

As we prepare in the ‘church without walls’ to welcome a family from Ukraine, we recognise that this is uncharted territory for us as much as for them. People have been incredibly kind furnishing the house we hope to rent. Other faith groups and community groups are guiding us as to the practicalities we need to attend to when our family arrives. We’ve been guided through the visa process and still need one visa for our family of 5. It takes real faith and courage on their part to come to a land they have never been to, to build a new life in a place where no one speaks your language and we communicate, at the minute, through Google translate.

How can we as the ‘church without walls’ give this family, who have been through unimaginable horror as they fled from Mariupol with their young family and their mum, the courage and confidence to flourish in this place? When all seems overwhelming and insurmountable can we be a community that says we believe in you, you can do this, we love you?

As a community of Faith we often enter the unknown, unsure of the process but simply asked to take the next step. We take those steps knowing we are not on our own and trusting in the God who loves us walking alongside us, taking us by the hand and leading us forward.

I’m praying all goes well over these next days for all the P7 pupils and their teachers from our sons school heading away on residential. I love a prayer I was sent a couple of days ago from the Church of Ireland Board of Education for all young people taking exams in the coming weeks.

Father God,

We thankyou that our names are written on the palm of your hand,

Not in the way we write things on our hands so as not to forget.

But because Our name is constantly on your mind.

Because you Know us by name

Because you Call us by name

Because our name is Precious to you.

Today, dear Lord, we lift to you all those who are preparing for exams.

Bring peace to their bodies.

Quieten the beats of their racing hearts.

Allow clarity to reign in their minds.

May they rest and rejoice knowing

You are speaking their name.

You created them and know their inmost being.

You have a plan for their lives.

God of peace surround them.

God of power go before them.

God of love hold and sustain them.

Amen.

Look forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,

Jono.

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