Some Lessons from a Climbing Trip

I spent last weekend in Southampton with our son who had qualified for a climbing competition. I always find there is lots to learn from the climbing community, so here are some of my takeaways.

I learned how refreshingly brilliant it is to spend time with people who are different to yourself. Most of the Belfast contingent stayed in the same hotel and we all came from different backgrounds and walks of life and, what united us essentially, was wanting to see our children enjoy this experience and flourish in a bigger environment. The competition took place over two days in a huge climbing centre, so we spent most of our time there, alongside parents from England, Wales and Scotland whose children had also qualified for this competition. 

It was incredible to see the grit and determination of the children of all ages competing. They pushed themselves to their limits and it was inspiring to see how they responded to new challenges and problems. They often tried to work them out together and encourage each other and, as they cheered one another on, it brought many a lump to my throat over the couple of days.

One of the hard things I discovered in this competitive environment was that, as a dad there were times I couldn’t reach my son. When he was going through a difficult patch or frustrated with himself, he needed to process that on his own, or with the help of his peers and fellow competitors, rather than me. That was hard to see and there were moments of real powerlessness on my part, which felt incredibly painful when all you wanted to do was step in and help. The reality was that you were the wrong person at that moment. The flip side of this was how incredibly supportive the climbing community are to each other. I saw older boys and girls of all ages consoling and reaching out to those who were struggling and helping them to find a way to get through the tough moments. I think these values are instilled in climbers by their coaches and the coaches played such an incredible role in the background, trying to keep people in the right headspace, gently supporting and encouraging and helping our children to respond and thrive in this new environment.

I loved the intergenerational aspect of the weekend. After the intensity of the climbing, parents and children in the group went for food together and there was a lot of fun and laughter around the table. Churches have a lot to learn from this, I think, where it can be hard to get the generations together but its such a valuable and fun thing to find things we can do together.

I discovered, too, a rather embarrassing dependence upon others. There was a time in my life when I did lots of travelling but, through changed circumstances, I rarely do so now. Other people in the group seemed to be much more clued into these things and had apps on their phones for everything, from hiring Ubers and cars to the venue, to booking trains and restaurants and sharing photos. I felt probably more helpless than most of the kids on the trip, but people were so willing to share advice and tips and ensure we got to where we needed to be at various times.

Our schedule meant that we could take in a church service on Sunday morning, and another Dad, who knew we were churchgoers, invited us to come to church with him and his two sons. It was a vibrant city centre church and the most impressive thing was the power of a good welcome. People were out on the street welcoming strangers in and inviting them in. When we told the welcome team we were visiting, she got someone to take us up the stairs to the auditorium and ensure we were seated and got refreshments if we needed them. It was a very diverse and multicultural congregation and the pastor got someone who knew how to say ‘good morning’ in four languages, so everyone felt welcome.

It was quite intergenerational, too, and an elderly couple did an interview with one of the church leaders about how God had guided them in a move to a new area and how this would impact their lives. They shared great insights about prayer and trusting in God even when things didn’t work out as smoothly as they would have hoped. They also shared perspectives on how this world is not our home and everything, in some sense, is temporary. It was great to see their gentle wisdom being acknowledged and shared. We were given a very warm welcome again from the preacher as we left, and I loved the way the church seemed so connected with the local community. The sign in the foyer really expressed their core values and desire to buy toys for those in need and serve and reach out with hope to those around them.

The last thing that stuck with me was how, on their arrival home, the coach sent a message to all the kids. He congratulated them on their incredible courage and efforts over the weekend and set them three questions to reflect upon as a result of their experiences over the weekend. He also specifically asked that they respond to these questions, not on the notes in their phone, but by writing in a notebook or journal.

I loved that element of learning and reflection, as well as encouragement that was combined in this communication. It came from someone who cares about them deeply and wants to see them learn and grow.

You can probably see how there is so much of this learning that would be so valuable in any church context.

We have some special events coming up this weekend in St. Finnian’s and if you are curious and would like to join us for some or any of them, you would be so welcome. On Saturday morning from 10.30-12.30 the Christmas Craft Fair will be taking place in the church hall just off Cregagh Park. There will be crafts for sale made by the Cregagh Crafters, and tea and coffee available, with children going free.

On Sunday morning, our early Communion is at 9am and the Connect service will focus on preparation on this Advent Sunday. It’s in the church hall at 11am. The Advent Carol Service, with all its atmospheric music and readings and a special Advent reflection will be in the church at 7pm. Please feel free to come along and bring a friend.

Much love to everyone,


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