Wednesday, August 5th

Two of our After School Club 'rascals' in one of our church trees

Our church buildings are set in the heart of the Shiregreen housing estate on the appropriately named Valentine Crescent. For those youngsters living around the church, there are no safe green patches for them to play - except on our large lawn enclosed within our boundary of high hedges and iron gates.

Yesterday, Lisa went into the buildings to collect mail and check the premises, She commented on our WhatsApp Group: 'I let a couple of the after school club kids ride down the grass on their bikes while I was checking stuff. They didn’t come into the building. So today I have talked to Lewis, Ryan and Archie. They were so sensible and respectful of why the church is still closed, asking about club etc. One of their friends was asking about the buses, concerned that they might not start, so I told them everything had been removed, battery, starter etc. to someone’s garage. One said his gran came to lunch club and was called Jane.'

Ryan watches other club members on a 'scooter rally'

There have been times when one of those three lads has been shown the Yellow Card at club. They respond well to that form of communication and a red card does not usually follow that afternoon! No, they aren't angels. Nor are some of the girls who are more devious in their mischief. But we miss them.

What Lisa's conversation with them shows is the degree to which young children can and do understand the seriousness of the current situation. Young people are becoming a target at present for blame in spreading the virus which may lead to a second spike. Liverpool and Leeds fans celebrating league victories and promotion, gathering for protests or parties in Cardiff Bay etc. Yet it wasn't young people who were gathered at the Cheltenham Festival that partly heralded the first spike.

It is easy to stereotype people by their age, ethnic background, religion or profession. We, ourselves, feel annoyed and frustrated, however, when we are caricatured in cartoons or other media because we belong to an age-group or 'type' and portrayed in a way we object to. We quickly comment, 'we're not all like that!' Personally, I cringe at the portrayal of Christians as either 'raving fundamentalists' or 'spineless liberal do-gooders'. Everybody is an individual capable of dastardly deeds or heroic actions, as this pandemic has shown. Nobody deserves to be classed as 'typical' - children included.

We miss the chaotic mix of children we open the doors to each Monday afternoon. Some of them are so easy to like, others take a bit more effort. But they bring their energy, their friendship and their need to be valued in a way some of them are not experiencing either in school or even at home. Unfortunately, because they attend a variety of schools in the area, they belong to different school 'bubbles' and cannot be encouraged to mix as they normally do. So we are challenged to work out ways we can serve the children of Shiregreen in future days and months and enjoy the spin-off benefits we receive from their built-in youthfulness.

Trees are not just decoration at Shiregreen!

I am reminded of a prayer of Catholic Priest, Michel Quoist in his 1960's publication, Prayers of Life. It touches on my view of what all humans should be like and why I describe myself in my Facebook profile as 'still in Year 6 at school".:

I Like Youngsters

God says,' I like yougsters. I want people to be like them. I don’t like old people unless they are still children. I want only children in my kingdom; this has been decreed from the beginning of time. Youngsters - twisted, humped, wrinkled, white-bearded –  all kinds of youngster, but  youngsters. There is no changing it; it has been decided, there is room for no one else.

I like little children because my likeness has not yet been dulled in them. They have not botched my likeness. They are new, pure without a blot, without a smear.So, when I gently lean over them, I recognize myself in them.

I like them because they are still growing, they are still improving. They are on the road, they are on their way. But with grown-ups there is nothing to expect any more. They will no longer grow, no longer improve. They have come to a full stop. It is disastrous: grown-ups think they have arrived.

I like youngsters because they are still struggling, because they are still sinning. Not because they sin - if you understand me - but because they know that they sin, and they say so, and they try not to sin anymore. But I don’t like grown-ups, they never harm anyone, they have nothing to reproach themselves for. I can’t forgive them. I have nothing to forgive. It is a pity. It is indeed a pity, because it is not true.

But above all, I like youngsters because of the look in their eyes. In their eyes I can read their age. In my heaven, there will be only five-year old eyes, for I know of nothing more beautiful than the pure eyes of a child.

It is not surprising, for I live in children, and it is I who look out through their eyes. When pure eyes meet yours, it is I who smile at you through the flesh. But on the other hand, I know of nothing sadder than lifeless eyes in the face of a child. The windows are open, but the house is empty. Two eyes are there, but no light.And, saddened, I stand at the door, and wait in the cold and knock. I am eager to get in. And he, the child, is alone. He fattens, he hardens, he dries up, he gets old. Poor old fellow!

 Alleluia! Alleluia! Open, all of you, little old men! It is I, your God, the eternal, risen from the dead, coming to bring back to life the child in you. Hurry! Now is the time. I am ready to give you again the beautiful face of a child, the beautiful eyes of a child.

For I love youngsters and I want everyone to be like them!'

Building our Willow Den

and enjoying it.

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