Sunday, 11 October 2009

Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle

Than to tell a story to a group of preschoolers.

Fun times this morning; we arrived at church to the always joyous news that there was no Storyteller (leader) for Little Fish's Sunday School group. One teenager, two scheduled helpers, one extra press-ganged into service, and thirteen 2-4 year olds. Funny how a bit of perspective helps: as the children started pouring in we still had no keys and therefore not only no Storyteller (and no story to tell), but also no colouring pens, no paper, and, most important of all, no access to biscuits and squash. And then the keys turned up, and suddenly not having the person in charge seemed unimportant and manageable. More perspective - today was, without warning, the one Sunday in the term when the children all go into church for communion. Attempting to walk a handful of preschoolers across a carpark from barn to church is not unlike attempting to herd kangaroos through a field of bulls. And yet, without a programme, without a Storyteller, making the attempt was worth it for the joy of handing them back earlier.

Bonus; we found a vat of playdough in the 'fridge. Bad times; the pink was mouldy. Two of us outvoted the third who was attempting to scrape the mould off with a rusty teaspoon, and decided the children could manage just with the somewhat repulsive looking green instead. And bingo (I'll stop with the b's soon I promise), half the children bounced over to the table and spent the next half hour spreading slimy green dough as far as possible over hands, Sunday clothes, table and carpet. Good times. The other half meanwhile spent their playtime dismantling the toy kitchen, jumping on the toy cars, and squabbling over the baby buggies. Ah, such sweet children.

And so time passed until that magical moment; "Tidy-up time". And the children were transformed from destructive monsters creative beings into genuinely helpful, enthusiastic little people; gathering books and trains and sorting babies from plastic play food, sifting everything into the relevant boxes and then dragging them across to the cupboard, small boys staggering solo under the weight of the Brio, smaller girls carrying boxes of books one girl to each corner. And one small Little Fish who did nothing constructive but wheeled herself up and down the room pausing, hands on hips, to shout "come on everybody, tidy up time now!" I can't think whre she gets it from.

Small children all seated on a rug, and the box of books raided for the first not-too-twee bible-based story to read as they sip squash and eat biscuits (hmm; the squash and biscuits can't possibly have anything to do with their enthusiasm over tidying up can it?). And out comes the stoy Jesus told, how it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man who loves money to enter the kingdom of heaven. Setting aside the theological debates about needles and gates in Jerusalem (which this little book ignored totally), I have to ask if this was the best story for a bunch of small children:

So - there was a man who loved his money.
I love my Mummy too
No, this man loved money.
I love my Mummy. And my Daddy.
And I love my Daddy too.
I not got a Daddy, I got a sister though
I've got three sisters
I have twenty seven a million sisters ner!

Lovely, now Jesus said that it was harder for a camel to squeeze through the hole at the top of a needle than for this man to go into Heaven. Does anyone know what a camel is? Anyone? Oh, no, that's not a camel, that's a piece of playdough. No, no, don't get the rest of the playdough, I'm sure it was lovely but we're reading a story now.

Ok, so let's think about needles for a minute.
my Mummy's got needles.
I got a big needle and it scratched me
If you stood on a needle it would go right through you and you would die
if a needle goes through you you will DIE
if you stand on a needle and you have crocs on, and the needle goes through the hole in your crocs, it could be rather painful could it not?

Yes you're quite right, it would be. But that would be a needle going through us - we couldn't fit inside the needle could we?
I pricked myself with a needle once.
My brother's got a needle.
So, I got six brother.
I got twelve brothers.
I have only one brother but Mummy says that's quite enough for us, thank you very much.
My brother is called Caleb
No, I am called Caleb,
No, I got a brother called Caleb
no, I got two brothers and one is called Caleb

Does anyone not have someone called Caleb in their family?

Right then, why don't we have a story about a boy who had lots and lots of brothers? [gratefully receives book from other helper who has delved more deeply through the pile inbetween wrestling small boys either called or with siblings called Caleb].

This is a story about a boy called Joseph.
Joseph had lots and lots of brothers
[we all count the boys in the picture]
Joseph was his Daddy's favourite
[pause, wincing, in anticipation of many aggrieved accusations over supposedly favoured siblings, probably called Caleb. Am faced instead with ongoing breathless silence]
Joseph's Daddy gave Joseph a very special coat with lots of different colours in it.
[ongoing breathless silence, thirteen children utterly gripped by the story or else there was something very odd in those biscuits. We continue with the story, children fascinated, beautiful concentration, until it starts to get interesting]
And so Joseph went to Egypt where he was a slave and worked for the king. Joseph had many adventures before he saw his family again.

[and I turn the page, to reveal two words] THE END.

The END? Joseph goes to Egypt, and you leave the story there? Who decided that would be a good idea? I have a rugful of enthralled children here, they don't want to leave Joseph stranded in Egypt with a scary picture of a man with a whip.

And so they sit, and, attempting to keep to the very simple basic language of the book, I try to tell the rest of the story. Or at least edited highlights. But I'm losing them. We're heading perilously close to more conversations about needles and Caleb. Perhaps we could thread Caleb through the eye of a needle? Or thread a needle through a Caleb? We seem to have plenty of spares.

And then, just as attention is about to drift away completely, salvation appears in the form of a head round the door and a "this is your 2 minute warning", and we are off, standing up and herding our little flock over to the church.

It's a nice church. It's a lovely building. And it's rather small and crowded when all the children are here. Mog having decided to entertain her Sunday School group with a demonstration of the many colours of phlegm, she is the last to arrive. So we hover in the doorway, attempting to be as inconspicuous as it is possible to be with two excited children and a rather large wheelchair.

We take Communion, and it is great to have the children in with us. We are a congregation, a community. And it does feel strange to me that whereas Jesus was fairly clear about letting the small children come to Him (and yes, I do feel I suffered the children this morning, why do you ask?), we, on the whole, exclude the junior members of the church family from drawing near. Not a criticism; I enjoy child-free Communions too for the peace and solemnity and recognition of the awesomeness and wonder of the occasion. But I also like the hurly burly enthusiastic real everydayness we get from having the children present. And I like the fact my girls can receive a blessing at the altar rail, even if the shuffle pull balance hop kneel and wobble and stretch and hold to get them there isn't the most dignified of dances.

And then we head back to our pillar by the door, and a couple more songs and a prayer or two, and then it's make way fast before we block the exit for everyone else. And into the hall for an extremely well-earned coffee. Communion aside, Little Fish's teacher does this for six hours a day, five days a week? With thirty of them? She needs a bigger Christmas present!

Disclaimer: I like Caleb. All of them. No Calebs were harmed in the writing of this blog. And no disrespect is intended to any Caleb or parent of a Caleb. But would anyone care to enlighten me as to the sudden popularity of the name?


HennHouse said...


BTW- I love your perspective!

Sara x said...

Im loving it, though the moment you realised the sunday school teacher wasnt coming, i would have been hiding behind the pillar. A very brave women,to offer to help with a class of kids. Like the idea of LF helping with tidying up in her own special way x

Sarah said...

I don't know why the name is suddenly so popular, but I have a nephew called Caleb!! ;)

Makes my Sunday school session yesterday pale into insignificance as I only had 5 5-10 year olds. We managed to go fairly off track with them, too, and ended up praying for everyone's poorly cats and run over kittens rather than thanking God for things in our lives, but hey, it was all good!!

Tia said...

Just to be totally clear about this, I did not volunteer to help! It's pretty much a given that if you have a child in that class you will "volunteer" to be on the rota. Not a huge commitment; around 3 Sundays a term. But it's definitely not my favourite activity.


Tia said...

Just to be totally clear about this, I did not volunteer to help! It's pretty much a given that if you have a child in that class you will "volunteer" to be on the rota. Not a huge commitment; around 3 Sundays a term. But it's definitely not my favourite activity.


Tia said...

Just to be totally clear about this, I did not volunteer to help! It's pretty much a given that if you have a child in that class you will "volunteer" to be on the rota. Not a huge commitment; around 3 Sundays a term. But it's definitely not my favourite activity.


Tia said...

Apparently I wanted to be really very clear about tat. Sorry - computer problems!

Tia said...

or that even. Is it bedtime yet?

mq, cb said...

Computer problems? It's the Revenge of the Calebs!


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