I had a brilliant time this afternoon with 20 pupils and their teachers from the autism specialism school around the corner. We are building a close relationship, and either I go into the school or groups come to me, one or two afternoons a week (the parish gets half of my time, and the school gets half of that time, because they have asked for my involvement).
Today we learnt about baptism and holy communion. Baptism is how we welcome people into the church, not as visitors—I did not baptise anyone today—but as new members of the Christian community within the neighbourhood. I love to pour the water we will use for a baptism into the silver bowl we use as a font, starting just above the bowl and drawing back so there is a waterfall. It makes the most amazing sound. They loved that. One pupil said that it was very moving, profound. Another said it sounded like doing a wee. They’re both right. They asked if it was holy water, and I explained that it was tap water (not wee) but that holy water was what we called it when we had asked God to use it for a special purpose.
When we moved on to thinking about communion, I invited them all to gather around the altar with me, some in front, some behind it standing beside me, a part of the church building few people get to be in. They helped set out the (empty) vessels of wine and water, and enjoyed the loud snap when I broke the big wafer I hold up that you can see from the back of the room. Of course, some of them wanted to know what the wafers taste like. I’d discussed this with the teachers beforehand, and, as none of the children had any allergies, they were allowed to eat a wafer if they wanted to. These were not consecrated wafers—I would not give a child communion without the consent of their parents/guardians, and only after preparation classes—so it was just a ‘learning about’ experience, just as role playing a wedding with children is not the same as conducting an under-age marriage. 12 of the children chose to eat a wafer (all did so respectfully) and 8 decided that they didn’t want to, which was absolutely fine. One said it tasted like an ice-cream cone; another, that it tasted like paper; another that it tasted of nothing much at all. And, as with the water, they were all right. Then I showed them the tiny patten and chalice and glass bottle and pyx we use to take communion to those who are sick or housebound and cannot come to us, and the aumbry (“what’s behind that tiny door?”) where we keep the consecrated wafers until we are able to take them out to those people.
We also had good conversation about the church year (and associated colours, as a tool for learning and a means of participation), and reasons people gather together here, such as to pray as well as for various special occasions. We talked about Jesus, a lot, about his eating habits (he ate with all kinds of different people) and the meal he ate with his friends the night before he died, we talked about his birth and death and resurrection. Children ask great questions. Teachers do too. They are learning more and more about Christian faith, and I am learning more and more about communicating what we believe.
I’m looking forward to the rest of the term, including a Christingle service at their forest school nearer to Christmas.