5 things to learn from The Force Awakens Trailer

5 things the new Star Wars Trailer Tells Us

Possibly the most anticipated movie of the decade is due to arrive in cinemas on December 18th 2015. Today the world was given an 88 second glimpse of the opening of the 7th chapter of the Star Wars story with the global release of the teaser trailer for Star Wars “The Force Awakens.”

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1. There’s been an awakening.

The first scene of the trailer shows a terrified storm trooper on a desert planet. We are told in a spine tingling voice over “There has been an awakening” that apparently we all should have felt. This is a new phase in the story of the Force but I must admit I have always struggled to understand the Force. In Episode 1 we were told by Qui Gon Jin about the strange connection between microscopic life forms and one’s ability to discern the force’s will:

“Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear them speaking to you.”
Qui-Gon Jinn, to Anakin Skywalker

There’s been an ongoing problem in my mind with understanding the force because the force is described in both personal and impersonal terms.  Obi Wan calls it an energy field but Qui Jon describes it anthropomorphically attributing to the force “a will.”

Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi

The force has both a good side and a dark side and can seemingly be commanded for completely different purposes at the same time. Eg. Yoda can fight the emperor both using the force at the same time.

To be honest too many people try to use prayer in the same way that the Jedi and the Sith use the force. People often say prayer is powerful. But I know that in war time both sides will often be praying for completely opposite things. So unlike the the force a Christian understanding of prayer puts all the power in God’s hands not in the person praying, nor in prayer itself but in God. Prayer is a means of speaking to God inviting him into a situation that his will is done. We pray asking not that some impersonal force is wielded by us, but rather we ask that God our heavenly father intervenes in our situation and we place ourselves at his disposal.

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2. Robots Rock… and Roll

The second scene of the trailer shows an R2-D2 like robot rolling across another desert landscape. It’s a novel design that looks like James Dyson has been asked to redesign an astro-mech droid and he has riffed on his ball vacuum cleaner theme. The droids are the only characters to survive all the way through the Star Wars films and like all good Science Fiction movies raise exciting questions about the possibilities artificial intelligence can bring. R2 D2 has been a conundrum for me as he (?) clearly is sentient – taking initiative to rescue Anakin and Luke, celebrating and even arguing with C3P0 on many occasions. Whoever designed him had the sophistication to give him sentience and yet not able to give him the ability to speak. So we get the skippy the kangaroo problem trying to communicate with him – only C3PO and Luke seem to be able to understand what he is saying.

For me I guess we sometimes underestimate the power and complexity of speech. For Christians thinking about the fact that central to our belief is a speaking God. We must be careful not to treat God like Skippy the bush kangaroo and pretend we know what he is saying and really just load on to him whatever we want him to be saying.

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3. The Empire is not over

The third scene shows sleeker and cooler looking Storm Troopers but Storm Troopers none the less. Despite the overthrow of the emperor and his fleet after a ferocious Ewok attack ( I am personally rejoicing that there is no sign of the annoying fuzz balls in this film ); the Empire lingers.

Star Wars has always tapped into the classic good versus evil epic storyline. It nuanced it with characters moving to and from both sides and had at its heart a strong redemptive narrative with Annakin travelling to the darkside and then back again thanks to the unwavering love of his son back to the light. Although episode 6 ended with a victory there is still a fight on.

Christianity has always posited a good verses evil perspective to human existence. Like Star Wars redemption has always been part of that story with God’s looking to redeem a fallen and broken world. Christianity also sees redemption made possible by the unflinching love of a son. But this time the son was not saving the Father but instead working with the Father to save creation.

daisy_ridley_official_star_wars_verge_super_wide4. Women are heroic

Right from the original episode IV women have not been treated as damsels in distress in need of rescuing. From Princess Lea to Padme there have been strong women at the heart of the Star Wars narrative. With the fourth scene in this teaser trailer we see a young woman gunning her land speeder and jetting off into the distance.

I have read too many Christian books arguing that men are to be the heroes and women like to be rescued. Sadly this is not bourn out neither in the Star Wars Universe nor in the Bible. What do you do about heroines such as Deborah, Ruth, Jael or Esther with such a strange understanding of gender roles.

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5. The past will be honoured

The barrel rolling Millennium Falcon complete with the JJ Abrams trade mark lens flare is a good sign that Abrams is going to honour the past Star Wars canon. He shows a reverence for what went before and yet looks set to innovate.

Theologians for a long time have been talking about the way in which the church plays out biblical truth by both honouring the canon of scripture and extemporizing in a reverent way its performance in the world today.

Dr Krish Kandiah is President of London School of Theology and you can follow him on twitter at @krishk. His latest book is Paradoxology : Why Christianity was never meant to be simple.

 

Learning from women about leadership

I know it’s a little ironic, but I have been asked to lead a seminar about women in leadership. Full disclosure, I am not and never have been a woman.

I have decided to take the opportunity and to look for ways that women’s voices can be heard in the seminar. I am also hoping to co-chair the seminar with a woman. I decided to do the seminar because I believe in the conference that asked me to speak – they have a brilliant heart and a wonderful vision and also because I believe passionately that we need to empower women to lead at every level.

I didn’t always believe this; as a teenager a proofext from 1 Tim 2.11 was all I needed to close down the debate. I have learnt a lot about biblical hermeneutics and reading scripture in its canonical and cultural context since then. So I am leading this seminar from the perspective of someone who is absolutely committed to the infallibility of scripture and to women in leadership in the church.

I really want to include as many women’s voices in my seminar as possible and so I would  love your help. I have had some terrific responses when I asked the question on twitter.

I found the responses very moving and challenging (see below to read all of them) . Here are my reflections on the tweets I’d love to know your views – I am of course open to suggestion and correction. 

Three things I have learned so far…

1. Leadership Humility

I was struck by the gracious and humble tone of the advice. So many of the contributors encouraged patience and kindness towards those who opposed or rejected women’s leadership. I wish I could see more of this evidenced from people on both sides of the debate when they write about this subject – perhaps it is there but I have been reading the wrong stuff. Wherever we stand on this debate we need to approach this subject with grace and humility.  We are family together and  scripture calls us to be exemplary in the way we handle disputes and debates among us.  For those of us that oppose women in leadership we  need to recognise that the tone and language used to express your views can crush someone who is trying to follow God’s call on their lives to use their gifts. Leadership is often lonely and isolating and attacking someone’s honest and faithful response to God’s call is a dangerous thing to do. This is not just a theological issue : someone’s call to leadership is linked directly to their sense of identity. Similarly for those of us who support women in leadership we need to recognise that for those that don’t agree with us – this is often a question of conscience  for those who oppose us. It is a dangerous thing to ask another Christian to act against their conscience and we act carefully as we seek to persuade someone to change their minds. I was moved by the maturity and generosity of those who offered comment on my twitter question as they encouraged other women to be patient and gracious with those that stood against them.

2. Leadership Integrity

I found this tweet and many of the others like it very enlightening.  There were a lot of calls to be authentic, to be true to whom God has made you to be. I found these words encouraging as it is vital for all leaders to understand the right balance between knowing whom God has made us to be and how we live into that calling with the ongoing challenge of resisting the sin in our lives. 

 

Too often we overemphasise sin to the exclusion of our God given identity or we overemphasise our identity to the exclusion of the sin in our lives. Now some people will say we should find our identity in Christ and not in the role we have received from him and I do understand that. But the New Testament knows about the intertwining of call and identity – Paul writes:

” For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

1 Corinthians 9:16ff

I was moved by so many of the tweets that emphasised the need to be true to yourself in light of the opposition that so many women have faced to taking on leadership roles. It seems that many for many women leaders their identity has been challenged or dare I say oppressed by those that stood against their sense of call as leaders. I remember as a twenty something having a strong sense of call on my life to be an evangelist and a leader in my church telling me I should leave it aside and become a school teacher. I found it crushing that call on my life was being doubted how much worse it must feel to have large groups of the church oppose so vehemently so many womens’ sense of call on their lives to lead.

3. Leadership and Accountability

There were a lot of tweets that emphasised the need for support and accountability. For me that is where groups like Sophia Network have been so helpful . I loved the tone of Rachel’s comment:

I know that when I have felt isolated and criticised I have sometimes responded by  stopping listening to anyone’s advice or critique and to assume that I am always right – to become self-righteous. Rachel’s tweet is rich with wisdom encouraging us to find genuine friends both male and female to speak truth into our lives. Rachel; who has been a family friend since I was a teenager, is a terrific leader and   models the humility this tweet suggests.

You can read all of  the responses below:

(Photo was adapted with text but taken from JustArd’s lovely Flickr account)

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Why are our hearts breaking for flight MH

With apocalyptic footage of a Ukranian field now filling our screens I wanted to try and reflect on why the shooting down of flight MH17 has had such an impact on us. I am thinking out loud trying to process what I am feeling and so am happy to have your comments and suggestions re-shape what I have written here.

It’s personal

I have many family members in Malaysia, many of whom travel to and from Europe regularly. My first thought was to phone or facebook family and see if everyone was ok. Our family suffered a terrible bereavement when one of our dearly loved Aunties was killed whilst on business in Mumbai in the Taj hotel. She apparently died of smoke inhalation alone her room when the building was on fire. We are all still haunted by how desperately sad her situation was and she is survived by her loving children who are studying abroad. In the global village with friends and family criss-crossing the globe this is a more common experience that these global events actually impact on us personally in some way.

It could have been us

I was trying to separate out whether it was just this possible personal connection with the events that has put a knot in my stomach. But following the reactions on social media, this awful episode has caught the imagination of so many people there must be more to explain this. I think the fact that most of the people that died on flight MH17 were Europeans who boarded an ordinary flight from a major international hub airport.  As Summer holidays begin today across the UK many families are boarding planes to exotic locations and so the proximity of these events rings true.

In one day 200 people were killed in Nigeria when a bomb exploded in a marketplace – this caused merely a ripple of media or social media interest – but to be honest I think that is because there is too much geographical, racial and social distance between most of us and the kind of people that lost their lives for the same emotional impact to be felt. Few of us are going to go and by our groceries in Joss for this to be impactful. Sometimes global events reach such dire proportions that they transcend the fact that they can’t possibly touch us – for example F16 bombers attacking a beach in Gaza where four young boys were playing or a Tidal wave wiping out whole Japanese cities or a militant islamacists abduct 200 school girls.

Another tragedy for Malaysian Airlines

This fact shouldn’t matter. There is no indication that Malaysian Airlines did anything unusual. It appears many airlines use the same route. Although questions are being raised about why so many other airlines chose to avoid this area and the extent to which economics played a part in determining routes instead of passenger safety. But the concurrence of two total loss disasters to one relatively small airlines makes this story particularly noteworthy. Business people have expressed a degree of sympathy with Malaysian Airlines for this double whammy.

Civilians caught in a War Zone

I wonder if the real reason this event has caused such anguish and will prompt global international outcry is because these civilians had nothing to do with the conflict. But civilians die in war zones every day. In Israel and in Gaza. In Afghanistan and Iraq. But these civilians didn’t mean to be in a war zone – neither do most people caught in conflict.

But you might argues that these civilians were not actually in the conflict zone they were 33 000 feet above it. But that perhaps is the symbolic challenge of the global outpouring of grief and pain towards those who have lost their lives under such terrible circumstances and the families that grieve them. Those of us who make up the minority of global citizens that can afford air travel often behave as if we are somehow detached from the suffering of poverty, injustice and conflict that are a normal part of life for so many people. Just as the terrible events of 9/11 showed the US there is no way to isolate ourselves from global conflict.

As the on board entertainment system displays a little aeroplane to demark our location as we cross the globe the people on the ground whose lives we are passing over are invisible to us. Its interesting watching the countries pass by underneath us. We cruise on by. Similarly the military personnel on the ground that spots a radar blip passing through the airspace above his BUK SA-11 gadfly medium range ground to air missile system. He doesn’t see impact that pressing a button is going to have on the scientists going to try and help end the AIDS epidemic. He doesn’t know that a family that a Malaysian family has already lost members this year when MH-370 went down will grieve yet another loss. He is not even present when the debris falls and the disintegrating plane and dismembered bodies hit the earth. So often the powerful make decisions that mean life or death for the poor and we  think can remain unaffected by the consequences.

Israeli airstrike kills 4 Palestinian children in Gaza

Human beings are not counters in a game of Risk. Passengers sitting on a flight are not acceptable targets. Children playing on a beach or people living in a certain part of Israel are not collateral damage for a political system or even an ancient narrative about land rights.

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As a Christian I believe in a God who refused to play power politics like that. Who treated even the most socially marginalised people as worthy of respect and honour. Who showed mercy to the ethnic enemies of his people and indeed used them as positive exemplars. I believe in a God who didn’t look down at the earth as a google map but came and took on human flesh, lived among us, “moved into the neighbourhood” he didn’t drone strike or missile attack his enemies he healed their families and challenged his followers to love them. He didn’t breeze through places ignoring poverty , sickness or social exclusion but was constantly interrupting and being interrupted on his journeys to care for those in need.

At this terrible times our prayer and thoughts are with all those who are grieving the crew and passengers of the ill fated flight and for all those civilians caught in the cross fire between Israel and Palestine and in the conflicts in Ukraine and Nigeria.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 reasons why Adoption Sunday Matters

Last year we were delighted to have 200 churches take part in the UK’s first ever national Adoption Sunday . This year on 2nd of November we’d love to see 300 join in. Here are 5 reasons we’d love you and your church to take part.

1. Our adoption into God’s family is such a wonderful privilege.

I can think of no higher privilege than knowing that we are welcomed into God’s family through the sacrificial death of God’s own son. Strangely we hardly ever talk about it – here’s an opportunity to remind every Christian that they are adopted and why that matters.

2. The church is called to care for vulnerable children

Caring for the needy is not something that the church can outsource. God told his people what kind of religion he is looking for  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” James 1.27 (cf Isaiah 1 too).  So we the church cannot abdicate our responsibility of caring for those in need – particularly the most vulnerable: children and the elderly. 

3. Our nation has 6000 children who need a forever family

It is a national shame that 6000 children are left behind in the care system and deemed “hard to place” – as the adopted people of God  adoption should be at the heart of what we do as churches. Adoption Sunday is a way to put this need in front of the whole church.

4. We need to change the church’s imagination on adoption

Adoption and fostering is not on the radar for many Christians – its seen to be someone else’s problem. If we are going to help the church get a vision for finding families to step up to the challenge and also to help the rest of the church family to wrap around and support them. We need to expose people that don’t yet know they are interested to the challenge and opportunities. So by taking part in adoption Sunday we help to shape the imagination of the whole church on this issue.

5.  If we say we care about justice we must care about children in care

I am delighted the church is stepping up to engage with poverty through things like Street Pastors, CAP, Foodbank and Prison ministry. This is wonderful. There are wonderful examples of these initiatives leading to deep and meaningful relationships. But sadly sometimes this can be limited to a passing acquaintance with the poor when we serve them as clients at a drop in centre. Fostering and adoption takes things to another level where the poor become family with us. The poor stop being an anonymous passing crowd – but instead become little Jonny that we share our breakfast with, little Shabira who comes on holiday with us, or Ali who we help to find a job when he leaves school.

Here’s what you can do

– sign up for the FREE ADOPTION SUNDAY PACK
 look out of the new Home for Good video coming our later in the summer – here’s last year’s as a taster.

– spread the word so that more churches get involved this year so we can find more homes for children that need them.

Will your church be taking part in Adoption Sunday 2014? from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.

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This man is a legend

There are some guys you meet and you know you are going to be friends for a long time, Phil is one of those kinds of guys. He is the kind of guy you want on your pub quiz team not only is he brilliant at banter but he knows his 1980s music trivia.

Phil works as a teacher in his local secondary school. He’s an avid music fan and has spent his youth writing to music magazines and going to concerts. Phil helped to set up and run an innovative youth programme called Kidzclub in Liverpool which saw hundreds of children; many from challenging backgrounds coming together for fun, games and to discover more about the Christian faith. Phil’s wife Helenor works as a solicitor and for social services and felt called to make a difference with many of the children she was working with in her job by becoming a foster carer. Phil admits that he had no plans to become a foster carer but initially got involved because of his wife’s enthusiasm. 3 years in and Phil believes fostering is one of the best things he has done in his life so far. He gets a real buzz knowing that the love he is able to pour into the lives of the foster children in his care has such an impact on their lives. Saying goodbye as foster children move on to adoption is one of the toughest parts of the foster carer’s roles but when sadly one of their children’s adoption broke down Phil and his wife have decided to step forward to adopt him. Phil and Helenor are spreading the word about fostering and adoption by running a city wide initiative to encourage more Christians to think about adoption and fostering – called Home for Good Liverpool.

You can hear Phil speaking here:

Father’s Day 2014: You know what a foster carer looks like, don’t you? from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.

 

Phil is going to be on local radio stations across the UK on Sunday; Father’s Day speaking about being a foster dad and the Home for Good campaign. Tune in and cheer him on!

Local Hero

When I arrived at his house I had to double check the address. This was a very rough part of town and I was going to meet a High Court Judge. But Sir Mark Hedley is no ordinary judge. 

He has lived in a poor part of Liverpool for over 45 years having arrived  in the city i to study law. at Liverpool University.  Mark  became a Barrister in 1969 and right from the start developed a passion to help people who find it difficult to get access to justice. He helped to set up a free legal advice centre in the area and moved his family into the area sending his children to local state schools. He  sought to live out his Christian beliefs by living and serving in one of the less affluent parts of Liverpool.

He was appointed as a circuit judge for the Northern Circuit in 1992 and then he served as a High court judge from 2002 until 2013.

Mark and his wife Erica felt called to become foster carers and now have more than 30 years of experience. They had birth children that grew up alongside the children they fostered and they have ended up adopting two of their foster children who had additional needs.

I was impressed from the moment I met Sir Mark. Here is a man who cares passionately about his local area, who wants to turn his Christian confession into Christian service whatever the cost.

Mark breaks so many of the stereo types that I come across when I mention the words “fostering” to men. People seem to think fostering is for working class people or that it is somehow “women’s work” Sir Mark Hedley, High Court Judge and local hero breaks all of those stereotypes – maybe you should think about changing your views on who can foster? Is it something you are called to do?

Check out this inspiring film of men who are making a difference in the lives of vulnerable children. See here for more information.

Father’s Day 2014: You know what a foster carer looks like, don’t you? from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.

Social Media and School

Had a very helpful and interesting day with TISCA – The Independent Schools Chaplaincy Association.  We were thinking about Redeeming Technology especially looking at Social Media and the lives of teenagers. The teenagers in question are students in some of the most exclusive schools in the country and the chaplains are playing a very strategic role in the lives of these schools.

The day kicked off with an excellent talk on understanding the impolications of our belief in the Kingdom of God for online life from Rev Libby Talbot. I particularly liked her emphasis on the challenges and opportunities of new technologies. Libby had conducted a survey of the students at her school which yielded some fascinating results.

I heard a case study of how Romance Academy came into an independent school and ran a seminar on Sexting for years 9-10. The way they helped young people to navigate this new technology was to explain the statistics that say the average Sext is seen by 7 other people. This had a profound effect on the young people who saw the implications of their decisions making. This kind of common sense wisdom had a more transformative effect that

Survey of 140 students in a UK independent school this week

Which sites or social media apps do you use?
–       Facebook 80%
–       Youtube 63%
–       Twitter 22%
–       What’s App 57%
–       Instagram 70%
[ Notice Black Berry Messenger has disappeared completely!]

88% of those surveyed  use social media primarily for talking to friends.
72% thought that their social life was better when they used social media.
12% have been bullied online (18% haven’t been but know someone that has).
11% had sent or received explicit images from people they knew.

Next up was  a great presentation by Richard Moy who spoke about some of the safeguarding issues around cyber bullying and Sexting etc. Richard showed this video which is a response to the Look Up Viral video as a conversation starter.

I particularly liked the first hand comments that came from young people that Richard works with:

“Doing your homework on the internet is so great because it’s like going to the biggest library in the world right at your desk, but its also hard because the building that has the world’s biggest library also has the world’s biggest game room, the world’s biggest porn store, the world’s biggest casino, the world’s biggest mall and the world’s biggest lounge. Sometimes I don’t make it to the library”
14 year old boy

“Teens don’t want to tell adults about problems because they response from the adults is usually to block a site and then teens don’t have access to the sites they want to use for positive social communication.”
14 year old girl

My talk focussed on a political theology for Christian use of the internet – I am working on a paper on this and will publish it when its ready. I did get some useful feedback and comments from today that will hopefully make my paper more useful.

I began to think about the different ways that we use social media for different roles in our lives. What do you think of the following:

  1. Facebook – a live address book
  2. What’s app – more of a closed group
  3. Snapchat – instant / semi-temporary / personal messages
  4. Twitter – deemed impersonal by younger users but a good source of news and ideas.

Fathers for the Fatherless

Fathers Day is a great marketing opportunity for pen knife manufacturers , greeting card producers and mens hosiery. It’s not an age old festival having only been created in the 20th century to complement Mother’s Day but I want to make a plea that we need to make the most of it .

I know it can be a sensitive time for people who have grown up without a Dad or even worse with an abusive father. I know it can be difficult for single people and childless couples who may be mourning the lack of opportunity to be a father. But nevertheless I want to make a plea that we make the most of it this weekend. Here are three reasons:

1. God is our Father

Despite their being some terrible father’s in the Bible story God is not ashamed to call himself a Father. The problem comes when we project our experience onto God – for example someone might say – “I had a terrible father so God must be like my dad.” That way of thinking is not a helpful way to approach God  – God is not just a projection or an extension of our understanding of things. God is the defining centre.  So God sets the example of what true Fatherhood is like, just like Jesus sets the example of what true humanity is like.  This Sunday we should take the time to enjoy and celebrate what it means for all of us to know God as our Father and offer everyone the opportunity to get to know him.

2. It’s not too late to become a father

Of course if you are going to talk about the Fatherhood of God that is something that every Christian can claim only because of God’s adoption of us. We have been given the right through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

Galatians 4:4-5

God’s decision to adopt us into his family was driven not by any inner need in the godhead but rather was driven God’s compassion for our plight as vulnerable children (see Galatians 4:3-4). In the same way with so many children waiting in care for adoption – 100 000 children in the USA ; 30 000 in Canada and 6000 in the UK. There are plenty of opportunities for us to become an adoptive or father or at least to offer support to others who are seeking to foster or adopt vulnerable children.

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Spike was a Tornado Squadron leader now works as a Airline Pilot and Foster dad.

3. God calls us all to care for the Fatherless

Having been loved by God with unconditional adopting love. Should we not pass this grace and privilege on to others? God describes himself as “Father to the Fatherless” so those of us who claim to be his followers should be prepared to be the same for the Fatherless children in our neighbourhoods? Please help us to spread the word about this through our Father’ day church resource pack. 

Men, this Sunday as we celebrate Father’s Day, as we recognise God’s Fatherly love to us would you consider playing your part in a vulnerable child’s life?

Take a look at this little video on what it means to be a foster father.

Father’s Day 2014: You know what a foster carer looks like, don’t you? from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.

 

Labyrinth of Prayer

Love the fact that our little local church is so keen to help all ages experience God together. This morning we continued a series on spiritual growth through looking at a number of spiritual disciplines. This week we used the Labyrinth prayer experience as a church.

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All age travel guides

One of the exercises today involved everyone writing down a prayer on some special paper and then heading off into the Labyrinth. Once you got to the middle of the labyrinth there was a font with some water in that you placed your paper prayer into and it dissolved.

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Then you were encouraged to write an attribute of God that you appreciated as an act of praise in chalk on the floor.

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Then for your journey out of the labyrinth as you go on to face the world you are to take a psalm with you to meditate on.

A Psalm for your journey

A Psalm for your journey

All the ages took part today with some of us acting as guides for the travellers.

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Well done to the team that put this together!

My 7 year old daughter had a great time, though her prayer did make me laugh…

“Please God please don’t let me get lost in the maze.”

Other ideas for all age services here.