“Going on a walk tomorrow. Meeting at ten thirty at Heritage Centre and tacking picnic walk to Water Meetings and maybe to Noggarth if you fancy it. X”
I got that txt the Sunday evening before the Bank Holiday Monday. A quick conflab with Rob confirmed that we did indeed fancy it. So on Monday morning we packed up the backpack with suncream, a picnic and spare clothes for Orla and set off to meet our friends at Pendle Heritage Centre in Barrowford. Our friends were there before us with their three children. We got out of the car, said hello and began applying sun cream on to Orla as we waited for a few others to join us.
More cars began pulling into the car park, and more and more of our friends piled out of them. The plan to go out for a walk had spread out quite far through our church network. Soon the small car park was busy with children and dogs straining to run off as bags were hoisted on to shoulders, babies were secured into slings and shoelaces were tightened.
Soon, twenty adults, ten children and four dogs set off on our walk. Ages ranged from 60+ to under six months old. We walked in a long train of chatter and laughter, following the river. We passed a couple of fields with some cows, “their enormous!” said Orla, then into a small woodland where the summer branches formed a green arched ceiling above our heads. Then over a broad wooden bridge till we came to the perfect picnic spot by the river bank.
We settled in, avoiding the sheep poop that was the only mar on such a beautiful location but that really is hard to avoid in the countryside round here. The picnics were eaten quickly before the children waded into the water. Orla loved throwing stones into the water making splashes and holding the bigger girls’ hands as she paddled.
The children began making a dam, and the adults were still building it long after the children lost interest. Rachel fell into the water to great hilarity. An informal game of rounders was played, rather hampered by the dogs who made excellent fielders, apart from the habit they had of catching the ball before the batter had chance to hit it.
At one point a farmer moved his sheep from one field to another and the whole herd skipped passed our picnic site (the dogs were kept on leads when this happened). Orla could not stop laughing with delight as the sheep and lambs trotted by so close to where we were standing.
When the sun got hotter we headed back to the Heritage Centre where every single person had an ice cream before we moved the party into Barrowford Park. More playing, more laughter, more chatting. Rolling down grass slopes, getting dizzy on the roundabout, kicking footballs.
About half two Rob, Orla and I said our goodbyes and headed home. We were later told the majority of the group later freshened up with a drink at the White Bear before heading to one of the houses for an impromptu barbeque. That sounded lush, but for us we knew our little girl was tired and ready for some down time. Not to mention a bath!
We were happy to come home, cool down, have a relaxed tea together and a chilled out evening. It’s all good! And that evening I thought, “this is what having a church family is all about.”
I was born in to the church that I now help to lead, and whilst we have our issues, I am proud that we truly are a family church. But it’s not just about having services were everyone is welcomed, it’s about belonging together. It’s about having a community of people who help one another out. People who will answer your call at 3am and people who pop round with food when you feel the world is falling down. It’s about the older girl who is shy in a group but takes your daughter by the hand and invites her into the game. And it’s about taking a day and making it really good, just by sharing it together, and being grateful together for the God who made it all possible.
And it’s not that the whole church does everything together, they were plenty of our church not there on that Bank Holiday Morning, and even Rob and I didn’t last the whole of that day’s frolics. But in general, I think I belong to a church that genuinely enjoys spending time together. The religious word for that is fellowship and whilst it sounds a bit twee in 2018, to me fellowship is a treasure that makes our good days richer and tough days easier.
Fellowship doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by generations of believers committing themselves to love the real people in front of them, rather than the perfect people you imagine the church should be. Fellowship happens when we issue open invitations over our plans for more people to join in, and fellowship happens where there is forgiveness and grace, and fun. Lots and lots of fun!