Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A Year In Words Part 1 ...

1st January 2009 at 8:30am and my Alarm Clock sounded on my mobile phone. After a quick shower and getting my uniform on I got into the car and headed to my job at Staples in Birkenhead as their newly appointed Copy & Print Centre Specialist. A menially proud moment in my life with an upgrade from "Store Associate" and a pay-rise of £2.05 an hour. I enjoyed my job at Staples - especially the people with whom I worked - but somehow I felt as though it didn't quite exercise the talents that I wanted it to. After 4 years of working for the company, at the same store, I was struggling to be enthusiastic about my job and, although my sale achievements were often applauded  I never really tried. However, outside of my job at Staples there was something that my mind was far more focussed on - my voluntary work.

On Sunday 4th January I initiated a newly formed "Youth Alpha" course at my Church for 15 members of the Youth Club that met every Monday night. Youth Alpha met on Sunday evenings and following the evening service we would enjoy a meal together and look at various different topics relating to the Christian faith. One of the first things that I mentioned to the group of young people was that, by the end of the 12 weeks course, they would become the closest group of friends imaginable.

Meanwhile the Youth Club I ran on a Monday night was attracting almost 100 youngsters and the Cub Pack was running very smoothly. I spent 3 or 4 nights a week doing voluntary work - some of closest friends and family admired what I did but continued to inform me that "Being a volunteer doesn't pay the bills". How wrong they were to soon become.

During the February half-term I took 20 youngsters away on a Canal Holiday for 8 days. Perhaps one of the most challenging but enjoyable experiences of my life. With extreme mixed emotions from the leaders and young people it became very hard to keep spirits high. Homesickness seemed to be prevailing and bringing a downer on the whole holiday. During the week I asked the youngsters to keep detail records of their feelings and experiences.  Moreover, they also kept a video diary and conducted interviews with each other. I am pleased to say that - to my relief - it appears that this was one of the best holidays they've ever had. We arrived back on a Saturday. I was back behind the Copy & Print Centre Counter at 8:00am Monday morning.

March - on reflection, was the month that would change my entire life. At the time, I was completely unaware that March would be the last month of my "normal" life routine, ever. However, it couldn't have been a better month! With the Youth Alpha course in full flow, the children being a regular presence at Church it was time for us to take them away. Firstly, for a day and then 7 days later for the full weekend! Our day out was spent at Aerial Extreme in Knowsley - suspended 60ft above the ground and required to complete a severe obstacle course we talked about how important faith was. Our weekend away was spent on the Canals where we spent the weekend discussing the Holy Spirit. We also talked about how life, and particularly, life with Christ can be very similar to a Canal Boat experience. There are ups and downs (just like in the locks) twists and turns (just like in the water) and sometimes we get off the boat and walk... but we know that we can always get back on it when we need to (forgivness). When I returned that evening and was sitting with one of the team in the Church having a coffee and de-brief I came across a copy of the Church Times and went straight to the jobs page...

On Friday, April 3rd I had an interview at Holy Trinity Church in Blackpool for the post of "Youth Worker" covering three Churches in South Shore. I arrived early at the Church and didn't want to appear too eager and so I waited in the car. When I finally started to walk across the car-park I was amazed at how calm and relaxed I felt, not a bit nervous. Despite this, when I entered the office I didn't speak a word apart from "Coffee, no sugar, please". I was then lead into the interview room where three Clergy proceeded to question me about my life, my gifts and my abilities with young people. As I drove back from Blackpool I was hoping that the phone would ring to give me a decision (however, it appears one of the applicants had been ill and I had to wait for her to be interviewed  before I could be told!). I went into Staples at 8:00am on Monday morning with my mobile phone in my pocket. At 12:03 my phone rang... I knelt down behind the counter and hid in a cupboard to answer the call. It was Rev. David O'Brien. He asked me how I was and then said "Would you like to come and work for us in Blackpool?". My answer was an immediate yes. But, for some reason, all I could  think about was leaving behind my Church in Wallasey.

That night, Monday 6th April, I had my Youth Club at Emmanuel Church. About 20 minutes into the session I pooled all the youngsters together and told them my news. I can distinctly remember looking around the room at the faces of shock and amazement. Unfortunately, by the end of the month the Youth Club had closed and I felt as though I had just left a building burning as I walked away from it. Monday 27th April 2009 was our last evening together as Cross Infusion Youth Club.

Tuesday 6th May - Day 1 of my new job...

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The True Meaning of Christmas

Year after year we hear Christians complaining and griping that 'Christmas isn't what it used to be', that it has become far too comericalised and consequently we have moved further and further away from the true meaning of Christmas. Perhaps now would be a good time to take a glance upon your fireplace or window-sill where the Christmas cards you have recieved from all your friends and relatives sit - how many of them have a 'religious' theme? I would estimate less than fifty percent. With that presumption it seems almost shameful that we are celebrating the biggest event in world history - when the Word became flesh - and yet, we have started to ignore it and create Christmas into our own humanised festival: has Christmas simply become winter? Do young boys and girls walk the streets knocking on doors to sing 'We wish you a Merry Christmas', do we decorate our Christmas trees with colourful lights and decorations and, do we buy presents for our loved ones so that we can share in their happiness just because, it's winter? Somehow, I think not.

I think that the reason people don't think about Christmas from a faith-based point of view anymore is because they don't know how to. Do people know that the tinsel we wrap around the tree is a symbol of God's love around the world? Do people know that the lights represent the Light of the World - Jesus Christ? Do people know that mince pies are a symbol of the manger that Jesus was placed into as a baby or that the gifts we exchange are a sign of what the wise men did? Perhaps they don't know.

The reason that God sent his only Son to this earth, in the form of a most vulnerable baby, was because he knew that Jesus Christ would save us from all the things that we have done wrong in the past, are doing wrong in the present and will do wrong in the future. He came, because he loved us. The true meaning of Christmas is about remembering how much God loves us - and what better way to do that than to love one another? Rather than us mourning about what Christmas 'is not' anymore - let us rejoice and celebrate in what it has become! All of the things that we do at Christmas time are done out of love for our family and our friends - and we love, because he first loved us.