Suffer the little children…

The Christmas service at our local Chapel this year threw up an unexpected lesson in an amusing way. As we head into the New Year year we need to make space for the young people in our lives.

By Tim Jarvis


As always on Christmas morning, my family and I attend the Eucharist service at our Chapel on campus. Invariably displayed is a nativity scene set up from the Crib service the night before. The nativity features the usual characters plus, as you will see, one or two others that I am fairly sure aren’t found in any of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s birth. Welcoming us all, the Chaplain reassured the parents in the congregation that they need not worry about their children. Indeed the children were free to wander around the Chapel and, as long as they weren’t actually screaming, mum and dad could just relax.

That was his first mistake.

nativity-1708

The second was that at the start of the sermon he invited all the children to sit up at the front of the Chapel in full view of the entire congregation. To be fair he does this every year, it’s just that this year the Chapel was unusually full with some 400 people crammed in. As the pews disgorged large volumes of children, hitherto hidden behind pews and parents, into the aisle and down to the altar, the Chaplain visibly blanched, his face turning the same colour as his ecclesiastical robes.

As is traditional the Chaplain then discussed the real meaning of Christmas with the young flock seated at his feet. Working with children in an interactive way in front of a large audience is never easy, but the Very Reverend has experience in this area and manfully negotiated this tricky period of the service before going on to give his sermon while the children remained seated at the altar steps.

The Very Reverend spoke for, from the perspective of a small person, a very long time. To their credit the children hung on well for the best part of the sermon but as they lost concentration they also lost that consciousness of self that comes from being under the gaze of several hundred adults, and seemed to forget where they were.  As the sermon drew to a close and moved into the Eucharist, the Chaplain made his third, and in hindsight, most critical error. He neglected to send the children back to their parents.

At around this time the children’s gaze wandered and they started to realise that they were sitting by and amongst the carefully crafted nativity scene. There is a saying that you should never work with children and animals. I not sure that includes crafted animals from a nativity scene but given what happened, it should. Small hands started gravitating towards some of the more peripheral characters that the Gospel writers somehow failed to mention (there is no record of a Bengal tiger from Matthew, Mark or Luke). It wasn’t  long before some of the more central cast were under threat and pretty soon one of the Wise Men was being savagely pecked by a penguin (don’t ask) to a mixed reaction from the now enthralled audience. I say mixed, but it was largely unbridled delight except for the horrified parents of the would be puppeteers. Puppeteers who, I might add, were now in complete control of what had very rapidly morphed from stuffed toys and alabaster models into full blown action figures.

At one point the protagonist of the Christmas story was in very real danger of being kidnapped by one of the girls (I like to think she was called Mary). As she headed down the aisle it looked like the return of Christ was very much in doubt. Due to the carnage at what now resembled a middle eastern war zone, one of the sheep got hooked onto the Lay minister’s robe and was dragged round and round the altar to the amusement of those receiving communion. It might be unedifying to say too much more, suffice to say that it is incredible how much damage a tiger (albeit a stuffed one) can do in the hands of a boy (albeit a small one). I am also not sure that one of the Shepherds will be tending his flocks anytime soon given he no longer has a head, and from now on it appears we will be having just two wise men at our nativity instead of the traditional three.

bible-text_1721
“Let the children come to me.”

The unpredictability of working with children and young people is what makes it simultaneously so demanding and so rewarding. Stuffed penguins and tigers aside, what Luke, Mark and Matthew do agree on is that Jesus had time for children. When his disciples tried to stop parents bringing their children to him, Jesus said ‘Let the little children come unto me for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ I am glad our Chaplain lets the children come to altar. If we can’t make space for them at Christmas time then we really are like the proverbial innkeeper. As we head into the New Year, if you yourself are involved with children and young people, as a parent, teacher or in any other capacity, remember that yours in a holy work.

Oh and good luck…

 

Advertisements

By the numbers

Is it fair that we distill 12 years of schooling into just 14 digits through the medium of exams?

By Tim Jarvis

img_1421

A few days ago I attended my youngest son’s ‘Prize Giving’ ceremony, or as I now call it, the ‘Watching other people’s children get prizes’ ceremony. I have learnt over the years that it helps to have low expectations going into such events but still two hours is a long time to sit waiting in vain for even a mere flicker of recognition.

When my children were much younger, parents would scour even the Headmaster’s Newsletter for a mention of their child’s name. A friend of mine complained to me that in all the years they had been associated with the school not ‘even once’ had their children received acknowledgement of any kind in this weekly publication. ‘Not a headmaster’s commendation, not a mention in the sports results, not even the litterbug award!’ they cried. “Really”, I replied, “my children are mentioned all the time”. My friend looked surprised (he knows my children). “Yes” I went on, “If you turn to the back page and look at the ‘Lost Property list’, you’ll see they’re mentioned frequently.”

Recognising children, their abilities and efforts, is a difficult task. As we sit at the end of the year parents are receiving reports of assessment results grading their children into various unvariegated categories. For matriculants around the country it is the big one, a piece of paper containing seven or so numbers upon which their fate seemingly rests. 12 years of schooling reduced and distilled into just 14 digits.

We live in age where we can measure almost everything. My son has a Fitbit which can track, his steps, heart rate, calorie consumption and sleep patterns continuously. What can the numbers tell you about a person? In our end of term staff Chapel service one of the seamstresses who works in the Laundry Department was honoured for her time in the school. It was estimated that she has sewn some 130,000 labels onto clothes. That tells a story. It got me thinking, what my life would look like by the numbers. Most of this is ‘since records began’ so does not capture everything. Here goes:

tape-21695
The tale of the tape: Not the whole story

66, 645       steps I walked (49.8 km) in the second week of August this year.

44,031         the number of sent e-mails since 2006

16,402         steps walked (12.4 km) in one day in May when I had evening duty.

8,320           estimated counselling appointments with students

3900            (at least) reports signed for university applications

1641             tweets on Twitter @timothyjejarvis

264              goals I have had the pleasure of witnessing my soccer team score

109              heart sinking moments experiencing my team conceed a goal

52                 sermons I have delievered in the school Chapel

51                 my Discovery Vitality age (measure of your health relative to your actual age, based on blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index e.t.c)

45                my actual age

13                 end of year staff parties attended

The numbers tell you something, but not everything. They don’t tell you about the steps that took you down to school in the evening to be with a student battling with anxiety. Nor do they capture the laboured, torturous steps up the side of a mountain with a group of boys graciously (most of them) waiting for you to catch up. It doesn’t measure the steps taken with a beating heart down the aisle to preach for the first time in the school Chapel, nor the time  dressing up the senior (elderly) housemaster ‘Yeezy style’ as part of a sermon. (The numbers also tell you nothing about the staff parties, but that’s a good thing.)

The e-mails don’t tell of the hours of communication with the parent whose child is in serious trouble, nor the plethora of phone calls, SMS’s and WhatsApp’s that accompany a student who is struggling. Statistics about goals, or other measures of sports success, can’t tell you of a young man’s tears when he is told he is being dropped, nor the boy on the bus home who rested his head on his friends shoulder after an injury ruled him out for the rest of the season. Sheer numbers of applications processed alone don’t describe one student’s despair when he fails to make the university of his choice (or even university at all), nor the delight and satisfaction when a pupil receives an Oxbridge or Ivy League offer.

And so it is with those numbers on your school leaving certificate. They can only tell a part of your story, and a small part at that. School covers only a limited sphere of life, and exams in turn measure only a fraction of that. No matter your results, good, bad or expected, just remember you are so much more than what the numbers say.