SOS - Sharing Our Stories

At St. Paul’s we seek to offer hope in all situations and life stages. We know that busy families need hope and less stress. So, once a month we offer a program for families through SOS – Sharing Our Stories. It is a time to feed mind, body and spirit. To make connections with others in a similar life stage and with a God who wants to make connections.

Why SOS (Sharing Our Stories)?
Do you have trouble getting to church on a Sunday morning? Hm! We may know something of what your week might be like. During the week the morning is filled with getting ready for the day, having breakfast, packing lunch/es, and getting your child/ren to daycare or school. If you work inside the home or outside, multi-tasking is the order of the week…homework done? Laundry? Nutritious meals to provide in 5 minutes and where was that work report that needed to be submitted yesterday? And then there is trying to squeeze in actual quality time with child/ren and with your partner. Does conversation while driving to and from something count? Finally the weekend rolls around and you are fitting in all of the wonderful programming activities that your child/ren do/es.

So we kinda understand why on Sunday the s-word, “sleep”, sounds like a much better choice that the s-words “Sunday service”, or maybe on Sundays you are still engaged in activity whether it be more programming, errands, housework or some badly needed downtime. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a stress-free worship option for families? One that offered a break from the busyness of life. A time to feed mind, body and spirit. To make connections with others of like life-stage and with a God who wants to make connections.

At St. Paul’s we seek to offer hope in all situations. And we know busy families need hope. So, once a month, we offer a lifeline to families through SOS – Sharing Our Stories. Come on out and share or if you prefer just sit back and listen.

Our first SOS took place on the evening of Friday, January 23rd from 6-7:45. Why call the gathering of families SOS?

SOS was adopted in 1906 as the distress signal. It was used because, in Morse code, SOS is easy to transmit; it has three dots, three dashes and three dots. St. Paul’s is utilizing the idea of SOS because there are many ways that we think families are being challenged and are in distress. Challenges include time pressure and expectations. There is over-programming, uber-multi-tasking, an emphasis on super-achieving and responsibility, all with a sense of guilt or lethargy when we are not able to meet the expectations upheld by our modern culture. Sure, we have social media, but we can still feel isolated. All our gadgets do not squelch the need for face-to-face connection and support.

So, our SOS is about Sharing Our Story. First it is the story of a God who created us and shares His-story of love with us. Who wants to connect with us. Our story is also our need for God. But, we also need each other. SOS is also sharing our stories. It’s about having fun creative connections with each other. Over food, discussion, pondering and play. We want to celebrate! To stop and breathe, embrace gratitude, be spontaneous, sing, dance, relate. We start with a gathering song or prayer, we feast on a supper meal, then we connect as a big group, babes and big-adults together. With drama or song or movement or play. Then comes the time the children go and have their own play-time, story or craft. While adults look at a video clip, piece of music, news topic, or a Bible story/character – where we look at relevance- where we will try, together, to figure out how to stay centred-in-celebration and not get drowned in the very pressures of life. Because we are all in this together and we will not sink! Because SOS was also thought of, colloquially as “save our ship” or “save our souls”. As we build our Friday night community we hope to be life-lines for each other, conduits of celebration.

 

Reasons to celebrate

Our first SOS discussion focused on the power, and indeed the necessity, of celebration. We began by watching a short video on the theme and then joined together in reflecting not only on what we had seen in the video, but in the ways that we experience celebration in our own lives. We each shared with one another the various ways that we celebrate, both the major or “special” celebrations (such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays) and minor or “ordinary” ways (such as enjoying the company of family or friends, getting lost in a beautiful piece music, or taking a moment to admire the wonders of the natural world).

With this framework for the idea of celebration in mind, we then discussed some of the issues and/or obstacles which we face, that serve to prevent us from engaging fully in celebration. Many of the issues discussed would no doubt be familiar to anyone having to maintain balance in this modern world of ours; issues such as mounting bills, hectic schedules, multiple responsibilities, an abundance of worries, the enslavement of routine, and even good ol’ fashioned procrastination. Finally we turned our attention to determining for ourselves (and each other) different methods or means by which we can address and overcome the obstacles obstructing our inclinations to live celebratory lives. These included developing the commitment to prioritize one’s time to stop and smell the roses as it were. To embrace opportunities to experience the outdoors. To make attempts at spontaneity. To recognize that any time spent with our kids is quality time. To engage as actively in friendships and relationships as we do in following our favorite teams or binging on our favorite shows. To every so often sever the technological umbilical cord that tethers us perpetually to our smart phones and devices, and use the off button each of these devices have been created with.

Ultimately our discussion served as a welcome reminder that:
a) Celebration is not merely IN life; celebration IS life.

b) The barriers to engaging in a celebratory life are only as great or small as we choose to make them.

c) In relationship with one another no barrier to celebration is too great, and no cause for celebrate too small

The following are the flip chart notes the above blurb has been based on

  • What instances and/or images of Celebration jumped out at you as you watched the video?
  • What are the major and minor ways that we celebrate in our lives?
  • What obstacles do people face in celebrating?
  • How can we continue to celebrate in the face of these obstacles?

 

Things that are obstacles to celebration:
Schedules
bills
Remembering to celebrate
Lack of spontaneity
Responsibilities
Mental barriers
Worried
Routine
Procrastination

Ways to overcome the obstacles:
Turn off phones and devices
Stop and breathe
Take time to smell the roses
Go into nature
Embrace gratitude
Spend time with your children
Avoid over scheduling
Be spontaneous
Prioritize
Engage actively in relationships

Our evening together began with a game of SOS (what else) to help us re-acquaint ourselves with the people in the group and to offer newcomers (2 new families) the opportunity to introduce themselves and get to know the others better. The idea was to find people in the group who fit specific profile statements such as ‘I go to school’, ‘I play hockey’, ‘I have seen Frozen’ (but then who hasn’t seen Frozen?).

We then learned the Blessing song/grace, ‘Johnny Apple seed’ and sang it through a couple of times, banging on the tables before shouting out the final AMEN!. Then we tucked into our sumptuous chili (both meat and veggie varieties) feast. After dinner we moved into the Sanctuary and the children began their play and activity time together in the soft space, while the adults moved to the front for some conversation.

The discussion began with images taken from the news, and other sources, associated with fear. They included photos of ISIS holding people captive, a North Korean missile parade, and the ongoing violence in the Ukraine. The pictures touched on themes of economic uncertainty, the wealth gap, child poverty, homelessness, changing environmental patterns, disease, and (most heart-wrenching of all) the death of a child. The group was then asked what they saw and to share any additional fears that each person may have. While there was general recognition that the images were part of a culture of fear that is developing around us (one especially driven by media and the way our leaders use the media) there was a consensus that each person didn’t feel particularly afraid of any of these issues, other than the issue invoked by the final image: the potential for the harm or death of our children.

The universality of this particular fear led to a discussion about the degree to which parenthood changes the way one relates to the world, and can have the effect of either quelling the anxieties we face by placing them into a larger perspective, or increasing the urgency of those anxieties (and even introducing new ones) as our lives become centered around the care and protection of our children. From here we turned to the connection these fears (and the fears we are told to feel) have to the human condition, and the continuity they have in human history, particularly to the time when Jesus walked the earth. As the fears of our time have parallels to the fears felt then, we examined Jesus’ comforting command that we “be not afraid”, and the words of his beloved disciple St. John that “perfect love casts out fear”.

With the consolations of the scripture in our minds, we concluded our discussion by asking ourselves how we view/understand God as an abator of fear, what it is that we turn to in our lives to keep fear at bay, and what would help us to overcome or address the fears we face. With our shared responses we together formed a prayer to quell fear:

Vast Presence, we surrender to you.
We thank You for the things we have; family friends, and love in our lives
We ask You for courage, mercy, forgiveness and peace.
Care for us and our children,
O Protector, Friend, Confident, Creator, and Release.
Amen

We then regathered with the children, and together we all sang (and played on percussion instruments) “We Are Marching in the Light of God”, parading joyfully around the Church and basking in the light being invoked in our song.

With us drawing close to Holy Week, our March 27th SOS became like no other. We started with a word puzzle which we had the children place on the wall. It took a few minutes to puzzle together and post our passage for the evening: “Where two or three are gathered in my name I am with them.” We discovered a few of the toddlers were quite good with recognizing words.

Then we began our potluck, with our Johnny Appleseed grace, which included a collective slam of our hands on the table to close the prayer. What a bang…followed by a big giggle. There was a great mix of food, peppered with conversation to flavour. Our table time then included a retelling of the Lord’s supper and the remembering and mystery that is the eucharist. Homemade unleavened bread and a common ceramic cup was passed, and the Lord was present to us, His family.

The little children then went to play with the older teens time, while the adults gathered. Given that we were going to enter Passion Week, the discussion for the grown-ups centered around this. We considered what it was like for the disciples when their Lord was taken away and crucified. We shared about the things that we value and pondered what it would be like if, all of a sudden, they were gone. Some difficult times were remembered and shared and we came to realize that one common denominator that we noted was the need for support during times of loss. Support in the form of community, and holding onto faith, were crucial factors at those times. We closed our night with our created prayer and a merry, cacophany of musical instruments and movement…tambourines and shakers and our voices joined in singing “Marching in the Light of God”.

We are looking forward to our next SOS. Check our calendar for the date.

At our April 24th family gathering our focus was on a relevant topic..hm.. “family”. Our icebreaker involved an invitation to trace a big picture of ourselves and then the paper figures were scattered around the walls – to depict the variety in the family of God. We had a yummy pasta meal and then separated into youth-caring-for-children (fun with balloons) and adults in a discussion. We pondered the question: Is there a requirement of being in God’s family? The invitation to be part of God’s family is for everyone, but there is one condition: faith in Jesus. “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26).

We wanted to get a broader definition of family. What is family? This is what we came up with. It is not necessarily a blood relative. It can be anyone who we communicate with on a frequent basis, anyone we care about. It is the ones that are there for us and we are there for them. There is a loyalty and trust in family. People are non-judgmental, accepting, and there is unconditional love. In family, forgiveness is offered.
How can we have healthy families? Creating a healthy family is intentional. It is important to be involved; to be present. Communication needs to take place…listening and talking, talking and listening. Healthy families have trust, understanding and support that is practical.

Our created prayer:
Dear Lord, thank you for giving me to my family both related and not. Help us not to be judgmental when they do things that we don’t agree with. Help us to accept them as they are and to love them unconditionally. Remind us not to take for granted the gift of family. Amen.

Your family is invited. And do please let us know if you can make it so that we can have the right amount of supplies. Check the Calendar for upcoming dates, usually one of the two last Fridays of each month.