The owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
Frances and her baby brother are the only children at our under 5s service this morning; effectively I’m telling this story just for her and her mum. (Her baby brother sleeps through it).
Or rather I start telling the story; there comes a point when Frances takes over…
I tell her about the king inviting his friends to the feast. Using our knitted figures to represent the characters, the servant visits each friend in turn in different parts of the church and they all accept happily. We come back and I point out the rich tapestry (in reality the embroidered altar cloth!) that the king has put up to decorate his palace. We prepare the table, Frances insisting on including every piece of fruit and all the vegetables. Then joyfully she leaps to her feet to collect the friends for the party…
But of course they cannot come; they have cows, fields and new brides. We go back to the king. “The king is sad and angry,” I say.
We go out to the churchyard and Frances searches for the people: the poor, the outcasts, those on the fringes: “Can you come?” she asks excitedly before gathering them up. We come in and she props them around the table for the feast.
“The king is happy again,” she says.
We worry endlessly about numbers in our churches. As attendance declines we wonder if it is our fault; that perhaps there is a magic answer to this problem. If we put in more effort, publicise our events more widely and make sure that what we are offering is as good as we can make it, surely we will be rewarded with a greater number of people turning up?
When I have spent time preparing for an event and very few people turn up, I often feel disappointed. But since that morning with Frances, I am learning to let go.
For it did not matter to Frances, her mum or me, that she and her baby brother were the only children there that morning. I was left feeling amazed that a three year old could enter so deeply into a story, able to see the pattern of the narrative as a whole and offer her insights into the feelings of those involved. With more children, and a different dynamic, I would probably have missed this.
If everyone matters, all the time, then numbers are irrelevant. They are not my problem; they are something I need to leave to God. My job is to offer what I can to whoever comes, and leave the rest to him. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know (and never will) what difference her involvement in the story made to Frances. It is enough to know that it mattered at the time…