I’ve had a few ‘Feeding the 5,000’ experiences lately. The first was a Guest Tea at our GAA club – afternoon tea and a variety of entertainment from Traditional music and recitations to the short play or ‘Leiriú’ which our club got through to the All-Ireland Scór final this year. People hosted tables, providing everything needed for the afternoon tea.
As with so many of these things there was an element of stepping into the unknown. People asked me how many we expected and all I could say was, “Somewhere between 50 and 80”. In reality we had over 100 people, but extra tables materialised, table cloths were provided, food was passed along and a motley collection of cups and saucers found. The Clubhouse had been transformed with fairy lights, vases of flowers and pretty china but it was the atmosphere that really struck me. There was such an energy, such a strong sense of ownership of who we are as a club. Not everyone would have been aware of what Scór is about but there was a real pride and a realisation that this is an important part of our identity.
Then last week I was involved in a training day on ‘Supporting parenting in situations of complex and additional need’. The speakers came from Community Psychology, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health team, the Early Intervention team and the Community Facilitator for Disability.
The participants – more than 50 of them – came from a variety of social work departments, Family Resource Centres and community-based services. Every person who attended – speakers and participants – came with knowledge and experience but also with an awareness that there was more to learn. Each person knew the challenges families face and wanted to be better able to support parents in tough situations.
So, there was a hunger for information, a readiness to listen, to explore, to share experience and learn from others. Again, that image of the feeding of the 5,000 came to mind. Each person brought their own contribution but together it created a wealth of wisdom and a powerful sense that we are all on the same page, energised by the desire to support parenting and family life.
Then yesterday I was involved in organising a family fun day to celebrate International Parents Day. It seemed like everything was going against us. Services which helped out last year were not available. Our storyteller was sick. Our face painters were not available. The weather conspired against us and we had to move out of the park and into the hall. I worried that it was all going to look a little flat, that people would not come, that we wouldn’t be able to occupy and entertain those who did.
But you know people are wonderful and they muck in and help out. The face painting may have looked a little ropey but the kids were delighted. We had invited people to follow the balloons we had put up in the park – and they did, in their droves! It was certainly a celebration of International Parents Day because we had parents and children from many different places around the world including some of our newly arrived Syrian families. People were delighted to be offered a cup of coffee, a sandwich, some games for their children while they had a chat. The atmosphere was mildly chaotic and fabulous!
And it all makes me think – people together create something wonderful. I’d say Jesus knew that when he fed the 5,000 it wasn’t just about the food. It was also the being together, sharing the experience. Surely as parishes we need to do more to bring people together, to create that sense of belonging, of caring, of knowing we are part of something that matters. Community does not happen by accident. We need to invite, to welcome, to engage. When we do, something powerful happens.