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Friday.

The afternoon sees a buzz of activity as calls are made and arrangements are made for the two-hour journey to the north coast of Cornwall. One of our oldest parishioners teams up with a lady new to the parish; space is made in the boot for walking frames and wellies and thus begins two hours of “hello!

In another car a lady discerning her calling to the Catholic faith drops her two disabled children to respite care and finds some precious head space walking the cliffs; this time is a rare glimpse of fleeting peace.

3.15pm sees children exiting school with waves of “see you later” and “are we sharing the same dorm?” and “have you got your piece ready for the show? What shall we do?” Plans are hatched and the decision to sing ‘something they’ve made up’ alongside the Ave Maria is made.

3.45pm at another school gate journeying home on the train, and the question is asked, “see you at rugby?” A negative response is given as “I’m off to Cornwall with Church… you should come next year, it’s really cool!

Someone is unwell…prayers are raised and lifts need rearranging and some kind chap decides to relieve the need – they’ll bring their car too. Hymn books are collected, the key board and guitars are packed, flowers are bought for our temporary domestic altar, early arrivers make beds and prepare tea for those arriving after them; the scene is set for this cast of 59.

People arrive in dribs and drabs battling traffic and weather, narrow lanes and incomplete maps and yet they arrive with joy, relief and a sense of homecoming. Dinner is served, and drink is poured and stories spill into the gathered community. Laughter erupts, friendships flourish, spirits are high and then… we gather, quietly and prayerfully, lights dimmed, voices softly singing and prayer offered for our creation, our world, our people, our hosts and ourselves. We remember absent friends, those we have left behind, those who have made it a possibility for us to come, those we have loved and lost…and we remember we are family and pray to our Father.

Night is now well set upon us, but an adventurous party want to see the sea in the moonlight. Torches in hand, well suited and booted, we make our way to the beach, new friendships growing as we hold hands and sing to the wind, ‘I the Lord of sea and sky…’ counting the stars and catching the beams of the light house. Home for hot chocolate and small cold hands offer warm soothing drinks to the more wrinkled hands with an abundance of marshmallows only a 10 year old thinks is just enough!

The hostel quietens, but some remain to talk; talk through difficult times, struggles, times to rejoice and times to weep.

Saturday

Toast, bacon, tea, coffee, pyjamas, dressing gowns and some already surfing!

The mood is bright and the weather’s not bad too. We gather for joyous noisy prayer, rousing hymns and reflective readings; Christ is our King and we reflect on what we would do if we were king for a day. How would we realise the Kingdom? Small deeds of great kindness are mused alongside more extravagant aspirations and we adorn our King’s crown with our ideas.

The day is upon us and plans are hatched to skate and swim and dig and walk and explore. Lifts are shared, wellies are lent, car keys are borrowed. A large contingent goes off to Eden; small family from Bangladesh, new to our country and parish, experiences something completely beyond their previous world. Two recently ‘widowed-young’ ladies, not previously known to each other, decide to share a walk into Padstow and hope for a lift home – yes we can do that. They have much to share of their shared path.

A rendezvous is made of 5.30pm at the church in Padstow. We will gather for Mass bringing our day’s story to this expression of our lived experience. We listen, we sing, we celebrate, we connect.

Home to have dinner served to us; the hostel staff have made us so welcome. We pray our grace as they look on bemused, enjoying this “traditional sense of family“, as they said. They have noticed something different about us to the other groups they have and like what they see, feel drawn to it.

Dinner is over and the entertainment begins; quiz…name that paint, name that saint! Name that beer, name that ear! (everyone spotted Fr. Mark’s!) Name that song, name that pong! Name that flavour, name that saviour…Jesus is always the answer! Funny sketches and that beautiful rendition of Ave Maria by 2 year 6 boys. Our chef judges the biscuit competition, facilitated by Carole’s cupcakes and the parish aunties who have sat side by side all the children at some point in the weekend to help them build and decorate their biscuit trees. More sketches and songs, then fireworks! All gathered huddled in the cold ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ sharing a blessing of foreheads with glow in the dark paint. Children disappearing off to bed in the dark with a cross glowing on their foreheads overnight.

More chat and sharing and debate at times over how our parish family functions, what are our aspirations for our children? How do we best support those in need? Informal sharing of hopes and desires, some frustrations, but all in a spirit of generosity. There is no bad feeling here.

Sunday

More toast, tea, coffee and eggs, but alas no bacon! The shared larder has run out, but hey, toast will do!

Stripping of beds, collecting of rubbish, recycling and packing; a frenzy of activity until we gather for our final prayers. We reflect on who we are, yesterday, today and tomorrow and what we might do as part of the great commissioning. Prayer tokens are shared and peace is offered; we acknowledge once again we are one family with our Father.

Group photo! A passer by helps us out and wonders about our gathered community; “we are parish family” we say, “do you want a cup of tea?” They join us in our chaos.

Farewells begin with comments as to “why did I not come before?” from one family new to this gathering and “do we have to go now?” from the children. It is decided that actually there is no need to go just yet and a kick-about on the field can be had, and no we don’t need to leave just yet; let’s linger a while. More walks for some savouring the atmosphere of out time, others pack cars with surfboards and wheel chairs and journey reflecting upon the richness of our parish family.

The benefits that arise from this weekend

The generosity of spirit of this gathered community is infectious; there is a sense of the Kingdom about them where each would do all that was needed for the other and more besides:

The generosity of spirit of this gathered community is infectious; there is a sense of the Kingdom about them where each would do all that was needed for the other and more besides:

Our young people experienced a deep sense of what it means to function as a wider community, witnessing selfless acts of service and sacrifice both big and small, as well as having fabulous fun.

One boy, new to the country, let alone parish and school, shaking at the shoulders from laughing so much alongside other boys in his year, building his English skills whilst his mum learns why the English don’t lock up their sheep…

Ladies with a common family experience, previously unknown to each other, sense some solidarity and empathy.

A gentleman new to the parish and wanting to make friends, has come for the first time-the experience has given his sense of belonging a boost.

Older members with little immediate family sense their parish family deeply, watching over the “little ones” whilst the parents of said little ones get 5 minutes peace, or 20 minutes surf time as it turned out for one single parent dad.

Teenagers share a sense of common identity and realise they are not alone in their aspirations to know God.

Parents share their struggles and joys and no one has had to pay a baby sitter.

We have laughed and cried together, eaten and prayed, we have connected.

Coming home knowing that something has changed for the better… it may not be long lasting, but for a while that striving for the Kingdom remains.