“If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise” declares the 1932 song. And so we are drawn along with “every bear that ever there was” to a forest clearing for a glimpse of the teddy bears having their picnic. Most of us had teddy bears. Some had obvious names – mine included Little Ted, Middle-sized Ted, Big Ted. Others have more esoteric names – Bungle, Fozzie, Sooty, Pooh, Paddington, Rupert, Aloysius. For many, teddies are a childhood comfort and companion, and become treasured keepsakes of infancy once we are grown up. Although as these keepsakes are not all necessarily bears, I suspect that if all readers of this magazine listed their furry friends together, we would have enough variety for a second Noah’s ark!
During the summer, on the third Thursdays of May, June and July, St Mary’s Iffley may well look like the song about the teddy bears’ picnic has come to life. We are running a new project, called BEARS AND PRAYERS. Once a month, at 10am, we will open up the church and vestry for preschool children. There will be bible stories, songs and crafts. Any preschool children are welcome – but there is one rule. You can only come if you bring a bear and a carer with you too. Actually, other animals will be welcome. It won’t be an exclusively teddy bear event!
Just as we have fond memories of our childhood stuffed animals, many of us have fond memories of our earliest experiences of church. The songs stay with us a life time. Maybe you remember “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”, “Love is the flag flown high from the castle of my heart” and “Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heavens above”? Some of my generation will also remember “Don’t build your house on the sandy-land, don’t build it too near the shore”, “If I were a butterfly, I’d thank you Lord for giving me wings” (which even has a fuzzy-wuzzy bear in the song) and the glorious actions that accompanied “Who’s the king of the jungle? Oo oo!” The stories stay with us too – stories from the life of Jesus, and the adventure stories of the Old Testament where we encounter David’s heroics against Goliath or Moses hidden in the bulrushes.
Children are spiritual beings. We do not acquire a spirit as we grow, in the way that we acquire a language or the motor-skills necessary for walking. Indeed, the only spirit we can call our own is the one we were born with. It was little children that were brought to Jesus that famous occasion, as told in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18. It seems to me that the mixture of children that day included the very young and even babies in arms, held by Jesus himself, and as Michael Green comments “who can doubt that when he blessed them they were blessed indeed.” Jesus called all these children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:16-17).
No wonder American novelist Lisa Wingate advises, “Your children are the greatest gift God will give to you and their souls the heaviest responsibility He will place in your hands. Take time with them, teach them to have faith in God. Be a person in whom they can have faith. When you are old, nothing else you’ve done will have mattered as much.”