Stanwick Group of Churches

May Rectory Letter

‘O the month of May, the merry month of May, so frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!’ These are the words of a poem written by Thomas Dekker in the 16th century and set to music by various composers including Charles Villiers Stanford, John Ireland and Roger Quilter. Down through the centuries the month of May, and May Day in particular, have been associated with much fun and revelry and you likely have your own memories of Maypoles, Morris dancers, May Queens, Green men or other merry May Day traditions. I will always remember the slightly bizarre fun of the May Morning dip at St Andrew’s as my friends and I followed tradition and braved the icy North Sea at sunrise. I will also always think of one of my favourite primary school hymns: ‘Sing a Song of Maytime,’ alongside memories of playing hide and seek in the bluebell woods, Maypole dancing at the school spring fayre, and collecting pink blossoms to crush into the mush we called perfume.

When we think back to childhood I suspect that for many of us it’s the games we played and the fun times we had together that stand out the most. It was through playing together that we made our friends, and made up after we’d fallen out. It was through playing together that we learnt adventure, discovery and new possibilities, that we learnt to imagine, that we learnt how to be a team and how to take turns.

Reflecting back over the lockdowns and restrictions of this past year, one of the most potentially damaging aspects has been the limits placed on children’s play from the spaces they have been allowed to play in through to the separation from friends and playmates. Increased screen-time during home schooling may also have made it harder for parents to encourage children off devices and into more physically active and socially interactive play. After months of isolation from friends, teachers have reported more fights and fallings-out as children have struggled to share and play together, while Ofsted observed a worrying drop in physical fitness. There have been calls for a ‘summer of play’ to help children recover from the stress of lockdown.

We perhaps too easily dismiss the importance of play for adults too: play can have huge health benefits from stress relief through to increased creativity and cognitive function. Play can be anything where the aim is to have fun and enjoy yourself, from throwing a frisbee on the beach, to building a snowman on the village green through to playing fetch with a dog or acting out charades on a family zoom call. Over this last year adults too have been restricted and cut off from family, friends and social and community activities and physical distancing measures have made it more difficult to have fun, and have sometimes been a cause of extra stress and anxiety for those required to manage risk and prepare risk assessments.   

We might not immediately associate fun and playing with church, but I would say that they are an important aspect of being a thriving church together. In this benefice we have missed socialising together, including the weekly coffee after church, and I, for one, have missed more playful and interactive church services such as Teddy Church.

God is sometimes spoken of as being a God of play, and this is reflected in the words of Frederick Jackson’s children’s hymn I referred to earlier: ‘Maytime, playtime, God has given us Maytime, praise him for his gifts of love, sing a song of spring.’ The eminent theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, wrote how ‘the creation is God’s play, a play of his groundless and inscrutable wisdom.  It is the realm in which God displays his glory.’ (Theology of Play, 1972).  It follows that the human ability to play is rooted in divine play, and in a world that is marked by so much stress there is a great need for more recreation or ‘re-creation’, for more joy and playfulness. 

To be whole, to live our vocation, we cannot be serious all the time. I think we need to cultivate a spirit of playfulness, and we need times when we are engaged in creative play, times when, as with C.S.Lewis, we are ‘surprised by joy’, joy which is ’the serious business of heaven.’ (Surprised by Joy, 1955) 

And so as Covid restrictions begin to ease a little more, and hopefully the sun continues to shine, I pray that your May days may be blessed with moments of playfulness. Perhaps you might even head to the coast for your own May morning dip or ice-cream!

God bless,




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