God has opened my eyes wider this week to something really precious to me: the gift of belonging to a community and all the benefits that brings in the form of friendships, accountability, love and support.
Many of us these days live far away from our families, those who would naturally provide our community and support system. London is a place where, unless you are born there, is generally where people come to live specifically for work. At Barney’s of the 150 members we have people from all over the world as well as all over Great Britain.
I think I am possibly one of the few born and bred Londoners at Barney’s; I was born in Hackney, East London and spend my childhood in Enfield. But I am the last of my family to remain in London, they have all moved away, mainly to Hertfordshire, which isn’t far, but far enough. I am married to Steve who is from Dundee in Scotland, where his family remains. So even for me, a Londoner, my natural support system is distant.
Some of you may not know the background to my leading Barney’s. 10 years ago I joined Barney’s, I too was a victim of the dreaded waiting list, but it was so worth it when I finally got a place and became a member. My own children were at school by this point and I was a childminder. I had tried toddler groups with my girls, but found all the ones I visited just never fitted me, some were unwelcoming, others cliquey and some were in grotty church halls and lacked life. They didn’t bless or enhance my life in any way.
The first child I minded was Sara’s eldest child, Mike. She recommended Barney’s to me as she knew about it because she was a member of St Bs. So I went along to Barney’s expecting to find the same as I had found everywhere else, but was pleasantly surprised, mainly by the coffee but there was something there that I couldn’t put into words. From the moment I walked in I felt welcome, comfortable, relaxed and at home. So to hear I had to go on a waiting list was a bit sad and eventually when I got a place it was to bring Sara’s second son, Tom (who is now 11).
Being a member of Barney’s saved my life, as a parent of young children there are days when you feel you are just stumbling from one disaster to another, it is confusing and joyful at the same time, the pressure you feel under to be a good parent and do the right thing for your child is intense and as the milestones pass by you wonder if what you have done is good enough. This is when you need your support system, someone to affirm you in your parenting, someone to hug you when you are having a bad day, someone to listen when you want to let off steam, someone to tell you they love you, someone to offer to babysit, someone to help you look for a nursery or school place – someone to share the ups and downs of parenting a small person. And that is what I found at Barney’s, I made some amazing friends, met some wonderful women and men, all of us in the same boat, all of us needing each other and everyone willing to give their time to each other to help and support each other. I think you call it a family!
I immediately gained grandparents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers and was accepted and loved into the Barney’s family. A year after joining Barney’s I became a Christian, and joined St Barnabas Church as a member, a year after that was asked if I would like the privilege of taking on the leadership of Barney’s. I couldn’t refuse, I loved Barney’s and so wanted for it to be able to give to others what I had received when I had become a member. My saying of 'once a Barney’s member always a Barney’s member’ is kind of a selfish one in a way, because I have an incredible fondness for all the families I have met through Barney’s and have spent many a wonderful time chatting with them and having the privilege to share in their lives that I want to maintain that relationship. So when I say, drop in for a cup of coffee any time – I really mean it, I find it really sad when people leave and I have to say goodbye to a friend.
When I took on the leadership of Barney’s I prayed “Lord help me to maintain what you have built here through the previous leaders, what I have benefitted from so greatly and what long to pass on to others” and that is my prayer still. Being a member of the Barney’s family and gaining the gift of belonging to a community and all the benefits that brings in the form of friendships, accountability, love and support is so precious. I love meeting you all, I love hanging out with you all, I love being able to share my ups and downs with you and to do the same with you. To me Barney’s is so much more than a toddler group, you are my family, my friends and I want to thank you all so much for being there for me and as St Paul says in the book of Philippians
“Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart.” Philippians 1:3-4
I love you all x x x x x x x