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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Playground Ambassador: Grace at the School Gate

When Kirsten is waiting for her three kids to burst out of the primary school building, the dynamic between parents in the playground sounds almost geopolitical.

Since Jules declared her aspirations for her little Ginny to attend a private secondary school, Ellen has placed sanctions on her, meaning Aisha and Marie no longer trade chit-chat with her. Sarah and Priss have a bilateral agreement to never say more than three words to anyone except for each other. Then there’s Gabora, the au pair, who feels like an obscure island nobody has even heard of, let alone plans to visit. Anni used to have this problem, but that all changed the day the family she works for got a super-cute Bichon Frise.

This community school playground isn’t actually where Kirsten had applied to lurk for 190 afternoons each year. She wanted her kids to go to their local church school, but it was oversubscribed due to a bumper crop of siblings. 190 afternoons a year, for ten years; you do the maths. What does it mean for an ambassador of Christ to represent the Kingdom of God in this strange territory over such a long period of time?

The first thing to note is that Kirsten is not ministering here from a position of power. The vast majority of parents there would consider themselves secular, and the most vocalised belief system is atheism. ‘People are aware of my beliefs and it challenges them – so I am never part of the “in” crowd, especially as I don’t do the playground gossip.’

Demonstrating grace and love to other parents and caregivers is a huge part of what God has led her to do there. Those who are not the schoolkids’ parents, such as grandparents and nannies, often find themselves on the fringe, friendless. I’m sure we’ve all experienced it; the pain of being on your own in a crowd can be far more biting than that of being alone on your own. And so, Kirsten makes a deliberate effort to frequent these forgotten islets.

One such nanny is from a non-practising Hindu background. As she and Kirsten chatted, it transpired that this nanny’s daughter was desperate to have a baby, but had endured the heartache of multiple miscarriages. Kirsten was privileged to be invited into this sad and sacred space, and was able to walk alongside this heart-broken lady. Knowing that Kirsten was a Christian, the nanny invited Kirsten to pray for her daughter. Kirsten did. Amazingly, with thanks to God, this nanny is now a very happy grandmother.

And now that Kirsten’s youngest is about to head off to secondary school, she looks back on the 1,865 days she has spent in this territory to date. As well as the many conversations had, prayers prayed, birthday parties attended and so forth, she’s also been able to build a bridge between this school community and her church community. Along with others, she has delivered RE lessons to every year group in the school, has seen 25 children attend the church’s holiday club, and eight families have been along to Messy Church. While it’s true she did not choose this assignment, it’s where her heavenly sovereign sent her, and his plans are always good.

Joe Warton