REV JENNY GAFFIN: Symbols are everywhere

The vicar of Hayling Island on learning the sign language Makaton

Thursday, 17th May 2018, 11:21 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:29 am
CBBC's Mr Tumble communicates with children in sign language

Over the past few weeks, I have been watching episodes of Something Special, featuring Mr Tumble, on the CBBC website.

That might sound like a strange thing for a woman with no children to do, but actually I have a reason.

One of the children who comes to our church came to say ‘thank-you’ to me after some activities we’d been doing.

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She thanked me using Makaton, in which signs and symbols are used to support spoken language.

But I didn’t fully understand because I’d never encountered Makaton before.

I suddenly realised that there was a whole way of communicating out there, and a whole load of people I could potentially communicate with and be enriched by.

Mr Tumble – the creation of children’s presenter Justin Fletcher – uses Makaton, and watching him is a very quick and easy way to learn some basic vocabulary. He manages to sing and dance and sign all at once.

I’m doing my best to follow, although I’m more than a bit clumsy. I’m far too reliant on the spoken word.

That’s a strange thing to admit to because, of course, the church is full of signs and symbols – the cross is a shorthand for belief in new life emerging from suffering and death; the colours we wear in church each have a different meaning according to the changing seasons; and the bread and wine of Communion is a powerful symbol of our unity amidst the brokenness of life.

Symbols are everywhere, enabling us to communicate deeply with one another and with God.

This week the church celebrates Pentecost – we remember how the Church originally began with Jesus’s disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit.

As I watch Mr Tumble saying and signing ‘Hello, it’s time to sign!’ with a big grin on his face, I’m smiling with him.

I’m still falling over the actions and confusing myself by trying to speak and sign at once, but I don’t mind making a bit of a fool of myself if it means learning more about people and communicating with them.

It’s so good to build connection and understand one another more fully. I wonder how you will be challenged by the Pentecost Spirit – what new gifts await you and what new insights might transform your life?

To contact St Mary’s, st Peter’s or St Andrew’s Church, call (023) 9307 0178 or go to