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Church leads regular worship group in school
THE children enthusiastically take off shoes and socks and plunge their feet into bowls of water. These pupils from Swanmore C of E Primary School are learning how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, as they learn how to be disciples too.
As they carefully clean and dry each other’s feet, they’re learning an important lesson about serving others. They are part of Worship Wonders, a church-led lunchtime club running at the school which brings together 30 or more pupils to pray, worship and discover more about faith.
A team from St Barnabas Church, Swanmore lead Worship Wonders every Thursday. It was set up in partnership with Ellie Cousins, the schools worker from Southampton City Mission, and has met in the classroom of Tricia Clark, the school’s RE lead, every Thursday since May 2021.
It’s just one example of the kind of initiative we’d love to see as part of ‘Growing Faith’ – the national Church of England movement that aims for churches, schools and families to work together to help to create young disciples.
Jill Phipps, who is the lay minister at St Barnabas, said: “We’ve always had a good relationship with the school, which is only across the road from the church. Ellie used to be the RE lead at the school herself, and she asked if we’d be interested in getting involved in starting a ‘Grow Community’ to walk alongside the children as they grow in faith.
“The school have 12 children involved in their Worship Council, and they initially helped to lead and plan the half-hour sessions. It’s designed not to be like school or Sunday School and the children give us suggestions about what they’d like to learn about and do.
“We start by lighting a candle and saying an action prayer. We might tell a story from the Bible in an interactive way, and have some craft or other activity to confirm what they are learning. It is a happy and busy time but there are also moments of stillness, awe and wonder when the presence of the Holy Spirit is palpable, and some thoughtful and insightful reflections and prayers from the children.
“The children who come are from year R to year 4, and we have had more than 40 attending. We link it to our monthly Cafe Church at St Barnabas, which two or three of the families involved do attend.”
The church also launched the Cygnets baby and toddler group last year, which allows young families to meet every Monday morning. There was little else happening in the village for this age group before, and it’s also proved popular. Toys, games, books and craft activities are available, plus coffee and cake for parents and snacks for the children. The sessions end with songs in a circle.
Vicky Goldsmith, who brings along Millie, aged 2, and Benji, 1, said: “We moved into Swanmore at the beginning of the pandemic. It’s been fantastic to get to know other local families and to make friends with parents and children. My husband’s in the army, so it’s good to have support while he’s away. And we were able to get them both baptised here last September.”
Al Stuart, who brings Rory, aged 1, along, said: “We moved here in April 2022, so it’s great for him to meet other children to play with. He has two brothers at the school, and he’s calm when we are here. It meant I came to the Christmas service.”
Many of our parishes already have these kind of good links between their congregations and schools, with teams leading regular collective worship. Many also have good links between congregations and local families, via toddler groups, Messy Church and family fun days.
The national Church’s Growing Faith movement aims to put children, families and young people instinctively at the heart of the mission and ministry of the Church, by changing its culture. And our diocese is now part of one of 12 learning hubs for Growing Faith.
That means we’ll be taking this a stage further, with churches, schools and families working collaboratively and intentionally, so every aspect of mission and ministry is seen through the lens of what that means for children and young people. The investment from the national C of E to achieve this will be vital in helping to meet its commitment to double the number of young disciples in the Church by 2030.
Now that Portsmouth and Winchester dioceses have been selected as one of 12 regional learning hubs, some of this work will be piloted here, from June 2023. Our diocese will identify pilot parishes which will be given resources to develop their work in this area further. Some will expand their existing work, while others will be inspired to find new ways to bring church, school and family together.
Among parishes already pioneering ministry with children and young people is Warblington-with-Emsworth. It runs Breakfast Church sessions for families, in parallel with their main morning worship. Worshippers sit around tables, eat breakfast, sing songs and discuss the Bible together. It happens in the church hall on the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
And its monthly Wild Church sessions offer families a chance to explore faith outdoors. It is often held in the grounds of St James Church, and involves exploring creation and nature around a Christian theme. Wild Church usually happens from 4pm on the third Sunday of each month.
Pioneer minister the Rev Bruce Watson said: “Breakfast Church and Wild Church have been set up to help us ‘grow younger’ as a parish. However, both seem to attract quite a few older people too which we love. We encourage families to invite friends to both these activities and to come with them. Being outside, Wild Church is easy to join, to stay for a bit or as long as you want. We often find that passers-by stop to see what’s going on.”