Something a little different this week. You’ll remember me mentioning going to Ealing Deanery Synod and being amazed by all the good news stories I heard; well here’s one of them in a bit more detail. It’s a story of an excellent children’s service that hopefully will inspire you to think about whether you could do something similar.
Angela Draper and Felicity Mather, Pastoral Assistants at St Barnabas Church take up the story.
The 9.30 Children’s Service with Breakfast was started at St Barnabas Church, Ealing, in October 2007.The need for the service was identified when the two recently trained Pastoral Assistants began to undertake baptism preparation visits. This coincided with a long period of the church being without a vicar.Some of those who were requesting Baptism had not yet started attending Sunday services on a regular basis and we did not wish to refuse baptism. Also, baptism families needed encouragement to continue attending church after the ceremony. Both of these needs weremet by establishing this new service.
Setting up and communication
From the Baptism register, we collected names andaddresses of all those baptised in the past five years, and posted invitations to come to our first Children’s Service, to celebrate their Baptism. We also encouraged them to invite their friends and advertised the service in the weekly bulletin. Most of our communication with new baptism families was by email & we began to establish an e-group. At the first service we invited parents to add their e mail addresses to a clipboard, which is now put out at all the services. We also designed a child-friendly e flyer, which we send out as a remindera few days before the service. The flyer lists other church events and services likely to be of interest to young families
The service itself
The aims of the service are for families to experience a growing understanding of the Christian faith, to feel comfortable in church, to develop a sense of reverence & wonder in a place of worship & to feel a sense of belonging in our wider church family.
We usually have the children seated on a carpet in front of the font, surrounded by a ring of chairs for the adults, but we want them to feel at home in the whole of their church – e.g. for Epiphany, we started in the chancel, travelled with the Wise Men down the side aisle, knocked on the door of ‘Herod’s palace’ (aka the Choir Vestry). After a conversation with a dad acting as villainous Herod, we followed the star to the crib for the rest of the service. We always have a strong theme through our maximum time of twenty minutes. Sometimes we tell stories ‘straight’ with props, sometimes we borrow Godly Play materials for stories like ‘The Good Shepherd’. Families are invited to come fifteen minutes beforehand to start learning the song(s). When latecomers arrive and hear us singing, they seem to come in and settle more quickly. We use peel-off labels and felt pens for everyone to wear their names. The simple prayers end with Grace, before we go to the Hall for breakfast.
Before the service ends, we mark Baptism anniversaries. Families are contacted on the first five anniversaries of children’s Baptisms, with a specially-designed card and an invitation to come and relight their Baptismal candle at the next Children’s Service. If a child is present who is celebrating his or her baptism anniversary, we re-light the baptism candle from the Paschal candle Whilst it is being lit, we revise the meaning of ‘Amen’ and say “Continue to shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father” The children then give a resounding“Amen”! Very few lose their Baptismal candles, but if they do, we provide them with a votive candle for the occasion.
The breakfast was intended just for the first service, but we recognised immediately that it was vital to the success of the venture. It became clear that it would help families to get to know each other and share fellowship.The breakfast preparation is undertaken by two parents; their children usually help with great enthusiasm, laying tables & helping to set out the food. The format is that of a children’s party. The food offers healthy choices and utilises popular items.
The e-group has been very important and we have learnt that even though we may not see a family, sometimes for a period of years, the weekly contact may provide encouragement. Just before Christmas, a mother returned with her four year old. We had not seen her since the child’s baptism at the age of six months. Sadly, we had not known that the mother had been unwell.Parents often write with queries about church, community events, baptism and life events. Baptism anniversaries serve to bring back families who may have “lost their way”. We have written a handbook which gives details of all the children’s activities taking place in the church & the local community. The Shrove Tuesday Pancake Party brings in children, as does the Bangers & Sparklers event in early November.
Bridging the gap into the ‘main’ service
Four years on from the first Children’s Service, some families now attend church weekly, but we still need to encourage more to attend. They are involved in parish social activities, but the monthly All Age Service has not yet become the bridge that we hoped it would. Having successfully provided children’s craft activities at the pre-Christmas Fair, this year we are trying a ‘Make Mother’s Day!’ This will take place on the day before Mothering Sunday, from 10.00-11.30. While mums enjoy home-made cakes and coffee at the back of the church, children will be invited to decorate heart biscuits and make bunches of paper flowers for their mothers. They can also help bunch the daffodils that will be given out at the All Age Mothering Sunday service, and can make pictures of their mums to add to a special Mothering Sunday altar frontal. We hope that this will encourage them to come to the service next day. If that is successful, we’ll try a similar Saturday morning session the day before Harvest All Age Service.
All this arose from two Pastoral Assistants looking for ways to encourage Baptism families. Every church has different ways of meeting the needs of young families, but if you are looking for a fresh start, it’s worth trying a monthly Children’s Service and Breakfast – and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do!