ideas and advice
Every child is in made in the image of God. Schools and churches share a common concern – they want the best for young people. But schools are under no obligation to meet the needs of parents but churches may be able to (e.g. family life challenges, childcare, direction to specialist services, bereavement, divorce, health).
Assess skills, availability and inclination of existing volunteers and the rest of the congregation before making an offer. Get familiar with the feel of a school and what it stands for if you want to be a part of it. Making a convincing offer which is interested in raising standards in a school shows a headteacher how a church is committed to the aims of the school and that the church is serious about taking a place in the schools life. Ask a school where its needs lie. Remember at all times that schools are incredibly busy.
Are there any Christian teachers or governors at the school who may be supportive in ways you don’t yet know about? Are there other churches locally who already work with a school in your parish or who may also have a heart for doing so? Are there other groups or organisations who can help your work?
Build trust, provide practical help not attempts at proselytising. Invite contributions from the schools to church life (e.g. seasonal artwork, music, productions in church) and let the school be visible to the congregation. Maybe use the school’s buildings (e.g. tea and coffee, church fête, worship service) to cement mutuality. Keep on being around the school and you may soon be spotted in the street or at the shops.
Providing a spiritual service may be at the bottom of your list or it may be what you’d prefer to start with but it could well require a lot of trust on the part of the school. Schools may approach you for something they think you may be able to offer. Sometimes it’s up to you to ask but be careful not to leap right in.
When relationships have been built, God’s love is apparent, even to those who do not believe. However, it’s not uncommon to experience anti-faith stances from teachers and parents so be prepared for this. Being clear about your aims in whatever service you are offering and showing that you act out of grace and without a hidden agenda is essential. But the key is that anything done well is softening.
Church schools are lucky in that they often have a base to work from – but they’re not full of church-goers. So, things which work for children in this context may also work for children in other schools. Done badly, church comes across as a strange, minority activity, isolated from the rest of society and culture. Done well, the church’s people, traditions and buildings may come to be seen a natural and vibrant part of the whole community.
RE must be taught objectively and in a pluralistic context to support the curriculum. Schools are rightly wary of those who may come in to try to convert. It is absolutely right that visitors are good at communicating what they believe but the line between this and preaching must never be crossed. Talk about how your faith has affected your life but don’t try to preach. It can sour a school’s attitude to religious visitors for years.
There are loads of great ways to exhibit and teach about the Christian faith. Tying in to festivals is an exciting and timely way of placing Christian RE within the cycle of the year and sometimes the life of the school. Creating simple but powerful trails in school or in the church are a popular way of doing this (see recommended resources). It is sometimes more stimulating for pupils to visit a church than for a minister or volunteer to visit the school. It’s also good to engage with a team of Christians rather than a sole worker.
Little more need be said about how effective Messy Church can be. In a school context, though, it can be a great way of making contact with parents and staff.
Making worship accessible in this way demonstrates relevance and spiritual benefit, but it can also show that what goes on in church on a Sunday (a mystery to many) is not confined to that time and place – it is part of an all-encompassing way of life which is at the centre of a community and of some individuals’ way of understanding and engaging with the world we all share.
Nurturing the universal human desire to worship is a spiritual duty. All state schools are statutorily required to provide broadly Christian acts of worship. But in the school environment, subject to great professional and secular pressures, many in schools feel uncomfortable about giving spiritual teaching themselves. Some schools look increasingly to churches for advice on spiritual development and support in delivering religious material.
Attention to children’s love of symbol, colour, repetition and ritual is paramount – it speaks to us deeper than we know and enables language which takes the spiritual seriously without being churchy or alienating.
- Churches and Dioceses Resourcing Community Schools by Derek Holbird
- Fresh Experiences of School Chaplaincy by Diane Tregale
- Good Practice in Home/School/Parish Links – Diocese of Leeds http://www.dioceseofleeds.org.uk/evangelisation/files/documents/home_school_
- Linking Churches and Schools by Gillian Wood [Churches Together in England]
- Local Church, Local School: practical and creative ways for churches to serve local primary schools by Margaret Withers
- Churches and Schools Working Together – Diocese of Derby http://derby.anglican.org/education/schools/churches-and-schools-working-together/
- Prayer in Schools by Rupert Bristow School and Church – Diocese of Bristol http://www.bristol.anglican.org/i/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/School-and-Church-leaflet.pdf
- The Gospel and Educational Values by John Pritchard
- The Schools Work Handbook: serving God in your local school by Emlyn Williams
- Thirst (‘Encounters on the Edge’ series – Church Army). The story of a fresh expression of church that serves the parents and staff of the local Church of England primary.
in:School is a partnership project of Swindon Youth for Christ, affiliated to Scripture Union, and works to empower, equip, resource and support Christians in Swindon to serve their local community primary schools: http://www.in-school.co.uk/
National Parenting Initiative – parenting courses: http://www.thenpi.org.uk/courses/
Open the Book http://www.openthebook.net/
Ventures – information on holiday camps: http://www.ventures.org.uk/falcon-camps
Exploring Communion in Primary Schools - http://gloucester.anglican.org/parish-life/jumping-fish/#HC
Celebrating the Eucharist in School - http://www.churchschoolseast.org.uk/documents/WOW6-CelebratingtheEucharistinschool.pdf
Out of the Box – one of several great resources from Imaginor (www.imaginor.co.uk)
Star Trail can be purchased online as an e-resource from the Stapleford Centre http://www.stapleford-centre.org/
Jumping Fish produces a range of excellent trails for the main seasons and festivals of the Christian year. Their ‘Experience…’ journeys can be purchased at: http://gloucester.anglican.org/parish-life/jumping-fish/