‘We’re stopping our Sunday School on Sunday!’ I said. The Assistant Area Dean looked somewhat taken aback! Many churches would love some children to have a Sunday School and others covet a suitable venue for one....
From the time that we came to Bishopstoke – nearly 9 years ago – Anne and I have wanted to provide good things for children. It wasn’t long before Anne organised the first holiday club. We also increased the number of Sunday School sessions and tried different venues. But real growth came from September 2010 when we started Trailblazers with the Methodist Church. We are truly grateful for this partnership over the past five years and to the Methodist Church for providing not only leaders and helpers, but a wonderful venue. We could not have done this without our friends there.
But through our Parish Mission Action Plan process we have now felt called by God to do something new – to have all ages in church for the whole service every week. The new service is called Church Together and there are more details at Church Together.
We have not stopped Trailblazers lightly or without serious thought. We may well be stepping a little into the dark, but we really sense God’s call to do this. We believe that the benefits for people of all ages could be huge. Quite apart from the things mentioned on our Church Together page, this could be the answer to other challenges:
· How do we reintegrate young people into church once they are old enough? This is a real challenge if their Sunday School or youth group is nothing like a ‘normal’ church service. But if they are already in church (in a suitable service), nothing needs to be done!
· How do we get children and young people to see that their separate group is part of the whole church? It’s been quite clear from chatting to some of them in recent weeks that they have a strong sense of belonging to Trailblazers, but not necessarily to ‘the church’.
· What do we do when people suddenly turn up for a service with children only to discover that the Sunday School is a 5-10 minute walk away? From time to time this happens, and we of course invite people to come along if they are thinking about having their children baptised. But we don’t have a great record when it comes to them continuing to come.
· How can we keep building up our church and its worship when we ‘lose’ so many adults (as well as children and young people) each week to a Sunday School? Providing this sort of thing is really labour intensive. It can be wonderful for both leaders and children, of course, but the whole service suffers – especially when our church is not huge! It also means that quite a number of people don’t get to services all that frequently.
Anne has done a tremendous job in making sure that all the groups have been covered by leaders from week to week. Sometimes it’s been really hard work, but it’s also been very exciting and enjoyable. We all feel some sadness at stopping this. But I am really grateful to everyone who has made Trailblazers possible over the years. It was tremendous for them to have a party at their final session and to do lots of ‘thank yous’ in church afterwards. Meanwhile, the Methodist Church will continue their work with children and we wish them every blessing for that. We continue to work together at holiday clubs, Open the Book and Unshakeable +.
As you may be aware, there are other changes soon to our service pattern. To fit in with Church Together, the communion weeks for 8 am and 9.15 am services are changing – please see the Service Calendar for full details.
In addition to this, on the first Sunday of each month, starting in March, there will be a united ‘Parish Communion’ at St Mary’s at 10.45 am. This will be a more ‘traditional’ service than we currently offer at St Mary’s, including older hymns played on the organ. We hope it will prove popular and helpful for some of our church members and others in our community. But to make it work well, we think that it is best for it to be the only service on that Sunday morning. There will therefore not be a service at St Paul’s that morning, but people from both congregations will have the opportunity to worship together and catch up with one another on a monthly basis. I hope that the increased numbers will give the service a positive, encouraging feel.
Everyone is most welcome at Parish Communion, of course, but there will not be any special provision for children. I think we have to accept that we cannot do everything all the time if we are also going to do things well. We do encourage those with children to try out Messy Church on the first Sunday of the month in the afternoon and also Church Together on other Sundays.
I’m very excited about these developments and what they might hold for us as a church. I hope that they are truly valuing of all people and their different preferences. Let’s embrace them in a positive spirit and see how God continues to lead us over the coming months.
With every blessing