Sue Mitchell, Revd Clive Doran, Emma O'Hagan and David Thorpe joined together as a team to highlight how connected thinking can benefit your parish.
The structure of the day reflected a traditional Eucharist, opening with words of welcome and song, then Bishop Paul gave a reflection, followed by teaching in workshops and concluding with an all age communion in child friendly language.
Children and Families Missioner Sue Mitchell explained how Bishop Paul’s reflection set the tone: “He really did inspire and encourage people to understand that children and young people need to be fully welcomed and involved, that they are not here just to be clapped, but to worship.”
The conference for clergy, teachers, children’s and youth workers, offered both theoretical and practical help from baptism through to young adulthood. The aim was to help church leaders see the bigger picture of each child and young person’s faith journey, not merely to focus on the ‘milestone moments’ of baptism and communion, but to see them as part of a linked and continuing story which includes the whole family.
A key to this change of perspective is the growing movement towards supporting children to receive communion which, if well prepared and understood, may increase the likelihood of making a mature commitment to Confirmation in young adulthood. Nick Harding, Children's Ministry Advisor in the Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham and author of Ready to Share One Bread: Preparing Children for Holy Communion
, led a workshop which encouraged the whole parish to share in this new understanding to nurture the growing faith of the next generation.
The venue was St John's Church and School in Ainsdale, recipients of the Child Friendly Church Award and the Church School Partnership Award, which Sue chose as a model of good partnership work. Sue said: “I have yet to come across a better example of how church and school can work together. The hospitality of both the church and the school was outstanding - church members provided an excellent lunch, the school’s displays of children’s work on Christian values and Holocaust Memorial Day were fine examples of what the day was there to highlight, and all worked together to make people so very welcome.”
Lesley Phipps, Church Warden at St John’s Ainsdale, said: “Being part of this conference has been an uplifting experience which has helped me to focus on what is really important and it isn’t the church roof!”
She added: “Working so closely with our school is a very rewarding experience. We are always ready to support each other in times of difficulty. As the school prepares to undergo some alterations over the next few months, we are able to find space for children’s peripatetic music lessons within our church buildings. Our hope is that one day our partnership will be strengthened even more by a physical link between our two buildings.”
Graham Birch, vicar of St John's Church, said “I feel privileged and honoured to work with such a wonderful group of committed people, across both the church and the school, whose main concern is to bring both the love of God and practical support to the community in which we live, and fully understand that we are much more likely to achieve that objective if we work together as one family.”
Paul Hooton, head of St John's School, said: "We were honoured to be asked to host the day as we feel this was a real recognition of the consistently close partnership that exists between the school and the church. We feel proud to be recognised as a distinctively CofE school with strong Christian values that are the bedrock of all that we try to achieve with the children and their families. I was particularly pleased that a number of people commented on the warm and friendly atmosphere in the school."
For more information on any of the issues raised in the conference, please call Sue Mitchell at St James House on 0151 705 2167 or email firstname.lastname@example.org