A cha(lle)nging perspective on Church
The recent “Faith in the Nexus” report is a piece of research by NICER examining the intersection of children’s exploration of faith in the home in relation to church and school.
It brought forth an interesting insight that for some people there was “a sense of belonging to a wider church community through a variety of activities that took place in school and in the church building.”
Termed “occasional belongers” they defined themselves as Christians and felt a sense of belonging but did not attend traditional Sunday church; too often, we view a sense of belonging solely through this lens of church attendance.
The research also reported that “Many parents and pupils interpreted going to Messy Church or going to activities run by parachurch organisations as ‘going to church’.” A local example being of a lad from a mid-week youth group who asked the leader when church would next be. The leader, assuming he meant the church where the youth group rented a room, began to describe when she thought the services took place, only to be corrected that he meant “church” as the youth group itself.
Fresh Expressions such as Messy Church and Café Church are already quite well established with Outdoor or ECO (Exploring Creation Outside) Church, another form growing in strength. ECO Church has been running at St Mary’s, Newton Flotman, since August 2020. Lesley Cox, Licensed Lay Minister in the Tas Valley Team Ministry says, “I had been running Café Church on a monthly basis in the school hall for about two and a half years. The vision was that it would be a seeker service and draw in families from the school community, which it did as many visited on an occasional basis. This was no longer possible when lockdown happened, I therefore decided to ‘move it outside’, though with a different format and an environmental emphasis.” Lesley continues, “ECO Church runs from 4-5pm on the first Sunday of the month and is on the monthly rota of services. We get between 16 and 24 people, including children – approximately one third are part of our other congregations, a few are more loosely connected with church (so that this might be the only service they come to) and perhaps one or two families have been from the wider community of the village. I have seen members of the church congregation who were not previously involved in Café Church get behind this vision. I think it is special to engage with God in and through the realm of his creation and its relevance in terms of environmental concerns in society in general, and the desire to appreciate nature more.”
Susie Bratby is a Sports Minister and has been working with schools within the Thetford Team Ministry. Does she feel those participating in her outreach activities see themselves as belonging to church?
“Yes I think so,” says Susie, “At our Holiday club ‘Legacy’ we have had really good engagement with young people aged 5-11 years. It includes nearly all the ‘traditional’ elements for church and it opens up a whole new opportunity amongst those who wouldn’t choose or be able to attend a Sunday service. I think children and young people are starting to see that church isn’t just the building and it doesn’t need to be on a Sunday and it’s beginning to impact the parents too.” Current research such as “Faith in the Nexus” presents an even greater rationale for engagement with families through the nexus of home, school and church as is also encouraged through the national Church of England “Growing Faith” Adventure. It also deeply challenges us as churches to consider how we become radically inclusive to prevent ourselves from disconnecting from people who may consider themselves to be part of the Christian family, and build on this wider sense of church community and belonging which forms a foundation for faith development.
For further information:
Wild Church Hub (East Anglia) www.facebook.com/groups/4844215565618442
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