November 2020 | Vol. 4PASSIONATE ABOUT RAISING THE NEXT GENERATION +Standing with families during tough times
Doing a safeguarding stock-take
Running an all-inclusive nativity
Peter KerridgeDIRECTOR OF PUBLISHINGJohn BuckeridgeEDITOR AT LARGEAndy PeckDESIGNERJohn LloydRESOURCES EDITORAlex TaylorNEWS EDITORMarcus JonesEDITORIAL OFFICEPremier Youth and Children’s Work,
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YCW | November 2020 | Vol. 4ContentsRegularsFirst wordNews
The Voice winner Blessing Chitapa
Mental health checkBeing there during tough times
SafeguardingRevisiting safeguarding procedures during the winter
All inclusiveLockdown nativity for everyone!
Our beloved Faith at Home section now has its very own dedicated magazine once a month, with all the regular content and much more. If you missed it, you can check out last week’s magazine via the app. Our next Faith at Home edition will be with you in the third week of December! If one of your favourites is missing from this week's issue, there’s no need to worry. Our regular columns will be littered throughout the month, so there won't be long to wait!FeaturesPutting out the welcome matWith church attendance declining in many places, Naomi Graham shares some significant steps we can take to welcome non-church families.
“As a church community we have so many skills...which we can share.”Naomi Graham,
Putting out the welcome mat
We’ve put all of our resources into one mag to make sure you have them ahead of time and can plan your sessions early. In case you missed it, check out the YCW app to read the this month’s resources edition. Alternatively, we've popped a set of Together resources at the end of this edition as a little treat! Check them out.
YCW | November 2020 | Vol. 4First wordMy second full-time role in a local church came out of an amicably resolved row. A large independent church had been debating whether the purpose of the church was predominantly to equip believers, or whether it was there to reach non-believers: the classic pastoring vs evangelism dichotomy. Your church is probably somewhere on the spectrum. One of the fruits of the row was the church leadership allowed a small group of around 50 to plant a church that was focused almost entirely on non-believers.
Now I could run a Zoom-based seminar on the ups and downs of that church plant, which I joined in its fourth year. If you are wondering, I am definitely of the both-and, not either-or school. Jesus calls us to make disciples, which has a ‘sharing the message in the power of the Spirit’ component (evangelism) and a ‘teach them to obey all I have commanded’ component (pastoral). What he has commanded is a life lived for God, which will include sharing the good news in the power of the Spirit. And so the cycle continues. The trouble comes when we do one to the exclusion of the other.
My word of exhortation this week is to think about the groups that you are involved with and have an eye for both: equipping those who are believers to follow Jesus as best they can in their context, so they influence their peers in gospel ways. This includes gently encouraging as yet unbelievers to start the journey with Jesus for themselves, and doing all this sensitive to the nudges of the Holy Spirit and the delicate journey of maturity and change that they are all on.
If all this seems rather obvious, I fear it needs stating. You will have seen the statistics on church attendance of children and young people. (Nearly every diocese in the UK has seen a decline in numbers in the Church of England, with many other denominations suggesting similar problems.) Allowing for the fact that this is not the only avenue for the gospel (praise God for schools’ workers, detached youth workers, school teachers who take opportunities and a whole host of charitable groups doing great work in alleviating need in the name of Jesus) work in church-based groups will still be the major way in which things will be turned around. The most likely vital way that a child or young person will encounter God is through a friend who knows him.
In our main feature this month, Naomi Graham unpacks how her ministry is enabling young people from non-church families to connect with God. If your church is struggling in this regard, her article will give you inspiration. Our All inclusive column looks at how inclusion means not just being non-believer friendly but additional-needs friendly in our COVID-affected Christmas events this year. And Rachel Newham gives us some practical tips on supporting families inside and outside the church when a child is hospitalised with mental health issues. And with reports of the sickening stories of sexual abuse in the Church of England and Catholic Church, our piece on safeguarding is vital if your church’s witness is not to go pear shaped overnight.
My experience of any talk about outreach is that listeners and readers feel a pang of guilt and mentally conclude that they should try to do better. That’s not a bad response, but my mention of this is intended to induce nothing but joy and excitement that we have the privilege of sharing the good news of the love of God with people whose lives would change for the good, if only they knew.
I hope that’s your abiding emotion as you read.
is editor at large for Premier Youth and Children's Work.
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NewsChristian families from all backgrounds urged to adopt
Christian families are being urged to adopt, especially if they are from a BAME background, due to the number of children waiting for new parents, with experts saying having a similar heritage is important to both children and parents. Over 2,400 children in England are currently waiting for an adoptive family – nearly half of these have been in the care system for over 18 months. Authorities prefer to match children with parents of a similar ethnicity and there is often a longer wait for black children as they seek to find appropriate parents.
In light of this, the Christian charity Home for Good commissioned a Savanta Comres poll into the attitudes of British adults towards adopting children of different backgrounds and found that prospective parents also prefer to have a similar heritage to their adoptive child. Over 10,000 people were surveyed and 52 percent of UK adults in general say they would prefer a child with a similar ethnicity to them.
Over half of black adults in the UK say they could be open to adopting or fostering, or that they already have, and, of those people, around two-thirds say they would prefer to adopt a child who has the same ethnic background as them.
Key reasons among all adults for reluctance to adopt a child of a different ethnicity included: concerns that the parent would not be able to raise the child with a knowledge and appreciation of their cultural heritage; anxiety about the child being bullied or treated differently for not being of the same ethnicity as the parent; the sense that the parent might feel more ‘connected’ with a child of the same ethnicity as them; and fears about the acceptance of the child by family and friends.
Forty-four percent of black adults who would prefer to adopt a child with an ethnic match worry that their child might be bullied or treated differently for not being of the same ethnicity as them.
Krish Kandiah, founder of Home for Good told Premier: “It turns out that the adopters would like there to be an ethnic match between them and the children they’re adopting and that seems to be for a good reason. They want to make sure that the children’s ethnic and cultural heritage is looked after. So, this isn’t people being racist, they’re just trying to think: ‘How can I be the best parent for a child that needs adopting?’ But still, we need more people to think about actually stepping forward, not just thinking ‘adoption’s a great idea’, but actually starting the process.”
Thirty-four percent of UK adults are open to adoption, with 18 to 24-year-olds the most open of any age group.
Kandiah said: “I think we need people from all sorts of backgrounds to come forward but, because black children are waiting the longest, we’d love to see more people from BAME backgrounds come forward.”
Sixty-six percent of Christians said they would consider adopting a child of a different ethnicity to them if they were given support and awareness of their child’s cultural heritage.
People were also asked whether they would consider adopting a teenager or siblings. Sixty percent of Christians also said they would consider adopting an asylum seeker.
Father and sons unite to help Christian charity tackle COVID-19 overseas
International development charity CAFOD is paying tribute to a Leicestershire family who’ve gone above and beyond to raise money for those struggling with coronavirus overseas.
Churchgoing Maziano Guedes and his sons Damian (five) and Francesco (seven) began a 20-mile sponsored run with the aim of raising £250 last month.
They’ve now raised over £600 by running two miles each day for ten days.
“I want to nurture the act of giving in my sons. I would like Francesco and Damian to understand the famous quote by American author and activist Helen Keller: ‘Alone we may not achieve things, but together we can achieve great things’,” Guedes said.
Funds raised will now go to CAFOD’s urgent appeal to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.
“I follow Jesus”Justin Bieber has once again taken to Instagram with a powerful gospel message. Sharing the hope of Christ with his 140 million followers, Bieber declared that “Jesus rose from the dead just as he promised, taking on the sins of humanity”.
The ‘Holy’ singer went on to say that “believing and receiving this reality changes everything”.
“The way you live, the way you love! Accepting his free gift of forgiveness allows you to live a life FREE from guilt and shame! A life not based on your performance. This is good news,” he wrote.
The singer went on: “I follow Jesus. Following Jesus doesn’t make me better than anyone else although I know a lot of Christians have made people feel that way.
“Another thing to know about following Jesus is that a lot of the time it doesn’t change our circumstances. What it does do is give us an ETERNAL JOY that lasts through trials and painful seasons. Although people have failed me, Jesus never has.”
The post has received just under a million likes in one day, with many posting replies of encouragement and support for the 26-year-old pop star’s willingness to speak out about his faith.
“Thank you for using your platform,” one person replied. “Love to see Justin in this new phase✝️” another added.
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Q&AThe Voice winner
At last year’s Big Church Day Out music festival, schoolgirl Blessing Chitapa found herself on the front row and given the microphone by gospel Tye Tribett to sing along. The voice which came through that microphone shocked the thousands in attendance, including the headline act. While not the usual springboard to success, the pastor’s kid from the Midlands soon after applied to take part in ITV singing competition The Voice. After working her way through the rounds to the final, with the help of mentor Olly Murs she won the public vote, making her champion, with doors opened for a career in the music industry. Premier’s Muyiwa caught up with her to find out more about her journey and how her faith inspires what she does. Premier: Take us back to that moment at Big Church Day Out, what did that mean to you that so many people got to hear you sing?
Blessing Chitapa: Just having so many people hear me in a field to then stepping onto a platform where people literally just listen to my voice – it was crazy. It felt like it was initially an achievement and then another achievement following what happened. It’s been great knowing that a lot of people who knew me from that moment were like: “You’re the same girl who sang at Big Church Day Out – I recognise you and I’m so glad that you went on a platform and actually explored your vocal.” It’s really nice that people encouraged me back then and now to be crowned the winner. It feels like I’ve had so much support, and I’m just so grateful for how far God has even brought me. “In everything I do, I do it joyfully, knowing that it’s not just for me, but it’s also for God.”
Premier: You talk about how far God has brought you. Colossians 3:23 is your go-to Bible verse. What does that scripture really mean to you?
BC: I used to sing in the worship band at church but I think a lot of the time, I would just sing because I knew the songs and because I was leading. I never felt like I was coming to a place where I could connect with God for myself. I went to this youth camp last year – that’s actually when my life changed around. I really began to seek God for myself, not just through my parents or through other people, or because I have a responsibility in the church but it became a thing where God became personal to me. It just made me realise how my music should be done for Christ. Ever since then, even when I wake up in the morning to shower, I’m like: “Yes, I’m doing this for God!” In everything I do, I do it joyfully, knowing that it’s not just for me, but it’s also for God.
Premier: How did that scripture come to life for you on the set of The Voice?
BC: Every time I would get nervous, prior to each performance, in my head I’m thinking: “Remember who you’re doing this for and what you’re doing this for.” To be on a platform like that, I felt like a lot of people can know Christ through me, through the way that I am, so I always said to myself: “You’re doing this for God.” Every song that I sang, I’d interpret it in a way where I could still worship God on the stage. When I’m worshiping God, I don’t get nervous. That was the only way I could eradicate my nerves. So I would go there and the songs I’d be given...sometimes I’d say no to them, because I knew there was no way for me to relate that to my own personal life. But on some of the songs, I said: “Yeah, I can mould this and make this my own.” I can worship God through the process. So when I got ‘Angels’ [by Robbie Williams], that was my time to worship on stage. It’s only God who can really love me whether I’m right or wrong. I just loved the lyrics and it spoke to me.
“In times of darkness, I hope the song lifts people up and brings joy to somebody.”Premier: You’re now releasing ‘Angels’ as single – what are your prayers for that song and the success which may follow?
BC: With this song, I just want people to smile when they’re listening to it. For me, my main goal is to have people come back with positive responses. In times of darkness, I hope the song lifts people up and brings joy to somebody. I really just want people to feel inspired listening to it. I just want people to be happy, you know?Premier: So a year ago, it was a Big Church Day Out accident that blew everyone’s mind. What do you want to achieve a year from now?
BC: I can’t wait for people to hear my content and what I create and be inspired by that. I can’t wait to work with different artists. I’m still young in this musical industry. There’s so much I’m yet to learn. So I’m just hoping that I can gain a lot of knowledge on this journey.
You can see the full interview here.
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Mental health checkEach month, Rachael Newham answers your tough questions about mental health. If you or those you work alongside have a question, tweet or direct message @RachaelNewham90.Being there during tough times
How can I support a young person and their family when they are in in-patient mental health care?
For any family whose child has be in hospital for an extended period, life is difficult, but this is often further complicated when children and young people are hospitalised because of mental illness due to the lack of available beds. This can mean young people having to travel to out-of-area hospitals in order to receive the care they need; a report in 2018 highlighted that some children and young people were sent up to 285 miles out of area.
So what can the church do to support young people and their families?Raise money
Firstly, it’s about facing up to the practical challenges. Family support is vital for recovery, yet with so many young people being sent miles from home, the cost of visits can mount quickly. Consider raising money to cover the costs of travel expenses or overnight stays so that families can have more time together.
Secondly, offer to organise meal rotas to try to make life easier on family life and increase the amount of time they’re able to spend with one another. If it’s one thing the church is good at, it’s a meal rota and they can be as invaluable in this situation as they are for new parents!
“Family support is vital for recovery”Support siblings
Thirdly, consider ways you can offer support to the siblings of a young person in hospital. It’s inevitable that much energy is taken up when parents have a seriously ill child and this can have a real impact on those left behind. Try to get them involved in the youth group or offer them a mentor so that they have someone who is wholly invested in them.
Fourthly, offer to provide babysitting for children so that parents are able to get some time to themselves on occasion, whether this be allowing parents to go on a date night, out with friends or to a church social event. It can be vital that parents are able to get support from their own friends or members of the church. (While some of these things may not be possible during current coronavirus restrictions, consider offering a bank of time or going for a walk with younger children so that parents can have time at home together.)
Make church accessible
And finally, work out ways to make church as accessible as possible. We have all become more adept at offering church in creative ways, so whether that be pointing them to YouTube videos or recordings of sermons so they don’t miss them or utilising small groups to encourage parents and the wider family to be able to stay in contact with church and feel part of the community. Keep praying for the family even if they aren’t able to attend church (online or offline) very regularly.
is founder of Christian mental health charity ThinkTwice (@ThinkTwiceInfo) and author of Learning to Breathe, a memoir and theological reflection on mental illness.
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Emma KennyPutting out the welcome mat
With church attendance declining in many UK towns and cities, Naomi Graham shares how she has seen her church make significant steps to welcome non-church families.As followers of Jesus we will all be familiar with the words of Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” We know the great commission and yet perhaps in our day-to-day, we struggle to apply Jesus’ command to ‘go’ and share the gospel with those outside of our normal circles. Sometimes regular activities or big one-off events help us to take steps towards welcoming in non-church families, but it can take time to build connections which enable families to feel truly at home in church. Whether you’re regularly welcoming non-church families into your church or not, I’d love to share my journey of seeing this happen in our church community.
As an occupational therapist, I work directly with children and young people with additional needs, and their families. I come across families who struggle with their children’s sleep, behaviour, eating, dressing and attention, and want support to be able to help their children in these areas. More often than not, we come up with solutions together that make a difference to their children’s lives and their lives as a family.
However, families will often share feelings of hopelessness about their situations, a hopelessness which feels so big that the only solution is to reach out to something bigger than themselves. While working in the NHS, and then in private practice, I was unable to openly share my faith and the fact that I felt Jesus could bring hope. I encountered families in desperate need who had bailiffs knocking on the door, who were unable to get the help or therapy they needed for their children. I would do my job to the best of my ability, but so often I felt like something was missing. “As a church community we have so many skills...which we can share”Rody Cloud photographyToday I have the privilege of both working as an occupational therapist and also sharing the hope that Jesus brings in peoples lives. In December 2017 I founded Growing Hope, a charity that provides free therapy for children and young people with additional needs, and their families, in partnership with local churches across the UK. We initially launched Growing Hope King’s Cross in partnership with KXC (King’s Cross Church), providing free occupational therapy for families in our local area. Since then we have supported over 350 children, young people, parents, carers and siblings and we are able to provide occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, music therapy and children’s counselling.
At the heart of the charity is a desire to share hope in Jesus even in the most challenging situations. We aim to grow hope for children through the provision of free therapy; hope for families through groups for siblings and parents and carers; and hope in Jesus through always offering to pray for families and supporting them to attend church if they’d like to.
Starting Growing Hope was inspired by time that I’d spent volunteering in Thailand and India as an occupational therapist. I had been linked with local churches there and saw first-hand churches stepping into a gap in healthcare provision. In Thailand a group of health professionals in the city went to a local church in the countryside and held a clinic for the whole village. The health professionals ran general medical checks, handed out glasses, ran a headlice programme for the children and shared their faith in Jesus with everyone that they encountered. During our visit the church took me to visit families of children with disabilities; I was able to assess the children, give advice to the families and then a few weeks later take some therapy equipment back. What encouraged me the most, as well as seeing families better equipped to support their children, was the relationships that the local church had built with each family.
In India I was working alongside therapists in a child development centre run by a Christian organisation. The therapists there would openly share their faith and offered to pray for families. I loved visiting a mum at home with her little girl with severe cerebral palsy who had started going to the physiotherapist’s home church.
“The key to enabling families to...become part of church community...is relationship”Through these experiences, I felt awakened to the fact that there is so much more we can do as we live our lives hungry to see God’s kingdom here on earth. As a church community we have so many skills at our fingertips (healthcare skills in my case) which we can share with the people around us to both meet a practical need and a spiritual need at the same time.
As God’s people we know that he loves, values and welcomes each and every individual. He wants all people of all nations to know him. For me, this has meant working out what it looks like to enable church to be a place where individuals with additional needs are welcome. Additional needs are wide ranging – they can include physical needs, learning needs, mental health needs and undiagnosed needs – anything which impacts upon someone’s ability to participate in activity. As I launched Growing Hope with hope in Jesus at the centre, I was aware that there was work to be done practically to make the jump between offering to pray for people in our clinics, inviting them along to church and then seeing them walk through the church doors.
It was a harder journey than anticipated, as I’m sure you may have experienced in activities that you’ve run with non-church families. Despite this, the key to enabling families to come along to church and become part of church community, I’ve found, is relationship.
Unless we build relationship and get to know the people that we’re serving, it is very difficult for individuals to trust us and to feel fully welcome in church community. This obviously brings up some important questions about how we keep good boundaries and balance open invites with persistent asking, but that’s for another day! I found that through Growing Hope clinics – six-week blocks of therapy sessions and parent groups – I was able to get to know families well. They would start to open up about things in their lives that they would like prayer for and to become more open to coming along to church.
Rody Cloud photography“I regularly encounter families who seem open to coming along to trying out church. ”The first family who came to church through Growing Hope are now an integral part of our church community. When Bea and her son first came to Growing Hope and I mentioned that we could support their family to come along to church, she was overwhelmed. Bea told me that their family hadn’t been able to go to church for a long time because of the challenge that her son’s autism posed to them being able to join in. Recently, Bea told us:
“When I heard that I could come to church, it was something that I immediately wanted to do; as a family we hadn’t had the opportunity to go to church for years because of Daniel’s behaviour. We now attend King’s Cross Church and it’s amazing; we feel so welcome and part of the church community.”
Since Bea and her family joined our church we have seen more families come along through Growing Hope, through hearing about what we’re doing or through knowing friends who have been welcomed with their children who have additional needs. One family that comes along has no church background, but have decided that they want to be part of the church community. It is such a joy to be able to share Jesus with the people that I work with in my day to day and to see them come along to church, to find hope in Jesus and to find home in church community.
We see several families with children with additional needs through our therapy clinics each week. Most of the families we encounter haven’t had any experience of church and come from a variety of backgrounds and faiths. I’m always encouraged by the fact that more often than not when we offer to pray for families, they say yes and are open to receiving prayer. I also regularly encounter families who seem open to coming along to trying out church. There seems to be a shift in this recently, although often the reality of a positive feeling towards trying church and a family coming through the doors can be a slow process.
With coronavirus, it feels increasingly difficult to support families with children who have additional needs, particularly when church is online. We haven’t given up hope though, and continue to adapt what we’re doing – sending out interactive packs families can use, tackling digital poverty and chatting with families individually so that everyone who would like to access church can.
I wonder what it looks like for your church community to enable non-church families to know they’re welcome. Perhaps there are practical skills that can be offered which enable the opportunity to start to build those relationships.
DR NAOMI GRAHAM
is an occupational therapist and founder and CEO of Growing Hope.
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SafeguardingDoes safeguarding make you think of bureaucratic hoops you need to jump through? Does it conjure up nightmares of damaged children and young people? Or do you see it as a practical expression of God's love by keeping them safe? Here's how to turn a chore into a core part of your ministry.Revisiting safeguarding procedures during the winter
In March, we as churches across the United Kingdom were forced to make drastic changes in the way we did things. Now, as we get close to the end of the year, it may be a good time to step back and analyse how we are responding to this year’s changes in church life from a safeguarding perspective.
It will be a lot harder this winter and Christmas to keep up to date with how people are doing as the usual carol concerts and Christmas lunches may not happen. Many will be keen to still maintain contact with each other and provide support to those who may be vulnerable within their communities over winter, as they did during the spring lockdown.
It is important that we do not forget that we need to continue to do these things safely and ensure we carry on working to provide safer places. Here are some questions to consider over the winter:Is your safeguarding coordinator included and involved in your church’s planning?
Make sure your safeguarding coordinator continues to be included and involved in your church’s planning over the Christmas season to help you think through the implications of any activities and give recommendations for safer working.
As with any new activity you are undertaking as a church over this period, a risk assessment should be completed, and proper thought needs to be given to the safeguarding implications. Also keep your safeguarding lead informed of any changes to your planned activities.
Remember that safeguarding coordinators do not need to be an expert in child or adult protection. That can be left to the statutory agencies, and Thirtyone:eight can also help. They just need to be vigilant, ensure the right policies and procedures are in place, and that only suitable people are allowed to work with vulnerable groups.Is pastoral care being done by those trained and authorised to do?
Over winter, church volunteers may be checking on vulnerable congregation members to see if they are coping with the fall in temperatures, are able to access supplies and are handling the abnormal circumstances for this Christmas period.
Although demand may rise over Christmas and winter, your team still needs to have been recruited safely, have an awareness of the signs of abuse to ensure the vulnerable are not put at unnecessary risk, and have sufficient oversight or support.
Also remember that shopping on behalf of those who are self-isolating, especially when using their own money, can leave people at risk of financial abuse and may in some cases fall under Regulated Activity requiring checks to be obtained (eg someone fulfilling this role will need to have gone through your safeguarding procedure).Is there a continuing record of what activity is being and by whom?
It is important to continue to keep a simple log of who is visiting who, frequency of contact and any issues that may arise. This is important to do with activities that are outside your usual remit and will help you assess any potential risks. You may need to have someone coordinate this so that you can keep oversight of the activity that is being done and ensure the most vulnerable are being properly safeguarded.
Are those that do not have adequate support networks being prioritised?
Those living on their own or who have additional needs may need extra support. Self-neglect may be an issue as will the impact of loneliness as older people may feel isolated, especially if they have no means of accessing community or support online. They may need help with understanding the changing guidance and finding out how to access healthcare and medical appointments. Without the usual Christmas events, it will be harder for churches to spot any concerns which have appeared over the cold, dark winter months.
Is safeguarding part of your plans to move services and contact online?
Lots of churches moved back to some form of physical gathering between the end of the first lockdown in June and the start of the latest ones in the autumn. However, many churches are continuing online services for the foreseeable future and plan to run them alongside any physical gatherings that recommence next year.
It may be time to review your church’s online activities from a safeguarding perspective, especially as the novelty of online church wears off and people become settled in their online routines.
Remember to be mindful of the risks of abuse online, especially for children and young people. Communicating one to one online, whether via messaging or video, is the equivalent of meeting someone in a room on your own with no one around, which is not something we recommend. Aim to continue holding group chats where possible or have an authorised person in the room with you when making calls. This is to keep you safe as well as the people you are contacting.
Also continue to be aware of age restrictions for certain apps and that admin rights for social media are still being correctly set-up and monitored.
Are you looking after yourself and your team?
Lone or home-working is no longer a new experience for many as it was in March. Lots of people will have got into some sort of rhythm and will have got used to Teams or Zoom calls. However, as the government continues to recommend people work from home if possible, many will have spent months away from their usual offices. Many will be feeling differently towards home working compared to the spring.
Continue to ensure your staff and volunteers have appropriate opportunities for support and time to debrief on their experiences. Regular catch-up calls may have become less frequent over summer and could be useful to start up again. Updating and recirculating a ‘lone workers’ policy or code of conduct may be a good idea. This could include procedures on where to get support and lines of communication for reporting concerns.
There is a huge opportunity for the Church to reach out to their communities over Christmas and winter, but there are also risks. Many churches will be in a better position now than in March to continue working with their communities and their congregations despite ongoing lockdown restrictions. However, it is important that safeguarding is not forgotten and that churches continue to build safe and healthy cultures for everyone.
Thirtyone:eight is an independent Christian safeguarding charity. Call on 0303 003 1111 for independent, professional and compassionate support around safeguarding in your organisation: thirtyoneeight.org.
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All inclusiveEvery child and young person needs support to help them learn or engage with activities. Some need additional or different support from those of the same age to ensure that everyone benefits from all they participate in. We want to address some of the important questions around these needs. Welcome to ‘All inclusive’.Lockdown nativity for everyone! With everything that’s going on at the moment it’s easy to forget that usually the world of children’s workers would be dominated by one word at the moment – nativity! A stress-fuelled time of rehearsals, costumes, children trying to learn their parts, performances, tears and tantrums (and that’s just the adults!). Tensions would be running high, no one would be able to find the stuffed sheep, the star would be looking a bit crumpled, and someone would have to tell little Jack that the actual shepherds didn’t wear Spider-Man dressing gowns.
All of that might be a bit different this year. Whether we end up being able to arrange a nativity at all is very uncertain, and if we can then whether it is online, in-building, broadcast or pre-recorded is all dependent on what restrictions are in force for our area.
If, and it’s a big if I realise, there is a possibility of arranging a nativity this year, it is more important than ever that this should be a nativity for everyone. A nativity that includes and involves everyone, a nativity that doesn’t isolate or marginalise children and families that are already feeling pushed to the edges (or over them!).
“Every part should be open to any child who might want to participate”A while ago I read an article in The Independent about what the nativity role children are given might say about them. It’s a great article, spot on in many cases, and even manages to introduce a new part to the nativity performance: ‘First lobster’!
There’s plenty about what it takes to be Mary, Joseph, the star, shepherds and wise men, but as I read it I was distracted by the thought that in arranging a nativity play, we do actually have the unenviable task of allocating these roles. That whatever method we choose, there will be accusations of favouritism, partiality, preference or discrimination levelled against us, sometimes fairly, often not.
We have two children, now young adults, who have had markedly different nativity play ‘careers’ in the past. Our eldest, Phoebe, has played every role except Joseph (she did try, the beard wouldn’t stay on!), and at even 21 is still on standby to do a reading or to narrate if required. James (now aged 18, autistic with learning disability and epilepsy) on the other hand was shuffled onto the stage wearing his dressing gown and a tea-towel a few times when he was little, but there the creativity ended.
So, what nativity-play part is there for a disabled child, and what does the answer to this question tell us about society as a whole and church as a part of it? Well, the starting point has to be that every part should be open to any child who might want to participate. To exclude children with additional needs or disabilities from certain ‘high-profile’ roles, limiting them to very minor sometimes made-up parts is to discriminate against them. To exclude them entirely is inexcusably shameful.
I have, however, been encouraged and thrilled to see stories of disabled children being actively and creatively included in nativity plays. The disabled daughter of a friend of mine was cast in the role of Mary, and everything was arranged so that she could play this part; she was able to wonderfully capture the beauty of God’s radiance shining from her. I heard of a boy who found it impossible to stay still, so was cast as the star and given freedom to run around, recognising that (according to The Sky At Night) the star of Bethlehem was probably a comet. Or there is the story of the boy who in the past would cling to his children’s worker’s leg, but one year was encouraged and helped to take part and shouted out his line with considerable confidence and enthusiasm!
“Jesus included everyone,
no one was left out”Here's a video clip from the BBC’s YouTube channel that shows a school putting on a Christmas performance with children with a range of additional needs and disabilities; it might give you some ideas! As one of the teachers says: “I think it’s just really looking at what they’re good at and then using that…think how you can link [the story] with their talent and what they have learned over the year.” They made the play really sensory and paced it so that everyone could enjoy taking part.
Any part can be adapted or creatively arranged so that any child can be given that role, if they wish, whether they have a disability or not. If we can get this right at Christmas-time, the time when the God-child entered the world to save everyone, not just those without disabilities, then this can help us get it right for the rest of the year too. Christ’s birth wasn’t a sanitised, well-behaved, professional, slick, orderly event…childbirth rarely is even in the most clinical of environments, but throw in lots of relatives, some shepherds, the filth of the animals, a myriad of angels, some random wise men, and the chaos must have been extraordinary!
During his ministry years, Jesus didn’t just say important things, he did them; he modelled them in his life so that we could follow his example. He included everyone, no one was left out; in fact he actively accepted and included many that the world rejected and so should we.
As Jesus himself said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). He didn’t add: “…except the one that has meltdowns sometimes and can be bit noisy, who runs around a bit and won’t sit still, don’t let that one through…” I think that is the child that would have ended up on Jesus’ lap!
Let’s see the nativity play this year, whether online, in-building, or both, as a gauge of where our church has got to on the road to accessibility, acceptance, inclusion and belonging. For a few churches there is indeed “good news for all people”, for others they are arriving at Bethlehem but still have a lot more to do, for many they haven’t even left Nazareth yet, there is a long journey ahead, and they haven’t even borrowed a donkey.
Where is your church on that scale?
is additional needs ministry director at Urban Saints and co-founder of the Additional Needs Alliance. He is a Churches for All and Living Fully Network partner and member of the Council for Disabled Children. He is father to James who has autism. Mark writes a blog on the subject.
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First Steps Together - For younger childrenSession 4 of 4Community
MEETING AIMTo think about what we can share with others.
BIBLE PASSAGEActs 2:42-47
BACKGROUNDFollowing the day of Pentecost, this passage shares how believers – the early Church – met together as a community, and how every day more people came to believe and joined them.
STARTING OUT - 5 minsSit down together as a family to spend time chatting and listening to each other. Ask: “What was the best bit of your week?”
Explain that you’re going to hear today about when people first started meeting together as church and sharing things with each other. Ask: “What things can we share?”
PLAY - 10 minsYou will need: a snack you can share such as a bag of sweets or crackersTip your chosen snack out into a bowl. Ask your children to share the snack out between your family. As you sit and eat your snack, chat together about what it feels like to share, and ask: “Why do we share?”
If you have time, you could play a game that involves sharing and taking turns, if you have one.
BIBLE STORY - 10 minsYou will need: Bible; large sheet of paper; marker pen; props for retelling the story (optional)Read the passage from a Bible together and ask your children if they can spot the different things the believers did together.
There are lots of parts which they could pick out. Write down all the family’s suggestions. Chat together about everything you’ve written down.
Ask the family who they think it means when it says “everyone” and “all the believers”? Adults? Just the people leading the church? No! What is so exciting is that it is everyone! Adults, babies, children, teenagers, old people…everyone! We are all part of God’s family, and all part of the Church.
Read the story again and come up with some actions, or act it out with props. Remind the children that when it says everyone, it means everyone! We are all invited to be part of God’s Church together.
Read the passage one more time and either gather props such as play food to share and money so you can pretend to sell items, or make actions for various parts, eg hugging each other for phrases like “meet together”.
It talks a lot in this story about being “together”. The people didn’t have a church building like we do, they met in people’s homes and outside. They looked after each other and they shared everything they had.
CHATTING TOGETHER - 5 minsAsk some questions to chat about the story together. Here are some to get you started:
CREATIVE TIME - 10 minsYou will need: art and craft materialsTalk about how God loves everyone and how much he loves it when we share him with others so they can know him too. He loves it when we share what we have to help others. Explain that while you can’t all be together as God’s family, you can still find ways to share what you have and help each other.
- What was your favourite part of the story?
- How did the people help each other?
- What do you think other people thought when they saw how they all shared everything together?
- Does this sound like our church today?
- Why do you think God wants us to be together with other people who believe in him?
- How can we share what we have with others?
Ask God to show you a way you can share and show his love to someone in your community this week. Spend some time waiting to see if he pops anything in your heads. Invite your children to lead the discussion and come up with something you can do together. For example, making a card for someone or choosing some toys to give away. Spend some time responding together and then go share with someone!
PRAYER - 5 minsUse this prayer at the end of your time, and give space for your children to pray their own prayers out loud.
God, thank you that you love us and we get to be together with other people as part of your family. Show us this week how we can help others and share all the things you have given us.
is a funeral chaplain and mum of two boys. She recently published Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo: An honest look at parenting (CWR).
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Growing Together - For older childrenSession 4 of 4Community
MEETING AIMTo discover the community aspect of church life.
BIBLE PASSAGEActs 2:42-47
BACKGROUNDThe earliest Church shared everything. People sold their belongings, even their houses, and gave the money to the poor. They did everything together as well, sharing food and praising God. What does this tell us? When we explore this passage, what is our response? Do we ever go beyond the bounds of generosity with our money, our food, our time? This kind of community demands much of us – as we explore this story with children, they might challenge us too as the way we live our lives. How open are we to hearing God’s word through their revelation?
STARTING OUT - 5 minsStart your time together with some simple refreshments and chat about what your children have found exciting today (or yesterday, if you’re doing this in the morning).
INTRO ACTIVITY - 10 minsYou will need: lots of three different kinds of food (such as carrot sticks, sultanas and sweets)
Give a volunteer in your family two or three carrot sticks. Ask them if they would like to share these with everyone else. Keep giving more and more carrot sticks until the volunteer decides they would like to share, and how many they would like to give away. Follow the volunteer’s idea of how much to share.
Do the same with the sultanas and then the sweets. Did the volunteer(s) keep more sweets than they did carrot sticks? Were they more reluctant to share one food rather than another?
BIBLE STORY - 10 minsYou will need: bread; grape juice; cups; money; ‘possessions’ (use whatever you have around your house – not fragile items!)
Gather your family together and tell this story:
Jesus’ friends were busy, and very excited. After Jesus had died and come alive again, and after he had gone back to heaven, they were scared, but that had all changed when God sent his Holy Spirit to help them. Suddenly they had gone from scared to brave, and were telling everyone about Jesus!
Everyone who followed Jesus (and there were already thousands) listened to the disciples’ teaching. Everyone was filled with wonder at the signs performed by the disciples! They remembered Jesus’ death and resurrection when they eat bread and drank wine. Share out the bread and pour the grape juice in cups and give those out too. Invite them to think about Jesus’ death and resurrection as they eat their bread and drink the juice. You may need to recap the Easter story if they children aren’t familiar with it.
The followers of Jesus spent all their time together and shared everything they had. They sold property and possessions. Get one family member to sell your possessions to another for money. They shared this money with anyone who was in need. The family member should share the money with everyone else.
They ate together and praised God! Sing a song together that you all know. Every day, more and more people became friends of Jesus, because God was using all the believers.CHATTING TOGETHER - 5 minsEncourage some discussion by asking these questions:
CREATIVE TIME - 10 minsYou will need: large sheet of paper; marker pen
- Which bit of the story do you like?
- What might it have been like to be part of that earliest church?
- If people looked at your family and church, would they know you followed Jesus? Why? Why not?
- How can you invite people to join in this adventure of following Jesus?
- What does this story tell us about the way your church should work?
Think about different ways you can invite others to join your church community. You will need to make sure you stay within whatever lockdown restrictions your parish or area is under at the moment – you may need to get creative in order to reach out! Your ideas might be as simple as baking a cake and delivering it to your neighbours or organising a Zoom quiz for different families in your community. You could give some money or donate some groceries to a local food bank. Let your imagination run riot – it’s likely that your children will have some wonderful ideas (and some outlandish ones too, but that’s OK).
Write all these ideas down and choose some that you can do. Then plan how you’re going to do them!
PRAYER - 5 minsYou will need: a picture of people in your church (you could use your church website as a starting point); art and / or collage materials
Look at the pictures of your church community and / or your church website. Ask the children what they would like to ask God for with regards to your church community. Encourage the children to pray for your community using their words or creating a piece of artwork that represents their prayer. If you create pieces of art, then stick these up around your house so that you can continue to pray for these as you walk past.
Remember to pray for your plans to share community with others. Return to your prayers in weeks to come to see how God has answered them.
is resources editor for Premier Youth and Children’s Work.
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Journeying Together - For young peopleSession 4 of 4Community
MEETING AIMTo explore the early Church to help us reimagine what church could look like today.
BIBLE PASSAGEActs 2:42-47
BACKGROUNDThis session is designed for you to do online in a group video call (on something like FaceTime or Zoom). Make sure you have parental permission to do this, as well as following your church’s safeguarding procedure.
The community described at the end of Acts 2 (and the end of Acts 4) will seem very different from our own. Over the intervening 2,000 years, traditions and ways of organisation have grown up around the Church. Many of these proved necessary as the Church grew, but how much can we learn about Church today from the early Church?
JOINING THE SESSION - 5 minsAs people join you online, ask them to share what they have been doing during the past seven days.
INTRO ACTIVITY - 10 minsYou will need: chocolate bars; wrapping paper; sticky tape
Before the session, deliver or post a chocolate bar to each of the members of your group. Ask them to wrap their chocolate bar up, and chat about these questions as they do so. (If they don’t have any wrapping paper, they could use newspaper, kitchen foil or anything else suitable they can find.)
- What is the best thing you have been given?
- When you hear ‘giving’ talked about in church, what does this refer to? What do you give?
- What things could you give?
- Is it easier to give to those who give to you?
- Are there people you find it hard to give to?
- What good things have been given to you by the church? (Not focusing so much on material things but on less tangible things such as love, encouragement or care.)
Explain that they are going to give their chocolate bar away, not expecting anything in return. Who might they share their chocolate with?
BIBLE EXPLORATION - 10 minsYou will need: BiblesAsk someone in the group to read out this week’s passage. Ask the group what elements of church they can recognise in this Bible reading. Can they find worship, community, connectedness and mission?
Look for the word ‘together’ in the passage. Ask how many times it occurs and ask someone to read out the sentences where the word ‘together’ occurs. Discuss what this shows us about the early Church community and how they showed how much they belonged to God by how they belonged together. Explain that when the first Christians met together to make the first church they didn’t meet in a building like ours. They met together in people’s homes and outside. Ask what the advantages of meeting in this way could be, both then and now?
Talk about how they looked after each other and were generous in sharing all that they had, both food and possessions, even though in the first century many of the Christians were poor and had very little to share. Explain how they were welcoming to others and included people of different backgrounds, cultures and financial situations.CHATTING TOGETHER - 5 minsAsk the group to discuss these questions:
CREATIVE RESPONSE - 10 minsChallenge the young people to come up with pictures that illustrate these four elements of church, arising from today’s passage: worship, community, mission, connectedness.
- What were the key things the early Church did?
- What did they share and how?
- Why do you think they were glad about giving?
- Does this sound like church today?
- Would you like to belong to a church like this?
Give a few minutes for the group to search the internet and make their choices. Then invite everyone to share their pictures and chat about why they chose them. How do they illustrate what the early Church was like? How vital were these aspects of church for them in their day-to-day lives?
Ask the group: How are these parts of church a part of your life today? Which are important to you? Why? Are there any of these elements that you feel should become more important to you? Do you want to change anything as a result? What could church look like if all these foundations were there?
PRAYER - 5 minsYou will need: candle or film clip of a candleShow a film clip of a candle, or light a candle and place it in front of your camera. Invite the group to watch the candle and think about their friends whom they would like to know about God’s love. Pray about how the Church can meet our friends where they are (both physically where they live and where they are in their lives, emotionally and spiritually). Pray for those people you don’t know who live in your neighbourhood; pray that the church can reach out to them too.
Pray that the group would have the confidence to reach out and tell of their faith, no matter how difficult it is. Pray for the light of the world to shine from them and show Jesus’ love.
This session was inspired by ideas from the Premier Youth and Children’s Work archive, adapted by ALEX TAYLOR.
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