Annual Report for 2019 Chapter 1

This is the first of four chapters of our Annual Report, in preparation for our APCM on Sunday 25th October 10.30am at St Giles’ Church, which everyone is welcome to attend.

Children & Young People’s Ministry

Tots’ Praise – Revd Natasha Brady

We meet every Monday in term time and the atmosphere has a lovely buzz about it. The format of the session sees the children playing with the range of toys that are set out by our lovely volunteers each week.  Parents, carers and grandparents are welcomed and offered refreshments, as are the children. Near the end, I shout ‘tidy up time’ and then once the toys are away we settle down for nursery rhymes and play musical instruments. Our team of volunteers changed over the course of the year.  Sadly we grieved the death of one of our most vibrant helpers – Susanne McDonald to cancer, and we celebrated the return to health of another, Cath Smith.

Tot’s Praise, in 2019, seemed to be a year of two halves. By the end of the academic year, i.e. the summer holidays – numbers were soaring and we had created a WhatsApp group so parents/carers could continue to meet up during the long break.  This was a welcome piece of work, that deepened their relationship with the Church and one another, which was brilliant.  In the Autumn, numbers dropped a bit, and haven’t really bounced back yet. It’s not bad – just disappointing.  We had over 25 adults & 40 plus toddles, every week, by the summer.  September to December saw those numbers fall off to about 15 – 18 adults and 20-25 children.

As the year progressed we marked each Christian festival with suitable activities and a great deal of fun and excitement.  We devised an Easter egg hunt, summer party and again celebrated with a Christmas party.  Great opportunities to witness to the love of God and the fellowship we offer in the name of Jesus Christ. By meeting the families where they are in their journey of faith we are having more and more conversations about God and what he means to us.  This relational approach to evangelism is beginning to make significant changes in our relationships with some people.  For that I am thankful. But we and I need to remind ourselves this is a ‘fringe’ ministry, so we cannot expect folk to leap from no church to regular Sunday attendance by this means of community engagement alone.

We continue to need your prayer in regards to being open, confident witnesses of the gospel.  I long to be able to share a weekly bible story and sing Christian songs with this group but they are so fearful, which is a shame, but our volunteers are now happily chatting to all who come.

On a positive note, by being God’s hands and feet – leading Faith-fuelled lives seems to have led two childminders into being willing helpers.  They set up Tots Praise each week, and share their ideas willingly, which has been a blessing. One of our St Andrew’s congregation, now comes, regularly, to pack down and help at Christmas.   It has been humbling to see the generosity of all those who give of their talents each week to keep this ministry alive. To them I want to say a heartfelt  –  THANK YOU 

Junior Church – Janet Cottrell

KiC (Kids in Christ) is the Junior Church group for primary aged children (5-11 years).  KiC leaders Nicky, Janet, Karen and Tara ran the group on a rota basis in 2019 with the help each week of an adult volunteer and occasionally assisted by the 7-UP teenagers.  The teaching material used was from CLICK, which is based on the Kids@church programme from CEP Australia.  The theme for the week was brought to life through a variety of games, crafts, drama, discussion and prayer, relating the Biblical teaching of the session to the children’s everyday lives.

In the first half of 2019 we explored “Living in God’s Family”; Jesus’ teaching from Matthew.   Weekly topics covered Anger and Making Peace, Don’t Worry, Love for Others, Being Humble, Forgiving Others and Prayer – God Hears His Children.

The second half of 2019 examined some of the Giants of Faith in God’s Big Plan, people such as Noah, Abraham, Rahab, Moses, Gideon, Deborah and Samson.  Each week there were activity or colouring sheets based on the week’s lesson for the children to take home to remind them of the things discussed during the session.

We would like to thank our leaders in 2019 for all their planning and patience. Tara “moved up” with her teenagers to become a leader in 7Up. We have about 7 families who attend occasionally or regularly and we would love to see this grow so that there is a bit more interaction and opportunity for games. We managed without a crèche during 2019 as we have had no babies in church for a while.

We closed the year with a lovely Christmas song – the children were rehearsed and accompanied by Deborah Wetherall.

7Up – Simon Edwards

In 7Up we provide a safe space for our young people (teens) to connect and build relationships with each other and with God.  We welcome visiting young people who choose to join us; friends of 7Up members, visiting relations of church members etc. 

Enjoying fun and food (particularly Biscoff spread!) are key ingredients of our times together.  We are also real with each other, supporting one another, in friendship and in prayer, to face and overcome life’s challenges. 

In 2019 we supported the MacDonald family, and each other, through Susanne’s brave battle with cancer and her tragic passing in November.  We are truly grateful for the joy and vitality which Susanne brought to our 7Up community. Her unwavering confidence in her saviour, Jesus, and in her loving Father in heaven, will continue to inspire us.

Developing personal prayer lives, reviewing a range of faith-building resources, and exploring how to be fruitful followers of Jesus, influencing others for good, have all featured in our 2019 sessions.  

We encourage our young people to shape our sessions and to lead as they feel equipped.  Our two senior members, Joni MacDonald and Lizzie Cottrell, have contributed to the planning and leading of 7Up sessions, and they treated us to a Treasure Hunt in the Vicarage Garden in the summer. It has been a privilege to work with these young women to develop their leadership gifts.

This is what some of our young people and a parent have to say about 7Up:

‘I joined 7up because I wanted to experience Christianity in a small group, where I felt comfortable. I tried to join one at school but I didn’t enjoy it.  I have enjoyed exploring my faith in a community.’

‘I really like the creative activities.’

 ‘I like the variety of 7Up. The final game links everything together from that session – very helpful.’

‘Praying together seems more powerful in a group than by myself, and more specific and personal than in the main service’

‘It’s great that there is a small group setting where my son feels at home discussing spiritual and personal issues. Being able to develop the right words and reactions through challenges, traumas and successes is so valuable and shows that we are all different when it comes to relying on our faith. Having adult leaders who are fun and generous in their expression of faith is one of the best things about our church.’

Lighthouse – John Wheatley

Once again in 2019 volunteers from our church and Children attended a Lighthouse Holiday Club. This year a new Lighthouse started in Langley which meant that many Children from our Churches and local area had a choice of Club and week to attend

Lighthouse is a holiday club for children, run by Christians from local churches and others working together, bringing churches and communities together

This years Lighthouses saw growing attendance at both Burnham and Langley and the number of volunteer Teenagers reaching a new high. All volunteers attend a child safeguarding course, many are allocated roles that are unfamiliar to them (ask Natasha and Jamie) but have an amazing enthusiasm and find they have abilities they never knew they had.

A typical day will see Children arrive and be registered at 10.00am they will break into their own age groups in the Main tent//Stage for a half hour assembly which features worship, testimonies, games, noise and a lot of fun.  After this each Age group will follow a timetable which features sports, crafts games Christian teaching   and lots of time to make friends. They at all times are looked after by Age group leaders Lighthouse keepers and Lamplighters. The day ends with a session in the main Tent/Stage featuring Worship games fun and rounding off with THE GUNGE TANK. Noise levels generated as they try to get their favourite helper gunged are beyond belief. When we talk to parents the following day they always seem amazed at how quickly their children fall asleep.

Across the local region 5000 Children attended a Lighthouse on a daily basis in addition to 3500 Teenagers and Volunteers from all communities.

Many people describe Lighthouse as ‘the best week of the summer holidays!’

Safeguarding – Revd Natasha Brady

Stoke Poges Church continues to take safeguarding very seriously. Our safeguarding policy was reviewed and updated and approved by the PCC at the April PCC meeting. It is on display in the St Andrew’s Centre and on St Giles’ noticeboard.

This year there was a change to who should undertake the Basic safeguarding course, which meant all our sides-people and the choir were required to undertake the training.  Both ministries embraced this wholeheartedly and we had Rowena Griffiths come and deliver the training to us on behalf of the Oxford Diocese.  So we are fully compliant in all our ministries now, which is a wonderful achievement.

We will continue with our safer recruitment policy, as stipulated by the Church of England. To ensure that we have capacity to do that, two more people became accredited with the Leadership qualifications in safeguarding and recruitment to assist me when taking on new people, whether they are paid or volunteers.  I hope, as a church community, you understand the vital nature of safeguarding. We must be a community that looks out for the vulnerable, both children and adults, therefore if you are stepping into a new role within the life of the church, do not be surprised to learn that safeguarding training and checks are part of that recruitment process.

Our annual Safeguarding Audit showed a few holes but they are now plugged and all those who need to renew their training have been contacted, as our certificates only last 3 years.  Natasha will continue to monitor their progress as the Interim Safeguarding Officer. Anyone requiring a new DBS should continue to contact Margriet Wells, as she deals with this area of Safeguarding.

Our hope is that everyone will feel enabled and safe within our Church and, when necessary, confident to share any concerns that they have, knowing that we all have ears to hear and the heart of Jesus to act appropriately to all.

Key message from the Oxford Diocese:

  • The welfare of the child, young person and vulnerable adult is at all times paramount and takes precedence over all other considerations.
  • The Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser must be consulted whenever a safeguarding concern of any kind arises in your parish.
  • Safeguarding is part of our core faith and an integral feature of Christian life in our parish churches.

Our next chapter will go out in a few days time…