Footsteps: Starting out
What can we offer those who have little or no connection with church?
This question was our starting point. We are a partnership of four rural churches, with a church primary school that is catchment for all four parishes.
The area also includes a Methodist Church, a United Reformed Church and a Roman Catholic church.
In the beginning...
We began by reflecting on the previous year.
Special events such as the Crib Service and the annual Teddy Bears picnic had been extremely well attended. (70+ children at the Crib Service and 30+ at the picnic - up from 6 the previous year!)
As well, our under 5s service had a core of families who had been coming along for two or three years and felt comfortable with being in the church.
However, apart from this, very few children had a connection with any of the local churches. Numbers at our informal All Age Worship services on Sundays remained low and we realised that it would still be considered too formal for many people. We felt it was time to look at what else we could offer.
We considered Messy Church and I went to visit several. There was much we liked about it – the friendliness, the food, the activities and craft that engaged the children.
However, we felt it needed a large team of committed people to work well – and in our small churches it would be hard to find enough people to do this each month.
Also, my background is in Godly Play where the story is told first and the response follows; with Messy Church it seemed as if the response preceded the story. I also felt that without care Messy Church could become children's activities with food rather than the All Age event it is intended to be.
The Cambridge Church Schools Trust had started organising events for primary school children in Cambridge churches. These events had a seasonal theme such as as Lent and Advent.
The children moved in groups around the stations, which each focussed on different aspects of the theme, for example Jesus in the wilderness.
They included story telling, opportunities for prayer, reflective activities and an art response.
I had been involved in "Shed for Lent" (February 2013) and would be taking part in "Path to the Stable" (November 2013) and was keen to see if these could work in our much smaller church with children from our local primary school.
We also wanted to find ways of including other events such as the annual Teddy Bears picnic in our overall plan.
We decided that we wanted to offer a variety of events that could be held at different times and in different venues.
We felt it was important to build up confidence in what we were doing and that to achieve this it would be helpful to have an umbrella "name" and a logo so that people could identify our events and know that it would be appropriate for children.
We held a brainstorming session with some of our children to choose a "name".
Suggestions ranged from "Denizens of Nazareth" to "Lightship" but when one of the children suggested "Footsteps" the name appealed to everyone, perhaps because it connected with the idea of journeying together.
Our first event
Our first event was held after school and offered the opportunity to visit Path to the Stable: a journey through Advent an exhibition that had been set up in the church for a couple of classes from the school.
As it was our first event we were unsure how many to expect. Eighteen children came on the day, and a few others looked in during the week. Most of the ones who came had been to our under 5s service.
How well did it work?
This first event was somewhat disorganised!
Our plan was to retell the stories we had told to the school children, and we did try this.
However, many of the children had already heard the stories and others were tired after the school day. We decided that it would have been better to have done something simpler, that fitted with the theme but was not recapping the same material.
All the children engaged with the creative responses and enjoyed coming, which gave us the confidence to continue.
Our next event was a Messy Church type event based on the Godly Play story of the Great Family, involving drama, craft activities and the school choir...
You can find out more about Footsteps events here: Footsteps