Children’s work online – what are we learning?
Over the past couple of months, children’s workers have been exploring new ways to reach children and families in their parishes. Katie O’Conor caught up with three of them to see what they have learnt.
In this funny time we are living through, everyone is having to change and adapt what they’re doing with their children and families. There are some amazing things happening across the Diocese; while we get to hear about them regularly as we talk to children’s workers across London, we thought others would like to hear some of the stories too. So we have gathered a few insights and thoughts from three children’s pastors for you to catch a glimpse into what God is doing across the city. Enjoy!
Fuzz Dix at St Luke’s Millwall
So here we are, in national lockdown, and finally after 20 years of urban children’s ministry, I feel like a Blue Peter presenter. Praying and planning each week for ideas of crafts that I can do remotely with our children’s church, relying on items that each child will hopefully be able to source in their own homes.
St Luke’s Millwall is a small estate church in east London, and our families are living through this time on an emotional rollercoaster. Life as we knew it seems a million miles away and I am longing for the holy chaos that used to bring me joy and exhaustion as we gathered together each Sunday morning.
Our role as Church is multifaceted, as ever, but the focus for us here has sharpened again through the lens of Isaiah 61, which is the bedrock of our church’s vision. We are called to preach good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted and provide for those in need. I count it a privilege to pastor and minister to those who are overwhelmed and broken hearted by the fear and anxiety of their situation.
And so, each week, I delight to see the faces of the children of our church patchworked together on Zoom, listening, sharing, reading, praying, and concentrating on craft together as we dig deep into the good news of God’s word together. We are thankful that technology allows so much of church life to continue, albeit in a 2D way, through all this, but more thankful still that God is bigger than this and is not in lockdown and is able to extend his kingdom through this crisis.
My prayer is that when we look back in years to come, we will see clearly how he used it for good, and how we as Church grew in our Isaiah 61 calling and were shaped for the future by this time.
Bri L’Hostis and Tamlyn Carshagen at St Paul’s Ealing
St Paul’s Ealing is an active church in the middle of a residential area. We welcome around 300 children into our church through our Sunday groups and midweek programmes, most who are from the local community.
Like nearly all churches, our ministry (outside of the pandemic) is hugely dependent on making connections and being available to people, whether that’s during a toddler stay and play or at a TLG coaching session in a local school. We’ve found that online ministry is exactly the same as ‘in-person ministry’ in this way: connection is key. From meeting with families over hangouts to do virtual ‘Sunday groups’ to gathering together virtually on Sunday morning to say hello, worship, listen to a Bible story and pray together via the video comments section, our families still want to be connected to each other and to the church.
How your church enables that connection will really depend on your context, so we don’t want to give too many of our own ‘tips’ here. We’ve found that the key is to stop worrying about creating content and start praying about fostering connection.
As children’s workers and pastors suddenly stranded in our own homes, it’s also important for us to foster connections with our colleagues. Although we’ve always worked loosely with two other local churches, we’ve now started meeting virtually once a week to plan together and share the work burden and the emotional burden. We call and text each other often throughout the day and share a big, chaotic, disorganised Google Drive folder with the resources we’re creating, just in case someone else might find them useful. Now is the time to start creating those connections! Find another like-minded children’s and families’ worker, whether they’re next door or across the country. Meet together, pray together, and share the burden. Remember, connection is key!
Lauren McKenna at St Saviour’s Wendell Park
St Saviour’s is a church right in the heart of Wendell Park, west London. We’re friendly, local, diverse and growing.
As everyone is, I’m learning a lot in this time. I am enjoying the challenge of creating sessions that are short and snappy enough for young children whilst also having good content. I found that singing over camera was quite nerve-wracking at first, but I have slowly become more confident with this. I’m focusing primarily on making stories and singing as movement heavy as possible to keep children engaged. This means it can be quite exhausting when I finish both sessions but thoroughly rewarding. I’ve also learnt more about engaging children under the age of 3 in activities and when it’s OK to let go of a plan to just have fun.
Because I’m not spending hours of my week putting out toys and tidying them away again, I am able to use that time to read more into Godly Play, Diddy Disciples and children’s spirituality, which I am loving.
A highlight for me so far has been having my first go at Godly Play online. The discussions that followed were incredible, such a positive start.
After Easter, I prayed about how best I could support families during this time. From this I now have weekly pastoral phone check-ins with each family and started an online youth club for the older children in the congregation. There are challenges, but I’m enjoying them and finding myself being stretched in ways that I wouldn’t have in ‘normal life’ ministry.
Katie is the Children’s Ministry Support worker and Apprenticeship Scheme Coordinator for the Diocese of London. She loves connecting with people across London and helping the diocese think more about how we can best support children and families ministry across the diocese, working with the children and youth team to support churches.
Read more from Katie O'Conor