Exploring ‘life to the full’ in schools across Kensington
Mary Kok, Youth and Schools Chaplain in the Kensington Area, shares in-depth her experiences leading a team of volunteers in a five-week mission to Church of England schools across the Kensington area.
“I am more sure God exists (now) than when I entered (the classroom).”
– Year 8 student, Bishop Wand School
Capital Vision 2020 commits us to increase the number of young people in local Christian communities, and to strengthen the links between schools and local parish churches. During Lent of 2018, the Bishop of Kensington decided to lead a mission into Church of England schools, which Capital Youth supported and the Kensington Area team coordinated.
Throughout last term, we coordinated a team of 53 volunteers to deliver an entire week of activities and content across five different Church of England schools in the Kensington area, challenging students to think about faith and prayer. So much happened in ways which were planned and even more spectacularly in ways that were unplanned.
“Meeting and talking with so many students and staff, of all faiths and none, in our Church Schools during the Lent mission was an inspiring and fascinating experience. It was good to explore topics such as faith, prayer, suffering, pilgrimage and many others with them, and to see many making their first steps in prayer and Christian life. It was also good to meet many others who are already bearing witness to Christ in our schools and I am profoundly grateful both to the schools for their welcome and also to those ordinands, clergy, youth workers and others who took part in the mission teams.
My hope is that this will lead to stronger relationships between schools and local churches, and establish a culture where students are able to encounter and explore faith as a vital and foundational aspect of life.”
– Bishop Graham Tomlin
The main objective was to help students explore the Christian faith, but also to see what could be learned about how students respond to prepared activities. We were also keen to learn how to establish effective ongoing relationships with schools workers, where students are easily pointed to local Christian communities. We had the advantage of building on existing relationships, but wanted to see how we could catalyse the way students explore faith.
One week into the mission, I knew we were running a marathon. Like with any marathon there are highs and lows; moments of, “why are we doing this, are we mad?” and moments of feeling on top of the world, with a determined team all pulling together. Thankfully, these moments far outweighed the lower ones, and in the lower ones team members were there to pick each other up.
Working alongside Bishop Graham in a team of local ordinands, clergy, and youth workers in each school was a joy and a privilege. We had a wealth of experience within those teams, as well as those engaging in schools work for the first time. For me personally this was a real highlight, as ordinands reached out of their comfort zones and ran faithfully into the mission – having their first taste of schools work. The buzz that was around them as they experienced serving in this way was infectious – and as they discovered Schools work is an amazing opportunity and incredibly rewarding.
Based on John 10:10, the key message was about “living life to the full” and what that looks like in daily life. Young people were given several opportunities to consider their faith and respond, either directly or via a website landing page that would connect them with their schools chaplain.
As well as bringing a message of hope and peace to the students in these schools, the mission has provided key learning points about how young people engage with prayer and the Christian faith in their school context, through such activities as prayer spaces and assemblies:
“I liked the magnadoodle station, as you can say something you are sorry for and rub it off as if God was forgiving you.”
– Student in Prayer Space feedback
“I liked how (the Live Life team) were able to include everyone.”
– Year 7 student, The Green School for Boys
“(The assembly) made us think about what we hold most dearly to us and the worth of Jesus to Christians in how he helps them live their lives.”
– Student, Lady Margaret School
“Years 7 and 8 in particular enjoyed the chapel prayer activities. I thought the one with the masks was brilliant and had a good pastoral discussion off the back of that.”
– Head of Year 9, Lady Margaret School
During the five weeks of mission, over 1,600 students engaged with prayer spaces and we ran 188 lessons about the Christian faith and what life is like walking with God. We hosted a series of assemblies in each school covering over 5,250 students and 700 staff, all of which included personal testimonies. We hosted gigs in partnership with The Message Trust and local Youth Minsters where young people responded to the Christian faith. We held Q&A sessions with Bishop Graham. We hung out with students at break times and had some incredible conversations. We met with Christian students to encourage them in their walks, ran debate clubs and lectures, played games and shared lots of pizza! We also encouraged and prayed for staff in the valuable work that they do and walked around every school in prayer. One school even tweeted that it felt empty after we left!
The story continues…
Even though the mission has ended, we are still hearing testimonies of what God has done.
“The schools mission brought up for me an interest in getting out of the church and into the community. Taking part in the mission last week not only grew my confidence, but led to a conversation with my vicar – it turns out, we have a local high school asking us to go in, but my vicar thought he didn’t have anyone who was interested! We’re now praying and I am going to get in touch with the school to see what they are hoping we can offer.”
– Rosie Richardson, Ordinand
One Friday during the mission, a Christian student turned up to a Q&A session with her two friends. They had lots of questions about what we had been talking about that week, one of which was about original sin! A team member asked the student if she had ever considered inviting her two friends to church. She laughed and said no. After the week was over, we heard that she did invite her friends to church and both had made a profession of faith that weekend.
We have seen glimpses of lives changed during the mission. Being a short term project, we know that we will not get to see all the fruit; but we do get a small glimpse of what has happened in individual lives, which feels like a gift from God; a real encouragement to keep going.
For this mission, the Christian community pulled together from many places – the Diocese of London, Christian Vision UK, The Message Trust, youth workers, clergy, ordinands, Christian teachers, chaplains, parents, governors – all worked together to further God’s kingdom; to share our good news and transform lives.
“The quality of the deliveries and conversations held with students were excellent and I have been very impressed with the informal feedback I have received so far. This has been the most successful project I have seen from diocese in school.”
– Head Teacher, Bishop Wand School
“In the frantic pace of school life, the Live Life event was a unique opportunity to allow students (and staff) the time to reflect upon where they are now, the people they are becoming and to ask questions about life. The facilitators captured the imagination of everyone they met with their experiences and faith. The huge preparation required for such an event really paid off and I am grateful for all the team (including our Chaplin) provided in this reflective season.”
– Head Teacher, The Green School for Girls
About Capital Youth
There are estimated to be over 340,000 young people aged 11-18 in our Diocesan area, yet only 2,000 attend our churches on Sundays. As a Diocese, we need to be doing more to connect with and minister to this generation. Young people growing up who have never experienced the transforming love of Christ, or the support of a local church community.
Capital Youth is an opportunity to be more radical; for people across the Diocese to increase the focus on young people as part of our ministry, and see this work as too important to delegate or avoid.