St Mary’s had a traditional Sunday School which outgrew the vestry where it met. In 2008, the previous parish priest set up Early Church at 9.15am on Sunday mornings with the aim of solving this problem of lack of space. It started with about 30 people coming along and parents and clergy were both involved in running it.
The liturgy used was ‘informally formal’ and a service sheet was produced based on Common Worship. There would be a children’s song, using a CD as accompaniment and then a children’s talk followed by age-based activities (toddlers at front of church, 4-6s, 7-8s and older children spread around the church with adults staying in their seats for a talk). The readings were based on the lectionary. The service was very relaxed, noisy but the children didn’t run around!
Recently there has been a big change as a couple linked to Make Jesus Known have joined the church and brought a new dimension to Early Church. Different music is used, the liturgy is projected onto a screen so there are no leaflets or books to hold, the readings are based on themes rather than the lectionary. It has become liturgically less formal.
It has taken time for the parents to adjust to this but there are now 70 children and 70 adults attending regularly. Not everyone who attends comes as part of a family.
Early Church meets on the first three Sundays of the month at 9.15am. On the 4th Sunday there is a 10.30am Family Worship service and on the 5th Sunday there is an All Age Communion service.
Five of the congregation are now on the PCC and others are involved in fundraising and social events. There is evidence that some are showing commitment, experiencing spiritual growth and a deepening relationship with God.