Revd Maureen Thorp, Vicar of St Michael’s tells how the church has developed a new service for families:
“St Michael’s, Tonge cum Alkrington is very popular with young families who want their children to attend St Michael’s CE Primary or Blue Coat, Crompton House, or Bury Church Secondary Schools. So we are blessed with many people who are initially there for reasons other than to worship God.
This has caused some problems in the past because the core congregation have been upset by the noise of both adults talking throughout the Service children being noisy when they come in from Sunday school and by the playing of electronic games. The occasional adult chooses to sit and read their kindle and this too can be distracting. It seemed that I was constantly moaning or pleading for understanding.
After much thought we realised that we did not provide an alternative time for families to attend worship, and after asking around came to the conclusion that the best time would be on Sunday Evenings. The monthly Evensong Service had declined to the point that the choir were singing praise to God but no one else was attending and the cost of the organist was making it not viable.
So we replaced the Service with a Communion Service that was accessible to children and gave me opportunities for teaching that included activities and action songs. I taught Sunday school for nearly 30 years before I was ordained and have always loved working with children.
We began in a very small way. No one turned up to the first Service and only 6 to the next one but gradually it caught on. Parents told other parents in the playground and the children began to insist on coming until we grew too big to be in the Lady Chapel and moved into the Chancel with the children sitting on the carpet.
It continued to grow until now we have to use the main body of the Church. Fortunately some of the parents offered to help with stuff like taking the register and preparing the activities, sometimes introducing the activities. I have the help of a Reader Emeritus and one parent who was also on the PCC was licensed as Lay Assistant to help with Communion.
We have frequent meetings to discuss the best way to serve God and his children at this service and at the moment we have Communion first. After a time of preparation and quiet thought, we have a simple absolution followed by the Gospel reading which I tell rather than read. We then share Communion using the words from the Children’s Communion Service.
Then we do an activity based on the Gospel reading. We have built boats out of kneelers and hidden words or articles around the Church. We have made crosswords and collages and the children absolutely love using sticks – for instance we draw a vase and stick flowers on to symbolise that we are different but all together and together we are beautiful and equally precious to God. Sometimes we dress up, and sometimes we play a game and always we sing. Me leading with my terrible voice but the children love to come out to the front and sing and do actions.
We end with a time of sharing and celebration — the children share good news and birthdays are celebrated; they share sweets and sometimes cakes. We have parties and the children love it. To the extent that they come all dressed up, or in their football kits or dancing outfits. The parents say that they insist on coming and are disappointed when we don’t have a service during the summer holidays or on Christmas Day or Easter Day – the only times when we don’t meet.
We still have Sunday School and it continues to be popular but we now offer an alternative so that children can do their other activities and still come to Church.
I could be cynical and say that they are only coming for their registration mark but actually I think it’s more than that. I have had lots of Baptisms from the 6pm Group; some Confirmations and even 2 Weddings for people who have been together for some time but who want to make that special commitment to one another and want to do so in St Michael’s.
We had a children’s Activity Workshop on Holy Saturday when amongst other things, the children made an Easter Garden. I told them they wouldn’t get a mark for coming but loads turned up from both Sunday School and Evening, and our Church was truly blessed by their contribution to the Glory of Easter Day.
Six of the helpers have now done the Bishop’s Certificate in Children’s Work and their contribution to the Sunday Evening Service has increased so that they take responsibility for the activity every other week. We are currently trying out separating the under 5’s and doing an age appropriate activity for them —we will wait and see how that goes. It’s an on-going challenge but we are all enjoying that challenge and the numbers of helpers has recently risen from 6 to 9.
It’s not perfect but lots of children and adults are learning just how much they are loved by our Mighty God — and that can’t be bad.”