Supporting teachers and pupils is one of many ways in which the Church fulfils its missional role in today’s society. To empower parishes in how they serve schools, the Church of Ireland’s Board of Education (Northern Ireland) has offered more than £7,000 in grants over the last three years to nine projects which build on these local relationships.
Even small initiatives have brought about really positive results.
In Eglinton, Co. Londonderry, children and teachers enjoyed an outdoor Christmas display and star hunt at the parish church – all classes came together over several days for what was the first activity they had done outside school since the start of the pandemic. Canon Paul Hoey says: “We built on that by having assemblies outside of the school – remarkably it only rained once! These have gone so well that the school has since purchased a structure that allows for assemblies to take place outside in all weathers.”
St Mark’s, Portadown, partnering with its local school, Millington Primary School, has made great progress in its project for P7 pupils called ‘Boys To Men, Girls To Ladies’ which has taught practical skills about basic woodwork tools, cooking, sewing, cleaning your shoes, cars and clothes to using an iron! Coming up to Easter, the church teaches one RE class on the reasons for the Resurrection. The project has run at full speed ahead and from March plans have been put in place to run a version of it on a Sunday afternoon as a new Junior Youth Fellowship. One P7 pupil called this one hour per week “the best thing in the whole week!”
Other parish–school links have reached back into the past to encourage a better understanding of local communities and their history. St Augustine’s, Londonderry, used its money alongside funds from other sponsors to commission a special educational video which was made available to nearby primary and post–primary schools together with a copy of ‘The Little Church on the Walls’, the parish’s history book. St Augustine’s sits on the site of St Columba’s first monastery in Ireland and, in 2021, marked 1,500 years since his birth. The video – ‘St Columba: A Tale from Bad to Good’ – was written and produced by Kieran Griffiths in a Horrible Histories format and launched at a special service at the end of June last year; it can be viewed here:
In Florencecourt, St John’s parish is working with P4 and P5 pupils to help them learn about the current and historical links between the church and Florencecourt Primary School.
Transforming Lives for Good was launched in Ballysillan Primary School, in North Belfast, by the parish of St Peter and St James last October. A small group of volunteers provide one–to–one support for children for one hour a week – a time to try out their creative abilities with some arts and crafts and also to receive emotional support and talking therapy. Feedback has been very positive and at Christmas, a present for each child and a hamper were delivered to each family home along with a personalised note with details of the parish’s Christmas services.
Willowfield Parish Church has run financial awareness classes for Key Stage 2 pupils in local schools in East Belfast, based on material developed by Christians Against Poverty.
Not far away, in Holywood, the parish church has received funding to help to deliver a puppet ministry (in–person or on video) around Personal Development and Mutual Understanding, focusing initially on drug awareness. It has run two years of these workshops with P7 pupils and hopes, over time, to help more classes and more schools. The puppets are also used to tell Bible stories in a fun and interactive way in school assemblies and to primary school children at its after–schools club, Mini–Gap.
“Once a month we have puppet workshops, where the children get a chance to learn how to use them,” the parish’s children’s worker, Angela Megarry, explains. “We have also started a space for families to come into the church together, and then the children perform a song or act out a Bible story with the puppets to their families. This is along the lines of Messy Church but takes place after school and connects with parents as well as children.”
The Board of Education (Northern Ireland) is delighted to see the work ongoing in parishes with local schools. It hopes to open this funding opportunity for new projects in the autumn of 2022 and will be contacting parishes after Easter with details of the next scheme.
This article was first published in the Church of Ireland Gazette.