Marion Ball - Centenary Project Worker
Praise and Play
[by Marion Ball, December 2016]
My job is all about nurturing, enabling, mentoring and discipling. I work as a children and families’ worker with seven very small traditional village churches in the far north-eastern tip of Sheffield Diocese, in rural east and north Yorkshire. Most have little or no existing children’s and families’ ministry and few resources of time or money. Both clergy in the area are committed to mission over maintenance but, with tiny congregations, ill-suited buildings and the sheer pressure of miles to cover, they have their work cut out! Given the challenge and, as a committed exponent of ‘small steps done well’, I have been surprised and delighted to discover that the first steps that have been possible have been far from small!
In St James, Rawcliffe - a huge building with an average Sunday congregation of around 15 - there is now a weekly ‘Praise and Play'. Parents and pre-schoolers who come together for a couple of hours on Friday mornings for a session that draws together a structured time of singing, Bible story and praying with less structured socialising and playing. Weekly numbers vary but we already have in excess of ten family groups on our list and it is safe to say that our average weekly congregation now outstrips the one on Sunday! We launched officially at the end of September, having given the group a sort of trial ‘rolling start’ over the summer. Good news indeed! But to understand what kind of good news this is, it is necessary to look at the detail.
It’s all about God’s timing
The group began when two local parents (one of whom had no previous experience or habit of ‘church’), approached us to ask about the creation of such a group. It just so happened that there were a couple of people in the church (not-quite-retired) who had just come to a time in their lives when they would have time and energy for something new. The question is, how can this group be nurtured to become truly sustainable (without me), and how can we enable it to be potentially transformative, beyond even the expectations of those families who attend? It relates to the critical ‘hidden’ part of my role – hidden because it doesn’t figure easily on fact sheets or in number counts. It’s about relationships and it’s about creating opportunities for ongoing discipleship for those who desire to take those steps, and it takes time.
So, in our neck of the woods, where the church is close to extinction, what seems like a great big ‘good news story’ is indeed a profoundly encouraging sign of God’s involvement, and one to celebrate and give God thanks for. But it is the beginning, not the end of the story. Next time I get the chance to write a good news story for the website I hope to write about one that might not seem so shiny and amazing – but in terms of the ongoing work of transformation through God’s grace, it will be.
Marion is part of the Centenary Project and works 20 hours / week in the benefice of Airymn, Hook and Rawcliffe, and the parish of Great Snaith, as the Children’s and Families Missioner.