Annandale Churches Together in south west Scotland ran summer holiday clubs in a local secondary school for many years. Very few of the children involved had any relationship with existing churches. Pam Mellor and Deborah Steele explain how Fridays in Faith has helped to bridge the gap.
The holiday clubs in Annan were really, really successful. They took place in an Academy and attracted about 150 children on average but they seemed to disappear as soon as the clubs were over.
Then the questions started, 'Where do they go afterwards? Why don't they come to church?' We said, 'Maybe church is not the place for them. Maybe we should ask if there is something else we should be doing.' Amazingly it was as if everyone had the same thought.
We had a team of 60 helpers for the holiday clubs and we all started to think about what this alternative would look like. After discussion, thought and prayer we thought about going back to the Academy on a Friday night to run something which would incorporate a lot of the key components of a holiday club – things like fun and food and games – but for all ages. The Academy costs about £150 to hire so we went to the churches and asked for their support in this.
Fridays in Faith is backed by Annandale Churches Together, an ecumenical group that includes Annan Old Parish Church, St Andrew's Parish Church linked with Brydekirk Parish Church, Annan United Reformed Church, St John's Episcopal Church, and St Columba's Catholic Church.
They were fantastic, simply saying, 'It's a great idea and we will support you!'
Our first step as co-leaders and co-planners of Fridays in Faith was to find out whether the people themselves actually wanted us to do something. We recognised that those who were coming along to the holiday clubs were not anti-church: it was simply that church wasn't even on their radar. In saying that, there were a number of kids from church families at the holiday club as well so we could see there were great opportunities for those within our churches – as well as outside – to grow together as a community.
On the final day of a holiday club with an Olympics-type theme of Going for Gold we did a 'closing ceremony' when nearly all of the children's parents came along. At the end of the session we stood up – very nervously – and said, 'We would like to ask you all something. We recognise that you love your kids coming here and you are enthusiastic about it all. We also recognise that church isn't working for you for whatever reason. Would you be interested in joining us as we would like to offer something for the whole family? We would set up and run the whole thing but would you like to come along on the first Friday of the month?'
The answer was clearly 'yes' with more than 140 people coming back for the first Friday night session. We read out a statement on that first night to set out what we were there for and we often remind ourselves of it to help us keep focused on the work in hand.
The statement reads:
If what we do here tonight, helps you to find faith, or helps you get to know God better, then that's what we're about.
Faith is a journey and people have helped us on our way. That is all we are trying to do – give people a little bit of help on their faith journey.
These evenings are about fellowship, fun and faith in a new and different way.
We hope that you will have a good time with your own family and with each other, that will be great.
If in time, in coming here, we all become closer to God, then that will be a wonderful blessing. Thank you all for being here and journeying with us.
Each session has a biblical theme running through it. Everything is centred on different activity tables and many of the people who helped with the holiday club became table hosts. Each table works as a team, moving from one activity to another throughout the evening. But on that first night they didn't have time to complete the activities before they had to move on to the next thing. It ran for two hours and we simply tried to cram too much in to the programme!
So we cut back on the time to 90 minutes and allowed a breathing space in activities. Now people have the opportunity to sit and talk during supper time.
We also have a time of prayer, when people are free to join in with us or not.
In terms of planning for the sessions, we meet every week. We set a theme for the year and follow it through each month. This year we are looking at travel, with Peter's journey as the Bible thread.
We told people that we would be looking at faith as a journey and that we'd imagine it as a journey in a car. For the first session we asked, 'How do you go about buying a car?' We thought about listening to people, listening to other opinions, having a look at what was available, counting the cost of it and getting in the car and having a test drive.
An interesting process involved stringing up a very long washing line on which we had pegged A1 sheets with various statements written on them about where you were on your faith journey. At one end of the line we had, 'I don't think there is anything' through 'I think there is something but I'm not sure what' through to things like 'I do think there is a God but I'm not involved in church' and 'I really do believe God is in my life'. There were also blank sheets of paper in between so that people could mark where they thought they were on this washing line.
What was so interesting about that was the fact that so many of our church helpers felt they could be really honest about how they actually felt on their own personal journeys of faith.
The sessions went on to include the MOT for which we looked at the Beatitudes; and Breakdown – which was our Easter session.
We set out on this journey to do 3 months and we have just come to the end of 3 years! We recognise that there are still many questions as we go forward and many issues for us to consider, such as offering the Sacraments. We have broken bread, but recognise that this is not Communion.
All of these issues of leadership and Sacraments come up again and again. We have to stop and think, 'Are we leaders? Are we getting it right?' Sometimes we both wrestle with that a great deal.
It's also difficult when people ask us whether it is 'church' or not. The label of 'church' can be a very real stumbling block to people, we want it to be a place of God's Kingdom where people can cry, ask questions and be real. We didn't know the word 'intentionality'; we didn't know the word 'incarnational' – all we thought about was, 'These are our families. How can we connect with them? How can we make faith more relevant and more real? How can we move them on in that faith?' We're still not sure whether we're going to run Alpha because once you introduce a course like that the concern is that you're imposing something that doesn't quite fit with the context and culture of your emerging community.
For the future, we realise that we have limits as co-leaders and some people have already stepped forward to get involved in various aspects of the work. Our funding runs until the middle of April next year and we continue to listen to God as to what he wants for Fridays in Faith. However, if our Presbytery wants to do something else, we have to be ready for that – if Fridays in Faith has served its purpose in helping the people in the churches to see what's possible by looking at things differently, then so be it.
For now, we continue to be excited at what God is doing in Annan and are blessed to be a part of it.