Spinnaker

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This Autumn term series sets out to explore creation and its creator...

   

Helping primary schools engage with Christianity

Since 1986 we’ve supported primary schools with assemblies, clubs and RE lessons. We are linked with nearly 100 schools in South London and the South East.

We have warm and professional relationships with headteachers and staff in the schools we visit. Our presence is a vital link between schools and local churches.

We write our own material. Much of it is freely available for you to access, use and adapt. Everything on this site is tried and tested. We know it works because we have used it ourselves.

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What we’re thinking – team blogs

"What are you making?"

what are you making small

“What are you making?” a friend asked when she returned to find her living room floor covered with newspaper, modelling material  and masking tape.  The obvious answer would have been, “A mess” and indeed that was probably what she was thinking.  I was actually making large rocks from mod rock for a prop in an assembly.  “It’s for my new job,” I replied and proceeded to tell her all about it:

Over the last couple of months, I have had the privilege of visiting a number of different schools with members of the Spinnacker Team and have seen how, through establishing long term relationships with schools, members of the team are able to support schools and individuals within them.  Adults working in schools seem genuinely encouraged by knowing that someone outside the school is interested in their work and their life and, due to established relationships with member of the team, are willing to share aspects of their life for prayer and support.  As well as words of prayer and encouragement, the cakes baked by members of the Spinnaker team and supporting churches were also particularly well received in schools (during the Spinnaker Prayer Fortnight in May). 

It’s been quite a while, probably over 15 years on reflection, since I was last in a school in London.  There have obviously been significant changes but one noticeable constant was the warm welcome extended to visitors in schools. Teachers and other support staff are still working extremely hard and greatly appreciate any support and encouragement from visitors to the school.

In addition to being welcomed by the staff in the various schools, I have observed that the children always respond positively, are keen to engage with lessons and assemblies and are also very eager to assist wherever possible.  The team members encourage children to participate and deliver assemblies tailored to the particular needs of each school.  It was interesting to see how different people presented the same assembly in different ways, taking both the school and their unique gifting into consideration and delivering the assembly in their own personal style – I learnt a considerable amount. 

It is clear that there are many ways to support local schools and being part of the Spinnaker team is an amazing opportunity to build and develop relationships with schools and individuals within schools.  From my experience over the last couple of months of visiting various schools, I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God for the openness encountered in these schools and my prayer is that the warm welcome will continue, open doors will remain open and that there will be many further opportunities to support schools in the future.

 

 

The Common People Heard Him Gladly

Is the local primary school the best place to meet our neighbours?

Another September has just finished. Another school year ahead full of opportunities for local churches and Christian groups to engage with the young generation. 

One of my office staff frequently comments that in my writing I use the term ‘generation’ rather a lot. I suspect they feel it is too vague! If, as according to Chambers Dictionary, a generation is 25-30 years, and given that Spinnaker is now 30 years old, the children I once met in primary school assemblies when I first set out (around 1988) are now parents. Indeed, some may be grandparents!

So, what do I mean by the word ‘generation’? Simply the children of all the ordinary people. The word ‘common’ as used in Mark 12 has overtones of prejudice and class – but that’s not what I mean. I am thinking about the ‘ordinary’ and not merely privileged or under-privileged. The NIV generously suggests that ‘everyone heard him gladly’.

It seems a fact that every generation complains about the one following! That may be so, but when talking to teachers and those involved in education or children’s services, it is clear that many issues are having a dramatic effect on children in schools on a daily basis. And one of those issues is the perceived distance between this generation and the church. It appears to be more than any previous generation; these children seem further than ever from ‘faith in God’.

So how are we to reach this generation – these ‘ordinary’ children and their families? Isn’t this the job of the church, to make disciples? Whom exactly are we seeking to reach?

In conversation with Jesus, in Mark 12, a teacher of the law heartily approved Jesus’ citation of the call to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Now it’s hard for us here not to picture the people who live in the semi-detached next door. But in the time of Jesus the population gathered in villages and not distant farmhouses. ‘Life was touched at every point by a wide circle of neighbourhood’ (Vine). In other words, you could not live ‘on your own’ in Bible times. You either lived in the close circle of ‘community’ – or you were an outcast. 

Perhaps such a concept seems alien to us today. Except in one case: the local primary school. Here the community really meets. Here is a better expression of ‘neighbourhood’, since the local primary school seeks to serve all the families in the neighbourhood. So maybe the local primary school is the best place to meet our neighbours!

Being a neighbour, in Scripture, means being helpful. Proverbs 27:10 advises us, ‘Better a neighbour nearby than a brother far away’ (NIV). At the end of the story of the Good Samaritan, when Jesus asks, “Which of these was a neighbour?” the import was clear. Everyone. There was no such expression as ‘good neighbour’ – a neighbour was meant to be ‘good’ by definition. Communities were supposed to be close, and not just physically. The shepherd who lost his sheep and the widow her coin went to their ‘neighbours’ and shared their joy with the village – ‘Rejoice with me!”

At the start of this term I had a heartfelt conversation with head teacher who, on week 2, had walked into a massive problem. They were very appreciative of someone who would listen and show concern. And offer to pray. The conversation served to clarify our mission: that Christian schools work (such as Spinnaker’s) is about serving the school community – not letting the school serve our outreach targets. Or to put it another way, do we go to a school only to speak and never to listen? Is it just to ‘do our thing’? I believe that if we move away from a solely presentational approach, our relationship with a school will grow and lives will be touched far more effectively. 

Why do I say this? While many may feel that this generation feels a long way from the church, I passionately believe they are not far from God. At times, our thinking about salvation has drawn a gulf between the church and our communities; and yet Jesus confounds our thinking with his response to the man who asked the question in Mark 12. When Jesus saw the honest wisdom of the man, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (NIV). We should take this to heart and gain purpose from the truth that God wants to use us to bless them and, maybe, touch their families by speaking into the lives of their children.

One of the most significant verses in the Bible for me is Mark 1:33 where ‘the whole town gathered at the door’ (NIV) as Jesus ministered. All too often, when visiting a school and seeing the families gathered at the school gate, I wonder how on earth we are going to reach them. We seem so far removed from where they are.

In Mark 12 it is recorded that ‘the large crowd listened to him with delight’ (verse 37, NIV). Or as the Authorised Version puts it, ‘the common people heard him gladly’. Here Jesus was also confronted by religious academics, men who believed they were not ordinary. They saw themselves as privileged. While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he questioned the teaching of the religious leaders. In contrast, a large crowd of ordinary people listened to him with delight. Amazingly, the ordinary people ‘got it’ – they loved the fact that Jesus was speaking to them. John 7:46 even suggests that the temple guards were impressed when they went to arrest him: ‘No-one ever spoke the way this man does.’

Nothing is stopping us seeking to engage with this generation. They are closer than we think. They live in our streets. They are our neighbours. They are in our local schools. They are the ordinary people who will ‘hear him gladly’.

 

 

Reaching the Third Audience

by Martin Sweet and Steve Palmer

It is great to have feedback that shows children enjoy and value the time we spend in their schools. For example...

"Occasionally as I arrive at a school a card or a letter will be waiting for me, having been dropped in by a parent or a child.   During our recent series entitled 'Happiness is...' a parent dropped in a scrappy piece of paper with a line drawing of a dog with a big smile and the word 'happy' written around it multiple times. On the back, it simply said 'For Stephen, assembly, from Sophie'. "

Do you remember when Happy Days was on TV? It declared “Happy Days is filmed in front of a live studio audience.” The actors enjoyed the reaction of a couple of hundred members of the public to laugh at the jokes and cheer when Fonzie walked through the door. 

Through the magic of film, the show complete with audience response was sent through the air waves to millions of homes around the globe. The people in the studio were only the tip of the iceberg as far as audience goes. 

In each school Spinnaker visits there are not one, not two, but three audiences: children, school staff and… parents! Here’s one story we heard: 

"A teaching assistant heard her child singing in her bedroom. It was a song we use in our assemblies. She peered through the half-open door. The child had set her teddies and animal toys in a semi-circle around her and was singing to them. Intrigued, the mother asked what her daughter was doing. She replied that she was doing an assembly like the Spinnaker person does."

This captures our aim over the past thirty years: to present Christianity in an appropriate and engaging way to children. If we have this opportunity, and if schools are open to appropriate input, and if churches are keen on what we are doing, how much impact can we expect to see? 

Our audiences

Spinnaker aims to visit each school regularly, mostly on a fortnightly basis. This enables us to fully complement the social, moral, spiritual and emotional education of children. Hopefully our presentation of Christian stories and information supports the school’s need to present ‘values’ to their children. 

The first audience that Spinnaker meets is made up of increasingly unchurched children, ignorant of what we as Christians take for granted, so we value the opportunity to step into this gap and bring Bible stories and teaching alive.

"A Spinnaker worker was in a hospital waiting room. A family arrived, and the two children looked at her. "You come to take our school assemblies". By then the whole room was alert so she said, "yes, I love coming to tell you Bible stories". Then they were called for treatment and the conversation ended, but a group of people heard that schools still have assemblies based on the Bible."

The second audience is the school staff – not least those who sit through our assemblies. Some say they value our input, not just because it fits well into the given educational parameters of collective worship, but because the children vote with their smiles!

The best commendation is that schools continue to invite us in, often for many years. But it can go deeper – such when a teacher confessed to a Spinnaker worker how the recent assembly had challenged them about their own behaviour, or the time a head teacher tearfully prayed in their office with a Spinnaker worker. 

This is because we are ‘in their world’, which is perhaps where the church needs to be, as schools face increasing pressures on both management teams and classroom teachers. We are grateful for every opportunity to build a strong relationship with staff and to be in a position to offer support and prayer. 

The third audience, however, we don’t often see. They sit, not in the school hall or classroom, but at home as they encounter what their children unpack from their day at school. It is a sobering thing to discover that you are talked about! But what do we want children to be saying?

'While walking out of one school Steve was a few steps behind a mum and her 6-year-old son from the class he had just been working with. ‘Suddenly the boy spotted me, whispered something to his mum and scuttled ahead up the road. The mum then turned to me and said, "He thinks you're amazing! He loves your lessons, they are wonderful!" We chatted about how often he son spoke about me at home and then I reached my car. It was a lovely encouragement after a tiring afternoon.’ 

 

Part of the Family

Thank you Judith

It’s a real privilege to go into local primary schools every week and be accepted as part of the “family”. Visiting as often as this means you get to build up a relationship with the staff and pupils over time – you start to recognise individuals in that sea of faces in front of you, and they smile and wave encouragement (or they just sit beautifully with their arms folded and their backs really straight just so that you will notice and smile back). Sometimes, a child will break out of line on their way past and say something like “I do like your assemblies” or “Hello”. I always come out of schools happier than before I went in. It feels worthwhile to be there and part of their day.

“I do like your assemblies” 

In my area of North Lambeth things are changing very fast. New buildings are under construction, high blocks are being built right next to school playgrounds - expensive high-rise flats way beyond the financial reach of the families in my schools.

 Money and affluence are much in evidence here, at the same time as schools are struggling with problems of inner-city life: increasing mobility of school population, lack of English as a first language; and teachers constantly moving to other areas as the price of buying, or even renting here, becomes out of their reach. Spinnaker is a constant in all of this. Frequent visits. Thinking time. Being with God time.

Interacting with pupils makes me reflect too. I’m moved by schools being generous towards me. “We don’t need to introduce you, Judith”, said one Head Teacher recently, “You’re part of our family here,” (and this after the school had offered me tea and toast as I walked in during breakfast club). 

"I find that schools never hurry Spinnaker Assemblies"

Pressure of curriculum is always there, but I find that schools never hurry Spinnaker Assemblies. They allow the children time to reflect on the deeper things in life. Thinking about and spending time with God is considered very worthwhile. And that makes me happy!

by Judith Rust, April 2017

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