Let’s Sing to this Generation!

Martin Sweet

Like many moments in the Bible, the amazing work of God grows from an almost hidden or obscure place. For example, re-read the story of Ruth.

For me, it was a phone call in 1990. Peter Batiste rang me up out of the blue. He and a few others in Lambeth had been trying to find a schoolsworker to take up the position as a Scripture Union associate. And they asked me if I’d consider it. Without any consideration or prayer (such is my spiritual depth!) I immediately replied and said “Yes”. Put the phone down and cried.

Maybe Spinnaker supporters want to hear something more of a revelation, a dream or a vision perhaps. Sorry, nothing like that, but a heavy sense of resignation on my part because the very last thing I wanted to do at that time was to go back into the world of education. Having left teaching in 1986, when Spinnaker started, I was involved in student work, missions and church ministry – which does sound rather more ‘spiritual’! I felt this way since I was on the cusp of failure, as though God was saying ‘good try’ but you are not cut out for church ministry, as some people had even suggested.

However, between 1986 and 1990, one project I set up was the InTime drama group. I wrote a play about Roman soldiers who encountered the stories of Jesus, wrote and produced the music, built the set and persuaded some amazing people to act! We even produced a workbook for schools. We then took the plunge and asked local schools if they would like us to visit. So we did, but only for week, but ACT (Association of Christian teachers) heard about us and asked us to tour further afield, so another week was planned. Two more plays followed, but from that I received an invite to St. Stephen’s CofE primary school in Deptford. 

So that’s where Spinnaker’s first primary school assembly took place. I’d love to say it was slick, educational … but at least they invited me back. Which became the mantra for next 30 years. THE most important thing for me was the invite to return. The invite back represents acceptance of both material and presentation – a relevant lesson for all seeking to reach those who have not heard the Christian message of God’s love as seen in the life, death and resurrection of His Son.

I remember once the head of St. Stephen’s, asked me to sing to the children in assembly since they had never heard a man sing. 

And so began a long seemingly endless train of ‘networking’ churches, schools and funders. My diary was full and my heart warming to the challenge. Consequently, about two years after I started to work in Lambeth schools, I was invited to speak at an inter-church event in Brixton where few seemed to have had heard of Spinnaker, let alone me. So what did I say? I think something like this:

“Hello, I am the leader of the largest church in South London. We are a multi-site congregation, each having about 300 to 400 members who are very enthusiastic, sing their hearts out, listen attentively and even say “yes!” when I walk to the front to speak. When I say ‘let’s pray’, they all bow their heads and join in. The age range of my church is between 4 and 11.”

Yes, I appreciate that some church leaders will splutter at such an explanation but at that moment, I realised what I wanted to do: To take ‘church’ to where the children are, because they are not coming to us. Less than 5% of children attended church at that time.

Soon after, I quoted a radio programme about the Mount St. Helens volcano eruption in North America, where the presenter suggested that instead of people going on holiday to see the mountain that year, they should not worry, because it’s coming to see them.

Some 25 or more years later, at a CofE school in Eastbourne, I was leading the children in a well-known worship song. It was spine tingling. THE best worship I had been in. The two church leaders, who were there to observe ‘Spinnaker at work’ could only agree with me when I asked afterwards “Tell me that wasn’t church!” Because it was, Jesus was present, the Holy Spirit moving in both children and staff .. and it was wonderful!

Having retired two years ago, for all of Spinnaker’s success and track record, I still carry that same sense of failure I had all those years ago, because today, even less children attend church, and there is still a reluctance for the church to leave their building and regimes. 

Oh, please, let’s sing to this generation.

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