"It's a shame we didn't buy a house in Spinnaker Court" said Isabel, our 17-year-old last week.
"Why not Palmer Street?" I replied.
We were in the middle of a meal celebrating 3 years in Aldinga Beach, South Australia and reminiscing on some of the decisions we've made since arriving in a neighbourhood with both said roads. Several years on, and still we all see Spinnaker as very much a part of our lives.
I remember the day Spinnaker came into my consciousness when Martin Sweet led a service at my church. I must have been aged 15 or so and spotted something different about this man and his approach to worship, speaking, most things really! And like most people who meet someone from the organisation for the first time, "Why's it called Spinnaker?" was one of the key questions I had.
Several years later I had finished a degree and was wondering what to do next. A Spinnaker newsletter caught my eye, and I was prompted to call Martin. In the intervening years I had helped at a couple of holiday clubs and youth camps, so Martin knew a little about this shy 21-year-old who was on the other end of the phone. We met up and before long my journey with Spinnaker began.
Starting as a volunteer I joined the inner London team, visiting 20 schools a fortnight and learning how to lead lessons, assemblies and clubs. There was no hiding my lack of experience, but with the guidance of Martin and others, and the grace of God, I managed to not only grow in my skills, confidence and faith, but I also somehow didn't say or do anything stupid enough to get thrown out of a school or destroy the charity!
It's incredible how much difference it makes to a person's faith when they are sharing it with children. The vast majority of our work was with primary school children and we never shied away from tackling the big faith and life issues. Glenis Ruston (who, incidentally, I think is the one person still involved from when I started) used to quote:
"Understand it more deeply so you can explain it more simply."
To understand the parable of the yeast, or the tower Babel in a way that is Biblically accurate and accessible to a 5-year-old is no easy task, but a skill I may never have learnt without being involved with Spinnaker.
Another attribute I honed during the 2 decades I worked at Spinnaker was creativity and adaptability. I'll never forget sitting in the staff room of St George's primary school in Battersea with Corrin Child and Tash McDonald, all challenging each other to improvise an assembly theme from a random object. We would also have to adapt quickly to situations in schools like the several occasions when we would turn up and discover there had been a tragedy. You may remember the 5-year-old girl who was accidentally shot in Stockwell in 2011. The morning after I was leading assembly at a school within the police cordon. Only realising my assembly would not be appropriate on arrival, I quickly switched to another plan. Admittedly the alternative assembly was probably one I had written, but less than 15 mins is not really adequate time to prepare. The kids were none the wiser, but the person who was observing with the view to write an article about the assembly was. I think she was impressed with the quick pivot. (Either that or she was too polite to tell me it was rubbish!)
Being a part of Spinnaker was an incredible privilege. I was always so impressed with the quality of the volunteers and the staff who could have been earning much more elsewhere. Their hearts and skills were second to none, and I learnt so many faith lessons from them. I think it's fair to say we all saw Spinnaker as so much more than a job, and people would give so much more than could ever be expected or asked for. And what was the driving factor? It was the absolute assurance that this generation (and the ones before and after) have a need to be shown the love of God, to see what Jesus has done in the lives of those who love him, and imagine what he could do in their own lives.
I was once at a retirement party for the head teacher of one of my long-standing schools. There I met Colin, who had worked at another school I visited in my first year of Spinnaker. It had probably been 10 years since I'd seen him, but he was keen to introduce me to a group of other head teachers he was chatting with. As he described who I was, Colin said:
"I am sure there are many adults who turn to God in a crisis because of the work of Spinnaker Trust."
Those words have stuck with me, and I've often wondered if he's right, I hope he is.
The nature of Spinnaker's workplace is that we rarely see any children directly coming to faith through our work… It wouldn't be appropriate if we did, and we certainly wouldn't have the support we do from state schools, local authorities etc. However, what we did see was kids, and often staff, enthralled by what was being shown to them. We saw lights going on in minds as they suddenly understood something that had been a mystery. We saw people and schools that had no trust in Christians or the Church realise that we weren't all against them, and we did have something to offer that was different. Sometimes we got to pray with those people. In the gospels we see Jesus ministering to and healing thousands of people. He benefited so many more people than would ever choose to follow him. At Spinnaker we believed that was our calling too.
After leaving Spinnaker I moved with my family to Australia. Since being here I have had the privilege of working with many schools, first in my local area and then on a national level. Here there are no Christian assemblies, unless you are in a Christian school. There are no RE lessons, just occasional seminars looking at different moral topics. So, like many other countries in the world, students are not receiving much exposure to the faiths and belief structures that the people in their communities hold dear. It has really highlighted the special position faith and people of faith still have in British schools. The fact that Christian collective worship is a legal requirement is incredible. That I was able to visit schools for 20 years and say:
'I'm a Christian' and 'Christians believe…'
is so special and something not to be taken for granted. Children in the UK understand people, culture and faith in a deeper way than so many other children worldwide.
We are seeing the dangers of ignorance and misinformation being played out on multiple fronts. The world needs the children of Britain to be part of the solution, and that is something made possible due to the freedom of faith education in schools. It’s also something that has been strengthened and enabled by the work of groups like Spinnaker. Over the last 35 years, Spinnaker has been an important part of South London’s faith journey. People who once were students in schools visited by Spinnaker schools’ workers are now decision makers and influencers in every part of society. Many of them are teaching the next generation, or working in hospitals, or involved in law enforcement, and I know of at least one Olympic athlete and one rising tennis star who went to schools we visited. A huge number of the students in schools visited by Spinnaker today have parents who have been influenced by our work in previous years. Whatever they have ended up believing or not believing, we know they have at least a little bit more understanding about some of the faith groups around them. They have heard some of the foundational truths of the Christian faith and encountered positive role models they knew were Christians. Not only do we pray that they turn to God in a crisis, we pray they will be a part of leading the world in embracing others, showing love to all and standing up for justice.
Thank you to all those who have supported Spinnaker over the years in prayer, finance and time. We really couldn’t have made it here without your dedication and backing. Keep praying, keep supporting and keep telling others about the good work being done.
And to all who are part of the current Spinnaker team, keep strong. I know these last two years have been incredibly challenging, but from what I see, you have pivoted so nimbly to fit current and future needs. You are exactly the people God needs for a time like this. I love you and miss you.
Whenever I walk past Spinnaker Court, I send up a little prayer. Spinnaker will always remain with me as the place that shaped me into the person I am today. From the early years nervously playing guitar in front of a school, to the latter years leading alongside Martin and others, so many of the gifts and skills I rely on in every part of life were honed during my time with you.
God bless you all, Steve