Thomas Cotterill and Tom Dumbell explain a new extra-curricular school club
For the past year, the parish of Old St Pancras has been engaged in an exciting new missional initiative in the Kings Cross area of Camden, where a sprawling redevelopment project has been underway which has transformed disused railway sidings and industrial land into a thriving area full of shops, restaurants, flats and offices. This comprises the largest single urban redevelopment project in western Europe! At the heart of all this lies the Kings Cross Academy, a state primary school.
Located within the bounds of the parish, we have been actively building and growing relationships with the headteacher, staff, parents and children of the academy. Fr James Elston, the team rector, initiated this dialogue, assisted by Fr Guy Willis, Tom Dumbell, the youth worker, and Thomas Cotterill, the pastoral assistant at St Pancras Old Church.
Every Tuesday in term-time, we run an after-school club for 20 children across the year groups. From the outset, Fr James insisted that preference be given to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The fact our club does not charge parents for their children to be with us is something hugely appreciated by them and the academy leadership. Indeed, our club is the only one which is free of charge. The children come from a variety of faith backgrounds—some are from Christian families who regularly attend church, whilst some are from families who profess belief in God but do not attend church, and several others are members of families belonging to a faith other than Christianity. Two children who attend the club worship at St Pancras Old Church on an almost weekly basis.
Based on a Messy Church format, we begin with a Bible story, teaching and song. The children then engage with the teaching in arts and crafts, before the session ends in prayer. We have tried cooking several times with the children, which they thoroughly enjoyed! The Lord’s Prayer has been more frequently said as the year progressed, helping the children learn the foundational prayer of both the Church and the Christian life. This past academic year the children have learnt about the basic tenets of the Christian faith, beginning with creation before moving to the stories of Christmas and Epiphany and then the life, death and resurrection of Christ. It has been hugely inspiring to see how much the children enjoy the singing and worship as well as the arts and crafts. Indeed, often as they leave on Tuesday, many sing the songs we have taught them, serenading the corridors with ‘Our God is a great big God’ or ‘This little light of mine’!
The feedback from the parents, children and staff at the academy has been and continues to be incredibly positive. Over the past three terms, the children came to St Pancras Old Church three times to celebrate Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. The end-of-term nativity play was particularly memorable, with the children all very much enjoying the retelling of the Christmas story. The sense of ‘the unknown’ many people of all ages have towards our church buildings is a reality nowadays, however much we rightly value the beauty which speaks of the awe and majesty of the Triune God. By inviting the children and their parents into the church building over the year, this sense of the unfamiliar was gently broken down.
From our experience of participating in and leading these sessions, we are now more aware of how the foundation of all Christian mission is relationship-building. It took a year’s worth of conversations between Fr James and the headteacher as well as with staff and parents before the club’s first session. The club owes its existence as well as its success to patient relationship-building. As we enter the school each and every Tuesday, we do so appreciating that planting the seeds of the gospel will not immediately produce abundance. God gives growth in due season. Our task is to be his agents, co-workers with Christ, in faithfully living out and teaching the gospel and preparing the ground for faith in the Lord of the Harvest to take root and grow. After all, for any crop to be produced, the soil first needs patient tilling, watering and nurturing. This is true at the academy, and arguably for all Christian mission.
Alongside the Tuesday sessions, Thomas helped each Monday afternoon in a classroom at the academy, further building relationships with teachers, parents and children, even if they did not attend the after-school club.
The catholic ethos of the parish is instrumental in guiding not only what we teach the children, but our underlying philosophy. Recognizing the centrality of long-term relationship-building is the result of an explicitly incarnational approach to mission and faith more generally. This approach permeates all the missional initiatives our parish leads with schools as well as community groups. The ultimate motivation behind our interaction with the academy stems from this, as we seek to foster relationships between the church, school and wider community, to show parents and children that St Pancras Old Church is their parish church, to reach out to them with the love of Christ, and, fundamentally, to serve the community of which we are an integral part.
Overall, then, we thoroughly enjoy working with our priests to share the Christian gospel in a place of enormous potential amongst children who are extraordinarily keen to learn and grow. We ask that you keep all of us in the parish of Old St Pancras in your prayers as we continue to serve with love and joy this community and school.
Tom Dumbell is the youth worker and Thomas Cotterill the
pastoral assistant at St Pancras Old Church.