A common question asked in churches these days is, “Where are the children and their families?” The answer in the BMF-supported Parish of Brisbane Valley is, “In the local state schools.” All schools need caring and faithful volunteers from the wider community to support their important work.
A meeting with the Esk State School principal in early 2022 became a wonderful “What if…?” visionary conversation. The principal, Ros, explained that engaging volunteers is great for student development, as well as for the wider community because it creates a vibrant local hub. We then set about creating an exciting list of activities so the church community can engage with the school community. This list includes facilitating the cash for cans program to gardening to reading with the students and serving in the tuck-shop.
Soon after I met with our other local primary school principal from Toogoolawah State Primary School. It was clear that this school had a similar desire for community engagement. From this conversation, six St Andrew’s parishioners started volunteering in the school’s new Ready Reader program. I, along with other volunteers, meet with Year 1 and 2 students weekly during term time for an hour. We are given a list of student names and each child’s reading level. The students first read a book to the volunteer and then chat about the book and how they connect to the story. The purpose of the program is to encourage students to enjoy reading, which improves their literacy.
The feedback from the school is that the kids love the program. More than half of the volunteers school’s Ready Reader program are connected to the parish. It’s truly delightful seeing the wider parish community connecting with both the church and the local school. The grateful coordinating teacher said that, “We have wanted to get this going for some time, but just didn’t have the people available.”
I also volunteer on Esk State School’s chaplaincy committee, along with other ecumenical leaders. One of the committee’s ministries is a monthly Chaplaincy Breakfast Club, which involves chats over toast or a simple hot meal, fruit and a juice or hot milo. The breakfast is held in an undercover area near the canteen. Gathering around food and drink in an informal way is always conducive to conversation and building community. The breakfast runs for about an hour and a half, which enables lots of time for one-to-one or group conversation. I recently had a chat over breakfast with a new student who has moved schools several times. It’s special being part of the student’s welcoming experience and seeing the student flourish at the school. I check in with the student at breakie club monthly and when I serve at the canteen.
I also serve at Toogoolawah State High School monthly. I have had many a heartwarming conversation with students while serving them at their canteen. Although quite fast paced, canteen serving is an effective way to initially connect with a large number of students in a cheery manner. These somewhat fleeting encounters flow into the wider community. I was delighted to recognise one of the students, whom I met at the tuckshop, working a stall at the ecumenical Christmas carols last year.
Students from the schools often call out to me to say hello when they see me walking around town. When kids recognise and greet me, I then meet their parents, most of whom are juggling paid work, the challenges of family life and running properties, and can often do with encouragement and connection.
Out of this work has come a goal of the Churches Working Together ecumenical group to work with the youth worker at the high school to initiate a Breakfast Club. This has emerged from a shift in inter-denominational conversations from “How and when can we worship together?” to “How do we work together?” This mind set shift has had other positive impacts.
While volunteering on the Chaplaincy Committee I recognised one of the teachers as an active Baptist Church member while volunteering in the local high school canteen. Out of these connections came an invitation to collaborate on the community carols by candlelight event that was subsequently held on the St Andrew’s, Toogoolawah grounds in late November. About 300 people joined in the festivities. At least four denominations were involved in the planning and facilitation. A student concert band with musicians from all three schools contributed their talent and instruments.
At the carols event, a leader from each denomination presented on an “element” of Christmas for five to 10 minutes. I shared about the origins and significance of the Christmas tree. As well as providing the venue, our parish hosted the tea and coffee, with another denomination taking care of the sausage sizzle. Each primary school child who attended the carols event was given a wrapped book as a gift, with the whole event funded by pooled resources.
In addition to regular volunteering and planned events, I also pitch in when required. At a recent Friday night pub dinner, I noticed that the school’s P&C was short on numbers to conduct their pub raffle. So suddenly I was sitting at their table scrunching raffle tickets and chatting with parents and their children. This fantastic opportunity to work with local families came out of the initial “How can we help, where can we connect?” conversation with the Esk State School principal.
Our parish’s goal is not to set up a traditional Sunday School. Instead, we have discerned that our focus needs to be on providing much-needed services to our local schools and to become familiar friendly faces to the children and their families. By being “the nice lady” who does tuckshop, assists with reading and chats over morning toast and hot Milo on a brisk morning, I am part of the wider school community supporting their work and their desire to become hubs, as well as creating opportunities for unexpected life-changing conversations.
I am looking forward to strengthening my relationship with our local schools in 2023. Our high school has recently employed a community youth worker. Our initial conversation was just as fruitful as my conversations with principals. We explored a number of ideas, including putting together food parcels for families she works with and starting a breakfast club. However, our first collaborative project will be creating “starter packs” for new families struggling to afford necessary uniforms and stationery supplies.
I am very grateful to the folk who support the Bush Ministry Fund – it is only with your financial and prayerful contributions that I, and other BMF-funded clergy, can serve in our roles.
Editor’s note: The Bush Ministry Fund solely funds rural ministry in our Diocese, and it is the only fund that financially supports rural ministry in our Diocese. The Bush Ministry Fund money boxes are a fun and easy way for individuals, families, parishes and schools to donate to bush ministry in our Diocese. Order your BMF money box today by emailing Helen Briffa in the Western Region office via firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 07 4639 1875.Jump to next article