Thirteen years ago, in September 2010, I embarked on one of the most exciting journeys of my life, I became the Children’s Minister here at St Mary’s. (Nick McDonald was still at secondary school.)
In those days the staff team consisted of Will Stileman, Sam Allberry, Andy Kearns and Jenny Taylor and a couple of apprentices. There were just the two morning services where we ran kids work at 9.15 and 11am. There were roughly 90 children up to the age of 11, who were split into seven different groups across those two services. 7UP kids club ran on Wednesday evenings, St Mary’s had just had its first Holiday Club in decades and there was now the possibility of going into schools regularly to do assemblies. It all sounded very exciting.
I hit the ground running – on my second Sunday of running Sunday school we had a bomb scare! It was Battle of Britain Sunday, and our MP Theresa May was coming. The police did a sweep of the church and found something suspicious and as a result we had to move the whole church service and the Sunday school to the Town Hall. Then, as on every Sunday since, I praised God and was hugely grateful to all the leaders and helpers who led the Sunday school each week.
Since 2010 much has changed, the staff team has grown, the church family has grown, the number of services has grown, the Vicar has changed and the church building has been remodelled and we learnt how to do church online for about a year. Despite all these changes the fundamental role of ensuring that the children were taught weekly about the good news of Jesus has never ever changed.
In 2011 St Mary’s began the 4pm service – which meant that more leaders and helpers were needed to resource the children’s work at this service. By 2012 we had grown to about 170 children in 14 different groups across the three services.
Also in 2011 we ran our first Christmas Unwrapped event for local primary school children in year 6. We followed this at Easter 2012 with our first Easter Cracked. Both these events which aim to teach the true Biblical message of Christmas and Easter are still going strong, and we have grown from our original three schools to now having over a dozen local schools attend each year.
The Explorers Holiday week to Sheringham for children aged 9 to 11 has been a feature of Wheatley life since the 1980s, as my husband used to lead the trip. I joined him in 2000 when our daughter was nine and have been leading on it ever since. It is a fabulous opportunity to grow relationships between the kids and to challenge the children about their faith before they are swamped by the many demands of senior school. Sadly after staying at the Beach Mission house in Sheringham for over 30 years, it was sold in 2014 and so we had to find a new venue. And so began our Explorers “Abroad” holiday as we took the children over the big wide ocean to the Isle of Wight! After 14 years of running this holiday I missed the annual trips up Beeston Bump, to the tank museum, the windmill and the seals, but found that visiting the Needles, the lifeboat museum and the lighthouse were just as good and of course the message about Jesus never changed!
This role has enabled me to grow in my knowledge and love of the Lord and also in my daily trust in him to provide for all our needs. Whenever we seemed to have the groups fully staffed and resourced then the church would send folk off to resource another church – Windsor Fellowship, Trinity at Four in Henley and White Waltham. I learnt that St Mary’s is a sending church and a training church and it really was a joy to send off some of our best leaders to serve elsewhere!! Honest!
Holiday Clubs have become a firm fixture in St Mary’s life – enabling many children to invite their friends to a fun event where they also learn more about Jesus and God’s plan for his people. Over the years we have been to space, under the sea, on a farm, on safari, visited polar icecaps, been inside a medieval castle and joined the army, and had absolutely masses of fun in the process. I absolutely love Holiday Club week as it is one of the few occasions in the year when people of all ages come together from across the whole church family to serve together and it is such a joy.
In the autumn of 2020 Nick McDonald joined the staff team as the trainee Children’s Minister. Everyone who has worked with me over the years knows that my knowledge of computing is very limited, so it was a huge relief to have Nick join the team and our online Covid Sunday school became much better as a result!
I am so thankful for Nick, for his years helping me with this ministry and I know that he will continue to serve St Mary’s in a godly and Christ-centred way as he leads this ministry and teaches our children.
I have been called many things in my role but I will miss being known as ‘St Mary’! There is a whole generation of children who seem to think that is actually my name. Even last week a child called out in a car park “hello St Mary”! However one day outside a school I heard a little girl tell her mother that I was the lady from the Bible – not such a good moment as I immediately felt about 3000 years old!
I am already missing the work, the daily interactions with children, but I know that it is in good and God’s hands. I have always described my role as being like a farmer – sowing the seeds of the good news of Jesus and then praying that in his time there will be a harvest of children who have grown up to know and love the Lord, and it gives me such a thrill to see our teenagers and 20/30s still full of faith.
Thank you for all your support of me and encouragement over many years and thank you too for the amazing generous gifts which are much appreciated.