BLÁTHNAID QUINN reports
The position of Children ’ s Programme Coordinator was created in September 2015 with the aim of this role being to develop the spiritual programme for children and young people suitable for the range of children attending St Mark's. Ida Silkenat took on the role, as an initial two year pilot. Ida has set a very high standard in establishing the post, but has now moved on to take other responsibilities. Ida has successfully engaged children and young people and developed a successful and sustainable children ’s programme model for St Mark’s. Her contribution will be very much missed but we look forward to a new era in the children programme with the recruitment of a new coordinator.
There is now a core group of children who participate in the programme, who have formed relationships and though the numbers may be small these are important to the children and valued by parents. From the outset Ida introduced a structured programme with familiar routines, opening and closing songs, prepared supporting materials and activities, often related to service themes and underpinned by Unitarian values. The children moved to the lower hall which has created dedicated space for children, without disruption from adults. Ida established a separate Teens and Tweens Group, which met monthly during 2016/17. This has attracted a small core of young people, supported by some visiting students whom Ida identified and supported. The children have participated in several services during this time and following discussion with the parents, the Christmas service 2016 took a new form with a reverse Santa.
There remain some underlying challenges in running the Children s Programme in St Mark’s due to the small numbers involved, the varied age range and unplanned nature of children's attendance. Attracting and retaining volunteers has been a challenge, though most volunteers have sustained their commitment during this period, due to the support they have received by having activities prepared by the coordinator.
Parents and programme leaders were surveyed for their views on the impact of this role. Agreement on the value, depth and contribution to the spiritual development of the children from the programme content was wholehearted.
Feedback received included:
• The coordinator has provided structure and real, meaningful content. The children don’t just go off and play, they are learning.
• A number of interesting and valuable topics have been covered at a level sensitive to the age range of the children.
• The children have dealt with a number of topics in a manner that has taught them about tolerance, respect, empathy etc. Structure and content has been provided. They know what awaits them when they head off to the hall and they enjoy it. They have developed relationships with each other and enjoy catching up when they get to see each other.
• Having a paid Children ’ s Programme Coordinator has been truly transformative for the programme during the past two years. This is due to the dedicated time, organisation and expertise in both children's activities and Unitarianism that Ida has offered. The quality of activities prepared with detailed instructions and resources have been engaging for ALL ages and GREATLY helped leaders. For leaders, it is a huge relief to not worry about preparation, particularly when it is often unclear which age group will be attending.
• Having a coordinator also gave us the confidence to join the Children ’s Programme team as we knew there would be support for session planning and allowed us to contribute without having to sacrifice lots of time outside the session.
Children ’ s views
The children mentioned some themes and activities they liked: Remembrance Day, Refugees stories, Being Kind, Happy Bucket, Sikh stories and Autumn. The children also clearly liked being given responsibilities such as sowing seeds for food, watering the plants and handing out books at the beginning of the service.
Teens and Tweens and their parents
I like having the church community but I don't like long services. In teens and tweens I like to make new friends and do fun activities. I feel like I can be myself and it's a nice break from the rest of life.
She has really enjoyed the tweens activities and this has kept her engaged with St Mark's. I think that had this not been available I would struggle to maintain her interest at this stage in her life.
Summary and recommendation to Council
Ida should be congratulated on leading such a successful pilot and setting a high standard for others to follow. Supporting the Children’ s Programme is an investment in the future of this community, the next generation, both parents and children. Parents feel supported to participate in the life of St Mark s and have confidence that their children are learning values of respect for others and being encouraged to explore diverse issues . Council has recommended that the Ministry Team seek to identify a new Children ’ s Programme Coordinator to continue the good work evidenced through this pilot.
This photograph of Ida Silkenat with some members of the children programme was taken by Bláthnaid Quinn. Bláthnaid is a member of St Mark’ s and a volunteer on the children’s programme.
Photographs by Bláthnaid Quinn