Children in our Church

There has recently been quite a lot of discussion about the part which young people play in our present congregation. This has prompted me to put together some history, thoughts and recollections about children and young people and their part in the life of St Peter’s.

Historically St Peter’s had a Church school in the days before compulsory education and in the 1920s, like most other churches at that time, had an enormous Sunday School. My father used to talk about children being marched up to the church crocodile fashion by the Church Army sisters, and packed into the North Aisle. In the Annual Report for 1929 the following account appears:

The (Sunday School) numbers have doubled, making the number in regular attendance 170. Ten new teachers have been added making in all 21 teachers. The reasons for this rapid growth are (1) the keenness of the teachers and the deep personal interest they take in their children; and (2) the fact that every absent child is looked up at once. A concert was held in May in which every child took part. On Sunday School Sunday, the school paraded round the Parish, led by the choir, and the Boys’ Brigade.

In the 1950s when I personally was in the Children’s Church things were very different. We met in the St James room sitting round what seemed to me a huge polished dining room table. Kathleen Inglis, the then Rector’s wife, managed a small group of about ten or so children. I can remember drawing pictures of eastern houses, making advent calendars and creating tiny Easter Gardens in saucers. On birthdays we blew out candles energetically and I can remember my mother’s horror when I emerged from under the organ casing minus my eyebrows one birthday! We were a small close group of children, most of us with family members in the church. If your parent wasn’t there, or was in the exalted realms of the choir stalls as mine was, you sat in the North Aisle with Mrs Inglis. I was in Children’s Church with offspring of other familiar names such as Partington, Goodliffe and Mason. As we got older many of the boys transferred to the choir (no girls in the choir then, much to my puzzlement) and at the magic age of ten we were given a bible and expected to go into church. At this point I went to my local church which provided something gentler, and stayed there until after my confirmation.

Then in the late sixties my father came home from St Peter’s saying that Kathleen Inglis was not in good health and I volunteered in a moment of philanthropy to help her with Children’s Church. I was actively considering education as my career and here was experience and, I suspect, contact with things past. So began a twelve-year period helping and later organising the Children’s Church. Colin also came in to help when Kathleen Inglis decided she could not continue. Again there were a relatively small group of children. The numbers swelled approaching Christmas when we adventurously introduced a tableau into the Christmas Eve service. In retrospect I can’t help having unswerving admiration of those parents who during that period trusted us as we made giant Goliaths and painted papier-maché with green powder paint whilst the congregation did more traditional things. And some of the surnames at that time: Dunn, Marshall, Charter, George and Shaw, very familiar territory. Gradually the age ten barrier dropped by way of the older members staying on to help. Eileen Sutton (née George) who was one who stayed to help is now providing her own younger consumers!

Now, having returned a few years ago to St Peter’s, I see something new but also familiar. New rota systems hopefully make things less onerous and it is good that more people are involved. The children however seem the same. Numbers rise and fall but still the same keenness and openness, still the same frustrations about continuity and what and how should be the contents of a programme for younger members. The St Peter’s Centre provides a brighter environment albeit with its own new set of challenges. Perhaps it is significant that throughout this piece I keep using the word “familiar”, for that is what we are. I might suggest that we actually still support the tenets mentioned in the quotation from 1929 but in a new and suitable way for our time, they do not seem to me to be just reasons for rapid growth but sound practice. We have children and young people in our congregation, they are an important part of us, part of our church family and like any good family we need to engage in their nurture, giving them our care and full attention.

Ann Gell
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 4th November 2000