Naomi Anstice is an assistant head teacher at Frodsham Manor House Primary and a NATRE Exec member. Frodsham is a town with a population of approximately 10,000, five local churches and a strong Churches Together network that is highly supportive of local primary schools. Here are Naomi’s tips and ideas of activities to build local community links – in a more plural setting, these are of course adaptable to other religious communities.
- A member of staff responsible for community links is key to strong local relationships. It is far easier for local congregations to have first contact with one person than every individual class teacher.
- A collective worship rota. We are a non-faith school but each Wednesday we have what the children call ‘church assembly’ taken by a rota of families, young people, children and ministers from local churches. Pupils get to know the speakers through friendly, active assemblies. They look forward to this.
- A Christianity panel with representatives from local denominations. Children email the questions out to the panel. The RE ambassadors host Q&A sessions. Groups of children are given target evidence areas to listen out for, e.g. belief in action, the role of prayer, and denominational similarities and differences.
- Invite family workers to lead. Some may be trained in Godly Play or Messy Church and can adapt their church learning activities for school. They may have great resources for Pentecost, Easter or a Biblical story.
- Host a Key Stage 1 wedding in a local church led by the minister with community involvement. Children plan and write the service. Role-play the characters who get married and make the promises relevant for them, e.g. at Rapunzel’s wedding she promised to only use her frying pan for making cooked breakfasts. You might want to get sponsorship from a local flower shop, bakery or wedding-car-hire firm. Invite the host congregation and use a church hall for your reception afterwards so the children have a chance to meet local believers.
- A day in a local parish church (lots of history). Acting as tour guides, make a film about the history and current use of the church. Spend the morning with the minister – children can find out about the work of the church. Groups write and rehearse scripts for filming in the afternoon. Send the published film link to the church, which might use it on its website.
- A Carol service in church. A way to develop new links. Find out what carols are popular at the host church and include one in your service.
- Invite regular and informal visitors from local churches to participate in your RE lessons. Start with 4-year-olds so children see this as a normal part of RE. Older classes can question a minister to unpack key concepts of the religion.
- Churches Together. Our Churches Together network hosts amazing Christmas and Easter Journeys each year. These are attended by 13 local schools. Children start their journeys in their own schools then continue them through active storytelling techniques in different marked areas of the church and church hall (often in gazebos). At one stage pupils could be taking part in the Last Supper then be resting in the garden when soldiers arrive. For the Christmas journey they may be listening to Mary singing as she bakes bread and is visited by an angel, or watching the animals in the stable (puppets!) tell their story.
- Have your art displayed in churches for a fortnight. We sometimes make A1-sized El Salvador crosses that churches love to put out for Easter Sunday as part of the decor. Help display it and collect it afterwards. Remember: art in churches is also a great resource for your lessons. If you are looking at the Stations of the Cross in art remember to use local examples as well. Finally, remember that a two-way partnership is always stronger. Every now and again offer to write an article for a church magazine about what you have been doing in RE, especially if a local church has helped out. Host a church fair trade stall at your Christmas fair or Fair Trade Fortnight, take the school choir to participate in a service, combine harvest festivals or collect toys for the church’s Christmas appeal andlink with its international church partners.