Monday, 23 September 2019

Church service that fits around busy, modern life

Church service that fits around busy, modern life

A HENLEY church has boosted its attendances by launching a new service on Sunday
afternoons.

Trinity at Four, which takes place at Holy Trinity in Church Street, was launched as a monthly trial scheme at the start of last year and proved so successful that it became weekly in September.

Now it regularly attracts more than 100 adults and children who previously struggled to attend Sunday morning services because they clashed with sports matches or other extra-curricular activities.

Families gather at 4pm for prayers and songs, some of which include actions for the children, before the younger worshippers head to classrooms for activities such as informal Bible study, arts and crafts workshops and games.

They then listen to a talk and have a moment of quiet reflection before returning to join the adults and older chilldren.

Meanwhile, older members of the congregation listen to a sermon before being split into smaller discussion groups.

When little ones return, everyone enjoys a hot meal and drinks before heading home.

The service was founded by Rev Sam Brewster, who was previously assistant curate at St Mary’s church in Maidenhead and now lives in Hobbs End, Henley, with his wife Lucy and daughters Amelia, three, and Joanna, one.

He leads most services and plays the guitar and he hopes to put a band together for the musical
segments.

Rev Brewster, 32, grew up in Derbyshire and attended the independent Repton School before studying theology and religious studies at Cambridge University.

He first met his future wife at the university where she was studying geography.

They began their relationship when their paths crossed again at Oxford University, near where Mrs Brewster grew up. She was training to become a teacher while he was on a three-year ministerial training course at Wycliffe Hall, a Church of England college of the university.

Both had grown up attending church and committed to the Christian faith as teenagers.

They were married at St Ebbe’s Church in Oxford in 2012 and moved to Maidenhead for Rev Brewster’s first post the following year.

St Mary’s Church was already running a 4pm service on Sundays and Rev Brewster realised there was demand for something similar in Henley when several families from the town began attending it.

When his five-year term came to an end he suggested the idea to Rev Duncan Carter, vicar of Holy Trinity, who immediately welcomed it as he was struggling to increase attendance on Sunday mornings.

Rev Brewster said: “I can’t claim credit for the idea but a 4pm service was working well in Maidenhead and we sensed there was something of a gap to be filled in Henley.

“We felt there wasn’t a huge amount of accessible provision for families as there weren’t many children, or sometimes even any, at morning services in the town and that doesn’t make for a welcoming environment.

“Parents understandably felt nervous about their children making a noise or being bored and didn’t want to put them off coming in later life because of negative experiences early on.

“The last thing we wanted to do was just come into a new town and launch something without consultation but Duncan had always been keen to welcome families so he gave lots of support from the outset.

“I’m very pleased that it’s not drawing worshippers away from existing services, which we were very keen to avoid, and it’s bringing in a lot of people who had fallen out of going to church for various reasons or had even never attended.

“They find it an easy environment to be in and to follow what’s going on. Of course, we’re a community of normal people with our own issues but there’s no such thing as a perfect church community and so far it’s all going really well.

“Our focus has always been on straightforwardly explaining the Bible so that people who aren’t au fait with religious rituals and traditions can still take away a clear message that applies in their daily lives. It makes a significant difference if they hear it being spoken with real relevance and power. Without that, you can understand why people might come out of a sense of duty but it’s never going to last. I think it’s a key responsibility for a minister to help people connect with it and with Jesus. If you don’t accommodate people who can’t make a Sunday morning due to other commitments then you’re putting up unnecessary barriers.”

Regular worshippers include John Drummond and his wife Catherine, of Haywards Close, Henley, who have attended since the beginning and before that were going to St Mary’s in Maidenhead.

The couple, who were raised as Christians, had tried to attend 
church regularly after marrying in their native South Africa in 2010 but found congregations in the Henley area were much older than them.

They looked again after having their children Joshua, six, Melia, four, and Seth, one, but none was suitable for babies or toddlers so they went to St Mary’s on a friend’s recommendation. 

Mr Drummond said: “It’s fair to say we weren’t very committed to the faith before the children came along. We’d become discouraged because we couldn’t find anything that replicated the services we’d experienced in South Africa and didn’t feel as welcome.

“We tried again when the kids came along but everything was geared towards older people, which is fine but it isn’t very conducive to involving people like us when you’ve got sports in the mornings and early bedtimes in the evenings.

“We started going to Maidenhead because we were so frustrated. Although it was quite a distance, we wanted to satisfy our Christian consciences and found it was much more welcoming and relaxed.

“It offered activities which the children could relate to and it was okay for them to climb around if they felt restless, which just wouldn’t have worked at the other churches we’d tried.

“It felt like a community, which is important as a church is so much more than just a building. There were people you could look up to, ask questions and discuss aspects of faith with.

“We’ve started reading the Bible verses that our next services are going to be based on, which we haven’t done in a long time!

“In the past we’ve sometimes struggled to understand certain passages but Sam puts things across as simply as possible and helps you understand their context.

“For example, when we read about ‘turning the other cheek’ we thought, ‘yeah right, if you do that in South Africa you’re going to get slapped all over and possibly kicked!’ However, he explained that it’s just about being patient and compassionate with your enemies.”

Mrs Drummond said: “We were very pleased when Sam moved to Henley as it meant we would be attending with other people from our own community instead of rushing over to Maidenhead and back, like a ‘Sunday night takeaway church’.

“It attracts a broad spectrum of people but many of them have children of similar ages and were experiencing similar challenges to us.

“The sermons are presented in a way that children and adults both get something out of it and it has given us some new ideas for discussing Christianity with the children at home.

“We see new faces each week and a lot of people are making it their ‘home’ church, including us — there’s no doubt that we’ll keep coming back.”

Rev Carter said: “It has been far more successful than I could possibly have hoped in the early months and I’m so pleased.

“I’ve wanted to create more opportunities to get involved in church life for more than 10 years so it’s absolutely delightful that Sam and Lucy have come along.

“There are so many activities on Sunday mornings these days but the teatime slot is much less busy and it’s wonderful to see so many people taking part and socialising afterwards.”

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