31 July 2015
Showing Jesus is relevant in school
Showing Jesus is relevant in school Tony and Susan Hillier work with the Family Trust and go into schools to share the Christian message. We find out more about their work…
EA: What prompted you to get involved in this schools ministry?
Family Trust: It was in response to a clear message from God. He was challenging us to take action to counter the increasing marginalisation of Christian teaching in schools. We are passionate about our aim and mission statement to help children to discover that Christianity is relevant to their daily lives.
The Family trust was set up with one member of staff in 1986 who was employed as a children’s worker in conjunction with a church. Over time the Family Trust model emerged which has served us well now for the last 25 years. Our approach is to facilitate faith development of children throughout their childhood into teenage years. We encourage the young people to explore the Christian faith. Our residential camps give great opportunities for children to respond and start a walk of faith. Over the years, a great number have returned to camps in their mid-teens as leaders to encourage their younger peers. As they serve we see their Christian faith being solidly rooted in their lives.
What kind of activities do you run in schools?
We deliver a new assembly to 170 schools every six weeks across Maidstone, Medway and Swale. We co-ordinate lunchtime and after school clubs, prayer spaces, RE lessons and contribute to Christian festivals and residential holidays. We see around 34,000 children and many hundreds of school staff regularly throughout the year.
As well as our staff team of full and part time children’s workers, we have a number of associates (sessional staff) and a huge network of volunteers from local churches. A fair number of the 40 Kingsquad clubs in Kent are managed independently by local churches. What are the big challenges? In schools ministry, the biggest challenge is always building relationships with the schools and gaining their trust. But we are fortunate to have built up strong relationships with most schools based on quality of provision and integrity. The schools get to know and trust us. We have never needed to approach schools directly to ask permission to work with them, they approach us.
What is the response to these assemblies?
Many have preconceived ideas of what a school assembly or club delivered by Christians will look like, and it’s not always positive. But we receive an overwhelmingly positive response from the schools we work in, which is why we are regularly invited back. Long-term commitment has been the key for us. Are there restrictions? When working in schools, it is important to remember that we are invited to be there as guests so have a responsibility to be respectful and sensitive. This doesn’t compromise the opportunities to share the Christian message with children; it just means that we share about Jesus in a way that is accessible to those of all faiths and none.
What encourages you most?
We have seen students in secondary school prayer spaces have some quite profound responses. I remember one student, when asked to model out of clay his response to the question: ‘What does the idea of God mean to you?’ made the shape of a tick because, he said: “When I came in here, I wasn't sure whether God exists or not, but in here you can sense that He is here so my tick means: Yes, God exists.”
We recently presented a Christmas Pantomime to schools themed around the Nativity story and received several letters from children saying how much they liked it. One wrote: “Thank you so much for the amazing pantomime. Now I understand the Christmas story much more!” Yes, moments like that!