It was a real treat, walking into a church that was full for worship. The fact that on an ordinary Sunday there were 50 children that came forward for children's time was the first indication that something significant was happening. You looked around and there were 15 or 20 teenagers with their parents. Then you knew something was up.
It is called Sonlight City, and it is bringing children out in record numbers. We followed children and teenagers alike as they left for what we used to call Sunday School. "We avoid the word 'school' they told us. This is different." And it was.
What had been a series of Sunday School rooms have been transformed. The halls are lined with murals featuring larger than life animals. First stop was Noah's Petting Zoo. That's the play area for small children ages 2 and 3. Right next door in a room decorated with more wild life, the 4 and 5 year olds were roaring like lions, squealing like mice, and walking tall like giraffes. They were having fun.
When they reach six years of age, they enter the area dedicated to the workshop rotation method. Our first stop was a traditional classroom transformed with real theatre seats and a sloping floor into "the Holyword" theatre. A large television set provided the picture. The "movie" this Sunday was McGee and Me. "The kids were alone. A tornado came, but they knew what to do," one of the children assured us. The "theatre" shows videos from the Vegi-Tales series among others. The kids were munching real pop corn and sipping on a drink. Pop corn is a standard feature we were told by the leader Holly, who likes it because "the kids love it."
We asked Holly's daughter Bronwyn what activity was her favourite "I like the crafts best," she told us. That room was just down the hall. A group of children were sitting on the floor. The centre of the circle was filled with wool, paper, all kinds of interesting material to work with. The excitement level was high. The craft leader Cindy told us, "This is a thousand times better than the old traditional way. It is neat. One thing is that when they come to church they don't always know what they will be doing." Never underestimate the surprise factor was the message.
A group of youngsters occupied the "story telling and puppets" room. It was a story telling day. In the music room the children were learning about the instruments that make up a symphony orchestra-and being their own orchestra with triangles, drums, and tambourines. The drama room featured a stage, backdrop and boxes of costumes. The task on this day was to create a diorama that depicted the current theme of Sonlight City, "God's Peaceful World."
The program uses a theme for four weeks in a row, with the children in a different area each week. This is the second year that St. Andrew's has been using the workshop rotation method, sometimes called WORM for short. The first year they had a five week rotation, but find four weeks is better for recruiting leaders and involving more people in the program. Each grade has a shepherd who stays with that group as they move to a different area each week. The theme leader stays in his or her theme room as groups rotate through. Two people, Sherryn St. Thomas and Joanne Ward, make up the schedules and recruit leaders.
It happened to be a great fall day in Lacombe, warm with lots of sun. We got to the science and games room just as the group was leaving for a games time outside on the lawn. The game was to say your name and another person's name, then throw the ball to them. It was obviously fun, and a great way for children to get to know each other.
Under a nearby tree, senior high students were immersed in a study of Genesis. I tried my one Genesis joke - it being the baseball book because it started with the words "in the big inning." They were a great group and laughed politely. The Junior Highs were having a bread-making day in the kitchen. They generated an extra element of excitement during coffee hour as a little too much smoke issuing from the baking ovens set off the church fire alarm. The evacuation went well, and an "all clear" signal brought everyone back in to finish their coffee and muffins.
One of the ministers, Ross Smillie, told us a lot of the strength in the youth program goes back to the '60s. The church school superintendent Dave Rodger led a boy's class. A lot of young men for whom he was a role model are playing a leading role in the church today. The church takes young people seriously. Ross's newly arrived partner in team ministry, Mervin Gallant, has youth ministry as a key area.
The sign outside the computer room says "Promises.net." The room is equipped with nine computers. They are not yet on line, but will soon become operational and part of the workshop rotation process.
Sonlight City is only part of the story at St. Andrew's in Lacombe. The Sunday announcements reveal a broad range of groups. A Healing Touch ministry meets regularly. Couples gather monthly for Marriage Enrichment. Three UCW units cater to different ages and interests. Hymns are video projected on a large screen at the front of the sanctuary. The singing, accompanied by a lively piano, is great. Video projection was installed when the whole front of the sanctuary was expanded and updated with a lower platform and blue carpeting.
The next plan is to develop an intentional small group ministry. There are new people moving to the growing town of Lacombe, population 9,900 and an easy 20 minutes from Red Deer. It takes new groups to welcome and integrate new people. St. Andrew's United plans to grow with the town.
Congregational Life Newsletter Vol. 10 No. 1 October 2003
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