Organising school visits to Church
A number of years of hosting school visits to a variety of churches has taught me some valuable lessons - mostly learnt the hard way!In the hope that you might avoid my mistakes, I offer the following brief tips. The section for teachers comes first . Scroll down for tips for clergy.
1. What is the purpose of the visit? (Are you exploring , for example, the church as part of the community or the architecture or building materials.) Don't simply decide to "do" the local church - there is far too much to see and think about for one visit.
2. Visit the church yourself beforehand (your school visits policy probably requires this anyway), preferably with the person who will be hosting the visit. They will be able to suggest things of interest to look at and help with your preparation.
3. Ask what rules/preferences they have about any parts of the church they do not want the children to go into. There may be health and safety issues, or fragile artefacts, or sensitivities, for example, about allowing children into the sanctuary.
4. Either prepare a worksheet or at least take paper and pencils. My nightmare visits are those where 60 Y4's turn up with no preparation and nothing to write on . I can't even say "find something you like and settle down and draw it." The result is chaos and a wasted visit.
5. Relax. Most clergy will be only too glad to have the children there; they will not be expecting them to be silent or still. I usually encourage a moment of stillness and quiet at the start of the visit so that the children can appreciate the special feeling of the church and think about all those to whom it has been a special place over the years, but it is unrealistic to expect the children to tiptoe about and whisper, and most priests will not think it irreverant if they don't ! If you encounter priests who do not make you and the children feel welcome, you have my sympathy, but they are not the norm.
If you are visiting a C of E church be aware that we work on a parish system. If your school is not in the parish, professional ettiquette and local sensitivities may require the priest to refer you to the parish church instead.Communicate to the host
- The purpose of the visit so that he/she knows what to focus on . If there is something specific you want the children to see, then say so.
- The length of the visit.
- What you want the host to do (e.g. a short welcome and then be on hand to answer questions, or a guided tour, or a mixture).
- The nature of the input required from them (e.g. the history of the church , or identification of the key architectural features).
- How many children there will be.
- What age they are. Clergy may not know how old Y2 children are - spell it out!
1. When the school first contacts you ask what the aim of the visit will be. The children may have been doing work on rites of passage, for example, or the church as part of the local community. They may be wanting to look at the materials out of which the church is built as part of design and technology. If the school doesn't seem to know why they are coming suggest that it would help you to help them if they could be a bit more specific.
2. Ask what preparation they will have done, so that you don't either repeat information they have heard or assume knowledge they don' t have.
3. Encourage the teacher responsible for the visit to tour the church with you beforehand. Point out anything you think is worth seeing.
4. Don't assume the teacher will be familiar with the nature, name or purpose of things in the church. Their background may be in another faith or denomination, or in none. Don't make them feel as if they ought to know these things.
5. It may be worth writing out the names of key features on card and putting them out beforehand. By the time you have spelt out "lectern" for the 59th time you will wish you had - I always wish I had remembered and vow to do this next time!
6. A church visit is not collective worship. It sounds obvious, but don't pray wth the children when they are there! There may be children whose parents would normally withdraw them from worship. It is ok, though, to tell the children why the church is special for Christians, including yourself.On the day :
- Don't expect the children to be silent or still, though I usually start by asking them to sit quietly for a moment to feel the special atmosphere and think of all that has happened in the building. I sometimes light the paschal candle as a sign of welcome.
- Be clear with the children as well as with the teachers about any ground rules for the visit. Are there places they are not allowed to go, or things they must not touch. They will not know that the sanctuary, for example, is regarded as special and will treat it just as any other part of the church . If that will cause you anxiety, be clear with them at the outset how you expect them to behave. Personally I prefer to let them go anywhere unless there is a health and safety issue or a delicate artefact, but you may have personal sensitivities or the feelings of other church members to consider.
- Be aware of the language you use. The children do not know what Reserved Sacrament is .In fact they might not know what a communion service is . Find ways of explaining things which will connect with their experience. For example, "we keep the bread that has been blessed in this cupboard, which is called an aumbry. We take it to people who are too ill to come to church so that they know they are still part of the family of the church. It is a bit like taking a slice of birthday cake to someone who has missed your party..." If that sounds irreverant - sorry - but it works as a way of explaining what we do.
- Try to show the children the parts of the church they might not see otherwise - the view from behind the altar, the inside of the aumbry. If you can, let them try on vestments and handle the chalice or unconsecrated wafers.
- Enjoy the visit - you will learn as much from the children as they will from you, and you will be giving them an experience which really makes an impact.