BURGHFIELD and Area School Pastors celebrated their fifth anniversary this month with over 60 guests including church leaders, police officers, local dignitaries, and parents, students and staff of The Willink School.

School Pastors is a national initiative from the Ascension Trust – the organisation that oversees Street Pastors, Rail Pastors and Response Pastors. The anniversary celebration was held at Mortimer West End Chapel, which was decorated with bunting made by the Willink Christian Union. Homemade cakes and refreshments were prepared by friends and supporters.

James Puxley, Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, cut the cake alongside Cllr Carol Jackson-Doerge, Chairman of West Berkshire Council and Libby Hawkness-Smith, the Burghfield and Area School Pastors Coordinator.

Libby says: “We continue to make connections with students and staff at The Willink, and are slowly becoming better recognised across the whole school community.  Most lunchtimes, we’ll talk to between 40 and 70 students, with a handful of students approaching us to share their stories.  We also have conversations with about six to eight staff members.”

Marcia, another volunteer, says: “As School Pastors, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and available to our school community, we listen to them and observe them and trust in the Spirit. And we do this by befriending them, being a haven in which they can confidently approach whether in times of joy, difficulty, uncertainty or just plain irritatingly (as teenagers can be); knowing that they are welcomed regardless and without judgement. This also means that our school patrols are never the same, being teenagers, one day they will open up to us with high fives and teasing; the next they may not want to make eye contact. Our challenge in that is to remain the same friendly, approachable, non-judgmental safe haven of dependable friends.”

Anthony is a School Pastor and a Royal British Legion chaplain. At an RBL meeting, he met members of the Burghfield Army Cadet force who had seen School Pastors at their school.  “I said that although I appreciated that actually knowing a School Pastor might not be the coolest thing, would they wave to me when they saw me/us next?  Here is the surprise.  Apparently, it is cool to know a School Pastor, and they assured me that they would wave to me next time.”

Paul Sparrey, a schools worker from Learn4Life, told the pastors: “It is always an encouragement to see you in school, to have worked alongside you, and to know that you are making a positive difference to the many young people that you interact with on a regular basis. It may not always seem much sometimes, but God is always at work – be encouraged.”

Bec Slater, a Willink Parent, said: “We are blessed to have you in our community. To all of you, past and present, that have contributed to the success of this local project, thank you. I know the young people value and appreciate having you around.  Praying for continuing success for you all.”

Burghfield is the only area in the Thames Valley to have School Pastors. It is part of Together in Mission, which is made up of local Christians who want to help their communities in practical ways. TiM includes a community café and befriending service in Burghfield.

The Revd Glynn Lautenbach, Chair of Churches Together in Burghfield, Sulhamstead and Mortimer, carried out the commissioning of three new School Pastors and presented certificates to all the current volunteer School Pastors. Members of Burghfield Camera Club took photos of the event and live music was provided by members of Mortimer West End Chapel and St Mark’s, Reading.

The Revd Stephen Pullin, Assistant Archdeacon of Berkshire, closed the evening with a blessing and words of encouragement from Reading Minster.

If you are interested in joining the Schools Pastors contact Libby Hawkness-Smith on 07778 911182 or libby@togetherinmission.org.uk