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Recorder orchestra hits the right notes

An orchestra including up to 13 recorder players and assorted other instruments is the foundation of a families’ initiative in The Cookhams Benefice.

The church’s activities with children are focused through two local church schools, which support Family Worship on one Sunday a month at 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

We started the service back in 2018 to create a more informal child friendly service at a time when families could attend,” says the Revd Helen Chamberlain, Associate Priest of The Benefice of The Cookhams.

“COVID suspended these services, but we are now running them again. An important aspect is creating opportunities for active participation by children, for example by reading lessons, leading prayers, or playing in St John's Orchestra.”

Group of children playing recorders in churchThe St John's Orchestra is formed mainly from local school children and a few members of the congregation. Age and ability are no barrier. Typically instruments include flutes, guitar, percussion, piano, recorders, and violins. It’s conducted and coached by David Hazeldine, an experienced local musician, churchwarden and member of the Senior Choir.

The church focuses on four milestone Sundays annually: Mothering Sunday, St John the Baptist’s Patronal Festival, Harvest and Christingle. These services attract up to 150.

“Once you have 15 to 20 children in, they are all going to bring brothers and sisters, mum and dad, possibly grandparents as well and that soon adds up,” says Helen.

“You have to be pragmatic. It takes children a long time to learn the music. We have a limited repertoire. We can have a lovely themed service followed by a hymn which might not fit the theme, but in a key the orchestra can play – participation is more important than perfection,” she says.

Between the milestone services, the Benefice holds a more modest monthly service which can still attract 60 people.

All the services are followed by a ’sumptuous’ tea of sandwiches and cake provided by members of St John’s more traditional congregation. “It’s a children’s paradise,” says Helen, “and it’s all over by 5 o’clock.”

But Helen admits that growth is fragile. “You can hit a peak one month and then the next month, as we’ve discovered, if there’s something else going on that clashes and we haven’t been aware of it our numbers are down.

“We live in a time where people pick and choose. They go to what they want, when they want. There isn’t a pattern of turning up to church weekly. For young families there are often grandparents to visit at weekends so families come to their church as and when they want. ‘Regular attendance’ might be five or six times a year,” she says.

The lessons the St John’s team have learned include that anything eucharistic is initially a turn off for most young families. Worship needs to have a ‘light touch,’ be meaningful for younger children, be short and a lot less formal in structure.

But the work St John’s is doing is paying dividends. For example, a recent survey showed that many children’s favourite aspect of worship is creative, interactive prayer times. In addition, the Benefice now has seven children who are committed and who will be confirmed later in the year.

Growing New Congregations

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Page last updated: Wednesday 19th July 2023 8:43 AM
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