Great things have happened in St Andrew’s Church Hall

1504 is a conservative estimate of how many hours I have spent in St Andrew’s Church Hall over the last 5 years.

 

Rachel Stewart

 

I have taught aerobics, attended toddlers, transformed the hall into the ‘Big Brother house’ for a youth group sleepover, taught endless Junior Church classes, baked muffins, cooked fried breakfasts. I have decorated it for a Royal Wedding street party, held training sessions within it, I’ve cleaned it, slept in it, taught 25 children a Christmas rap in it! I know the current hall very well. And I have seen great things happen there…
The launch of 2 youth groups which both include teenagers with no other connection to St Andrew’s Church. Within these groups many wonderful things have happened including:                                                                                                                                        - Young people arriving early one Sunday morning to bake muffins to sell in aid of a charity in NE Brazil – we raised £180 that morning.                                                                                                                                      - The same young people sharing their thoughts and feelings about issues that matter to them – cyber bullying, eating disorders, parents splitting up, exam stress…
  • Every Sunday morning children coming together in Junior Church to learn about God and experience community. 
  • My own son loved attending the St Andrew’s toddler group and did so for 2 years
  • In 2006 I launched my own business: ‘Feel Great! Fitness’ using the hall as a venue for exercise classes.

Many great things have happened in St Andrew’s Church Hall over many years because people have worked incredibly hard to squeeze the best out of what is a small and awkward space. As an aerobics instructor even to have had an extra metre width of hall would have allowed me to increase class sizes by 25% making my business more viable.

 

When I was using the hall for aerobics my heart would sink every time I approached the entrance: outside security lights gone again, having to move chairs and tables before I could start a class because there is currently nowhere to store them safely. Windows not opening/shutting properly. The kitchen smelling – not because it’s dirty but because it is old and in need of replacing. And then, once the class was underway I would hope that nobody would step back onto the piano or the stack of tables. During the stretch section of the class my fingers would be crossed that the heating system would be working so that people wouldn’t freeze as they lay on mats on the floor… The current hall is not an ideal place to hold fitness classes – the new St Andrew’s Centre would be. 
 
As I understand the plans, the main hall will not be a great deal bigger than the current hall but big enough to make a significant difference to an aerobics instructor’s income. Big enough to accommodate the growing number of teenagers who attend TMM youth group on a Sunday evening, big enough to be partitioned into spaces that will work as individual rooms. Big enough, and smart enough to appeal to community groups and other users who are committed to the well being of the community. 
 
We are not just renovating an old hall we are building a ‘centre for well being’ which comes with a vision that I find so exciting that I have recently made the decision to truly commit to what we are doing at St Andrew’s. I have decided to give up paid work so that I can commit an additional 2 days a week (on top of what I already do at the weekends) to further develop the youth and children’s work that St Andrew’s is currently operating.   A decision that was not easy to make – especially in this current economic climate, but I made that decision because I so believe in the vision that has emerged for the St Andrew’s Centre. 
 
It’s funny how plans change because a few months ago Alan and I were all set for me to find a job as a Teaching Assistant with longer hours and more money and better career prospects! This was going to be my moment – the next step towards a ‘proper career’… and I was already dreaming about a £90 swimming costume from a very expensive shop called Toast!   For once I was feeling confident about my CV and felt that I was a worthy contender. I had a job interview (which I was pleased with – especially as 40 people applied for the job and only 3 were interviewed) but didn’t get it. Of course initially I was terribly upset about not getting the job – the Sunday after my interview I remember kneeling at the alter rail for communion with the choir singing: I will trust, I will trust in Him. I wanted to sob my heart out right there at the rail – ‘do I trust you God?’ And what does that mean when it comes to money and pensions and saving for retirement? Can I trust you?’ 
 
I continued with the process of looking for other TA jobs, though frustratingly I could only actually apply for a small percentage as I had no means of getting to most of the schools besides cycling (not such a great prospect in the snow!). I began to think long and hard about what I really wanted at this point in my life. In fact it was all I could think, and pray, and talk about for weeks. All of the jobs I was looking at would have had me out of the house from 8am – 4pm + meetings and training courses, 5 days a week. I currently have Fridays days off and value spending that time with Alan. If I got a job with such long hours I would no longer be able to plan and help run Kidspace or Junior Church (though I would have kept going with TMM and The Mix). I would have missed being part of the community at the children’s school. 
 
[On the day we made the final decision for me to give up paid work I had 3 significant conversations between dropping the children at school and walking for 5 minutes back to the car. In that time 3 different people shared parts of their life with me that they are struggling with – financial worries, parenting concerns and the complicated needs of an incredible single mum who has so much going on in her life I don’t know how she manages to get out of bed in the morning. I know that if I hadn’t been there they could have spoken to someone else but for whatever reason they chose to speak to me. Driving home it struck me that if I had an 8-4 job I wouldn’t have been doing the school run, I wouldn’t have had those conversations. I would lose touch with so many people and have so little time to stand and chat. As I arrived home that Friday and talked to Alan over a pot of coffee – I already knew in my heart what my decision for the future had to be. We prayed together and both felt certain that giving up paid work was the right decision. Since that moment it feels as if something deep has changed in both of us. Prior to that moment we hadn’t realised that we had got sucked into an existence which depended so much on material things…. into what we’re told we should be (successful career person) or what we should have. Alan and I always thought that we lived a fairly frugal life until we recently got hit with a huge bill for the car and had to seriously cut back on our expenditure – we’re not even sure what we used to spend all that money on – little things that add up without us even noticing – regularly going out for coffee being a big one for us. Over the last month or so it has been liberating to stop thinking about what we can buy next, choosing instead to appreciate all that we have now.] 
 
Running parallel to these thoughts was a growing sense of what could be achieved with the youth and children’s ministry at       St Andrew’s if there was just more time… And so, alongside the amazing vision for the St Andrew’s Centre a smaller but equally exciting vision has grown for the youth work.   It came about when I realised that we only have 2 years left with some of our young people before they head off to university.   I asked myself: in those 2 years what can we offer them? 
 
As a church it’s clear that we want people to have an understanding of our Christian beliefs but our approach with the children and young people is not to tell them what to believe or how to believe – I see our role as being facilitators in their life long journey of discovery – so one of the things we can give them is the ability to ask questions and to think for themselves. We can provide opportunities for them to hear different points of view and for them to listen to others’ life experiences, so that they can draw their own conclusions – from this they will gain skills, which will benefit them in all areas of life. We want them to be practically prepared for university life or life after they leave home so have begun a life skills programme – teaching them to cook ‘cheap eats’, we’ve also looked at budgeting, CV writing and interview techniques. 
 
In September we hope to launch a mid-week milkshake drop-in for younger teenagers on their way home from school. We will begin it in the current hall but how amazing to carry that forwards into the new St Andrew’s Centre where we could make use of the additional spaces available – a quiet room where they can relax after a stressful day, perhaps the availability of a listening/counselling service during the sessions making use of our contacts with other organisations, a bigger space in the main hall for games and fun times, a craft room and so on. 
 
So often, young people are segregated from people of different generations – they have clubs and activities which are just for their age group. Older people are often scared to approach or talk to groups of young people. A core part of our vision for the youth and children’s work is to bring together people of different generations – you may remember that a few years ago the teenagers held an afternoon tea for residents of Calton House; we’d love to do something similar again. Over the last 2 terms we have invited other members of the church and community to come to youth group and share with the young people about their life experience. Over the coming months we will be launching a young leaders development programme encouraging the young people to make use of their skills and talents for the benefit of the wider community. 
 

At the moment we have one room and a dingy attic space in which to accommodate all of this – we need more space and more spaces which the new centre will provide. I am excited about spending the next 1504 hours in the current hall because I know that we’re on count down to the building of the new centre and when it’s built my heart won’t sink when I approach the entrance.

Rachel Stewart, 27/06/2011