The Revd Rob Parker McGee from the Box River Benefice has been running an after school choir club at the local Boxford CofE Primary School, since 2021. The choir has sung for key festivals including Easter and Christmas. By Christmas 2022 the choir had grown to 30 pupils strong from years 2 – 6, who met for five weeks of practice and sang Away in a Manger and Taizé Magnificat at the school festivities.
22 of the children then sang at Boxford's Advent Carols and Christingle service in church to close the annual Christmas Tree Festival and Fayre, with 160 people in attendance.
Rob leads the choir and a local choral teacher comes in once a term to help.
“The children love singing the Taizé in Latin. If they had their way, it's all we'd do. The trouble is people wouldn't understand it, so we split the group in half, with one group singing in Latin and the other group in English and then swap them over four or five times so that they are singing a round. It sounds amazing. They are so talented.”
Rob plans to continue the choir in 2023 and will run the club in the lead up to key celebrations. Rob says: “By running the choir in short bursts, the children stay enthusiastic and engaged. It also means I have enough time to prepare for it. I also visit the school once a week to take school assemblies and I am vice-chair on the governing body. Over the last four years we have worked tremendously hard to re-develop the relationship between the church and the school so that the school feels that the church is home”.
Growing Younger and creating links between the school and church has been part of the benefice action plan, as is developing relationships with other community groups around the benefice. Whilst time consuming and meaning focus has had to be diverted from elsewhere, the benefice has grown from having no children regularly in church four years ago, to having a small cohort of families who regularly attend - so it is proving successful. Rob says: "It starts by making it clear that families are central to who we are as church. The soft noise of young children in services moves the prayerfulness to another level. We are now looking to further grow our mission to our young people through our children and families team".
The benefice offers a missed approach to services, Common Worship Eucharists keep people grounded and fed, Book of Common Prayer Matins or Evensong adds a bit of traditional richness and depth, and an Intergenerational monthly service, called 'Pilgrim Eucharist (for all stages of the journey and all ages of life!)' offers something a little gentler and contemporary. This is a shortened, simplified service with children's activities and includes children joining the priest at the altar at the Eucharist, where they are taught and join in the symbolism and actions. It is specifically designed to be of interest to those who are newcomers to church, whilst also feeding those who are more established mainstays. Alongside these, the benefice also offers Forest Church services through the summer months, occasional Cafe Church services and specially designed liturgies with depth and richness to celebrate or commemorate significant occasions. Rob said:
“This mixture of the traditional and new really works and what may surprise many people is that our more traditional services have also grown in attendance. In my experience, it isn’t about what you do but rather how you do it and the integrity in which it is offered. All the research and evidence seems to back this up. I hope that by leading in an inviting and dignified way, with passion and energy, we have been able to offer something through which others are directed towards God and enables us to grow as a church family of all ages”.