Becky Fisher has been the Rural Schools and Churches Worker for the eight parishes in the Gauzebrook Group in North Wiltshire since 2011.
She supports these village communities, schools and churches to help children and young people benefit from greater access to age-appropriate worship, while giving them the opportunity to strengthen their faith and spirituality.
We catch up with Becky on how her role has developed over the last four years, her passion for Godly Play and rural ministry, and plans for the future of the project.
Becky has had a varied career to date, but when she saw the role of Rural Schools and Churches Worker advertised she knew it would be her dream job. My son pointed out it had three of my buzz words in the job title, Becky laughs. Theres rural and schools and churches, all so important to me. He chuckled, adding it was a shame about the worker bit though!
Brought up in rural villages on the Isle of Wight and in Surrey, Becky studied agricultural economics at university. Rural ministry has been a calling for which I see I have been training throughout my life, Becky explains.
Over the years, Becky has worked for the Baptist Missionary Society and as a teaching assistant in a primary school. She has headed up the Abingdon Christian Training Scheme and for four years was the Co-ordinator of the United Reform Church's Centre for Reflection. My role there was about leading people into silence, says Becky. Its a lovely place; part of my heart is still there.
Becky then became the outreach coordinator for a Methodist / United Reform Church in Abingdon, through which she set up the Godly Play classroom, which went on to become a centre of excellence for Godly Play .
Part of my vocation still, I believe, is to lead people to silence and I use Godly Play a lot, says Becky. As far as children are concerned, well as far as everybody is concerned really, its about recognising theres a spark of God within us all but not everyone necessarily has the language wed recognise in church to express that. So Godly Play helps people to see that the God they know is the same as the church God.
Godly Play is a wonderful way of helping children to understand God through sharing stories and our own personal responses, but its just one of the approaches I use in my work today. There are lots of ways to share God's work with people depending on what the circumstances might be, whether its five minutes in the supermarket queue or two hours with children on a Saturday.
Following that role, Becky went on to early intervention work in Oxfordshire, as an intermediary between schools and social services, supporting families who werent really accessing education. But with government cuts, Becky found herself out of a job. And then she landed her current dream job with the Gauzebrook Group.
Becky is the first to admit that rural church work isnt easy. Its hard work getting activities started; pulling children together from across a rural area to enable an activity to take place. One of the huge blessings of this post is that its based within both schools and churches and so you make contact with children. Then theyre interested and want to know more.
The role is full-time. Becky works Monday to Thursday in primary schools and in the churches at the weekend. The Gauzebrook Group covers an area around 10 miles across, including nine churches (although Bremilham as the smallest church in the country only has one service a year on Rogation Sunday) and four primary schools.
Work in schools
In schools, Beckys role is primarily to support collective worship and RE lessons.
A lot of my time is spent preparing the materials for collective worship says Becky. And I support schools to be critical about what they offer through their collective worship. For instance, when I started, many of the children didnt really know the Lords Prayer, so we were starting from the basics.
One afternoon a week in each school, Ill go in to support RE in a particular class, working alongside the teacher. Its the same curriculum in the community schools as in the church schools, although it may have a slightly different outworking.
Becky builds links between the schools and their local churches by offering them a church trail, such as Experience Easter, Harvest or Christmas. Many of these are based on the Gloucester Experiences but Becky is also developing her own new ones around remembrance, the Lords Prayer, Advent and Lent.
On top of all that, Becky also runs lunchtime and after-school clubs.
Different children need different things at different stages. So I like to be able to offer something extra. At Sherston I offer a lunchtime club. Ill go into the lunch hall and a shout will go up, Its Beckys club! And everyone eats their lunch as fast as they can. The littlest ones come in first and I tell the story we had in worship that day. We really think about it and what that means for us. And then theyll do colouring or something. Its very simple, because the children are finishing their lunches at different times.
Key to the clubs is that they go home with something featuring a prayer so they can say to their parents, Look what I did today. Can we pray this prayer together? Its about moving what Im doing with the children in school into the home.
In some schools, Beckys clubs support Open the Book . The children will read the story next to be performed by the Open the Book team and make the props for them and then the children help with the acting or learn a song to teach the rest of the school.
Becky has also set up a host of activities in churches too. Theres a group called Little Lights on a Thursday morning for pre-school children and their parents or carers, run by the vicars wife Chantal. According to Becky many parents come because they want to explore their own faith and their children are an easy way in. Becky plays with children at Little Lights (Photo: Anna Durrant Photography)[/caption]
Here are parents who have the wonderful gift of a new child thats shone a different light in their lives, says Becky. Theyre asking what do I do now for this special person in my life to make sure that I look after body, mind and spirit? Little Lights is an opportunity for that.
Beckys work with Little Lights leads perfectly into and out of the activity shes involved in helping people prepare for baptism and confirmation.
In addition, Becky supports churches with their family services, junior church and Messy Church, and the Saturday childrens club, Mustard Seeds, as well as holiday clubs.
Its not just me doing everything, Becky is quick to point out. This role is about team building. None of this would be possible without teams of volunteers and its lovely to mentor people who want to be part of this work. You've got to be watching out for people all the time, encouraging them in their gifts because leading children is a huge part of faith development for a lot of people.
Last but not least, theres Toast on a Sunday evening. Toast stands for teenagers of all sorts together.
We play silly games, share food and hot chocolate and then do some activities like hot potato, where they share whats troubling them, or it might be a Bible based thing or confirmation preparation all kinds of things.
The young people are very forthcoming in their ideas about what they want from the group. They have a strong social conscience and they are keen to be involved in activities that are an outworking of their faith. Theyve done sponsored walks carrying tins of water to raise funds for the water charity were connected with through the Uganda Link. Were now thinking about Tearfunds No Child Taken campaign, focusing on the trafficking of children, and well be organising a bake off for that. They come up with ideas for things theyre concerned and passionate about.
Becky explains many of these teenagers arent already involved in church. One boy came for instance because its the only youth club locally, and then gradually the faith element became important for him. This led to him being baptised by the Archbishop of Canterbury when he visited Wiltshire last year! Now he's beginning to ask what more can he do to support the work of the church, so he's been volunteering as part of the holiday club team, which is fantastic. He's been on a real journey.
Making it happen
Initial funding for Beckys role came partly from the Diocese of Bristol and partly from a local educational charity. It was critical in getting the post off the ground to get that funding, which lasted four years. We've now got a big funding initiative going on to keep the post going.
What Becky has managed to achieve is to demonstrate to the community the need for this work and she has been delighted with the response locally to keep it going.
Individuals have been absolutely amazing coming up with promises of money. Theyve seen what were doing and theyve seen the value of it. Some of the churches who have huge needs themselves have done amazing fundraising for us so its coming from all sides.
Its taken time to get this project to where it is. Building up relationships and forming those connections have been so important. But we've proven a need, and its so good to have the schools and churches backing us and wanting it to continue.
We now see ourselves as developing a centre of excellence for rural ministry here in Gauzebrook. Were keen to reach out to offer support and training for parishes in a similar context.
Many of the resources Becky has developed are available to others across the Diocese for a small fee, and Godly Play resources are also available to borrow. For more information contact Becky at email@example.com .