CAPTION: Children playing in field of poppies created as part of the Peter's Patch project at St Peter's Church in Dowland

Devon Churches Connecting with Children, Families and Youth Through Mission and Growth Funding

Posted: 24th March, 2023

Since its launch in 2022, the Diocese of Exeter Mission and Growth Fund has provided a number of grants for church projects across Devon.

The aim of the £200,000 fund is to allow mission communities to develop projects aimed at growing new disciples amongst children, young people and families.

The window to apply for a grant in 2023 opens on 1 April. Mission communities can apply for a grant of up to £20,000, though most grants will be for a smaller amount than that. Click here to apply for a grant.

baby with xylaphone

The Upbeat project in Ashburton uses music to engage with children and families

Sharon Blyth, the Children and Families Mission Enabler, said “Our Devon churches universally have a heart for children and young people. But we need to do more.

“According to Church of England research, in 2018 we reached a new stage where nationally, Sunday attendance for 0-16’s dropped below 100,000 for the first time ever. Covid has impacted this even further.

“Working with children is essential in sharing our faith, building up and sustaining our churches.  However, we also know it is not easy.  We are here to support you in this, through coaching, discussion, signposting, training AND through Mission and Growth grants for new work.

“Small is often very beautiful – so this is not restricted to churches with thriving ministry, but can be used to start new work with toddlers, families, school children or teenagers.  Often children and parents find the church family gives them support that they never thought possible.” Sharon Blyth, Children and Families Mission Enabler

“I would love to meet and work with you and your church or mission community to pioneer new ways of sharing our faith and supporting families.” email Sharon.

A photo of Sharon Blythe with long blonde hair and glasses and a big smile

Sharon Blyth is the Children and Families Mission Enabler

Here are some examples of what the Mission and Growth Fund has funded so far:

Dowland: Peter’s Patch

The Torridge Mission Community in North Devon received £1050 towards Peter’s Patch which aims to provide “a relaxed and welcoming meeting place” at St Peter’s Church (hence the name), for parents of young children aged 0-5 who often feel quite isolated in the mainly rural community.

The sessions are initially running the sessions every week during the school holidays. Each one is themed around the Christian calendar and contains activities such as gardening, bringing new life to the churchyard (such as making veggie boxes and bird boxes), wildlife care, cooking and craft inside the Church.

Susie Dunn, who is the main organiser for Peter’s Patch, said “We have several volunteers such as a primary school teacher who plans the sessions. Other members of the community are involved with refreshments and vegetable planting.

“We also aim to give away all the fresh fruit and vegetables grown helping with the cost of living.

“We are aiming to help parents at quite an isolated time in their lives by linking them with other parents enabling them to gain advice and friendship.

“We want to breathe new and young life into the church, to support each generation, to have fun and share the love of God.

The creche area at St Disen’s church in Bradninch

Brixham: Stay and Play

Brixham Mission Community received a £3000 grant towards a weekly Stay and Play baby and toddler group in a community hall in Galmpton, aimed at increasing engagement with children, youth and families. So far some of the money has been spent on new play equipment.

The group is growing, with capacity for about 20 children. Families who come to the group are invited to key services like the Christmas carol service.

Ashburton: Upbeat Music Project

The Ashburton and Moorland Mission Community received £12,000 to start the Upbeat Music Project. The aim of the project is to bridge the gap between church and the wider community by using music as a missional tool. Heidi Lewis, who is Children and Families Mission Advisor, for the Mission Community, said “Making music together is a great way to build community and I wanted to use that as a means to encourage our church communities to think and become more missional.

“Using the grant money, we employed Letty, a professionally trained opera singer, to set up music activities based on singing together. The groups she has started have already inspired existing members of the congregations to begin their own music-based outreach as well.

As part of Upbeat, Letty has organised an Easter Experience for local schools which will take place during the last week of term. It combines music and experiential learning about the events of Holy Week and ties in with the national curriculum.

Heidi said “While we are blessed to have a musical specialist in Letty, the content of the project could have been anything that made use of local interests.

“One of the villages within our Mission Community has lots of keen gardeners and so the church warden is considering setting something up using gardening as the catalyst.

She had this advice for other churches considering applying for Mission and Growth funding:

“The key is to identify what it is that local families will engage with – it could be sport, the environment, arts and crafts – and plan from there.”

“While we have lots of skilled volunteers within our churches, by paying someone to do this role we are freeing them up to work solely on this rather than having to squeeze it in to their spare time.”

Cullompton: Renew ‘22

St Andrew’s Church, Cullompton, received a grant of £10,000 payable over two years for Renew ’22. The main aim of the project is renewing and reconnecting with its families and youth provision. The church said that from September 2022 to September 2024 they hope the funding will help see a greater number of children, families and youth discipled in the church and community context.

So far,  13 new children and young people have started coming and there has been an increase in the number of volunteers for children’s groups. There are also enough youth and youth leaders to have two separate youth groups on a Sunday morning. The local primaries and pre-school all contributed decorations to the church’s Christmas light garden. There are also plans to run a Faith in the Family Course.

Carrie Tucker, the Children and Families Pastor, said “The grant has helped us enormously, we are seeing many more children come into our Kidzone groups on a Saturday and Sunday morning, we are seeing the same with our youthwork as well. We’ve got loads more people booked-in for Spree SW this year rather than last year, so lots of good stuff to come!”

Bradninch: Children and Families Resources

St Disen’s Church in Bradninch, near Cullompton, received £3100 towards strengthening and extending its work with children and families. Some of the money has gone towards replacing the toys and storage in the creche space and welcome area.

The former children’s altar has been adapted into a children’s prayer space for all age worship. Some of the money is earmarked for improving the church’s audio visual capability, for example purchasing a new laptop and projection screen to show videos easily and also improving the WiFi.

The church has also purchased an event shelter for outdoor worship. This was used to provide a ‘welcome and prayer space’ during the town fair in September.

The vicar, the Rev’d Ollie Mears, said “Our capacity for reaching families was evidenced this year on Christmas Eve. We transitioned our normal crib service to a ‘Donkey Service’ with live donkey and had over 100 adults and 44 children in attendance.

“The welcome space was in use and we used elements of our regular All Age service which people connected with well. Events like these are going to be enhanced by our improved AV and PA in church during the course of the next two terms.”