Relational ministry is at the very heart of chaplaincy. Chaplains find many creative ways to connect with students but one school has put its money where its mouth is by creating a wonderful space for relational ministry.This profile is from the sixth edition Term 2 2014 and was contributed by Jeremy Thewlis, Senior School Chaplain at All Saints Anglican School
The All Saints Senior School needed: a comfortable, welcoming and relaxing space for Senior School students in which to ‘hang out’ at lunchtimes and after school; somewhere for students to microwave food, toast sandwiches and chat with friends; a place where relational ministry could take place and where the Senior School Chaplain could get alongside students, build friendships, provide encouragement, support and informal counselling; somewhere to park a bunch of couches, two pool tables, a table tennis table, a foosball table and a large fridge full of drinks and snacks.
What was the response to the need?
The answer was The Zone. The School recognised the need and the Zone began its life at the back of the stage area in the old Performing Arts building. Now it’s a purpose-built area beneath our Visual Arts Centre. In terms of how it operates, it’s like an updated version of the Drop-In centre. At lunchtimes it functions as a Year 12 common room, while after school it’s open to all Senior School students. On any given day there could be 140+ students who come through its doors to chill out.
What was the impact?
Like all relational ministries, it’s difficult to quantify the results. Do you measure it in terms of sandwiches cooked? Pool balls potted? Volume of conversation in decibels during lunchtime? Qualitatively though, running the Zone continues to be a really useful part of my ministry in the Senior School. Partly it gives me an opportunity to serve the students and care for them in a practical way. It certainly helps me develop relationships with my students and this pays dividends in terms of building respect, credibility and open ears and hearts in the classroom and in the Chapel. There are often really valuable conversations which happen over a game of pool or when waiting to play table tennis. It’s a reminder that young people want to talk about important issues and they will if we create comfortable spaces for those conversations to naturally happen.
What were the greatest challenges?
I’m blessed with a school leadership who are fully committed to seeing the Zone continue – they recognise the value that it adds to the Senior School and are nothing but supportive. Once a week the youth minister from our local Anglican parish works alongside me in the Zone. The biggest challenge, in a busy school, is to make sure I guard my time – remembering that just ‘hanging out with students’, building friendships, being available and ready to listen… these things are critical ingredients to any ministry with students.
Experiri was a quarterly newsletter presenting stories of innovation in school ministry from Australia and beyond. Each edition provided two or three profiles of innovative strategies that had been developed in response to challenges or emerging issues for chaplains or others in Anglican Schools, including Heads and Religious Educators.