School of Faith
by Shelley Drake
Church attendance figures in Europe and much of the developed world make for alarming reading. Put simply, every year fewer people are going to church – and that includes The Salvation Army. Declining church attendance among young people is a particularly worrying problem, with many of today’s children not aware of how the Church relates to their everyday lives. Shelley Drake, from the UK Territory’s Schools and Colleges Unit, is trying to begin a fightback with all-new Ultimate Church Visit materials that aim to show school-age children that The Salvation Army – and the Christian Church – has much to offer. She spoke to All the World and explained how the new, vibrant materials try to get across an age-old message in a modern way.
Illustrations by Berni Georges
All the World: What made you come up with this new material?
Shelley: The original Ultimate Church Visit concept and materials, designed by Elisabeth Smith (who previously worked in the Schools and Colleges Unit but has since returned to teaching), had been used successfully in a number of corps (Salvation Army churches) and the overwhelmingly positive response we got from people who had used them made me realise this was a resource that had great potential.
Through our visits to schools and conversations with officers and children’s workers, we found that The Salvation Army is still seen by some teachers as an unusual, slightly antiquated organisation with bonnets and tambourines, which gives out soup to the homeless. Other teachers – and many pupils – know little or nothing about what The Salvation Army is and the work we do.
The aim of Ultimate Church Visit, and particularly the new material, is to allow children and teachers to see the many different aspects of The Salvation Army – our history, social work, worship and beliefs – and to show that The Salvation Army is engaged in tackling and responding to many problems in today’s society.
What is your target audience?
Ultimate Church Visit is designed for children aged 5-11 and was originally produced with the UK school curriculum in mind. The Salvation Army in the UK and Ireland is fortunate because it fits into many of the topics children study within Religious Education, Citizenship, History and Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE). Whether it’s looking at important figures from history, learning about different places of worship or seeing how Christians put their beliefs into action, there are plenty of opportunities for The Salvation Army to feature in a school lesson.
The resources are intended as a tool for corps and centres to use to build links with their local schools, rather than for teachers to use with their class. It creates a perfect opportunity to invite pupils into a church building or community centre and to be able to communicate – in a fun, exciting and relevant way – what The Salvation Army is. The children can also meet Salvationists from their community and see how their faith affects their lives. An Ultimate Church Visit can be the beginning of a great relationship between a corps or centre and a school and can open doors to other areas of ministry.
How did you arrive at the ideas you have put into action?
I began by gathering feedback from children’s workers, teachers and corps officers who had used the old materials. Most of this work happened through a workshop where I demonstrated the resources and then allowed them to talk and write freely about what they liked and disliked and what they thought needed to be changed.
It became evident during this process that there is great diversity among Salvation Army churches in the UK and Ireland. Ultimate Church Visit needs to be able to reflect the worship, work and character of local corps but also show different styles of worship and the diversity within The Salvation Army.
Each of the ‘zones’ – showing different aspects of The Salvation Army – comes with a script to guide the leader, so these, along with the pupil booklets, were all reworked. A couple of extra zones were added – a Homelessness zone and an International zone. People who saw the original resources felt that the international element of The Salvation Army’s work was missing so we’ve included some new activities based around video footage of Salvation Army projects in five different countries.
We added more of a range of activities and made it more flexible in the way it could be used. There is now scope to adapt the resources to suit different situations while maintaining the most important elements of Ultimate Church Visit.
For the design of the new material, we wanted to produce something which was much more up-to-date and which children would relate to, similar to images and media they would already be familiar with. My research involved looking at children’s books and magazines, websites and cartoons – which was great fun! – in order to get a feel for the kind of look I wanted.
When I decided on using illustrations to capture the essence of each of the zones, Berni Georges (a professional illustrator and All the World’s designer) seemed the obvious person to contact because of the work he had already done on our Getting to Know William Booth book. I felt confident he would be able to capture the excitement, fun and at the same time serious message we wanted to communicate.
Because I didn’t have a clear idea of the images I wanted, I was interested to see how Berni would interpret the information I gave him about each of the zones. It was brilliant to see the first drafts of the illustrations and for me it was a defining moment in the project. The characters really brought the themes and the activities to life. Seeing the illustrations develop from the first drafts to the final artwork was an exciting part of the project – I think the illustrations make all the difference to the resources.
I’m passionate about producing high-quality materials and I really care about the way things are designed. Materials can reflect how serious you are about what you do and how much you care about the people they are designed for – in this case, schoolchildren. Good resources can also make you appear more professional and credible to teachers. If they know they can trust you to teach a class using great materials they will be more willing to explore other ways you can support them.
How and in what situations will it be used?
I anticipate that Ultimate Church Visit will mainly be used by corps to build links with schools. If corps are just beginning to think about contacting schools in their area then having something exciting to offer which fulfils the curriculum is a great way to begin relationships. And if corps already have some contact with schools, Ultimate Church Visit can be a great next step.
One thing which came out of the initial feedback I had from officers and children’s workers was that they are conscious that many of the children they work with in their corps, particularly in kids’ clubs, know very little about The Salvation Army and so I’m sure its use will go beyond the school environment. Even children who have been brought up in The Salvation Army don’t always know a great deal about the organisation they belong to so Ultimate Church Visit will be a good way for them to find out more too.
What difference do you think Ultimate Church Visit can make to children and, in the longer term, to the future of The Salvation Army?
There is so much potential! Having a background in teaching religious education (RE) and some good links with RE advisers, I feel confident that what The Salvation Army is offering is unique and that those in the RE profession will see the value of the resources.
It’s only one part of what we do, and there are lots of other resources we have created and are creating both for corps visiting schools, and for teachers themselves. I hope it will not only help children all around the UK and Ireland to be aware of the work of The Salvation Army but also inspire them to reflect for themselves on spiritual questions and social issues. Ultimate Church Visit is designed to be memorable, something that may stand out in children’s minds as a positive, fun and meaningful experience. Perhaps one day later in their life they may choose to engage with The Salvation Army or the wider Church, maybe by becoming a member, or by volunteering or working for The Salvation Army.
What feedback have you had from people who have seen the new material?
Feedback has been great so far. Although the resource is still in the final stages of being put together, the children and adults who have seen the new look have been very impressed and excited. The new Homelessness zone has already been tried out a couple of times and proved to be quite moving, creating some meaningful discussions with pupils who were unaware of the difficulties and issues faced by people living on the streets.
We have exciting plans for an interactive Web-based game about the work of The Salvation Army around the world. We hope it will be a resource which can be developed and used by other territories too. I want to develop more resources for engaging secondary school pupils – those aged 11-18 – in various issues relating to The Salvation Army’s work in the same way that Ultimate Church Visit will for primary school pupils.
Download PDF file What is Ultimate Church Visit? (right-click and 'Save Target As...' to save a copy).
For more details about the new Ultimate Church Visit resources go to the Schools and Colleges website: www.salvationarmy.org.uk/schools
or email: email@example.com