Melksham churches host annual pilgrimage for local schools

Melksham Family of Churches annual Year 5 Pilgrimage for schools is a wonderful example of this unity.

Romans 8:28 says: ‘And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose’. As Melksham Family of Churches, we aim to work together as much as possible, and our annual Year 5 Pilgrimage for schools is a wonderful example of this unity.

The idea for the school Pilgrimage came from a former Rector of the Anglican team, who had organised the event in his previous ministry role. The primary aim of the Pilgrimage is to support children in experiencing and understanding the different church traditions and ways of worship. Melksham Family of Churches, in the county of Wiltshire, has been running the Pilgrimage for the past three years, welcoming two schools in 2017 and 2018, and three schools in 2019. The schools involved in the Pilgrimage are not all Church schools, meaning that we are connecting with secular schools on a different faith-based level, which is great!

All schools involved in the Pilgrimage are within walking distance of the four/five churches involved, and a journey plan is issued to the schools in advance. Schools are asked before the Pilgrimage about the school curriculum, which enables us to cover specifics during the day.

Children receive a checklist that includes items such as the cross and crucifix, the font, vestments, altar, lectern and Stations of the Cross. Children and staff can look at the checklist together and ask questions throughout the Pilgrimage.

As churches, we aim to ask the children questions about the physical building, but also how they feel when they enter the church. Have they been in a church before? What do they think the church is used for?

School staff receive information about the individual churches in advance, and we often arrange a walk around the town beforehand, showing the journey route to staff who are unfamiliar with the area.

Year 5 classes are split into smaller groups for the journey, and often split into groups again when spending time in the individual churches (usually 45 minutes in each church). We aim to make the Pilgrimage as engaging as possible and our churches offer children the opportunity to not only explore the church, but also engage in different activities, such as: trying on the vestments, ringing the bells, playing the organ and taking part in a worship song. Many of our churches distribute a church newsletter or event flyers during the day, giving families the opportunity to lean more about the church community in Melksham.

Children bring a packed lunch on the trip and a room is provided in one of the churches for lunchtime. We have learnt over the years that it’s so important for the children to ‘let off steam’ during the day, so each church provides a larger space for children to run around (some even provide ball games!).

As churches, we meet to discuss the Pilgrimage before and after the event. This gives us the opportunity to pray, reflect and feedback together. Schools are contacted after the Pilgrimage and we have received some positive feedback:

“We have been able to apply what the children learnt on their Pilgrimage to their learning across the curriculum this term”

“In each of the churches there was a good balance of listening, doing, looking etc”

“The year 5’s loved hearing about what church is like for children their age and related to this well. They enjoyed the singing!”

“The day was really well organised, and it was great to do the walkaround and meet you in advance”

“All of the churches had activities for the children to do which was fantastic!”

The Pilgrimage is a wonderful opportunity to engage with our local schools, but also supports the schools in covering their curriculum and learning objectives. Over the years, a relationship has been developed between the schools and local Church, and opened doors to engage with the schools on other occasions.

We would love to discuss the Pilgrimage with any other churches who are interested, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch for more information at [email protected]

Hannah Tarring, Children and Families Coordinator for Melksham Team Ministry, and Anne Doyle, Melksham Family of Churches.