Bishop Stephen Croft of Oxford kicked off the Online Holiday Clubs for four churches in Oxford Diocese which were pooling videos on Monday 17 August. In the first daily prayer zoom meeting as the videos went live online, he said he was thrilled to know of the time, trouble and care put in to help children experience Christian faith, community and fellowship virtually. He had earlier emphasized that children and families are at the centre of a more Christ-like church and given his testimony of how being nurtured in small Sunday School and in a youth group of 3 people he committed his life to following Jesus Christ at the age of 16.

Over 50 children of primary school age registered. They, their parents, carers or grandparents tuned in to an hour long video each day. One great-grandmother prayed that three children in her street would be allowed to view the videos. Others enrolled their grandchildren from miles away. The virtual club won out over a physical club in two ways. Children registered from London, Worcestershire, Yorkshire, on holiday in France, Denmark, Kenya and from Divya Shanthi Children’s home locked down in Bangalore, far beyond those who could would attend a face to face club. It turned on its head the best weather for the club. With rain on the first day it was hoped that children and their parents would tune in to something different to do indoors.

The churches devised the programme themselves since local faces and children would be more interesting. The theme “A better world - the kingdom of God”, was told through the Feeding of the 5000, Jairus' daughter, the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep and the Cross and the Crown. Craft and cooking activities related to the story, and challenges such as how many cream crackers could be eaten in 30 seconds without water and who could make the best set of fake wounds on themselves - a lot of tomato sauce there. Materials for these activities were made available in bags to be collected from the church porches.

Some took place outdoors: putting mints into a bottle of fizzy drink to create a fountain; a treasure hunt around the local community ending with a prize where the final clue was solved, and an I-spy in the church graveyards.

Photos and videos received with their parents' permission of children doing activities were carried on a private link, only available to registrants in a daily “You are the Stars”.

On the last day the youth worker videoed himself hanging upside down to show that king Jesus turns everything upside down in his kingdom. Bible stories had told how a possible enemy came to help someone in trouble and how, even though he had 99 sheep, the shepherd went to find just one who was lost.

The final bible story illustrated, with a hamster house on a brick and then on straw, that building their lives like a house on the rock of what Jesus says will help people remain firm in the storms of life.

Children were asked to send pictures and suggestions for a better world. One from Bangalore read “praying and reading the word of God, building homes for poor and old age homes, giving education to all the children in the world, growing more and more trees, not throwing garbage here and there.”

Enabling gifts for ministry

A leading immunologist devised the programme. A qualified aerobics teacher led workout sessions. A lay minister told a gripping version of the Good Samaritan from the perspective of the wounded and fearful traveller. Science experiments of growing cress in sunlight, under a box and in a fridge, making a battery out of potatoes and a water-powered rocket were demonstrated by the engineering fellow of an Oxford College. IT was handled for one church by a former national junior chess champion about to start university.

The holiday club gave opportunities for church members to deploy their gifts for ministry in new and unexpected ways. It showed how important is a functioning local parish church at the heart of the wider community.

Child centred videos from mission agencies broadened children’s view of the world and featured meals that enabled children to attend school in Haiti, sightsaving treatment for children in Nigeria, and supporting people who were persecuted ( explained as bullied) for being Christian. Prayers, songs with actions and musical settings of Aaron’s blessing rounded off the hour.

Responses included: “We had a lovely morning watching Day one”, “another brilliant morning”, “We really appreciate all that you have done to make this week fun.” “We have been so blessed by this week - thank you all!”

Among terrible jokes received was “ What do you call a deer with no eyes? No idea.”

Montages from the week’s activities were added to the churches' Sunday online services.

Church of England Newspaper August 28