The power of talking

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This week marked the end of Step’s latest Tough Stuff Course at Nicholas Breakspear School. The Step facilitators sat watching smiles morph into sad faces and then back, as the 8 week journey concluded with a small party.

The students had joined us at the start with various mind sets, ranging from feeling overwhelmed all the way through to being emotionally locked down. 

These brave students had embarked on a journey together to consider their grief and loss and, as the Tough Stuff course encourages, to ‘grow through it’. Which they did! As they fed back what they had learnt during the course, every student acknowledged the power of talking. Accepting the truth of their situations and recognising that in time things would be different were also key discoveries. Each student in their own way made giant leaps. Some said ‘I have learnt to forgive myself’, others have realised ‘It wasn’t my fault’. They also said ‘I should be kinder to myself’, ‘I should focus on the good stuff’, ‘Being positive is better than being negative’, ‘I’ve realised others have it worse than me’ and ‘I’ve learnt to walk away and come back when it’s calmed down’. 

These young people haven’t just learnt skills to manage their loss; many also fed back an increase in confidence, self esteem, communication skills, empathy, positivity and managing their emotions. Step is so proud of each student and we look forward to seeing what these brave souls do with their new skills and qualities.

The increasing need of young people in the area of mental health is a huge cause for concern and Step is seeking to harness the treasures of the church to help young people navigate these issues. Step runs courses on relationships, loss and also leadership. We also work with The 267 Project to deliver a fabulous new course on anxiety.

If you would like to help young people through these courses, please contact us to find out how. There is a need for finances to run the courses, prayers for the brave young people seeking to change, and more team to enable us to offer these courses to any young person in St Albans and Harpenden.

Go Your Own Way

Since September we have interviewed 9 new volunteers. This is very exciting, as each of them will bring something new to Step. 

Whilst everyone has to fit into an existing pattern of the school day, they will each start their volunteer role in their own way, to suit their other commitments. 

Some volunteers systematically attend everything that Step does, which can take many months; they then choose to focus on a particular lesson, activity or school.

Other volunteers have one day a week that they can offer and so they will do whichever lesson in any school that is needed on that particular day.

Often our volunteers are already sure what they want to do; some want to commit to do the same thing every week such as leading a lunchtime group, or a single lesson a week, whereas others want to spend a whole day with us on an occasional basis when we run a retreat. 

Step benefits massively with each new volunteer because they see things we can do better or differently. They have experience and stories about their walk with God to share. Each also brings their own unique combination of abilities - whether in poetry, admin, prayer, pottery, maths, storytelling, IT or flower arranging - which hugely enriches what we can provide to the young people of St Albans and Harpenden.

When you pray, please thank God for these new volunteers. They really will make an enormous difference to Step. If you’d like to chat about what your unique role as a Step volunteer could look like, do get in touch: terrie@stepschoolswork.org.uk

Terrie

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Juggling A Difficult Topic

This week we have been teaching our Suffering lesson with Year 9s at Verulam, which, as you can imagine, can be a sensitive topic as we can easily get overwhelmed by the sheer amount and variety of suffering that we see in our own lives and in the news. The essence of the lesson is asking the question, how can Christians pray ‘hallowed be your name’ to an omnipotent (all-powerful) and all-loving God who allows suffering to exist in the world he created? 

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This dilemma is posed in the lesson by trying to teach a student to juggle, with the balls representing ‘God’s omnipotence’, ‘God being all-loving’ and ‘suffering still exists’. Although juggling is difficult, it is possible with a bit of practice and in the same way, Christians are able to juggle those 3 truths, despite there seemingly being a contradiction. There has been a lot of enthusiasm to learn to juggle, including some boys staying behind at lunch after a lesson to learn - I think I may need to set up a juggling club!

Fortunately, there has also been a lot of enthusiasm for the rest of the lesson too. To address the question at the heart of the lesson, the boys considered what a perfect parent would be like, why God giving humanity freewill was perhaps an immense act of love, how God comforts us through suffering, what the impact of The Fall and the existence of the devil is, how our actions make a difference to ourselves and others, what we can do to fix some of the problems in the world and respond to those who are suffering, how suffering can help grow our character, how Christians can have an eternal perspective and what God has done to ultimately solve the issue of suffering through Jesus suffering and dying on the cross. 

It’s a lot to get through but it’s such a powerful lesson and the conversations we’ve had this week have been amazing. 

The Snug Update: friendship, snacks and jellyfish chat

Give a girl a sofa, snacks and the right companions and the conversation will venture into realms you’d never have anticipated!

The Snug has been running at Loreto for three weeks and in that time the chat has covered everything from the profound to the mundane to the downright ridiculous. We’ve hotly debated the virtues of chocolate vs. crisps vs. popcorn and discussed whether mountains are better than the beach. We’ve wondered about extreme acts of forgiveness and shared advice on how to armour oneself against jellyfish. The students taught me what happens at a Catholic mass and I taught them the difference between a waffle brain and a spaghetti brain. We’ve talked exams, friendships, romance, religion and cake. Somehow, in the midst of all that, we’ve found time to consume many kilograms of biscuits. 

The room is feeling truly cosy now and several girls have asked where the decor has come from. They were genuinely touched when I explained how many people wanted to help make The Snug a welcoming place for them.

Thank you to everyone who has donated items or supported Step’s work in Loreto in other ways - the love and generosity you’ve demonstrated to these young people is already having an impact. 

A collection of jellyfish is known as a ‘bloom’ and can resemble a group of students descending on a packet of chocolate biscuits

A collection of jellyfish is known as a ‘bloom’ and can resemble a group of students descending on a packet of chocolate biscuits

A fool for Christ

Dancing isn’t my thing. I managed to avoid dancing at my own wedding. But somehow I ended up dancing at Step’s Barn dance on Friday night.

I say ended up - by that I mean some generous people donated lots of money to watch me dance. Not just dance, but to dress up as Wonder Woman and Do si Do and Strip the Willow in front of everyone. It was a rather discombobulating experience. Luckily I wasn’t alone and Hermione and Captain America joined in. Despite the ritual humiliation for charity, the evening was a great success with over 90 guests turning up to dance, eat and have fun together. This is our third Barn Dance and the best one yet. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m beginning to enjoy it. Do join us next year.

On reflection, this wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last that I’ve dressed up for Step, or more precisely for Jesus. I’ve dressed up as a scientist carrying ox tongues to illustrate what the Bible says about the power of the tongue. I’ve been a builder fixing the roof of the house which the paraplegic was lowered through. I’ve been the judge deciding if Jesus’ body was stolen. I’ve been guards, Goliath, Pharaoh, Adam, Eve, Moses, Samson and Ehud the Judge. I’ve even been a witch (from the Narnia stories) to demonstrate evil; Edmund, to explore the nature of sin and Aslan to explain substitution. To add to the spectacle, I even chose to walk from the office to the school, inciting a huge reaction from the students who saw me from the buses on their way to school. One responded by saying “You must really love Jesus to commit such social suicide!” Maybe he was just voicing a modern understanding of what it is to be ‘a fool for Christ’. 

God is still calling us to be fools for him.  To live in ways that are counter cultural. In what way is God calling you to be a fool for Christ? If you’d like us to provide you with some opportunities to achieve this, do get in touch.

If you’d prefer to pray, do join us to pray for the schools and Step on Tuesday 5th at High Street Methodist Church at 7.30.

It's Chapel - but not as you know it!

St George’s chapel has stood as a monument in the centre of the school’s life since it was founded in 1907. Throughout the years to present it has remained a constant centre for worship used weekly by students and staff alike.

To many students, attending chapel is a compulsory part of school life, a necessary ritual required as part of enrolment in such an outstanding school. But relating to God in school has recently taken on a fresh level for many students who chose to join in with the January week of prayer.

The zeitgeist is for personal connection and interaction, and so the genius of this week has been the move in St George’s to use this incredible space, historically dedicated to worship, and adorn it with opportunities for contemporary prayer to God, which would stimulate personal faith in the students.

6 prayer bases were set up around the chapel with colourful lighting surrounding some. This required moving a few chairs away from each base, but enabled the chapel to be used for normal services too.

The bases covered areas of interaction with God, such as seeking God’s forgiveness, lighting candles for praying for healing, a large map and post-it prayers for the world, and a wailing wall for prayer requests to be stuck in the cracks. Another was for celebrating the pilgrimage of life by building bead bracelets, and the pun-loving Rev’s favourite base was entitled “DRAW” near to God – worship through art corner.

About 50 students attended the chapel each day during their break and lunch times, adding up to around 200 through the whole week. Students were observed reflecting, taking their time, praying with each other and commenting on how uplifted they felt.

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A Chance to Shine Brighter in Our Schools

Sometimes the growing pressures in our society can make some Christian young people feel overwhelmed when explaining their faith to peers in school. How can young people shine their light whilst amongst their friends and peers?

At Revolution Day, an event run at The Vineyard Church, Step spoke to young people about how they can be salt and light in their schools. With a pile of glow sticks and several sacks of salt Chris and Sara got the young people to think about what Jesus meant when he asked us to be salt and light. Using this as inspiration they presented their ideas to each other and encouraged one another through prayer. (Have a look at their handiwork below)

Revolution Day is a activity packed day for young people to come and worship, hear teachings, play team games, play on inflatables and spend time with other young Christians their age from across the city and surrounding areas. As well as running the Salt and Light session we had also brought our Justice mat along for the young people to explore and enjoy.

It was lovely day and a great opportunity to spend some time with young people in a relaxed environment.

Put yourself in the picture

At our Step Day this week, we were able to invite adults who were keen to see first-hand how Step works, what the resources are like, how the team interacts with the students and how the students respond. 

The Step Days are simply the best way to see all of these things in practice. 

There are people who would love to work with Step, enabling them to go into their local community and share their faith to help young people engage with Jesus. But these same people have an amazing array of doubts about how they might fit into Step and the bigger picture. They can’t see themselves standing in a classroom full of students, let alone leading a lesson. They feel they don’t know how to do any of the things that Step does. 

The Step website has a section for volunteers. If you’re interested in what a Step volunteer can expect, do take a look at this section to find out what some of our volunteers say and watch a video of John, one of our current volunteers, explaining why he loves working with Step. You can also find the testimonies of past interns and volunteers under The Step Experience.

If you would like to discuss how you could work with Step, please contact terrie@stepschoolswork.org.uk.

Youth work is all about moving chairs!

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Why? Because youth work is about creating room for God. Whether physically, emotionally, spiritually or even chronologically. To do that you have to move things. You have to make space.

Regarding change and growth, some people say you should wait for a stroke of serendipity, but youth workers don’t. They aren’t content to wait and hope the universe cuts someone a break. They don’t sit back and watch others become overwhelmed by their situations. Youth workers intentionally make moments and spaces where young people can be changed forever. They support during hard times, they hang out during the normal times and cheerlead during good times. Christian youth workers go one step further and try and create space for God. They believe that Jesus is the best possible thing for young people and He is the one who is best positioned to help us experience life in all its fullness.

With this in mind, yesterday Step spent the day with 30 amazing sixth formers from Nicholas Breakspear School. The aim of a Step Day is to create a hallowed space for the students to reflect on how to move on from school and into what God has for them next. Through four diverse activities, 14 amazing volunteers enabled the students to consider God’s technicolour gift to them (think Joseph), to reflect through being creative, to practically challenge fears attached to change and finally, through using Dare to Engage’s OPEN activity, encounter some of Jesus’ thought regarding how we cope with liminal moments.

Do you move chairs and create space for God? Would you like to? If you’d like to do it with us, through physically moving chairs or praying for us as we make spaces for God, or you’d like to help support the growing work of Step, please do contact Terrie.

New year, same fabulous me

In their first week back at school after the Christmas holiday, students at Loreto had the delight of listening to me rant about why I can’t stand New Year. 

It’s not so much a new year itself that I don’t like (although when you have 45 minutes spare, I’ll happily elaborate on everything that’s wrong with the omnishambles that is New Year’s Eve). My biggest problem is with the phrase “New year, new me.”

I’m all for making positive, realistic, healthy changes. Of course we all have room to do better, whether that’s in the love we show to others or in the care we take for ourselves. We don’t need a new year to start a good habit, but it can be a useful prompt to reflect and begin afresh.

What isn’t good is when we set unrealistic or unhealthy goals in an effort to transform ourselves, because we think that we are inadequate and need to become something different. That’s why the phrase “New year, new me” drives me mad.

In their assemblies this week, each year group at Loreto were reminded that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. The Bible doesn’t say that you’ll be a fearfully and wonderfully made creation just as long as you can remain a sugar-and-carb-free, thrice-weekly gym attendee. It says that you have been a fearfully and wonderfully made creation since you were first knitted together, before you were even born and long before January 2019. 

Maybe this year will bring you some exciting changes and personal growth. But let’s not start 2019 by thinking we need to be something we’re not. Let’s do away with this ‘new year, new me’ nonsense and join with the Loreto students in saying, “New year, same fabulous me, maybe doing things differently.” 

Sara

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Psalm 139

Cheers to our Step Reps

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On Wednesday evening, we said a big thank you to our Step Reps with a lovely meal at Forest Town Church. It was a great evening of encouragement and fellowship. A special thank you needs to be said to Gillian, one of our Step Reps and volunteers, who helped organise the event, but alas, she wasn’t able to attend the evening due to illness.

For those of you who don’t know, Step Reps are members of church congregations who help us connect with their church through distributing and displaying promotional material, helping us arrange church visits and ensuring updates about Step are shared. Every Step Rep’s role will look slightly different to reflect their own situation and the nature of their church. You can find out more about the role by clicking here so please get in touch if you’d be interested in getting involved in this way. Even if your church already has a Step Rep, it may be possible and beneficial to share the role to be even more effective.

New Beginnings

Happy New Year!

When the clock turns to midnight to draw one year to an end and the fireworks announce the start of the next, it is a natural time to think about ‘new beginnings’. New Year Resolutions are made and many will already have been broken (and it’s only the 3rd January as I write this). It is easy to feel disheartened as we make the same mistakes time and time again.

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The Christian message is one of new beginnings, but not just for New Year’s Day. At the end of last term, Verulam’s Year 8s had the privilege of acting out stories from the Old Testament in our Walk Through the Bible lesson. They (and we) had a lot of fun dressing up as they retold the accounts of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the Exodus, David and Goliath and Daniel and the Lion’s Den.

We helped fill the gaps between the stories so they understood the bigger story that each of their performances fitted into. What becomes clear is that God is constantly giving second chances. His people continuously mess up and make mistakes, despite the resolutions they made not to. They don’t live as they should and betray God leading to very real consequences. However, God always sends a rescuer to bring His people back into a right relationship with Him.

As they reach the end of the Old Testament, the students hear that the people of Israel are awaiting the Messiah, a saviour who would be the ultimate rescuer to deal with the mistakes all humans have made from Adam and Eve to us here in 2019. We turn over a page to the New Testament and hear about the birth of a little baby - a boy whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus was and is that ultimate rescuer, the ultimate ‘second-chance giver’.

What a wonderful message to share that new beginnings are not just for New Year.


Do you ThinkWell?

This autumn term Step worked with local sixth formers to develop a resource called ThinkWell. The aim is to create a student-inspired teaching resource to help others enjoy playing with the big ideas behind life, the universe and everything. In essence, to ThinkWell through toying with ideas. The sixth formers played with ideas, creating resources to help younger students think/play through some of the key arguments regarding the existence of God. 

Categorising arguments regarding God

Categorising arguments regarding God

Through a process of categorising the arguments and exploring the opinions of key philosophers/theologians, the sixth formers created prototype resources which they then presented. Views inspired by Epicurus, Albert Eistein, Adwin Abbott, C. S. Lewis, Michelangelo, William Paley and Nicky Gumbel were judged by a discerning panel.

The sixth formers’ work was often insightful and several students made profound observations and challenges. They utilised lego, board games, playdough, toy clocks and drinking bottles to illustrate their points.

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Step’s next task is to fine-tune the best ideas and develop the resources. We will then begin to use ThinkWell in Step Explore Clubs and Philosophy and Ethics classes. 

If you would like to see the ThinkWell workshop run as part of our sixth form work with your school, do contact your Schools Coordinator to arrange this.

On reflection, the students involved were practically exploring apologetics and many of them were very good at it. If you would like to be involved in helping Step develop resources, why not attend our next training on apologetics on the morning of 8th January? Contact Terrie to find out more.

Happy Christmas From Step

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Everyone at Step would love to wish you a Happy Christmas and that you will have a fresh revelation about the amazing message of God coming to Earth as a baby.

It has been an incredible term with nearly 800 activities being delivered in schools so the team will be taking a much needed rest. Although people’s holidays will vary slightly, Step is officially closed after today (Friday 21st December) and we will get back to work on Monday January 7th.

If you would like to support Step by making a Christmas donation, please click here to see details on how to do that.

Launching 2019: The Snug at Loreto

I don’t know what adventures 2019 holds for you, but at Step we’re very excited about opening up a brand new lunch club space at Loreto!

The school has generously offered us our very own room so, from January, I’ll be in there twice a week hosting a cafe-style club for the students. I can’t wait to build on the connections we made with the girls during our retreat days earlier this term, and to continue the fantastic conversations they started with us. I’ll have to thank them, too - their overwhelmingly positive feedback about the retreats and their requests to see more of Step are the main reasons we’ve been given our own area onsite. 

I’m having great fun transforming the room into a relaxed, welcoming space that we’ve named The Snug. We’re going for a ‘cosy living room’ vibe and would be enormously grateful for any donations.

I’m particularly on the look-out for:

  • Beanbags

  • Mugs

  • Neutral cushions and throws

  • Photo frames

  • Fairy lights

If you’re having a clear out and happen to stumble across anything that might fit the bill, please do email sara@stepschoolswork.org.uk

A huge thank you must go once again to everyone who made the retreat days so impactful for the girls. Having had no connection with Loreto at the start of 2018, we now find ourselves with a brilliant opportunity which wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment of our volunteers and the support of everyone who prayed.

Bring on the new year!

Sara

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Barn Dance The Night Away With Step!!!

Our Barn Dance Fundraiser is on Friday 25th January 2019. Come and join us for an epic night of food, friends and fun! Whether you are a dancing novice or a Strictly pro, there is something for everyone in our all-ability barn dance.

Your ticket will include a ploughman’s dinner along with some wonderful desserts. There will be a live band for you to enjoy whilst you’re either dancing the night away or watching the dancing from your table.

You’ll be able to buy raffle tickets and enter a game of heads or tails to win some fabulous prizes. Most importantly, there will be a chance to see the Step team dancing in fancy dress! To vote for the person you would most like to see dressed up, click here to make a donation (vote Chris). The three Step members with the most donations referenced with their name in the messages will be dancing in fancy dress after the ploughman’s dinner.

Don’t miss out on this event of the year - book your tickets now by following the link or email helena@stepschoolswork.org.uk

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The power of one

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The power of one

In Step lessons, workshops and courses you would expect to have an interactive element, a student response space. It could be as simple as writing your question on a Post-It note for the lead person to answer.

As you can see from the photo, there has been a theme to some of the questions lately.

You may remember reading about Tony, who has moved away to start a new adventure, in our Quarterly Prayer Update.

Clearly some of our students are missing Tony too. It is amazing the influence that one person can have on others.

Step aims to:

· Establish and support Christian witness in every school

· Create opportunities for local Christians to contribute to the life of each school

· Support and encourage all Christians involved in the schools in any capacity

· See young lives changed for the better

· See young Christian believers integrated into church, becoming disciples and growing to maturity

This is exactly what Tony did and he clearly had a positive impact on several lives.

If you are encouraged and would like to be able to do the same, please contact Terrie to discuss joining us.

"I once was a gymnast for Team GB!"

At the start of our Who is Jesus lesson, which I’ve had the privilege of teaching this week, someone from the team introduces themselves and makes a claim. For me I always say “My name is Geoff and I once was a gymnast for Team GB!”

Then the fun starts, as the young people work out the various options for this claim, leading to three alternatives.

  1. I was telling the truth

  2. I was lying

  3. I was crazy (I thought I was but I wasn’t)

I am always encouraged by how many people think I am telling the truth, but unfortunately, it’s one of the only times I genuinely lie in a classroom. I did, however, go to Loughborough University to study Sports Science and I was coached by a GB gymnastic coach in a gymnastics module. I wasn’t quite good enough to make the national team though!

We then consider the claim made by Jesus- that he was the Son of God, the Messiah - that he was God himself, coming to Earth on a rescue mission. Jesus’ claim has the same three options- it’s the truth, he was lying or he was crazy. The rest of the lesson explores the life of Jesus and various opinions about Jesus, so that the students are provided with enough information for them to make their own mind up.

The young people get to hear that Christians are people who look at the miracles of Jesus, his life, his death and his resurrection, and come to the conclusion that he was telling the truth. His actions lead Christians to believe his claim in the same way that had I been able to perform a triple somersault in the classroom and produce a perfect dismount after swinging from the light fittings, maybe my claim could have been true as well.

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Pray and play more!

Stress is a reality for most of us. Stress can unlock God’s gift of heightened speed, alertness and strength. Because of it we are able to effectively fight or flee. Stress is life saving in short bursts, but sadly it can cripple when encountered for long periods of time. 

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Yesterday, 82 year 11 students explored some of the issues associated with the prolonged stress we live with in the 21st century. In an attempt to help the students explore managing excessive stress they were given Gideon Bibles, played with clay, built lego, designed marblerun towers, wrote prayers, deflated balloons, prioritised, let go, laughed, competed  and attended a workshop on stress. 

Watching these fantastic students ‘retreat’ from their normal lives clearly demonstrated the power that ‘play’ has to ease stress and bring perspective. The Step team felt they learnt as much as they imparted. 

The day concluded with a reflection on Jesus calming the storm. The students were encouraged to approach Jesus during the stress storms in their lives.

So if you're feeling an unhelpful amount of stress - pray and play more!

If you would like to be involved in Step Days, we are needing people to run workshops, take photos, play games, make lunch and serve drinks. Please do contact Terrie if you would like to find out more.


A question of experience

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A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting around the table with a group of 10 Year 13 students for an hour and a half, discussing religious experiences whilst chewing on Haribo and Starburst!

The students had prepared some fascinating questions for myself and the team. These are just a few of their questions:

·     Do you believe in the Toronto Blessing being something religious or psychologically caused, and why?

·     How do you think religious experiences help to prove the existence of God?

·     Do you think there has to be a specific reason or circumstance for someone to experience a religious experience?

·     Do you believe religious experiences are everyday experiences of God or once-in-a-lifetime experiences with God, and why?

·     How do you know that the experiences you have experienced are religious experiences of God?

·     Why do only some people have a religious experience when God is omnibenevolent?

·     In what way do religious experiences further our understanding of God?

Our conversation weaved in and out of the questions and linked up with many of our personal experiences including answered prayer, healings, sensing God’s peace and dealing with disappointment, giving us an opportunity to illustrate God’s love for us and his involvement in the world.

We were challenged that some of the students felt that God is inconsistent. We explained that God doesn’t choose to be tied down to a formula, but the most notable pattern is that he seems to respond to people’s faith rather than to any sense of entitlement.