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Prayers for worms, pets & parents at kids-centred service

By Cory Miller

Beneath the warm summer sun, upon the bright green of Dingle Dell Reserve in St Heliers Bay, Auckland young and old gathered last month to share in the park-day worship led by Rev Pauline Stewart.

The Kids Friendly congregation of St Heliers Church and Community Centre believes in the vital contribution children and their families offer. Children were included in all aspects of the service and had the freedom to participate and express themselves.

Located near the heart of Auckland, St Heliers Presbyterian Church caters to the needs of its urban community. Pauline avidly supports the Kids Friendly programme, and her passion for children is evident in the rapport she has with the young people.

Pip Kayser (left) breaks bread at a St Heliers service. With her are Aliosn Bliss, Fran Sawtell and Rev Pauline Stewart (right).

The mission statement of St Heliers is ‘Reaching out and welcoming in’ and the congregation acts it out by making welcome every child of God.

Eighteen years ago St Heliers was a quiet urban church with unfulfilled potential. It has now evolved into the Biblical ideal of a church as a source of hospitality and service, recreating the medieval image of a church at the centre, where all roads converge.

Today the church is now a bustling hive of activity with 31 employed staff, numerous volunteers and 60,000 people coming through annually. More than 70 educational, religious and welfare programmes are offered through the church, as well as pastoral care and support to meet the needs of the community.

“St Heliers could not exist without the commitment, prayers, faith and generosity of those people who provide the back bone for our church,” says St Heliers elder and Kids Friendly coach Jill Kayser.

Church worship lies at the heart of the church’s mission, yet for many worship can be inaccessible. Therefore St Heliers seeks to provide meaningful worship through a variety of services. These include a community service, a traditional service, preschool “tea party” church and teenage ‘rock cafe’ church.

The congregation’s 9am service developed with a Kids Friendly focus. It is a growing event that is intergenerational and creates relationships between young and old. The worshipping congregation and those in contact with St Heliers through other aspects of the community centre are able to converge at this service. Despite its chaotic appearance – with children set loose, late arrivals and unpredictable music – it is a fun-filled event that is inclusive of everyone.

Activities at St Heliers are not limited to Sunday. Every day of the week is full of programmes. The staff aim to integrate the culture and identity of the Christian Gospel into all community activities.

‘Small miracles’ is a pre-school programme developed in response to the need young families have for high quality early childhood care and education. Each day it includes an opportunity for children to stand in a circle with their teachers to say grace and to pray.

“Among the prayers for ants, worms and assorted household pets, I have heard these children pray the best prayers we have ever heard uttered within these walls. Their prayers are full of simple hope and trust, and the needs of siblings, parents, teachers, things in the news and themselves. Listening to the children can be one of those this-is-why-we’re-doing-it moments,” says Jill.

As St Heliers’ worship at Dingle Dell Reserve, a statement stood out that summarised simply the spirit of outreach that is central to the congregation’s mission.

“Welcome people, welcome young and old. Share the love, enjoy each other. God’s love is present in the love of other people.”