Mini Mass

Monday, 1 June, 2009

A eucharistic midweek congregation in suburban North Ascot in Berkshire aimed primarily at under 5s and their families. This fresh expression of church, called Mini Mass, meets on a Tuesday morning at 9.30am after the school run. Meeting in the Chapel of St Mary and St John, chairs are arranged in a horseshoe shape with a small altar at the open end.

Adults and children are all welcomed by name by means of a song. A Bible story is told either from a picture book or acted out using Godly Play methods. All are then asked to share something they are thankful for and something they would like prayer for; the intercessions follow, again in the form of a simple song. The group is then led in a eucharistic prayer, including short sung responses by the parish clergy or occasionally by one of two mums who have permission from the Bishop to officiate at a communion by extension service. This leads into communion. After a prayer of dismissal, tea, coffee and biscuits are served in the adjoining hall.

It's not just mums - grandmothers and child-minders attend, and occasionally a few dads. In addition, a few other adults attend, some who find work patterns make attending Sunday congregations difficult, as well as others whose discipline includes a daily eucharist. Older children also attend out of term time. Mini Mass is run by the mums themselves who review its effectiveness on an ongoing basis.

The vicar believes that one real strength of Mini Mass is that it has proved for some to be a gentle way 'into the church' or 'back into the church'. One ongoing concern is that for some it has proved to be merely a cul-de-sac, with a service designed for children being the only act of worship for a few of the adults. While some reflection on how to move beyond this is required, Mini Mass remains one of the important opportunities for outreach, service and pastoral care offered by the parish of All Saints.

These reflections of the parish illustrate one of the dilemmas of church for under 5s. Who is being discipled in this context and what does discipleship mean? What is the long term strategy for helping young children grow up in the Christian faith?