GEORGE LUKE reports on the West Sussex performing arts Sunday school reaching out to local children
[For Inspire Awards 2009 entry form – click HERE]
On any given Sunday, a handful of local kids from around Crawley come to St Elizabeth’s Church in Northgate for Sunday school with a difference. It starts promptly at 10.30am.
“New Generation welcomes school children every Sunday morning for free-of-charge performing arts workshops,” explains Louise Ryrie Smith, who runs the school. “We have a new theme each month, and at the end of the month we hold a family service where the children present their work.
“In our services, it’s the children who lead the prayers, read from the Bible, take the collection and present a Christian message through their performances.”
New Generation is just one of a number of projects Louise oversees from the St Elizabeth’s premises – the main one being the dance and drama school which bears her name. This is where Louise teaches various forms of dance, including ballet, tap, and Irish dancing, along with singing and drama.
She also runs classes for adults, holiday workshops and individual lessons. She even teaches babies and toddlers how to dance.
At present, the Louise Ryrie School of Dance & Drama has 300 pupils, many of whom also attend New Generation. “This is not a poverty-stricken area,” says Louise, “but all the same, the children in the school do come from a wide assortment of backgrounds.”
Louise was just a little girl when she started her own dance and drama training. She qualified as a classical ballet teacher when she was 18.
Her own faith journey began in St Elizabeth’s; she was 17 years old when the church put out a job advert looking for a pianist. “They advertised the job through my school sixth form, and I applied and got it,” she recalls. “I've always believed in God, but that began my regular attendance and interest in church.”
The Dance School was set up in 1997, with the simple mandate of teaching dance to children and adults. “After a few years of hiring church halls and community centres, I moved the whole school to St Elizabeth’s in 2005,” says Louise.
“The church had ‘ceased to exist’ as the congregation was too small and mainly elderly. I converted the hall into a dance studio.
“However, it didn't feel right to me that St Elizabeth’s was standing empty and unused on a Sunday. So I founded New Generation Performing Arts Sunday School in 2005, based on a wish of my own to create a church that my own children would want to go to. Not a ‘keep the children quiet’ church with colouring books at the back, but a church that revolves around children and their families.”
Away from the stage, Louise has been branching out into creative writing, and is working on a novel aimed at younger readers. She is also writing a guide to help other Sunday school teachers with ideas of ways to engage with the children in their care.
Back at St Elizabeth’s, the New Generation kids are currently rehearsing a Christian-themed pantomime she has written for them. They had a summer holiday sleepover, performed at a local theatre, went on a Palm Sunday bike ride and held ‘AOK’ (acts of kindness) days.
“Our whole school has a united family feel and a sense of trust and acceptance,” says Louise. “There’s an acceptance of – and an interest in – what we are doing from the majority of pupils at the dance school, even if not everyone chooses to come.
“We regularly incorporate New Generation events with the dance school in an attempt to bring church to people where they are at – which is what I believe it’s all about.”
Louise Ryrie Smith was nominated by Gordon Wilkinson from East Grinstead
Who is inspiring you?
Month by month we’re encouraged by the many stories Inspire receives about people and churches across the UK making a difference in their communities.
We want to encourage this further by telling more of these great stories, and spurring others on to be an inspiration, too.
Last November we celebrated with the winners and runners-up in our first Inspire Awards in Westminster – and now we want to hear from you again with your nominations for the Inspire Awards 2009!
We have three categories this year:
1 An individual Christian in the UK who is an inspiring role model
2 A UK church which is making a positive impact on its local community
3 A UK-based Christian project serving the local area
There’ll be a trophy and prize for the winners in each section: £250 (for individuals) and £500 of CPO resources (for churches and the projects) to help further their work. There’ll also be a special awards ceremony in Westminster later this year for the shortlisted entries.
How to enter
Send your entry via e-mail by clicking HERE. It could be someone you’ve read about in Inspire, or an individual, church or project in your community making a real difference to others.
We’ll feature some of the stories in the magazine or on the website over the coming months before our judging panel selects the three in each category we think should be shortlisted. The winners will be announced at the Awards. Now get nominating!
Closing date for entries is 1 September 2009.
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