Sparkfish Celebration Service 2023
If you’re interested in finding out how you can help Sparkfish raise funds, click the link below.
We send a newsletter to our local schools to update them on the opportunities to work with Sparkfish in the coming term. This term we are running workshops to help Year 6 students to help with them with their transition to secondary school. If you would like to read the newsletter, please click below.
Hot off the press! Our latest newsletter with updates from our Hope, Think! and Learn strands, and from our partner in Horley. We have many exciting things planned for this term, read our latest news here
Hot off the press! Our latest newsletter with updates from the director, our wonderful new administrator, our Hope, Think! and Learn strands, and from our partner in Horley. We have many exciting things planned for this term, read our latest news here
Hot off the press! Our latest newsletter with updates from the director, our Hope, Think! and Learn strands, and from our partner in Horley. We have many exciting things planned for this term, read our latest news here
It was Friday the 11th March 2022. The noise of the audience died down as the opening notes played from the piano. I walked onto the stage and stood in front of a supportive crowd of friendly faces. And then I began to sing ten of my own songs interspersed with my own personal story of mental health. It was a terrifying but brilliant experience, and I was so overwhelmed by how many people turned up to support it!
In total the event raised £600.80 for SparkFish which is such an incredible amount and has enabled us to buy valuable mentoring resources plus so much more.
But the fundraising isn’t over. I recognised that for many, at the start of the year the idea of gathering in a room was still a risk and, as a result, many people were unable to attend.
That’s why we recorded the concert in full and are making it available to watch at the cost of a small donation!
The recommended donation is £5 but feel free to give as much as you feel comfortable. You can donate by following this link.
The added benefit is that you can re-watch it as many times as you like and skip the songs you like the least… or, alternatively, constantly go back to the song you love the most!
Preparing this concert was stressful, hard work and nerve shattering but ultimately worth it. I felt so strongly that I needed to talk openly and honestly about the struggles I faced as a teenager – it’s so important to talk and if I can inspire others to do so through this, then I don’t mind the embarrassment of telling my worst fainting story…
Thank you so much for all the support and kind donations – SparkFish really couldn’t run without it all.
I’ve set myself a challenge this year and I’ll be honest, I’m pushing my limits…
As a staff team, we’ve been encouraged to organise our own fundraisers. I love the work of SparkFish and have witnessed first-hand the incredible difference it makes to young people and children’s lives, so of course I want to help raise money to continue and expand the work of the charity. The issue is, I’m lazy. I hate physical exercise and not even the work of a God-caring charity will force me into doing a marathon.
So I had to think very carefully about what I could do instead of physical exercise – something that would be equally as gruelling because people tend to only give money if there’s some element of potential embarrassment or pain.
I’ve always loved performing, having been in shows from a young age and going on to perform in touring shows for Riding Lights Theatre Company and 4Front Theatre Company. But there’s one side of my performing life that I’ve kept relatively hidden.
Since the age of 14 I’ve been writing my own songs. Only a handful of people have ever heard these, and I honestly don’t know whether they’re any good or not. They’re deeply personal (and slightly tragic) and my soul is laced within each lyric and verse.
On Friday March 11th I shall perform these songs in a sort of mix-match of concert and monologue called ‘Stickmen and Doodles’ – a title for an album that I’ve never had the guts to record.
I realise that I might not have sold you on the songs… But my mum thinks they’re good. Even better than Adele. I don’t want to say she’s biased but she is my mum so take this with a grain of salt…
As I said, people love the element of potential embarrassment or pain. It stands to reason then that performing deeply personal songs, playing piano and talking about my life have all the potential for embarrassment and pain as physically possible.
And if that doesn’t convince you to come, remember that it’s really about raising money for a fantastic charity who do incredible work. I think that’s enough of a reason to sit through me singing songs and chatting rubbish for an hour and a half…
Stickmen and Doodles will be performed on Friday 11th March at St Mary’s Church, Reigate. Refreshments from 7:30pm. Performance begins at 8pm. Suitable for 12+ due to themes of mental health and suicide. Adult Tickets £5, Teen Tickets £2.50. Tickets available on the door or online at https://stmarysreigate.churchsuite.com/events/x4beerin.
Hot off the press! Our latest newsletter with updates from the director, our Hope, Think! and Learn strands, and from our partner in Horley. We have many exciting things planned for this term, read our latest news here
A couple of years ago I saw a trailer for an upcoming video game that everyone was excited for. Caught up in the hype, I pre-ordered the game and forgot all about it until it arrived through the post several months later.
The game in question is Cyberpunk 2077, a dystopian role-playing game in which you go around and… well, I’ll be honest, I didn’t get very far with it. The game itself was plagued with bugs on launch and didn’t work on the console I was using as well as it was meant to. But the little bit of the game that I played brought up some interesting questions.
I decided that I would try and play the game as a Christian, as much as that I would try and make decisions that would be God-honouring. I thought it would be interesting to see how far I could go before I was forced into making an action considered as sin.
Before I even got to do any gameplay, I had to design my character. How tall they were, what ethnicity, what hairstyle etc. I tried to base the character on myself, again to see how well I could play the game if I was being an honest version of myself and not a videogame hero.
Within seconds of starting the narrative, my character was swearing and being told to kill someone… I decided I would avoid the killing for as long as possible. I personally do not drink, not necessarily a Christian value but more of a personal dislike of the taste of alcohol. I was able to avoid drinking alcohol as well as entering brothels easily – the latter being heavily talked about online as a highlight of the game…
Pretty soon after playing, I found myself having to kill some bad guys. I think it was only half an hour into the game. I was forced into sin and that was that. My best efforts thwarted.
I stopped playing, mainly because I lost interest in the game as well as hearing about the technical glitches. I was intending to try again on my new console but I haven’t yet for a variety of reasons.
Despite my failed attempts at playing as a Christian, the game did raise some interesting questions.
The first is around appearance and body image. The game allows you to look how you want to look. While there’s nothing wrong with having ambitions to be healthier, it worries me that physical appearance is such a phenomenon. I recognise that body image is a problem for all genders and media has a huge role to play in it. As we become more and more immersed in the online world, and maybe even the Metaverse, what are people going to make their avatars look like? Something they aspire to? Somebody they think other people would prefer? Both feel slightly dangerous and something we need to be cautious of.
The second question the game brought up is the question of freewill and temptation. How much freewill do we have in the world we live in? Are we sometimes forced into a corner where the only way out is to sin?
I have played other videogames in which there is an element of choice. My favourites being the TellTale Games series of Batman. In these games, at different points, you are given ten seconds to decide what you say or do from a choice of three options. Your choices have a direct impact on the outcome of the story and narrative. I have never been so stressed in my life. Being a huge Batman fan, I struggled at certain points of the game, desperately trying to stop characters from becoming the villains I knew they would eventually become. I wanted to change the narrative but part of me knew deep-down that they needed to become the characters I knew well from the comics for Batman to grow.
Doing mentoring and hearing young people’s lives and stories often has me questioning whether there is any point in trying to change the narrative. Prior to my work in SparkFish, I toured with Riding Lights Theatre Company and as part of that work performed in prisons where we held storytelling workshops and it was so interesting to hear their stories but equally heart-breaking to find the pattern in all of them too.
Our actions have consequences. This is something I’m trying to help young people understand. Just like in videogames, what we do has an impact on not just our own narrative but on the narrative of the people around us.
The earlier we avoid making bad decisions, the quicker we avoid making worse ones.
This is all very idealistic and simplistic though. For many of the young people I work with they feel as though they have little choice in their decisions. Especially the younger they are. They are surrounded by others who make decisions for them, or, because of their circumstances, the decisions are out of their control.
We are not all handed an equal opportunity in life. Some of us have more privilege than others which means that we can afford to make moral decisions, while others are given a deck of cards which makes making a good decision nearly impossible.
The game is rigged.
BUT despite this dystopian blog, I do believe there is hope. I do think that the work I do is important and worth it. Even if all they get from the mentoring experience is someone who listens to them, that might be enough further down the line to help them avoid making one more bad decision. Even if my role is simply to be a role model or friend, that might be enough to cause them to question their own character and choose to make a change for the better.
Unlike games, there are no powerups, no restarts, no checkpoints. But what we can do is step in to make it a multiplayer game rather than a solo game and help them through the many levels and challenges that they face.
Ironically, I was unsure as to how to start this blog… So, let’s start off with a fun little fact about me.
I love to take part in improvised comedy. One of the few joys of lockdown was being able to be part of a new improv group. Once a month, over Zoom, we meet up and hone our improvisational skills with the help of an incredible improviser based in Chicago. For those who don’t know (and let’s face it, why would you?), Chicago is considered by many to be the home of improvisation. Improv companies such as Second City are based there and have produced such alumni as Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Dan Ackroyd, and Tina Fey to name a few. And would you believe it, our teacher is from the same company! The wonderful Craig Uhlir has been guiding us through how to be better improvisers and it’s been such a joy to spend a couple of hours laughing and making stuff up together.
It’s taught me skills that I’ve found super useful when I go into schools to mentor young people and I think we could all learn from the art of improvisation when it comes to our conversations.
Improvisation is all about the art of conversation. Many people think that improvisational comedy is about how many puns or absurd comments you can squeeze into a scene but it’s so much more than that. It requires skills of humility, quick thinking and listening.
One of the biggest mistakes an improviser can make is coming into a scene with a preconceived notion of how the scene is going to go. The problem with this is that it means there is a lack of improvisation – which is a crucial element in the world of improvisation. If the player is unable to drop their precious idea, the scene becomes stale and hard work for both players, as the other improviser is highly unlikely to be able to read the others mind.
The same is true with conversation. The best conversations happen when we have no agenda other than to have a conversation. When we come in wanting to steer the conversation in a certain way, we miss out on the opportunities to talk about things we could never imagine talking about. It’s why there’s a golden phrase in improv called ‘Yes and…’. In other words, you take what your partner has just said, you confirm it and then you build upon it. Nothing kills conversation more than a rejection of an idea. If we are not open to talk about whatever with a young person then we are backing the conversation into a corner and missing out on important lines of thought that could open up something bigger than we had anticipated.
This doesn’t mean that we come in with nothing to say. Improvisers are encouraged to establish the who, the what and the where when they start a scene together. It’s hard for the audience to know who the characters are, where they are and what it is they’re trying to achieve if it’s not made clear at the beginning. Equally, it’s helpful for the improvisers themselves to know, as it helps drives the scene. Once everything is established, the characters can build upon these foundational elements and take the scene to the next level.
In mentoring it’s important to establish who you are and what the purpose of mentoring is. It’s also useful coming in with some ice breaker questions – they may seem silly, but they often uncover really insightful conversations. I once had an ice breaker question that opened up a whole conversation around faith without it even intending to. It’s in those times that I’m grateful that I have something in my back pocket if conversation is hard to take off. I also keep notes so that I can ask about things we’ve talked about the week before. This helps restart old conversations and gives them an opportunity to give updates or expand upon the original idea. It also helps them to feel listened to which leads us nicely into…
Listening is one of the most important skills of improvisation and conversation. If you do all the talking then you’re leaving little room for your partner to contribute. It may be that they have something awesome to say but by talking non-stop you stall the scene from developing any further. The same is true for conversations. If you’re constantly talking and not allowing room for the other person to join in then the conversation takes too long to get to where it needs to get to, or it may never get to that point at all!
It’s crucial to be actively listening to the other person when they are speaking too. My best trick is to say what the other person is saying in your head at the same time as they are speaking. It means you really have to concentrate on what they are saying rather than allowing your brain to wander off into various avenues.
When people are listened to they feel a connection, rather than just being talked at in an unequal status of importance. Listening also provides further insight into who it is you are talking to.
- Let go of preconceived ideas of how the conversation is going to go.
- ‘Yes and…’ ideas, even if they seem random – you never know where it will take you!
- Establish who you are and what mentoring is – this really only applies to the first session.
- Have things ready to talk about – but don’t be afraid to drop them if not needed!
- Actively listen to the other person – allow them space to contribute to the conversation.
Open the Book is a series of primary school assemblies presenting Bible stories in a concise and engaging way. The Bible stories are retold using the Lion Storyteller Bible written by Bob Hartman. To add interest, they are presented by a small team, varying the voices, and using simple costumes and props and often the help of a few children..
There is a well-established Open the Book team in Reigate, working regularly at Sandcross School, and we now have a Redhill team as well. Led by Carol Harland and supported by Lindsey Hardwick from SparkFish, the team made its debut at St Matthew’s School early in 2020, and was then silenced by the pandemic. Happily, we have re-emerged this term. We recently told the story of creation as part of the school’s harvest assembly, and we will be in action again in November.
It is a joy to share stories which mean so much to us with hundreds of children for whom they are a fresh source of wonder, reflection and inspiration. It is also good to work with people from other churches.
Once established at St Matthew’s, our hope is to visit other local schools too if we gather enough enthusiastic members. If you would like to know more, email the SparkFish office in the first instance at email@example.com. We would love to hear from you.
Join us through the advent season in our advent calendar with a difference. A kindness challenge each day either focusing on self-care or kindness to others. Follow us on social media for daily posts or download the full calendar here!
It’s been a busy term in the SparkFish team. Check out our latest newsletter to find out what we’ve have been up to so far!
Having been Youth Pastor at St Johns, Old Coulsdon for 6yrs, I moved to Horley Team
Ministry at the end of February 2020.
As a Pioneer Worker I was expecting to get known in the North Horley community
(particularly The Acres) through working in local schools and putting on interesting events.
I’m used to doing lessons and Assemblies every day and as a Lay Reader (Licensed Minister)
I can also take services and other roles in the Parish.
But that was not to be! I was Furloughed in the first Lockdown and then in September allowed to work
– but not doing the things I was used to doing. Thankfully there were practical jobs in the churchyard and
a few services to help with – but mostly all I could do was cycle around the area praying for
“harmony in these homes, protection from Covid19 and fields ripe for a Harvest”. I prayed that a lot!
When I was appointed, I was told about Sparkfish and that there would be a support for me
there. I met with Lyndsey then Harriet, so got a helpful overview of the Sparkfish operation.
But with schools in Horley closed to me, there didn’t seem to be much of an opportunity.
But wait! we’ve all had to adapt over this period and Boom! Sparkfish started producing
videos that could be used in schools and they invited me to be a part of them! This was
far better than anything I could have produced and the schools were grateful – so good!
Another team I work with is Walk Through the Bible – I’ve been an Old Testament and New
Testament Presenter for 15 years (aimed at Yr. 5&6 there are 5 one hour sessions that
teach a time line and overview of each Testament – kids love it, teachers love it – so good!)
and have been a ‘Presenter Trainer’ several times too. In July 2021 I had the privilege of
taking 4 Sparkfish Workers through the OT Presenter Training (pretty intense 3 days) and so
now we have 4 more great folk in the “Walk Through Team” – ready to go, as soon as we
are allowed to – may God Bless us all!
The Sparkfish Team have become my friends and we communicate a lot – I’m looking
forward to working with Sparkfish more as the momentum picks back up – who knows what
we’ll get up to – but if it brings Glory to God, I’m in!
Thanks for all the prayer and support,
Pioneer Worker & Lay Minister: Horley Team Ministry
We have lots of news to update you on – click below to read our July 2021 supporters newsletter and find out what’s been going on.
I’ve been recently reading ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis. It’s one of those books I’ve heard about in Christian circles and thought ‘That sounds interesting but for another day.’ Well, the ‘another day’ came and I finally bit the bullet and bought a copy. The day I received it, I sat down and decided that I would read a few chapters (each chapter is a letter) but found myself only reading one having been so challenged by it.
For those who have not heard of this book, Lewis wrote it to his friend Tolkein (of Lord of the Rings fame). It’s a series of imagined letters from a fictional demon (Screwtape) to his nephew (Wormwood) in which he attempts to offer advice to prevent the nephew’s patient falling victim to the Enemy. Confusingly, the Enemy in the book is God and the Father Below is Satan. It takes a while to get your head around it all but it’s such a brilliantly written book and, as I’ve said, is continually challenging my thoughts and behaviour. Who knew that a demon’s letter could bring me closer to the Enemy? And by that, I mean God.
I would never claim to be as good a writer as Lewis, but I thought it would be fun to write a modern day version. There’s so much material that I could (and tried) to include that I may end up writing a follow up letter to fit it all in – I reckon this is how Lewis ended up writing a whole book, but I doubt very much that this would be true for me!
I’m glad you’ve reached out to me. I remember reaching out to my uncle back when I was starting out and I found it so useful to learn from someone as experienced in turning patients away from the Enemy as he was.
In truth, though, you should not be worried about your patient and a fleeting thought about whether the Enemy is real or not. How envious I am of you starting at a time where there are so many distractions. Granted, in my day we had the joys of war to use to our advantage, but this came with its own challenges given that one can find themselves entrapped in the Enemy’s arms whenever their life is in immediate danger.
Nowadays, there is no immediate danger of death. Even the recent pandemic has not succeeded in bringing many more to the Enemy’s so-called ‘kingdom’. They selfishly act in their own interests believing that they are above a global pandemic. And when they do catch it, they are saved – not just by the Enemy – but by the doctors and nurses who tire themselves out attending to those who ignored their advice. Healthcare has never been better for the wealthy, and this has only resulted in a stronger faith in science – the irony being that science is of the Enemy’s design. But, like so many things, people worship the things that the Enemy created over the one who created them.
Your patient lives in a world that is constantly creating, no longer in partnership with the Enemy and very rarely that they might improve the lives of others but in which to empower individuals and inflate their egos. It is no coincidence that technology has been prefixed with the letter ‘i’. In the human’s eyes, technology has become the ultimate power and those who wield it are the gods. In actuality, the very things they have created are becoming their gods, enslaving them to a lifetime of endless swiping, scrolling and notifications. Their days are filled with alarms, alerts and conversations that last long beyond the confinements of the office. Our Father Below laughs as they spend time together in rooms, ignoring one another, transfixed to a glowing screen. He knows that their minds are too focused on busy schedules and personal images to be concerned of their eventual handing over to His domain.
The trick is to make your patient feel as though they are socialising through this technology – keep them away from meeting one another in person. In person, one can tell from body language how the other is feeling, and it opens the conversation up to what is wrong. (Although we have done a brilliant job on young men to avoid them from ever telling one another how they are feeling – maintain this idea that masculinity and emotions cannot co-exist, it serves wonders to our cause). Online, however, there are no visual cues that a patient is suffering from lack of sleep or emotional pains, and it is easier to evade questions that could lead to them seeking help.
If they ever do start to feel as though they can open up to someone, use technology to convince them that there is another way to deal with their emotions. Small rushes of adrenaline should do the trick – a ‘like’ here, an online deal there. Temptation is your key. And for male patients, temptation has never been easier.
Once upon a time, you’d have to encourage your patient to slip silently into a whorehouse or strip show but now such things can be viewed in the privacy of one’s home – with no age limit attached! No more embarrassing purchases of magazines over the counter, within two seconds of searching on the internet the patient has access to all the images they desire. And yet, here’s the brilliant thing, they are never quite satisfied! It’s not hard to find ways to get them to fall into the traps either – a quick glance on social media and the suggested page will lead them on to a slightly more erotic tab and so on and so forth until they’re sat alone in the dark with their shame.
Shame – the web that keeps them entangled from entering the Enemy’s own. It’s as though they’ve never heard the story of the shamed son wasting his father’s inheritance that the Enemy told long ago. (Many haven’t of course, the taboo of religion in schools is doing a marvellous job of keeping stories secular, to a degree that people no longer associate the Enemy’s morals with the Enemy himself!).
The invention of Twitter and other platforms has, once again, allowed the humans to do a marvellous job of digging their own way to Our Father Below. No one can type how they truly feel about a subject or topic of debate in fear that they may be shamed publicly online. One wrong thought expressed, and the humans are quick to judge and hardened to forgive. They pounce on one another and drag each other through the dirt, taking arms to social media and destroying each other’s existence through a barrage of 280 characters. All in all, people are too ashamed to say anything or express anything different than what is considered to be the norm. It’s become harder for patients to navigate public opinion, being so divided and radicalised as it is, that no matter what a patient says, they expect to hear the roar of opposition from one side and a near silence of support from the other.
Politics has become so divided that one can never feel too comfortable expressing their beliefs. Brilliantly, the Church has cemented itself into the political narrative and, as a result, has become a series of divided factions which has dissuaded the young from entering its doors.
Religion has become our weapon more than ever before. No one wants to be religious. They may desire to have faith in something bigger than themselves, but they are afraid of choosing a side in fear of the commitments and beliefs that come from it. Patients are aware of their spirituality but would rather accept crystals and the ‘universe’ to be in control of their lives than having to submit to the Enemy.
But we cannot be complacent. Even now, in the toughest regimes, the Enemy wins new followers. It seems the harder the oppression the easier it is for the Enemy to gain new ground – even if it’s often in secret. Be glad, then, that your patient is in the West, for the war that rages between our Father Below and the Enemy is favourable to our side in this territory. Use the new gods available to your patient to worship, keep degrading the values of religion and remind them of their shame whenever the Enemy tries to welcome them into his arms.
Keep up the good work – we may have ultimately lost the war, but we can still do great damage before it’s all done.
Your affectionate uncle,
At SparkFish we have developed a workshop over recent years aimed to equip students in year 6 to feel more confident to make a positive transition to secondary school.
Life can be full of significant moments and the move from primary to secondary school is a particularly important time, as students move from primary school where they may have been since they were 4 years old, to their new, in many cases much larger secondary school where they are surrounded by much older students who are moving towards their GCSE’s, more independence and are well on their way to adulthood.
Dr Kate Middleton wrote in a recent blog,
The COVID pandemic has been a unique time of unusual pressure and ever-changing circumstances for children, teenagers and young people. They’ve had to manage significant uncertainty, loss of control and choices, separation from their friends and the activities they usually enjoy, and the constant tension of possible isolation all alongside the pressures of continuing academic demands from school – including for many, exams and key transitions.
KATE MIDDLETON, PROJECT DIRECTOR, HEADSTRONG
At SparkFish we have continued with supporting year 6 students by providing schools with the resources to run transition workshops, delivering these workshops in person where restrictions allow this. Our workshops, which for this year have also been developed as a video resource, combine practical advice and top tips with reflective activities as they look back at primary school and then look forward to all that is to come at their new school.
Through our workshops students can reflect on what they have learned at primary school, celebrate their achievements and consider who has been part of their primary school journey and to whom they will be saying goodbye. Often as well as saying goodbye to teachers and support staff, students will be saying goodbye to many classmates who may all be going to different schools.
We then spend some time thinking about hopes and dreams for secondary school, the opportunities that the students will have, and considering how to make the most positive of starts to their new school year. We also remind students of those who will be supporting them at their new school as they make this important new start.
At SparkFish we are very much aware of the impact of the last 15 months for these children, and the challenges that they have experienced and hope and pray for all in year 6 this year that they may find the support and encouragement that they need as they make this important step.
‘The Message’ bible translation of the book of John quotes the words of Jesus in John 10 verse 10,
I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life, and they may have it more abundantly’
We continue to pray for all those children and young people who are making important transitions this summer, for those starting school for the first time, those moving on to their next year group, and for those making the change to secondary school or to college and university; that amid these current challenges they will have the support they need to take this important step forewords in their lives towards achieving their goals and fulfilling their potential.
The Snyder Cut has been released and I for one am rejoicing!
Now for those of you who aren’t superhero nerds and have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a quick summary of why this is an incredible moment in film history.
Zack Snyder had previously helmed two major superhero films 2013’s Man of Steel and 2016’s Batman v Superman and was busy filming the superhero team-up movie Justice League when tragedy struck. In early 2017 Zack Snyder took the difficult decision to step down from directing duties on Justice League after his adopted daughter, Autumn, took her own life.
Snyder had already put together a rough cut of the film but Warner Bros. brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to make major changes to the film after the reception of Batman v Superman which critics and audiences found too dark. I personally really enjoyed Batman v Superman as a deconstruction of superheroes and found the theological questions it posed fascinating.
If God is all good then he cannot be all powerful and if He is all powerful then he cannot be all good – Lex Luthor
All of this to say, that the theatrical release of Justice League was a Frankenstein’s monster of a film with two very different directors. Joss Whedon injected a lot more humour which frankly did not fit in with the interpretation of the characters we had previously seen from Zack Snyder. The plot was simplified and made to fit under 2 hours. Bare in mind this film had six main characters, three of which made their on screen debut in the film, and you can imagine how poorly handled the film was.
I for one lost several nights of sleep wondering how on earth they could have messed up a film based on some of the most iconic characters in fictional history – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash!
It turns out, I wasn’t the only one. Fans began picking apart early trailers for the film which included footage not seen in the theatrical cut. A petition was formed to release Zack Snyder’s early cut of the film.
Fans rallied together to raise money to fund for billboards in Time Square, New York and at San Diego Comic Con as well as paying for an aeroplane to fly over the Warner Bros. Headquarters with a message which read #releasethesnydercut. But for every dollar they raised for a publicity stunt, they matched it with a donation to AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) in memory of Autumn Snyder.
After three years of fans campaigning to see Zack Snyder’s original vision, with some help from Mr Snyder himself, and on the 18th March 2021 Zack Snyder’s Justice League was finally released to be streamed on demand.
I watched it the day it came out, all four hours of it, and I cried as the movie ended with a tribute to Autumn in the form of the end credit song being a powerfully moving rendition of ‘Hallelujah’, her favourite song.
This film was more than a superhero film, it was a victory lap for those who had worked so hard to get it released and a redemption story for Zack Snyder whose last movie in the DC Universe would have been a film he didn’t really direct if it had not been for the efforts of his fans.
So, what on earth does this have to do with anything to do with young people or churches?
Well, I would argue that we can learn a lot from this movement – almost as much as we can learn from the film itself.
A few years ago, at the National Youth Ministry Weekend, Kenda Creasy Dean – a professor at Princeton Theological College – spoke about the school students campaigning against the gun laws as a result of the mass school shootings that had taken place that year. She talked about the students’ efforts to change the laws and posed the question as to how long they’d be able to keep up the momentum, the energy, the fight. She summed it up in one question:
But is their god big enough?
In the Snyder Cut’s case you might think, yes. They succeeded in what they’d set out to do. But now there’s a new hashtag circulating the world wide web:
Fans want more. I want more.
And if we got more, guess what, we’d want even more.
But, as Christians, is our God big enough? Is he bigger than the Kryptonian? Or the Amazonian? Or the Gothamite?
And if superhero geeks can get together to change the minds of the powers that be, why couldn’t the church?
There will always be injustice until the Kingdom of God fully comes, that we know. But shouldn’t we be fighting against injustice all the same in the meantime?
And here’s where we have the upper hand, we can be satisfied. We live in the knowledge that Jesus Christ has already won. We know that this isn’t forever, the pain and suffering of this world will cease.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand up for the oppressed or fight for the vulnerable, Christ calls us to bring the Kingdom ever closer and to be ambassadors for his kingdom. He asks us to join his league. To bring justice to the world.
Young people know this, they fight for it on social media and in their conversations between friends. But how can we help them to make it mean something, to give a reason behind the cause? How can we help give them a foundation strong enough to stand upon when everything else crumbles away? How do we enable to take the fight beyond the walls of technology?
We need to lead by example as the church and not remain silent when we witness tragedy or an abuse of power.
We need to…
We have lots of news to update you on – click below to read our April 2021 supporters newsletter and find out what’s been going on.
This year our Easter production for years 5 and 6 pupils went digital. Watch our Easter Production Trailer video below.
Emotional wellbeing simply means to be ‘well on the inside’.
How many of us consider how ‘well we are on the inside’? During this pandemic this is something we have been considering more than ever as we have had more time at home than ever before and arguably more time to reflect on our lives.
We spend a lot of time focusing on our physical health – by eating well, exercising, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep. All of these things are so important and are essential for emotional health as well. Good mood food, a good night’s sleep and regular exercise are vital.
But what else can we do for our own emotional wellbeing which we can also promote to the children and young people in our care?
Here are our top tips for improving emotional wellbeing
Evidence suggests that there are 5 steps you can take to improve your mental health and wellbeing, kind of like eating 5 fruits or vegetables every day for our diet – but more of a diet for our souls.
1. Get Connected
Good relationships are important to your mental wellbeing. There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world.
During the lockdown season of social isolation this has been a tough one to achieve as it has been difficult to physically ‘see’ our loved ones, keep in contact with our usual support networks or reach out for support. You might well be like me and be truly ‘zoomed out’.
But we can be creative…
- when the weather is good, meeting someone outside for a walk can do wonders for your emotional wellbeing
- if you live with family or friends, try arranging some quality time with them by switching off the television and playing a board game or sitting at the table to eat dinner together with screens off
- how about ‘going old school’ and writing letters or cards to post to someone you care about?
- or maybe just give someone a ring instead of sending a quick text –ask them how they are and really listen to their answer
2. Be Physically Active
Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness but evidence also shows it can improve your mental wellbeing. Being active raises your self-esteem by helping you to set goals and achieve them. It also causes chemical changes in your brain which can positively help to change your mood.
As someone who actively found ways to avoid PE in school because I hated team sports so much, I was surprised as an adult to discover that I actually quite like the way I feel after exercise. There are so many fun and different ways to stay physically active now that I firmly believe there must be one form of exercise for every person that is enjoyable.
- go for a walk or run
- dance around your room to your favourite music
- do a dance class, workout or stretching video on YouTube
- ride your bike
- take up a team sport such as football, netball, hockey
- go swimming
- jump on a trampoline
- create a fitness circuit in your garden using everyday items
Whatever you do, try and find something you enjoy! Have fun with it and make it an everyday part of your life!
3. Learn New Skills
Research shows that learning new skills can also improve your mental wellbeing by boosting your self-confidence and self-esteem, helping you to build a sense of purpose and helping you to connect with others.
This is something lots of people embraced during the first lockdown last spring. How many of us made banana bread for the first time, took up an art project or took on home DIY? The third lockdown has been trickier; the days are shorter and the resilience we showed last year has slowed as people grow weary of being stuck at home. However, learning new skills is a really important thing for improving wellbeing.
What new skill would you love to develop?
I have recently been delivering our cocoon self-esteem group virtually for young women at Merstham Park School and learning a new skill is one of the key focuses of session 4. This time I set each of them the challenge of trying something new during the week. My challenge was to learn to French plait – which I am still learning! I have also recently been learning to cook from scratch rather than relying on ready-made packets of food – my most recent culinary experiment was homemade Chicken Chow Mein which was actually quite tasty.
Could you cook a new dish? Get to know a new person? Read a new book? It doesn’t have to be challenging – just new!
4. Give to Others
Giving to others can improve your mental wellbeing by creating positive feelings and a sense of reward, giving you a feeling or purpose and self-worth and helping you connect with other people.
Giving to others could include random acts of kindness towards others – maybe helping to tidy up at home, making a family member a cup of tea, asking friends and family how they are and really listening to their answer or maybe asking a neighbour if they need a hand with anything (socially distanced help of course). In the future, it may soon be possible to volunteer in the local community again!
When I was younger I used to work for a sandwich shop on a Saturday and every week one of my tasks would be to deliver two sausage rolls and two jacket potatoes to an elderly housebound couple up the road from the shop. One week I discovered that sadly the husband had died.
At this point I had grown really fond of the wife who I chatted to each week and decided to visit mid-week to see how she was doing. These visits became a regular weekly occurrence even after I had left my job at the sandwich shop and I’m sure they meant far more to me than they did to Anna. I discovered so much about her life – how she had moved to my home town during World War 2 after meeting her husband in Belgium, how he was a soldier and how when they had first met she didn’t speak a word of English. She married him after just a few weeks and moved to England and they were married until he died aged 90. Anna died a few years ago at the age of 94 but our weekly visits brought me so much joy.
You might not have an ‘Anna’ who you can visit but is there something you could do to give to others? You might be surprised at the joy and laughter it brings you!
5. Pay Attention to the Present Moment
Paying more attention to the present moment includes paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you.
It can be really easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much and in a world that is often chaotic and out of our control it is good to stop, reflect and bring things into focus. Some people call this awareness, ‘mindfulness’ others call it ‘prayer, meditation or contemplation’. Mindfulness can help you enjoy life more and understand yourself better. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.
You can do this while doing a normal every day activity like washing up. As you wash up, consider the bubbles in the water – how do they feel? What does the washing up liquid smell like? How do you feel washing up? Is the water warm or cold?
As you allow your mind to focus and gently rest, consider if there is anything you would like to wash away – maybe an argument with a family member, tension from a day of home learning, the bad news you heard today on the radio?
Consider this as you wash your dishes one by one. How does it feel to rinse them under running water? To let your day wash away?
After you have finished washing up, consider drying and putting your dishes away – how does it feel to have a clean and tidy kitchen space? To bring a sense of control and organisation to the world’s chaos?
Something as simple as washing the dishes, putting them away and creating a tidy space can have a remarkable effect on bringing quiet, rest and reflection to our day if we let it.
There are loads of great resources out there which help to calm the mind and be more present. Apps such as headspace and Calm have lots of useful content. Another great tool to inspire being more mindful in your day is colouring in – I am not very good at sitting still and resting so I have taken up colouring in as it stops me running around doing jobs and allows my mind to rest but keeps my hands busy! For some, mindfulness will bring up negative spiritual connotations but John Mark Comer writes in his book ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’;
The whole world is talking about this right now. You can’t go three feet in a bookstore or peruse TED.com without hearing all the buzz around mindfulness. And mindfulness is simply silence and solitude for a secular society. It’s the same thing, just missing the best part – Jesus… But followers of Jesus have been doing this for thousands of years; we just called it prayer or meditation or contemplation. We have two millennia of tradition and wisdom and best practices to draw from.
Whatever word you are comfortable using, it is important for our mental health and wellbeing to slow down, to rest, reflect, focus and spend time paying attention to your thoughts and the world around you. If you are more comfortable spending time in Christian meditation then there is also a brilliant Christian meditation app called, taketime. ‘Taketime’ is a series of relaxing, guided meditations based on the tradition of St Ignatius. I also thoroughly recommend the Lectio 365 app created by 24/7 prayer for guided prayer sessions [www.24-7prayer.com/dailydevotional].
Over the last few months the SparkFish team have been thinking a lot in our staff meetings about hope during the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve recently been reading a pretty hefty book, ‘Paul: A Biography’ by Tom Wright and he reflects on the topic of hope, writing,
If I say that Saul of Tarsus was brought up in a world of hope, many readers misunderstand me. “Hope” and “optimism” are not the same thing. The optimist looks at the world and feels good about the way it’s going. Things are looking up! Everything is going to be all right! But hope, at least as conceived within the Jewish and then the early Christian world, was quite different. Hope could be, and often was, a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seemed dark. It depended not on a feeling about the way things were or the way they were moving, but on faith, faith in the One God. This God had made the world. This God had called Israel to be his people. The scriptures, not least the Psalms, had made it clear that this God could be trusted to sort things out in the end, to be true to his promises, to vindicate his people at last, even if it had to be on the other side of terrible suffering.
He goes on to write,
‘Hope’ in this sense is not a feeling. It is a virtue. You have to practice it, like a difficult piece on the violin or a tricky shot at tennis. You practice the virtue of hope through worship and prayer, through invoking the One God, through reading and re-imagining the scriptural story, and through consciously holding the unknown future within the unshakeable divine promises.
‘Hope is not a feeling, it is a virtue. You have to practice it…’
I’m not very good at practising things. I’m terribly lazy and it takes me a long time to create new habits. But how amazing is this concept that we can develop hope in a world that seems dark? We can practice it and pray for it and share it with those around us. And we can teach others how to practice it and develop it.
At SparkFish we seek to bring hope to children and young people during times of change and challenge. Adolescence itself is a time of change and challenge. But it is even more challenging during the current season when it seems things are changing by the minute.
‘Hope… is a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seemed dark.’
I think we can all agree that the world seems dark at the minute, even with the successful vaccine rates and things beginning to open up again, it can be hard to feel optimistic when life is not normal. However, hope is a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seems dark. We can choose to hope. We can practice it when we don’t feel hopeful and we can believe in the God who made the world, who called us to be his people, who has shown he is true to his promises and who can be trusted to make everything right in the end.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. [Isaiah 40:28-31]
As Christians, we have hope and at SparkFish we want to share this with the world – it is not always appropriate to share our faith directly with the young people we work with– but we can be people of hope. We can support schools with the students who need support the most, and create safe places where young people can be themselves, pause, reflect and practise hope for themselves.
The God of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. [2 Corinthians 1:3-5]
Join us for a special week of prayer for our local schools. Our prayers are powerful and we know God invites us to partner with him in bringing his Kingdom on earth as in heaven through prayer. The children and young people we work with are growing up in a world full of challenges and trials and we want to see them equipped, inspired and encouraged to live a life of faith, hope and love. This last year in particular has been such a season of change, challenge and uncertainty but we have a hope, and his name is Jesus. So let’s pray for our schools, pray for our children and young people, pray for our staff and volunteers, and pray for the work of SparkFish for the years to come.
How can you get involved?
There are 5 exciting ways you can get involved:
1 – One hour prayer guide
Sign up to pray for 1-hour using our 1-hour prayer guide, downloadable from the link below. This guide will take you through various themes and topics as you pray for our work in schools this year.
2 – Go on a prayer walk
Download one of our prayer walking maps using the following link, get walking and pray for the schools on your route.
3 – Follow our daily prayer points
Do you only have a short time each day? Download our daily prayer points following the link below for a different theme to pray for each day this week or follow us on Instagram to watch daily prayer videos.
4 – Set up your own prayer space at home
Feeling creative? Set up a prayer space in your home! Have a look online for some prayer space at home ideas. Remember to send us some photos!
5 – Wednesday lunchtime prayer
Join us on Zoom on Wednesday 3rd Feb to pray together for the work of SparkFish at 1pm. Here are the access details:
Meeting ID: 736 6222 2898 Passcode: Prayer
Whichever way you choose to be involved, please let us know:
We’d also love to hear your stories and see photos of you praying at home or prayer walking so please send these to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are so excited to be praying together this week and to see what God will do as a result. Let’s pray!
“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” Ephesians 6:18
Watch our Christmas Journey Trailer video below for insight into what our Christmas Journey is all about:
Watch our Church Update video below to find out what has been going on this term:
I’ve recently had the pleasure of heading up a Growing Faith project in a local primary school and Harriet asked me whether I’d be up for sharing my experience. I said yes.
The idea behind the Growing Faith project was to help a group of six Year 6’s to run their own collective worship assembly for the whole school. We were given the theme ‘Forgiveness’ and that was about it.
Once a week for five weeks, the children, the headteacher and myself would discuss how we would put on this ambitious challenge – made all the more tricky, as I wasn’t allowed into school due to the pandemic and so I had to teach from my bedroom via Zoom.
Before we met the first week, I ransacked the Bible for as many stories on ‘Forgiveness’ as I could find. Our first session involved us chatting through what forgiveness was. Myself and the headteacher were very conscious that we wanted everything to be through the children’s voices and therefore it was a lot of asking questions to help them articulate their own thoughts on the subject as well as helping them to explore the theme on a deeper level then perhaps they would have done on their own.
The children went away and read one of the stories each so that they could come back the next week and tell each other the outline and why it fitted into the theme of ‘Forgiveness’.
We set about a structure, the things we knew we needed to include in a collective worship assembly (prayers, teaching, songs) and anything else we thought would make the assembly as engaging as possible – this ended up with them filming an impressive retelling of the story of Jonah, complete with giant cardboard whale and fantastic acting!
As part of structure we discussed that the order in which we do things has an impact on the way people engage. The ideal is to start with high energy stuff and then slowly lose the energy so that it becomes more relaxed and focused.
They did an incredible job on the morning of the assembly, which they also had to do via Zoom to all the classes in the school (not an easy task!). It was great to see them engage with the Bible and to recognise the messages within it have real-life application. I was so impressed with their creativity and their ability to take on some tricky theological ideas with such enthusiasm and intelligence.
I have been asked back to help another group of students next term and I cannot wait!
Over lockdown the world of youth and children’s ministry was thrown into chaos as we had to learn new skills overnight. Our roles transformed from delivering sessions in person to making videos to upload online.
9 months later and some of us are still scratching our heads wondering how we make a good video.
Never fear! I have some tips and wisdom to impart on you, dear reader.
1. Good Camera – These days your phone camera will be more than sufficient to make a good quality video. But a camera alone is not what helps the quality, for that you need…
2. Good Lighting – Lights from the ceiling are okay but you want to make sure you are evenly lit. For a low-cost solution, try placing two lamps with the bulb pointing at your face – one slightly angled to the right, one slightly angled to the left. It’ll be slightly blinding at first but your eyes will adjust. Make sure you are not being backlit by a window.
3. Fancy Graphics – How do you make a PowerPoint slide look good as part of a video? My suggestion is to use canva.com – it’s free and easy to use. You can pay for the pro version which unlocks some more useful goodies at just $12 a month but you don’t need to, there are plenty of free images available to use on the standard account.
4. Look At The Camera – Make sure the camera is slightly above eye level and look at the actual camera lens when talking, it will help you to connect to your audience more. If you have a script put it to the side at eye level, make looking at it part of the emotion of the video as if you’re looking thoughtfully to the distance rather than reading your next line.
5. Good Scripts – Don’t write every word of every sentence. Bullet points are better. Make sure you know what you are going to say to avoid unnecessary ‘urms’…
6. Good Audio – If you have the capacity, record your audio on a separate device that is closer to you and sync the audio in post. Camera audio can be a little dodgy at times but most of the time will be fine if you don’t have another option.
7. Don’t Be Afraid To Cut Out The Gaps – For an engaging sermon/talk, chop out the spaces between thoughts and sentences. It keeps up the energy without letting it drop. Then, to really emphasise a point, keep a couple of silences in – it will make those points stand out amongst the others. Keep your videos as short as possible. Aim for 5 minutes so if you’re a little bit over it doesn’t make a huge difference.
8. Make A Nice Thumbnail – When you upload a video to YouTube you have the option to create a custom thumbnail. Do it. Otherwise it will choose a still image from your video and you have no control over what your face might be doing in that shot. Create an eye catching image with a title so that people are more likely to click on it. Again, my advice is to use canva.com.
All these tips are things that I’ve picked up over the years of making videos. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everything I wrote about I have learnt through not doing properly myself.
Remember, your youth group aren’t expecting a Hollywood movie but they do want to hear from you and making a short film could be a great way of reaching those who are out of touch.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18]
Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, [Ephesians 6:18]
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. [James 5:16]
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. [1 Timothy 2:1-2]
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. [Philippians 4:6]
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. [Hebrews 4:16]
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. [Colossians 4:2-4]
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you [John15:7]
This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ [Matthew 6:9-13]
Prayer. Why do we do it? How do we do it? Does it make a difference? In the Bible we are instructed to pray. Pray at all times. Pray without ceasing. Pray for each other. Pray for our leaders. Pray with confidence. Pray with thankfulness. Pray to our Father. Pray. Pray about everything. But do we do it? Do we pray enough? Do we make it our priority?
We were chatting in our staff meeting the other day about how important prayer is but how it is so easy to forget to do it. In the busyness of our lives and our work, how easy is it to forget to pause and make ourselves present with the Lord, to invite Him into the conversation, to invite Him into our day and our work. When our schedules get busy, prayer is often the first thing to go. But it should be the first thing we do.
If I’m honest, often I find myself at a loss for words. I don’t even know what to say, what to pray. I look around at the world and I feel completely inadequate. How can I make a difference? What could I possibly pray that would make the slightest impact on the darkness we see all around us? Then I remember, it’s not about me, it’s all about Him. It’s Jesus. Jesus – light of the world. Jesus is the only one who can break through the darkness and bring change. And as a Christian, Jesus lives in me. When I pray, I have the authority of Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ who called me to pray, who taught me how to pray. So why don’t I do it more. Jesus invites us to partner with Him in bringing His Kingdom here on earth. He asks us to pray for it and He asks us to live it. So why don’t we?
So will you pray with me? Will you join with me in committing to pray for the work of SparkFish, for the children and young people we work with, for the schools and teachers we support, that His Kingdom will come, here on earth, here in 2021. His Kingdom come, His will be done.
Father, thank you for prayer. Thank you Jesus that through dying in our place, you have given us access to the Father, and to all authority in heaven. We are sorry for the times we make prayer about us, about having the right words and saying the right things. We are sorry for the times we forget to pray, for when we prioritise everything else above spending time listening to you and speaking with you.
We pray now for the schools of Reigate, Redhill, Merstham and the surrounding areas, for every child, young person and adult we come into contact with through the work of SparkFish. Father will you show us how you want us to meet the needs of the schools, help us to listen for your voice, to be your hands and feet in the schools. Help us not to get carried away with ideas that aren’t of you but to keep our eyes fixed on you. Father would everything we do be rooted in you. We want to see more of your light, more of your peace, more of your presence in everything we do. Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, in Reigate as it is in heaven, in Redhill as it is in heaven, in Merstham as it is in heaven. For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory. Forever and ever. Amen.