On one crazy day, Glenmore Park Anglican Church had 95 children (and their parents) turn up to Junior Jivers. That’s only ever happened once, but the church has three sessions of the music-based playgroup every week as a response to local demand.
“It’s enormous,” says Sharon Chamberlin, who co-ordinates the program. “As a church, we keep asking the question: are we just providing a playgroup, or is this a real outreach? The team is quite small, so connecting with all these parents can be difficult.”
Junior Jivers at Glenmore Park has been running for more than 10 years, and Chamberlin has been around for most of that time. She says it started out as a group of about 20 parents and ballooned from there. Other churches in Sydney have visited to see how the program runs and use its model in their own context.
The church has put a lot of thought into using Junior Jivers – and a new Joey Jivers program offered for young babies and new parents – as a launching point for other ways they can support parents they come into contact with.
“It’s the easiest thing to invite someone to come along to,” Chamberlin says.
The church offers meals to parents coming along to Junior Jivers who have had new babies. They also give a pack with a few resources such as books and information about what’s available for new parents.
“There’s a Bible study group that we encourage new parents who are at home during the day to come along to,” she says. “We’ve seen many new mums in particular join that group. And we’ve seen several families come along to church, and come to Christ, through the Junior Jivers ministry.”
Ann Cunningham, the social issues and actions co-ordinator at Mothers’ Union Sydney, says that while playgroups are an excellent starting point for churches, she’d like to see churches go beyond playgroup and really support parents as they learn the parenting ropes.
“Churches need someone in them to say, ‘We’re going to look after families. So, not just playgroup for the babies, or youth groups, or Sunday schools, but we’re going to look at how parents can be supporting one another’.”
Cunningham runs Mothers’ Union parenting courses in churches, and sees a lot of what parishes are doing in a more formal context to help new parents. She encourages the churches she visits to set up a regular group after the course is finished to provide parents with an opportunity to continue talking about the daily struggles of raising children.
Holy Trinity, Kingsford has recently run the five-week Mothers’ Union parenting course with Cunningham as the facilitator. Senior minister the Rev Dave Doran says he has been trying to build a place that emphasises healthy relationships ever since the church was “repotted” in 2016. The parish has since applied for a Mothers’ Union grant to employ a part-time “female playgroup evangelist” to help them set up a playgroup in 2018.
“I don’t think we’re doing anything particularly original or innovative,” Doran says. “There are a lot of new mothers in our community who would never think of coming to church on Sunday but they’re looking for genuine connections and more meaningful relationships in this season. We’re hoping this role will be dedicated to building some of those relationships.”
The church is also establishing a group of parents who completed the Mothers’ Union course to meet into the future and support each other as they continue the parenting journey, just as Cunningham suggested.