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Story 62 - Savannah Cook - Pioneer Minister-in-training

Wokingham Baptist Church
Written by Suzie Abramian in conversation with Savannah Cook - 30/11/2020

In a year when so much face-to-face contact has been limited and, in most cases, impossible, it is enormously encouraging to hear how a missional adventure within a school context has not only taken off in 2020 but is also thriving.
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Savannah Cook, pioneer Minister in training at Wokingham Baptist Church started her first year of ministry training at Bristol College in September 2020 which includes two days a week study and the rest of her time on placement in local schools. Since the schools reopened fully in September 2020 Savannah has been heading up a drop-in space in one of the local secondary schools. The aim of the space, named ‘The Lounge’ provides a safe place, loosely based on Renew well-being models where young people can come within school, chat, receive mentoring or simply be in a quiet, comfortable space.
In an area Savannah describes as very middle class and quite affluent, Wokingham’s young people often struggle with different kinds of neglect, not necessarily of wealth but of emotional need as families lead busy, professional lives. The Coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the important role teachers have in young people’s lives, sometimes being their only constant presence, especially when other extra-curricular activities have had to stop. However, with many teaching staff already stretched before the pandemic Savannah notes that, ‘there has been a real open door from secondary schools … they are really eager for people to come in and help with wellbeing and the emotional, spiritual welfare of young people.'
As a former youth worker at Wokingham Baptist and with experience working for the local council, some relationships were already well established for Savannah with local schools, as well as with other Christian organisations in schools, in particular ‘Soulscape’ who she also works alongside with. Whilst Savannah describes some of these relationships as ‘slow burning,’ built up over time, the initiative for The Lounge came with great encouragement from the schools themselves. The pastoral support department in one school has been so welcoming, to the extent that when the pandemic forced many schools to suspend outside visitors Savannah was still welcomed, essentially as another member of staff.
MA Story62Picture2Although some of the practical elements have had to be temporarily altered due to Covid guidelines, such as the numbers allowed to attend and time slots allocated for certain class bubbles, the initiative itself has still been able to take shape. Savannah describes the importance of allowing the pupils to shape the space and activities, shown in activities asking for the young people’s opinions, artwork sessions, and perhaps most importantly, by the many opportunities for genuine conversations with the pupils.Within the usually tight constraints of school guidelines about faith, Savannah emphasises the importance of being invited into these contexts as the guest rather than trying to introduce or impose a project upon others. Consequently, she says how she feels that she is, ‘being church, rather than doing church,’ which appears to be connecting on a much deeper level with the young people, giving them opportunities to talk and share which they might not have in any other part of their life.
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This approach is also having a wider connection with the staff and looking ahead there has already been an invitation to explore how something similar could be created for staff chaplaincy in the schools as well as the invitation to explore setting up a multi-faith prayer room for pupils.
Ultimately it has been by following God’s calling and his invitations which have led to the start of this missional adventure, which Savannah describes as listening to the ‘quiet whispers of God.’ There may seem an almost mundane approach to listening to the small things happening on a ground level but in so doing, those in our communities who are overlooked and voice-less can be heard, and, as Savannah’s story testifies, God can move in miraculous, often surprising ways.
 
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Simon Goddard
Story91-100, MA_Podcast
Suzie Abramian
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Michael Shaw
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Timothy Haines
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Ruth Ward
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