My Next Chapter – Chris Ellis

Throughout the Easter Season, we are hearing some of the stories of people in the Kippax community about how they are living their “next chapter”,  following on from the unfinished resurrection story in Mark 16.    This is Chris Ellis’s “chapter”

In this series already we have heard several faith stories, and how diverse they have been!  My faith plays out in many different ways in my everyday life, but I’ve been asked to talk specifically today about the Holiday Happenings that I have run for many years.

I am aware that some of you don’t know what a Holiday Happening even is, many of you have some idea, and others of you have faithfully shared the journey with me from the very first event way back near the end of  last century.

Here’s a bit of the history. During 1997, the Kippax congregation went through a process of meetings and discussions to decide the directions it would take, and where it would put its focus, to make a significant difference in people’s lives in West Belconnen. Does that sound familiar? It’s a journey we are still on. It was determined then, that one of the main thrusts was to be reaching out to young families in our community.

At that time I had happily given up my teaching career to raise our family, and had been involved here at Kippax in the creche roster, the Young Mums group, and Sunday school, and played a major part in starting the playgroups.

I guess the Church Council saw in me some potential for this new task, because I was employed part-time for 18 months as Children’s Mission Development Worker – a very catchy job title! At the time I hadn’t been looking to enter the paid workforce, and it took me way out of my comfort zone, but with hindsight, I can see God’s leading. I am grateful to the church for the opportunity, and the confidence it gave me to move on to my current work as a preschool relief teacher.

So, my role was to work out ways that the church could engage with young families within and outside the church. I spent considerable time doing research about what the community would value, and what our church could reasonably support. To be useful and relevant to young families, without spending lots of money or having lots of staff, it became obvious to me that it would be sensible to start some things happening, organised in such a way that they would develop their own momentum and could continue on a totally volunteer basis after my paid position finished. That planning has certainly paid off for the Holiday Happenings, and the 1-2-3-Magic parenting course that I ran for many years has fallen off the radar only recently.

The first Holiday Happening was held as a trial in September 1998, and after some changes over the years, we now hold 8 each year – the last 2 Thursdays of the Christmas break, and all other holiday Thursdays, from 10am till 2pm.

Holiday Happenings, very simply, are craft and games days for primary school children. We provide a wide range of activities, and morning tea and drinks – the children bring their own lunch – and each day finishes with a story or guest speaker or some other full group experience.

We regularly cater for up to 100 children, and involve at least 20 helpers on the day, with at least another 6 in preparation and cleaning up. The activities are spread throughout this building, and the children are free to do whichever activities they choose for as long as they choose, within the structure of the day. They are all given a tray to collect what they have made – that’s why we need so many cereal boxes!

Financially, the Holiday Happenings have always been self-supporting, and in fact they make money for the church. Even though the children pay only $5 each with a maximum of $10 per family (and this has never changed with inflation), our costs are fairly small and we use volunteer labour and lots of recycled and junk materials.

It’s important to realise that these events were never meant to be an evangelical tool, but rather to give local children the experience of just spending time in the church building, in a loving nurturing Christian community, where they have fun and engage with people who are there specifically to spend time with them and help them. This program, and these caring people, have touched thousands of children and their families over the years.

I believe that if our participating families see church as a happy, friendly place, providing a quality experience for their children, where people are loving, caring and trustworthy, then God will do the work in them in God’s time  – not necessarily in this place.

All of us are truly blessed, as I have been, when we have an opportunity to use our God-given gifts and talents, our passions and skills, in the service of others. The Holiday Happenings do this for me. They are a lot of work, and I certainly could never have done any of this in my own strength or without all the help and prayer, but they give me a buzz, and I know I am meant to be doing this!

Those who know me will agree I am a very practical and hands-on person, and yes, I’m an organiser. I have a passion for young children and their creative spirit, and this all ties in with my teaching training and experience. My other passion is for craft – I love to make things. So the Holiday Happenings really are a vehicle for me to do what I love, and be of service to others in the process. I don’t do this for the positive feedback, although that helps to inspire me, and it was encouraging to be given an ACT volunteer award just on 2 years ago, but it is my passion that drives me. This is the place where God needs me to be active.

I enjoy planning and preparing the crafts, ensuring there is enough variety in each day’s activities, and catering for the wide range of abilities. Then I love seeing the children creating, concentrating on the intricacies of what they are making, learning new skills in the process, and interacting with the volunteers. I love seeing the proud looks on their faces at 2 o’clock as they present their trays to their parents and show what they have made.

I also treasure the way that our volunteers, mostly from within the church, get to know each other on a totally different level from Sunday mornings, probably unaware that they are part of something special that is bigger than all of us – making a difference in young children’s lives.  And I enjoy the fact that many of our participants who have moved to high school ask to come back as helpers, so we get the opportunity to do some mentoring of teenagers as well.

I think long and hard about matching volunteers with the available jobs, so I can give them different challenges according to what I see as their strengths. I don’t always get it right, but Kippax folk are very loving and forgiving and supportive, and are simply wonderful to work with. (And, they keep coming back for more!)

So, where to from here? It seems that Holiday Happenings (like garage sales) have been absorbed into the culture of this church and community, and it is just accepted that they will continue to occur. I acknowledge though, and I hope others realise, that if I stopped being the driving force, they would not continue. That’s not terrible – it’s just reality.

Specific activities and events like this, that rely on one person’s vision and passion and leadership, tend to have a shelf life. After a while they will be replaced with a new idea and fresh enthusiasm under someone else’s leadership. I expected the Holiday Happenings to reach their use-by date after about 5 years, but instead they show few signs of slowing down after more than 16!

So, I plan to keep them going as long as I have support, both practical and prayer, enough volunteer helpers, plentiful craft supplies, and an average of more than 50 children, which is really the minimum needed for these days to be viable; and of course as long as God gives me strength and enthusiasm, and the will to continue.

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