ONE dull winter's day at the beginning of this year, Pauline
Manfield and her Year 5 and 6 pupils at Crayke C of E Primary
School, in north Yorkshire, gathered up some paper and pencils and
set off up the hill to their village church.
The plan was to use the lessons they had learned from a visit to
another Yorkshire church, St Michael's, in nearby Coxwold. There,
they had been taught how to use its 15th-century features as an
inspiration for some creative writing, in an Arts Council-backed
project, "Reading the Past, Learning the Future".
Mrs Manfield recalled the climb to the equally ancient St
Cuthbert's, in Crayke. "Everywhere was all shrouded in thick mist,
but as we got to the top, it split. It was really quite
"We started in the churchyard, and thought about what they could
see and sense and smell - any-thing that caught their eye. Then
they were thinking about similes and metaphors to describe the
graveyard-stones standing like soldiers, and so on.
"Next, inside the church, we talked about the stories we could
find, and had a go at being a voice from the pulpit, standing there
and speaking aloud. They collected lots of ideas."
Back at school they used those ideas, first to create some
poetry, then to imagine that they were an object inside the church
- the font, the bell, or a pew - and answer questions which allowed
them to be the personification of that object.
"They came up with lovely things," Mrs Manfield says. "There was
some super writing, which is on display on the church now. One
girl, who was 'the font', was asked: 'What day do you remember?'
She wrote: 'I remember the day a tramp came in. He washed his
hands, and I washed away his hunger.' I went 'Wow!' when she read
it. It was a moment that takes you and shakes you.
"It was very different to our other visits to church - usually
for RE and history, or a service. We will certainly be doing it
THE scheme Reading the Past was devised Patrick Wildgust, the
curator of Shandy Hall, a museum in Coxwold, once the home of the
Revd Laurence Sterne, the 18th-century eccentric literary visionary
who created the semi-comic character Tristram Shandy, and sometime
Vicar of St Michael's.
"If you come to see Shandy Hall, then you need to see the
church, too," Mr Wildgust says. "We have large groups of visitors,
and this is a small museum; so the church seemed a good place to
talk about Sterne.
"And the church itself is so interesting, because it has all
these layers of age stacked up. What I wanted to emphasise,
especially to teachers, was that churches are very important
buildings, because of the amount of information they contain - like
in a capsule.
"It's just a question of how you read them, or how you look at
them. I especially wanted to get to primary school children.
Tristram Shandy is obviously way over their heads, but the
church is not.
"For instance, if you wanted to write a story, then the simplest
way is just to go down to a churchyard, and there are as many names
of characters as you want. Their histories are also there - you
just have to start to scrape.
"Sacred buildings are a repository of a community's shared
history and culture. Though each might have common features, each
will display this universal similarity in its own way. Names on the
gravestones will have local significance; fixtures and fittings
will often be made by local craftsmen; the stone used for building,
and for monuments, may be local stone. Each church is unique and
particular to its locality, reinforcing a sense of place and
"I wanted to encourage the idea that churches are under-used
educational resources. Sterne was a creative writer - one of the
most experimental of creative writers - so it fits in with the
THROUGH the York diocesan advisory committee, Mr Wildgust invited
seven primary schools to take part. "They were all chosen as they
were in easy reach of Coxwold, so we could take them through what
is at St Michael's, and then they could go into their own church.
Fundamentally, it was encouraging curiosity."
He called in a set of "experts" - including a mason, a
blacksmith, a stained-glass artist, and a historian - to help them
look at the church from their specialist points of view. And, with
the aid of the National Association of Writers in Education, he
commissioned the writer John Wedgwood Clarke to help the children
see the church and the work of experts from different angles.
Next, he made short films of the craftsmen in action, which he
uploaded to the project's website. "I wanted to create a template
for schools, so they can go to their own church and start to mine
the information that is there, all year round, and can be seen from
a wide, different perspective.
"Instead of the children in a shuffling queue, being forced to
go through the rigours of communal worship - which isn't going to
set them aflame with interest - they would see their church in a
"To say it was a success is an understatement. The response was
quite extraordinary. The way those children explored the churches
on every occasion was tremendous; they did it excitedly, and with
great interest. . .
"The project is an online resource; so a teacher in, say,
Somerset, can look at the website, show the children a film of,
say, the blacksmith making a hinge, and see him go to the church
and look for signs of his work. Then they can go down to their own
village church to see what they can see.
"Its not really looking for something specific, but to focus the
lens of their intellect, and start to find things that they didn't
even know about. That's where it starts to generate. I have always
believed that teaching that age group isn't so much classroom
instruction as the way information passes, and skitters around.
Children show each other things they have found. . .
"I am not worried that the children won't understand. Their
brains are elastic, and like sponges - they take in stuff in a
NIC SPENCER, a Year 5 and 6 teacher at St Peter's C of E Primary
School at Brafferton, was full of praise for the scheme. "It was
fantastic," she says. "It was just to a whole new level, a deeper
experience than we have ever done before. It was the first time we
have used the church for creative thinking.
"We use it for religious facts, photography, and illustrations;
but I would never have thought of using it as a stimulus for poetry
- and it was the best quality poetry I have ever seen. It's truly
inspiring; it has absolutely changed the way I thought. And I got
the children to see the church from a whole new perspective.
"They did work with the writer on all sorts of experiential
things: for example, they stood with their toes on the side of the
church wall, and put their chins on the wall, and looked up, and
then had to say, if the church was an animal or an insect, what
would it be. A whole new poem came from seeing the church as a
butterfly or a beetle."
The project is supported by Arts Council England, which
recognises the value of a church as a combined art gallery, museum,
and source of culture and local history at the centre of every
parish. All places of worship - church, mosque or synagogue -
contain art, craftsmanship, architecture, and social history.
The Church of England is keen to develop closer links between
schools and their local church. The Revd Nigel Genders, who is head
of school policy at the Church of England Education Division, and
Deputy General Secretary of the National Society, says: "One of the
key recommendations of The Church School of the Future
Review was to produce more material and training opportunities
for clergy, and all those involved with schools, to enable them to
develop church-school links more effectively.
"In developing these materials, which will be available in the
autumn, we know that the church offers a rich resource for schools,
both practically and pastorally. Schools can use the church
building to enrich the whole curriculum, as well as to promote the
spiritual development of all children."
DURHAM CATHEDRAL has just launched a full-day course, teaching
children about the Christian and heritage aspects of the cathedral,
its surrounding woodlands, and the banks of the River Wear.
Pam Stewart, of the cathedral's woodlands and riverbanks team,
said: "There are so many areas where we can unite these aspects of
the cathedral's life. For example, teaching the children about
medieval wall-paintings in the church, and relating that to how
plants and berries were used to make paints and dyes; or how trees
in the area were vital in transporting the stone for the cathedral
And the Churches Conservation Trust, which has saved more than
340 redundant ecclesiastical buildings that were at risk, has its
own National Plan for Learning. It offers a programme of activities
for both schools and families.
Part of the plan is the project Explorer Church Partnership
(ECP), which encourages schools to engage with churches in the care
of the trust, and develop a greater understanding and appreciation
- and even a sense of pride in them.
One of the trust's three recently appointed Heritage Learning
Officers, Kelly Powell, said: "One of the main objectives of the
ECP has been to demonstrate to schools that historic churches can
be used to support almost any topic of study."
She plans to inspire children to create their own stories at the
early 18th-century Holy Trinity, Sunderland. "It housed the town's
first library in Sunderland, in the 1700s, and was basically a
multi-purpose building - even housing council offices. Because of
that link with the library, the plan is to turn the church into a
centre for storytelling."
And, in Stansted Mountfitchet, in Essex, students are creating a
blog about the medieval St Mary the Virgin, which will be used as
an online resource for other schools in the area.
I feel lonely and cold, the light doesn't go through me, it
shines on me and that is not what I am made for, so I do not feel
like I am me. I do not like the night for I am not myself and can
never go to sleep. The owls do not like me because they peck at
The man that made me was a scary man with a scary name, with
scary tools. This is my second life. One day I was a piece of sand,
the next I was a smooth green piece of glass.
The time of year that I love is winter for I love looking
through myself and seeing all the people huddle inside the church
for warmth. Suddenly all of these small grown-ups run in and say "I
want to go in the altar first!" They then come up to me and start
writing on these black rectangle things.
I remember the day I was being made and put together and getting
lost in a maze of me.
The sun comes over the hill and wakes me up and shines right
through me. I wish I could move, not seeing the same sight each
day, not seeing the same people all the time, not being able to do
anything other than standing still the whole time. Never seeing the
sights I've always wanted to see. I want to be a somebody.
Archie, Bafferton Primary School
THE SOUND OF CROWS
I gazed at the mighty mammoth of a church
Running wild from crazy poachers.
I heard tummies roaring likesomeone just pulled
the trigger on a lawn mower.
I glimpsed at vines finding their way out a
grave like a man's shrivelled arm.
I peeked at a hidden door leading into the
mystery of black.
I listened to the wheels winding round and round
on a car on the horizon of my mind.
I questioned the bell whether or not he was scared of
shrieking spirits in the grave yard.
He said the armour of Christianity would guard
his life forever.
I heard screeching from poor
children dead from their childhood.
I asked the bell," Are you annoyed
from pesky flies?"
He replied, "Not as pesky as you are!"
But the mystery is yet to be solved . . .
Tom, Bafferton Primary School
WHO AM I?
When the lights go out it's dark and foggy. Moonbeams shine
through the stained glass and the light falls upon my chest.
The church smell is mustier than an old yew tree burning under
the sun, but the bouquet of roses, tulips and daisies smells
I feel colder than the winter sea that is deeper than the
coffins outside. My water freezes to a thin crisp of icy
I was made by a stone carver, who was stronger than a cliff of
My favourite time of year is Easter because most citizens get
A tramp came in and washed himself in my holy water. I washed
away his hunger, thirst and want.
I remember every baby I christened. Some screamed like a ghost,
some kept as quiet as a mouse.
The glorious sun makes me come alive and then I grow arms and
I wish for a new life where I move and am used for royal
Jasmine, Crayke Primary School
I saw a church like a sleeping dragon
I saw graves standing like a new piece of grass
I heard bells ring like birds tweeting
I heard rain dripping from trees like people tapping their
I could feel the calm touch of the church as it reached out to
Jemima, Crayke Primary School