On 8th September, a popular new toddlers group will start its first autumn term at Devoran’s village hall.

The Tots & Toys group was established by the Waterside Benefice in April this year, and in its first few months attracted around 75 children, along with their parents and carers.

It’s coordinated by Jane Darlington, who leads a team of ten volunteers.

A toddler group run out of the village hall closed a year and a half ago, but a number of parents had managed to keep sessions going for a year. Then, when they’d had to give it up due to pressures of other commitments, the local churches had been asked if they’d like to be involved.

“I’m one of those people who thinks that if the church is asked to do something – and if we can – then we should generally say yes,” Jane explains. “We knew there was a need for something for the younger ones. We knew there were families who’d use it.”

She recognises there’s a particular need for such groups in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

“These little ones have come through a time when they and their families couldn’t be with other people,” she says. “It gives them a nice safe place to meet and interact.”

The group meets on Friday mornings during term-time. They’ve been supported in their efforts by funding from the Community Cashback initiative run by the SPAR group of convenience stores, and – with the help of their local county councillor – from the Cornwall Community Chest.

“We started with no money, so these funds have been very important,” Jane says. “And the local community are also very supportive. We have the toddlers, their parents and grandparents, and our helpers too. It’s great for everyone involved. We’re really ministering to different ages – we’re intergenerational.”

Jane works as a primary school teacher and had been involved in education all her life.

“I’ve always worked with children,” she says. “I’m passionate about it.”

As a regular churchgoer, she’d run her local Sunday school while living in London. She’d noticed that, rather than just dropping off their children and heading into the regular service, some of the adults would stay for her class. It seemed that they enjoyed and understood the stories in the way that she told them.

It was then that she’d started to think about her own calling to ministry. She joined a course for lay readers in London, and completed that training when, nine years ago, she and her husband Alex moved to Cornwall shortly after they were married.

Alex serves as a lay preacher for the local Methodist church.

“God is there with us the whole time,” Jane says. “My lovely husband knows that there’s the three of us in our marriage – and it’s the same for him.”

Local ministry

She’s been a lay reader for the last six years. Now she preaches, leads services and takes funerals in the three parishes which comprise the Waterside Benefice – Devoran, St Feock and Perranarworthal.

She conducts a very traditional evensong, straight out of the Book of Common Prayer, as well as mainstream Sunday morning services. Once a month, she also leads a particularly family-oriented service.

But she’s keen to emphasize that all her services welcome the presence of children.

“We often have kids running up and down the aisle,” she says. “The church isn’t going to continue to grow for years to come if we don’t have young people. But everyone’s important in the church. It doesn’t matter your age or who you are. Jesus was and is there for everyone.

“This is why we have to be a church without walls. We’re part of the community. We’re not just here for an hour on Sundays. Hopefully, what we do and how we help each other might inspire people, and make them to want to find out more.

“We’re just here for the community. And we need the community too. It’s so important that we’re out there and seen as we actually are.”