It’s not unusual for Tom Daggett’s day to start with a music lesson in a primary school before accompanying the school’s choir to a cathedral – where they will sing for a lunchtime mass or later, for Evensong.
Tom founded a musical partnership programme for schools at St Paul’s Cathedral in London and is one of the founders of Choir Church, an initiative built around children’s choirs in schools, led in partnership with local churches.
Tom’s motivation for Choir Church has always been to share faith through music. He believes it is a model that seeks to unlock the strong missional potential of high-quality music for evangelism in schools.
While musical excellence is central to the vision, Choir Church puts faith at the heart of its congregations, with spiritual formation and working for social justice key elements of its vision.
‘If you want to engage children in the life of the church, one way of doing this is to start a choir,’ says Tom.
‘I believe it’s God’s plan to utilise the gifts of musicians to share the faith, and the Choral tradition can be used in creative ways alongside prayer and social justice – we’ve found that Choir Church is a powerful way of teaching the Gospel to children.’
Choir Church involves a church running an after-school choir, with a director of music, a musician who might be employed or a volunteer. It’s a way of teaching the best possible music, but also grounded in prayer and worship with a vision to build a congregation. Crucially, clergy, layworkers, parents and volunteers are also involved each week.
Children learn anthems and hymns at their choir sessions which also includes learning about worship, faith and sacraments. Once a month, this prayerful preparation culminates in a mid-week Eucharist in the school hall, making them active participants in musical worship, which parents and friends are keen to join.
‘Our vision is to show and tell the good news of Jesus Christ,’ says Tom. ‘We do this in three ways, by deepening our life of prayer through active discipleship, by growing and planting congregations in which new people encounter Jesus and by organising for justice – being a church which is of and for the poorest.’
Together with the Choir Church Foundation, Tom has developed a resource Building Choir Church which is aimed at churches who may be considering whether this model of planting a new congregation might work for them. Having seen Choir Church work well in a number of different churches, it’s hoped that the resource will help others to multiply congregations by engaging with and reaching out to children and families in a new way and through music.
The first Choir Church began in 2016 at St George-in-the-East, London. The Rector, Father Richard Springer, also a trustee of the Choir Church Foundation, tells how the model has worked well in this local community on a number of different levels:
‘We’ve seen Choir Church at St Paul’s Whitechapel school grow and flourish in our parish. Choir Church perfectly fits with our mission to share the good news of Jesus Christ across peoples’ lives in home, in school and in the church. It does this faithfully, relationally and sensitively in a majority Bangladeshi Muslim neighbourhood and school.
‘In our parish, Choir Church has enabled the largest number of baptisms on Sunday mornings. Parents are being baptised as well as children in the choir. And then they are sticking with Choir Church and in the majority of cases attending on Sundays as well.
‘A significant distinction in the Choir Church model is its integrated focus on challenging injustice. The choir and congregation have been involved in local campaigns around food poverty and air pollution. We are currently engaged in a campaign to deliver affordable housing just around the corner from where the Choir Church service is held. The positive agitation of Choir Church on our regular Sunday congregation has been important in diversifying the church and reshaping priorities to even greater focus beyond the church building.’
In another London parish, St Matthew’s Bethnal Green, Mother Erin Clark explains how Choir Church has been the right model at the right time for their specific circumstances and how it continues to be part of the church’s missional journey.
‘Prior to Covid, we had a flourishing after-school ministry in our church school but this all changed when the school was closed in 2021,’ explains Mother Erin. ‘It felt as if we were in a sort of “no man’s land” post-Covid and with the school closing, and it was clear there was now a big gap in our children and families’ ministry.
‘As we reflected, we came to a point of realising that although our church school was gone, there were other schools in our parish who we might work with. So, we started looking at a schools-adjacent ministry. Acknowledging that this wouldn’t look the same as before we drew a line – and asked, what is God calling us to do now?
‘We had seen the Choir Church model work in neighbouring parishes and decided to make it part of our journey; we took the tool and did it in a way that was right for us. Our ministry to families for a long time had been centred on social outreach, activity provision, rather than evangelism. Choir Church has enabled us to build on this, and in an inclusive way, be more intentional about sharing the Christian faith.
‘It’s been amazing to see how well it’s gone down and how Choir Church is engaging children and families by offering something which integrates music, learning about faith and discipleship alongside working for social justice.
‘Now 20 months in, we’re really well established. We were fortunate that our current ordinand, Molly Boot, is a musician and that they have been able to combine music with children’s work. With our ordinand moving on we’ll now be looking to recruit someone else to take on the choir.
‘Each term we choose a theme and choir practice is a time to pray, sing, learn music, and a time to encourage. Once every month to six weeks, the choir sings in our church’s Evensong service or at the Eucharist which offers us an opportunity to teach the children about the bread and wine, their significance and meaning.
‘We’ve found it a really good tool to focus on the development of faith in children. Parents too, as they pick up their children and attend evensong or the Eucharist, become involved. Choir Church provides lots of opportunities for conversation with both children and parents as they ask questions or are challenged by different elements of faith.
‘And in the parish, I’m now telling people that we have three congregations: Sunday church, our Mass at a local care home and our Choir Church.
‘I’d encourage anyone thinking about starting a Choir Church to go for it and look carefully at their team, ideally including a parent who can be the link with the church and school,’ says Mother Erin. ‘I’d also say use the resources which are brilliant, but also be open to adapting to your own context. In our case this has meant using different types of music as well as traditional choral music – we’ve found that the music from the Iona Community, Taizé, and gospel music work really well for us.’
While Choir Church started in London, churches all over the country are now finding it a helpful and adaptable model for planting new worshipping communities. So successful has the model proved in terms of relationship between church and schools and as a missional tool for evangelism that Blackburn Diocese was been awarded SDF funding to ‘plant’ or start up to 24 new Choir Churches congregations over three years across the diocese in parishes working alongside local schools.
‘It’s a joy to see the Choir Churches starting up around the country and seeing how music is helping children and families from so many backgrounds and contexts engaging with faith, the sacraments and social justice while having fun and enjoyment together,’ says Tom.
‘I hope that Building Choir Church is a really helpful tool for any church considering starting a Choir Church but I’m also always happy to talk to leaders about how it might work best in their specific context. We’d love to have many more Choir Churches!’
If you are interested in finding out more about Choir Church take a look at Building Choir Church – Tom Daggett and also the Choir Church website.
If you’d like to speak to Tom Daggett about how Choir Church might work in your context, you can contact him via the Choir Church website.