More than 40 young people are taking part in the annual SPARK Week programme in Garvagh. The cross-community initiative, which is now in its fifth year, is based at St Paul’s Church of Ireland and brings young people from across the community together to build new friendships and help communities in Garvagh and nearby Glenullin.
SPARK (Servants Pursuing a Radical Kingdom) has had to manage this year without local government assistance following the decision by Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council not to support the initiative. The Rector of Errigal and Desertoghill, Canon Paul Whittaker, says he disappointed by the withdrawal of council support but says it has made the organisers even more appreciative of the help they have received from local businesses.
“A huge effort goes into making SPARK a success,” Canon Whittaker says. “We have 43 teenagers taking part this year and eight young adult leaders. We also have an adult team – 12 ladies and six men – who do the catering and supervise the young people as they go about their work in the community.
“It’s hard work but good work,” the Rector says. “This is our way of sharing in Derry and Raphoe’s mission, ‘Transforming Community - Radiating Christ’.”
Youth participation has trebled since SPARK was first launched in 2013. “We began with 14 young people, aged between 12 and 16. As its success has grown, we’ve had to put a cap on numbers. Forty was our limit although this year we’ve stretched that to 43 teenagers with eight young adult leaders. The whole operation is coordinated jointly by Melissa Andrews and the Diocesan Youth Officer for Derry and Raphoe, Martin Montgomery.”
Canon Whittaker explained how a typical SPARK day goes. “The young people’s day starts with breakfast together at 10am, after which it’s over to the Church for worship, teaching and prayer until 12.30pm. This helps improve their attitudes toward each other and promotes mutual respect and understanding.
“Our young people are usually educated separately and they grow up quite segregated, so they’ve often little or no interaction with someone from a different faith denomination. Each afternoon on SPARK – through simple activities such as litter picks, painting and gardening for senior citizens – the young people get to know and trust each other in a safe, loving environment, and their acts of random kindness are much appreciated by the community.
“Being seen on the streets together in matching tee-shirts is a powerful statement to the people of Garvagh and Glenullin”, Canon Whittaker says. “But it’s not all hard work: the young people’s day finishes with dinner at 5.30pm, and afterwards there’s a programme of fun events until 9.30pm.”
SPARK (Servants Pursuing a Radical Kingdom) is part-funded by the Church of Ireland Priorities Fund. Local businesses which have sponsored the week this year include: TBF Thompson Ministries, Smyth Steel, Currie Engineering, Hugh Wade, Scott Engineering, Hans Clyde, Alison Wade and Alec Farlow.