Police have blasted church leaders after they tried to recruit youngsters – by handing out sweets to children at the school gates. Pupils as young as 11 were given free tubes of Smarties by followers of the Freedom Church in an effort to bolster numbers in the congregation. Police were called on October 18 by concerned parents after four people were seen hanging around outside Whitecross School, Hereford, dishing out treats and leaflets about a new youth club. But police branded the church’s methods as ‘irresponsible’ and urged them to stop the questionable practice. The church, which has around 200 members, has also come under fire after leaders advised youngsters to confide in them instead of their parents.
Headteacher of Whitecross Denise Strutt has slammed the church’s methods, claiming they were “in complete contradiction to everything we teach our children.” She fumed: “It is not something we would encourage. I think it was a naive decision by the people who run the church. Handing out sweets to schoolchildren is in complete contradiction to everything we teach our children. We are not for or against the Freedom Church. I am aware that we have a number of students who attend churches in the city, including the Freedom Church.”
Police also condemned the church’s recruitment drive. A spokesman for West Mercia Police said: “We don’t think it was responsible behaviour. Freedom Church has agreed to speak to its youth leaders to ensure they conduct themselves in a manner that doesn’t cause concern in the future.” The Freedom Church denied they had done anything wrong, and claimed they were adopting similar promotional tactics as “nightclubs.” Josh Snowzell, founder of Hereford’s Freedom Church, said: “Freedom Church is a local, registered charity, that has been doing youth work in Herefordshire for 20 years.
“Our youth work volunteers are CRB checked and passionate about serving our city. We are more than aware that there are not a lot of things for the young people of Hereford to do, and one of the things that we provide is a youth club for years seven to eight. It is a great provision that we are very proud of. The young people who attend really love it and have a lot of fun. We wanted to make it available to more young people and let them know about the opportunity. One of the students at Whitecross told us that they get flyered by nightclubs for teen club nights right outside the school. So we thought we would send some of our charity volunteers to that we could promote the youth club that we run as a positive provision for the youth of the city.”