Marching For Mental Health

Zacchaeus Outreach Project

The first part of Church Army’s vision is for “everyone everywhere to encounter God’s love”. One of the ways we can be bold within such a big vision is through the freedom our evangelists have to follow God’s call on their life to be the gospel in their own contexts.

One of those evangelists is Valerie Thom, who heads up the Zacchaeus Outreach Project (ZOP) in the Diocese of Armagh in Northern Ireland. The project was set up in 2011 with a vision to show God’s love to marching bands. The marching band sub-culture is one that is misunderstood and as a community, finds itself marginalised and on the fringes, even by churches. Valerie was a band member herself for many years and now serves bands in practical ways, supported by a group of faithful volunteers in efforts to bring together church groups and band members, building a real sense of community in the rural parts of Northern Ireland.

The Zacchaeus Outreach Project is able to be present at parades through the use of their bus serving tea, coffee and providing opportunities to talk, pray and make links with well-being services.

New Launch

October 22 was an exciting day for the project as it hosted an event which launched three new programmes focusing on the mental well-being of those in the band community as well as the launch of their new bus. The event was attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Tyrone – Robert Scott, First Minister – Paul Givan and the Archbishop of Armagh, John McDowell. Church Army’s
CEO – Peter Rouch also attended and opened the event.

“What I saw at the event of the relaunch and the blessing of the bus was just an incredible vision and energy going on” explains Peter, “Val has seen something that is really important in this community of people. In a group that is often marginalised by the mainstream, she sees their struggles and does absolutely everything she can to bless people and she is full of energy. She is gifted at drawing people together in collaboration. Val has drawn together the local support, political support and church support. It
was phenomenally impressive, and it was a joy to be part of.”

Mental Wellbeing for Marching Bands

One of these newly launched programmes is Take 5T4T, a health and well-being programme run by the Southern Health Trust who are working with the group to provide training for marching band trainers. As this enables the bands to train other bands, the community will continue to strengthen and become less dispersed.

It has always been at the heart of Church Army’s mission and those who serve it, to meet the needs of those who continually find themselves on the margins of society. Valerie’s work through the Zacchaeus Outreach Project originates from the core of our vision to see that no-one is excluded from experiencing God’s love

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