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At the beginning we only had girls in the 10-16 yrs age range to invite along, and on the first night 8 girls came along. Soon more girls began to join and by the time there was a boy wanting to join, we had 14 girls attending and the group was well established. It would have been a recipe for disaster if the little boy who wanted to join, walked in and found 14 girls running about! My prayers then began for a group to start for boys as we realised this ministry was working for these young girls and maybe this was God’s purpose for this group all along, we couldn’t change it now.
Our Vision is that Sunday Supper is a place where young people can be interested in the Christian faith, be themselves, be creative, be friendly to others, and support the Churches mission of caring for our world and other people.
We have now grown to 25 girls attending regularly so have 2 groups meeting. Girls from years 5/6/7 meet from 5-7pm and years 8/9/10 meet from 6-8pm so the whole group are together for 1 hour. This has worked really well and has seen the older girls offer advice and support to the younger girls and they have all grown in confidence. It has also enabled the same team of leaders to support the girls from aged 10 when they arrive, up to 16yrs when they leave as it is all on the same evening.
We are a very hands on group and get involved in helping the church raise awareness and money for our mission charities in many different ways. We take part in sponsored walks, sleepovers in church, run café nights, beetle drives and have lots of fun playing games and getting creative too. We offer a short break every year to a Christian holiday destination too.
I feel the success (although I don't like to use that word) of Sunday Supper is continuity of leaders, helping us to build relationships with the girls and having a fun programme that is different! We do not allow mobile phones or ipads etc, they are locked away as the young people arrive. This 2 hours every fortnight is a time different to “normal life” for young people. They are encouraged to have fun, try something new, play daft games, think about some of the Christian values in a fun way and support the churches mission of caring for others. We always have a quiet, reflective time where we offer prayer stations or a prayer activity with music/candles. Many young people have fed back to me how much they look forward to this part of the session. I feel privileged to be heading up this ministry.
To help me to keep me focused on being Christ to these young people I remember this sentence I read in a Youth Leaders magazine “ Its not what you did at groups as a child you remember, it’s the leaders who were alongside you”
A summary of two blogs posted by Jonny Price on the Youthwork Hacks website. For the full articles go to: https://youthworkhacks.com
How we do good faith formation has been the pre-occupation of Christian youth work for quite a while, and quite rightly, but there have been some significant changes over the last several decades that we maybe haven’t taken into account.
Christendom refers to the culture that exists when the Christian narrative has had a significant impact on the shape of that culture, and wide acceptance of that narrative is apparent. Post-Christendom is what emerges when the Christian narrative loses the central ground in that culture.
So what assumptions do we need to challenge in ourselves (myself included) when we start to think about good faith formation in a post-Christendom culture?
1. Worship is a religious activity
Within Christendom there were a widely accepted set of values that were largely based on the Christian narrative. In such a society, what would mark someone out as being a Christian? It would be participation in the life of a local worshipping community. If that is the case, then ‘worship’ becomes a religious activity.
That, however, is not the way that the Bible uses the word worship. Worship is about the way we live our lives, the way we make decisions, the way that we treat those around us and move through the world. It’s making a big deal of God in all that we do...
2. Information transfer is the same as character formation
This is almost impossible to avoid because of the way in the West we value intellectual thought and how we link academic achievement to personal wellbeing. If a person knows the right things, they will do well in life, and so we do the same in our faith formation. Many faith formation models, therefore, can essentially be boiled down to simple getting tricky bits of information into the minds of people...
3. Belief and faith mean no more than agreement
Most of the time belief is used to signal just how passionately a person thinks about a certain idea. Faith is used in a similar way, to show how someone thinks positively about an idea despite what the evidence shows. Think back to the last time you heard the word ‘believe’ used in public discourse. I am willing to bet it was used to emphasise just how much a person thought an idea would work...
Faith and belief are all encompassing words to describe our wholehearted commitment to God. One of the most important things for good faith formation...
4. Faith formation is about institutional stability
...What if the decline of Christendom is alright? What if it’s what is needed for the Church to be renewed? What if following Jesus in a post-Christendom context has little to do with institutional membership? What if God’s plan for the next generation has little to do with our institutional entrenchment?
Some positive ways forward for us in a post-Christendom world, which may be able to help us inspire, encourage, and grow our young people in a life of faith.
1. Start with Jesus
Much of our evangelism starts with trying to convince people that God exists. What if, instead, we start with exploring who Jesus is, what He did, and then move onto what Jesus tells us about the God who sent Him?
Jesus is compelling, intriguing, and captivating...
2. Recover the verb-ness of Faith
...Think about the amazing examples of faith we look to in the Bible; how Abraham left his land and followed God’s instructions (mostly), the way that Moses stood against the tyranny of Pharaoh and lead the people to freedom, the way Samuel challenged the people to turn their backs on evil and follow God, how Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah stood defiantly before different kings of Babylon...
3. Treat the Bible on its own terms
... When we make excuses for what is in the Bible, we undermine our own faith. When we promote the Bible as simple, we cheat the young people we work with of an opportunity to engage deeply with it. When we treat it on its own terms, however, we can catch our young peoples’ imaginations and intellects, and then help them to engage with their faith in a holistic way. This will draw them in and help them to be agents in their own spiritual formation, rather than simply receivers of just our wisdom.
4. De-spiritualise spirituality
... If we can help our young people to develop a view of the world in which the spiritual is neither Paranormal Activity-esque, nor is it a nice luxury for those who have time to contemplate, then their choices take on greater significance, and calling them to a life of faith has a real impact on the world around them...
At the heart of each of these is the idea that living a life of faith is far more than waiting for God to call us to heaven. It is about living lives inspired by God’s perspective, working against evil and for good in a way that brings peace, joy, beauty, and goodness into the world.
If we can promote these ideas in our faith formation, then we will call our young people to a life of faith in which they are bringing goodness into the world through their actions and choices.
By Revd Sue Binks - Kirkdale Benefice
"Footsteps was a response to attending LYCiG and a growing awareness that the older children who had faithfully attended Messy Church were ready for something more, and needed a space to reflect on and articulate their faith. Indeed the name ‘ Footsteps’ came from a sense of journeying – a journey of discipleship , following in the footsteps of Jesus , the Road to Emmaus that we travel with our young people, all of us on a pilgrim journey together. We very much wanted to be ‘ learning about Jesus’ focused – but in a place of fun and joyful community, sharing a meal together, being fully alive.
So the Messy Church Team – committed to ‘ invite’ our young people – we wrote to each child inviting them to the ‘ new thing’ and also wrote to their parents. I asked Jo and Andy Bowden to come and guide us and we decided to commit to gathering fortnightly to maintain the rhythm but to also make it ‘do-able’ for all involved in running it. We committed to offering the best we could – lovely suppers, good Bible studies, good fun activities – but also to sprinkle in surprise and variety. We are fortunate that we have the Millennium Room at St Hildas, Beadlam that can be used in conjunction with the main Church – so we slip seamlessly between activity and worship. What has been key though is the committed team and even though we don’t feel we have any expertise we all long for our young people to invite Christ into their lives but in an informed way. We study the Bible, we make music, we play games, we write plays, we act out the plays and we do craft.
We generally have 10 young people ( a possible 14) – former Messy Church participants, two youngsters who were recently confirmed and two who were invited by the children themselves; and there is a team of 6 volunteers. Our biggest success is that we have celebrated our first anniversary and we all continue to enjoy each other's company. Perhaps the most moving session was the performance to parents of a short play written by Oz on the Life of St Hilda. We are a fragile plant and the biggest challenge is being infectious and drawing in more young people."
This was the starting point for us nearly four years ago, and we have gone from strength to strength with our monthly service. We have a team of leaders who love children, and started pretty small, but now vary between 10 and 50 bodies a month with representation from all decades and many surrounding villages.
So how did we do it?
Well, before you start you need to ask yourselves three vital questions:
1) Who do you want to reach?
2) What is the best time? and
3) What is the most appropriate tool to use?
We decided we wanted to reach families primarily, and as the mother of a one year old, I knew that morning was best and there would need to be tea for me and biscuits for my daughter. So we set the time at 10.30am, but put the refreshments first. We thought the service should be half an hour at most, and should always involve some sitting still, and some activity, be it acting out a story or making paper candles. We used Mick Inkpen's 'Stories Jesus Told' as a starting point, which a friend had given me for my daughter's christening.
We set up the basic structure and we were away, learning an awful lot as we went along, and adapting in order to improve!
What does an average week look like?
There is a strange mix of regular, set in stone, activities; those things that need doing week-by-week, and then some less regular things which come around monthly, annually, or are just a one off. The few things that I know will be in the diary each week are:
Around those I generally have prep time, admin time, supervisions, and meetings. Meeting up with young people, meeting with volunteers, meeting with other youth workers from around the city… just generally a lot of meetings!
Each week I try and make sure I have one solid office day. This is so I can really get my head down and power through my to-do list, as well as take a slightly wider look at what is going on across the ministries I oversee. Alongside that I have half a day reading time each week as well, although often that is the first thing to get squeezed out when things get hectic.
Finally, there are the things that come up within the calendar. At the moment, for instance, we are looking ahead to our Good Friday sleepover, and putting together all the practical things for prayer stations, food, films, popcorn, and all the rest of it.
What are your top priorities?
There are three really that carry across everything we do in Clifton Parish. They are:
I feel that I need to explain why my volunteers are at the top of my list of priorities. Without them, nothing else can happen. If my volunteers are well equipped and trained, if they feel called to what they do, and if they feel confident in what they do, then everything else will follow. If they aren’t, then priorities 2 and 3 are a bit pointless.
What are the hardest things about being in church based youth work?
There are a couple that really stand out to me. The first is that often you are treated as a young person because you work with young people. I have lost count of the number of meetings I have been in with clergy who have felt the need to explain to me how I should be doing my job, as if it is not something I have spent a significant amount of time and energy thinking, praying, and reflecting on.
The second is the weight that you can carry for other people. Because of the part we can play in young people’s lives they will unload their burdens to us, open up to us about things they haven’t told anyone else, and they can lean on us heavily. The challenge in creating boundaries so that we can serve them safely, look after ourselves, and not create a culture of dependancy, which can be really hard.
What are the best things?
Because you are investing in a community and (hopefully) spending a significant amount of time there, you see young people grow up. I spent nearly seven years in my last job, and seeing the young people grow from young teenagers to adults was one of the greatest privileges.
As well as that, I love seeing people step out in faith and try things for the first time. I have a number of people on my teams who have stepped out of their comfort zone to get involved in youth or children’s ministry, and it has helped them understand what gifts God has given them, and has had a wider impact on their lives.
How do you think Church based youth work is different to other kinds of youth work?
Being Church based means that we can be more holistic in our approach to young people than many other organisations. We can offer them the chance to become part of an multi-generational movement through which we can transform local communities.
Many organisations can do the individual bits which make up church based youth work, but having the church as the basis for the work that we do is what gives us the opportunity to have long-term, significant, and hope-giving impact on communities which otherwise struggle to find any hope in the world.
What would you say to someone considering becoming a church based youth worker?
‘Great, are you sure
It is a fantastic role and I would not have spend the last 9 years doing anything else, but you need to be ready for it.
Talk to people who have been doing it for a while, find out what to expect, make sure they are telling you about the ugly bits of it, and then pray. If God wants you in this, you won’t be able to stay away.
And before you jump in, make sure that you have people there to support you when things get tough.
Anything else you’d like to add?
This is the best role in the world. We have the opportunity and privilege to connect a generation to the church, and through doing that to transform both. We can see young people discover who God made them to be, see them step free of damaging patterns of behaviour, and watch them have a positive impact on the world around them.
And if we occasionally have to explain why we don’t want to be vicars, then I think I can live with that.
There is a saying attributed to Ignatius Loyola in the fifteenth or sixteenth century 'Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man'. The reality is that if we choose to, we can all learn from experience and change and develop all the way through life, but there is more and more evidence to suggest that what happens to us in the first few years of our life, has a fundamental impact on our capabilities and capacities, opportunities and aspirations.
A recent report from Save the Children affirms that at three years old, disadvantaged children in the UK are almost one and a half years behind their more affluent peers in their language development, and that by the time they start school, almost half of them lack the basic skills required to make steady progress in education. A child with a good level of language development when they start school is six times more likely to attain the expected literacy level, and eleven times more likely to reach the expected maths level at the end of primary school.
Save the Children are challenging the government to promote parental engagement and provide better early years provision; and many of their programmes in the UK are designed to support children's early learning, but the church can also be a source of support for families who are struggling. Many churches already offer vital provision through foodbanks, but there is much more that they can do to help parents who are perhaps stressed and overwhelmed by circumstances at this important stage in their children's lives.
Even those families who might not be struggling financially often feel under pressure and unsure of how to deal with issues like: tantrums, limiting screen time, providing a 'moral compass', and preparing their child for school. Churches can provide the kind of support that extended families might not be able to with: listening ears, non-judgemental advice and signposting to various support agencies and resources.
The Diocese is putting together an information pack to help churches think through what you can do to support parents in their communities with a £50 voucher that can be redeemed towards resources for your chosen course of action.
More years ago than I care to admit, travelling around churches in the South East with our Dad, my brother and I used to do a sketch which opened with the line 'Hello, my name is... excuse me', where we would both introduce ourselves as the person who was introducing the next sketch, and then get cross with the other person who was saying the exact same thing. Maybe you had to be there, but the words still want to trip off my tongue, every time I introduce myself!
Hi, my name is Carolyn Edwards, and I am the Children and Youth Adviser for the Diocese of York.
I attended my first holiday club when I was just a few days old, and ever since then have been passionate about seeing the church engage with children and young people, and offer them the 'life in all its fullness' that Jesus promises.
In my teenage years, I worked alongside my Dad at Scripture Union camps and events. After university, I started volunteering at my church with the 11-14 year olds, something I did for nearly two decades, alongside developing ministry among 8-11s in our parish. When my children were small, I was part of the leadership of our parent and toddler group.
In 1999, I felt God calling me to full-time lay ministry with children and young people, particularly in schools. I gave up my work as a lecturer in marketing and started a diploma in Children's Evangelism and Nurture at Cliff College. I graduated in 2001, and then became a part-time member of the staff at Cliff. I also continued in my role as Children's Evangelist for my church in Aylesbury, and writing materials for Scripture Union.
I loved going in to schools to be part of assemblies and RE lessons. My favourite activity was the 'It's Your Move' programme where I took young people from the church into year six classes to help the pupils think about the move to secondary school, using Bible stories of Joseph or David. We did this for many years in many schools, and ended up giving out over 5000 'It's Your Move' books which had been paid for by local churches.
In 2005, I jointed the staff at Oxford CYM as a lecturer and Chaplain. I worked there for nine years, training youth workers and developing a degree in children's and family work. It was an enormous privilege to see people grow in confidence and good practice, transforming the churches' engagement with children and young people. I particularly enjoyed the pastoral side of my job and was honoured to stand alongside students as they ministered their way through some of life's hardest circumstances, whether their own, or those of the people they were working with.
My dissertation on children's spirituality for my MA in Applied Theology was published as 'Slugs and Snails and Puppy Dogs' Tails'. It has been very excting speaking on this subject, and others, around the UK and Europe.
I moved north four years ago to become a full-time member of the faculty at Cliff College, where I led the undergraduate programme in Mission and Ministry. The course has six specialist pathways including children, youth and families. It was an honour to watch committed, passionate people grow in their mission and ministry, and I very much look forward to doing the same thing in the York Diocese as we strive to be Jesus to, and grow our mission and ministry with children and young people in the area.