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As I settled into this first year of my curacy, I began to realise that the group of six 11–16-year-olds, known as ‘Ignite’ had ceased to meet for fun and fellowship since the first lockdown last year. The launch of ‘Children of Light’ across our diocese seemed to be the perfect opportunity to re-launch provision at St Nicholas however, being 53 years old I did wonder if I was too old to rejuvenate the younger members of our church and that perhaps I was not the ideal person to be taking this on. However, the previous leaders were snowed under with work and other commitments and I felt I needed to try and do something. If it wasn’t for the inspiration and dedication of the youth leaders when I was a teenager, I feel certain I would not have discovered the difference that a faith in Jesus Christ can make. I am greatly indebted to them and feel sure that I would not be doing what I am doing today if it wasn’t for their loving service, prayer and encouragement in my most formative years. It is for this reason that I feel so passionate about youth ministry. So, I needed to do something.
I contacted Carolyn Edwards who encouraged me and inspired me to get started, giving me some ideas of how I could do this in the middle of a lockdown. My enthusiasm was awakened, I was buzzing and couldn’t wait to get going!
The first session was a Zoom Party night! Each youngster received a party bag in advance of the session packed with goodies and treats and we spent an hour together playing daft games involving Hula Hoops and After Eights to name but a few. They must have enjoyed it because when I asked if they would like to continue these sessions they unanimously agreed. We talked about the sorts of things they would like to do over Zoom and we agreed that for the next two sessions (one a month for now) we would experience an online Escape Room. I found some Christian based Escape Rooms (www.churchyouthministry.com) that took us on a virtual tour of the world with many clues, puzzles and riddles to solve. The goody bags were delivered to each of the youngsters again in advance of each session. This time they were labelled ‘Survival Bags’ rather than party bags.
For the May session we have been able to meet live and we had a treasure hunt around the village followed by a BBQ (in the wind and rain!) Meeting live, and now knowing the youngsters a little better, we ended the BBQ with a short reflection. Hopefully, this is the beginning of seed sowing and planting that will hopefully bear fruit in the future. This is my prayer for them.
We are looking forward to more sessions together and I am delighted that the group has grown, and three more youngsters have joined us. I am finding the sessions life-giving, and I am looking forward to what the youngsters will teach me as I continue to grow and journey in my faith.
As I walked through the door of the Boulevard Breakfast club in Hull I was greeted by joyful children playing. I went through to the hall where families were gathered around tables finishing off their breakfast, and chatting quietly. The smell of toast filled the air. I sat with Rich, the Director of HullYFC who co-ordinate this project, chatting to a year six boy who was intent on dragging out his last mouthfuls so that he didn't have to head off to school for more SATS practice. Suddenly the whole place was alive with noise and movement as the hands on the clock showed it was time to get coats on, and then eerily quiet as everyone headed off to school.
This breakfast club has been a place of safety, welcome, food and community for families for twenty years, and Anna, the CMS Mission Partner who is part of the team, told me that some of the children who first came along are now returning with their own children. The area of Hull that the Boulevard is in, has been an area of high deprivation ever since the fishing industry was decimated, but the breakfast club is about more than just providing food. For Rich, it is a place where relationships are built and the thriving youth club which meets on Wednesday evenings is full of young people who learned to trust the team at breakfast club... "it might feel like sitting and eating toast with someone is a small thing, but it can make a massive difference".
As we were talking a volunteer from one of the CofE churches in Hull came out in his pinny to greet me. It is people like him and his wife, who had been beavering away in the kitchen when I arrived, that enable projects like this to carry on, along with the steadfast giving of a loyal supporter base. It hasn't always been easy with the sometimes inevitable tensions between unconditional social action and discipleship that leads to church membership, but I think the secret of the longevity of the project is found in the desire to "stay rooted and consistent, and also be flexible".
Breakfast can be a stressful time in any household and often when there are additional pressures, including financial worries or ill-health, it can be the meal that gets missed, despite research that proves it is the most important meal of the day for children who are heading to school. What a privilege to be able to be part of that most important meal, and provide space for families that mitigate some of those life stresses. It is a big commitment but Hull YFC have proved that it is possible not only to be there, but also to be there for the long haul.
As my visit drew to a close we dreamed dreams. At present the breakfast club only meets during term time: what might it look like for this space to be available throughout the holidays too? What transformation might we see in our communities if this hospitality was replicated across the city and indeed across the Diocese? One of the last things Jesus did on earth was have breakfast on the beach with his disciples, I am pretty sure that he loves being present at breakfast at the Boulevard.
If you live in Hull and want to volunteer why not get in touch with Rich. Or contact Andy Dorton, Chair of the Exec and the CofE Social Responsibility Officer for Hull and East Riding to talk about what you can do to support this project or develop your own. If you think that something like this might be a way of engaging with children and their families in your area, then email firstname.lastname@example.org
“Why on earth did I volunteer for this?”, was the thought repeating in my head as I made my way to St. Mary’s church in Boston Spa on a July evening this year. I was on my way to attend an introductory meeting for volunteers about the forthcoming children’s holiday club week, which was being run at the end of July.
“Working with children is NOT your thing”, I told myself as I pulled into the church car park, feeling rather sorry for myself.
“It’s not too late – you could just go home and give it up as a bad idea,...” came the voice of temptation, “...after all, children’s work is best left to those who know what they are doing, to those with a ‘calling’ in that area.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like children, I do, it’s just that I’ve always felt I don’t relate to them very well, and I don’t have the ‘knack’ of communicating effectively with them – or so I thought. As a result I’ve tended to avoid children’s work throughout my ‘church’ life, and although I have been involved in many summer youth camps over the years, my involvement has usually been on the practical, logistical side of things, e.g. in the kitchen or driving a minibus etc.
So why on earth was I now about to step well outside of my comfort zone by volunteering for 5 days of holiday club? Part of my motivation was a sense of obligation. My two grandsons who live in the village have been regular attenders at the holiday club over the past few years, so I felt it was right to ‘give something back’ in that regard. Another reason is that I fully support the aims and purpose behind it, to teach children something about God in an interesting and enjoyable environment – all the more important in the current climate with so many families having no or little church connection. However, the third and most important factor in my decision to get involved was a challenge issued to everyone in my church to get out of their ‘comfort zone’ in God’s service. Throughout this year our ‘Stepping Out’ theme has encouraged all of us to do something different, to take a ‘step of faith’ (Matthew 14:28-33) by engaging in areas beyond our normal routine, so when the call went out for holiday club helpers I found myself volunteering in the most involuntary manner!
I have to say the introductory meeting went some way to assuaging my fears. I was welcomed by Kate and Phil who jointly organise the event, and I was reassured by seeing some familiar faces, as well as meeting some lovely new people. Kate explained everything about the week in a very thorough and informative presentation, and there was an opportunity to chat afterwards and ask any further questions. I felt the meeting gave me a great deal of confidence regarding planning and organisation of the holiday club, although I was still nursing a few doubts about my own capability in terms of relating to the kids.
So I was still feeling a bit apprehensive when I rocked up a few weeks later for the fateful day – the opening Monday of the club. I was very pleased to be part of a team of three looking after our group, with Judith (a veteran of many holiday clubs), and Juliet (an experienced Sunday school teacher), so I immediately felt more at ease. We had about 10 or so children in our group of primary school age. We also had a couple of young teenagers acting as assistants, so there was plenty of support to call on. Both Kate and Phil were on hand if any advice or guidance was needed, so I felt very re-assured.
Everything was carefully planned, with every resource and all materials available to hand. The theme for the week was one of travel, with the kids ‘visiting’ a different country every week as we made our way across Europe. There were games, activities, quizzes, singing, bible study, and more games! My two experienced colleagues were very supportive, and I soon found myself relaxing and getting fully involved, and before I knew it the first day was over – and I had survived!
The next day was even better, and I found I was getting to know the kids better and engaging with them in a relaxed and easy manner, and to my great surprise I discovered I was actually having fun! I was enjoying it! I can truthfully say that it just got better day by day, and I was genuinely disappointed when it came to an end on Friday.
It was a great five days. It was so good to see children having fun and learning about Jesus. I learned a great deal about myself, not least that I CAN relate well to children and engage with them. I learned that it is a good thing to ‘step out’ and stretch oneself beyond our comfortable norms, and that doing so can bring great rewards. Above all I think, I discovered what a blessing it is to work with Christians from different traditions, in what was a demonstration of true Christian unity. I think Jesus would approve – does approve!
Greetings from Bishop Christian Alsted and members of congregations from Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland and Denmark at the Called 2 Change conference in Talinn, Estonia.
I had the enormous privilege of being part of the team delivering training for church leaders and key members of their congregations from United Methodist Churches from around the Baltic Sea. The purpose of the conference, which happens every few years, was to think about what needs to change in order to be mission shaped churches of the twenty first century.
Very similar to our LYCIG (Lead Your Church Into Growth) events, there were keynote speeches and training tracks along with scheduled times for churches to work out what the input means for them.
I have never been to Estonia before, and was a bit apprehensive about what to expect, especially when the queue at Gatwick airport on Thursday evening was populated mainly with groups of men all clearly heading off to stag weekends! I needn’t have been worried. As always, the Europeans command of English is humbling, and the hospitality at the conference centre was fantastic - even if I did have to ask people what the delicious thing I was eating actually was! The old town in Talinn is delightfully medieval, having survived World War Two pretty much in-tact, which is unusual for a European city. On Friday night the Bishop treated us to dinner in a traditional restaurant, complete with staff in medieval costume and sword fights.
This is Rev Anne Thompson, who was running the sessions with me. She was one of my students at Cliff College and is now leading the Children’s Ministry Certificate in Denmark. On Friday morning a new book was launched at the conference. This is the first book specifically written by and for people working with children and young people in the Nordic states, and Anne was delighted to have two chapters in it. It is so exciting to see how Anne has taken the faith development model I developed for Scripture Union some years ago, and used it to help churches nurture faith in children and young people in the contexts they are working in.
During our sessions we gave participants the opportunity to think through different biblical perspectives on children taken from Marcia Bunge’s book The Child in Christian Thought. It was thrilling to see the impact of discussing the both/and of the theological perspectives Bunge identifies: children as gifts from God; children as sinners who have fallen short; children as in need of instruction; and children as models of faith. For many this was the first time they had had the opportunity to think theologically about their work with children, and it was encouraging to hear, in the reflections at the end of the sessions, how they were going to use their new understanding to change the way that they do things back home.
We also offered practical tools for facilitating the flourishing of children’s spirituality and to help them to grow in knowledge and love of God. We considered the ‘Spiritual Connections’ that I cover in my book Slugs and Snails and Puppy Dogs’ Tails – Helping Boys Connect with God which include things like risk, humour, nature, silence and service. Here we are running through the ‘Active prayer’. Despite what it looks like, it is a fantastic tool for helping children to ‘exercise their silent muscle’ and spend time listening to God.
Here, I am doing a breakfast tutorial with Maria Thaarup, a trainee minister who also contributed to Anne’s book. Maria is doing her BA dissertation on young people and holiness. What is frustrating for her, is that so many of the resources, both academic and practical, emanate from the UK and the US. She is determined that her work will contribute to the growing body of contextualised understanding and practice.
As I said goodbye to the Bishop, he remarked how attendance at one of our sessions had inspired him to prioritise the church’s work with children. So I left Estonia both, determined to go back and explore it at leisure, and feeling really hopeful. Excited that people like Anne and Maria will continue to develop all that has been learnt so far about children’s spirituality and faith development, and be instrumental in a complete transformation of the church’s engagement with children and young people across the Nordic and Baltic States.
This year for our Holiday Club we had a travel theme!
With 70 children enrolled, 20 young helpers and 14 adult leaders and helpers too, we had a great time, looking at the stories about Jesus’ last week with his Disciples before his crucifixion and resurrection. Each story gave children the opportunity to see what Jesus was sent to do and, and invited them to join him in their own journey.
We transformed the church for the week with scenery and with decorations of flags and bunting, with some beautiful artwork created for each city we visited by one of our Young Life leaders, Anna Martin.
Each day the children had the choice of creating a craft (which ranged from candles to seaside mobiles, personalised backpacks to garden wreaths and pizza plates). In 'Hostels', with their Hostel Tour Leaders, the children were encouraged to explore the day’s bible story in more detail, and also had some time for prayer.
During the two front led sessions each day, we warmed up with a dance routine led by our Cabin Crew. We had games, quizzes, bible story-telling and time for prayer. We also enjoyed a messy challenge each day, and the Games Arena allowed time for some boisterous games to let off some steam!
Our daily drama – Bus Tour, told the story of a reality show with competitors on a bus tour. This was put on by our teenage helpers and was very popular with everyone!
Our Memory Verse for the week was Mark 10:45
“The Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve.
The Son of Man came to give his life to save many people.”
The week was a big success, and it was all down to the fantastic teamwork of so many helpers. We were delighted to work with the Kings Church (who provided a good number of our team leaders and helpers) and Methodist Church again too. Thanks to everyone that was involved – in whatever way big or small – a great team effort, this is one of our biggest mission outreach activities of the year, and also provides a valued service to local young families.
And here’s a lovely note I received from a parent after the week:
“I just wanted to pass on my thanks for such a fantastic week last week.
My child came home each day so excited about his fun morning, teaching me how to say hello in lots of different languages, singing songs, and totally brimming with enthusiasm about what he had been doing.
I can only imagine the effort and hard work that goes into organising the week, so wanted to pass on thanks to the whole team. What blessed children they are to have people so interested in them, and who want to pass on the message in such a positive way. Thank you!”
Mental health issues in children and young people are something we cannot ignore, but many of us feel ill-equipped to deal with them, not knowing quite what to say or where to start. But... the church can make an enormous difference, by supporting families in a variety of ways, and walking alongside those who are struggling. For instance, babysitting for a single parent so that they can have a peaceful walk or swim; doing some ironing for stressed working parents so that they have more time to take their child to appointments or sit with their unhappy teenager. Things like this can be a lifeline where family life is under pressure, and the feelings of not knowing where to turn make everything seem worse.
Poor mental health is revealed in a whole range of symptoms, some of which are harder to deal with than just being a listening ear, and so the Diocese have arranged training on mental health issues this September for anyone wanting to support children, young people and their families in their parish.
Giving every child the best start in life makes a massive difference, not only to their experiences during childhood and adolescence but also to their resilience and mental health in adulthood. And yet local authorities spend, on average, 6% of their mental health budget on children . Social media and screen time are often blamed, and these are significant factors, but according to a recent report from Barnados a child’s mental health and well-being is predominately determined by their socio-economic conditions, and the lifestyle, behaviour and values of their peers and family members.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness have been identified as common causes of poor mental health. These can often be exacerbated by things like geographic isolation in rural contexts, or poverty. You don’t have to be cool and trendy to spend some time listening to a young person or paying attention to a child. You don’t have to be able and active to support those who are called and qualified to work with children and young people, with your prayers and finance. Holiday clubs and ‘Feast of Fun’ events are great ways of connecting with children and their families. But even if your church doesn’t have the resources to organise something like that, something like a monthly evening for young people to gather and eat pizza can provide an opportunity for connection, laughter and building relationships. This can help young people feel that they matter and that somebody is interested in what they have to say. It can also be a place where you can signpost helpful resources for those that need them.
It would be easy to feel overwhelmed with the scale of the issue, particularly in areas where healthcare resources are difficult to access, or where poverty can exacerbate problems, but there are a variety of things that we can all do:
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.
Please email email@example.com to receive your pack