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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.