Paul Williamson describes the continuing expansion of his youth ministry in Hanworth
I turned down St George’s, Hanworth, the first time Bishop John Hughes called me to take the parish. There were many holes in the roof, no flush toilet, no hall, no school, no heating, and no youth. The adults largely did not like children or want them in church. Those few who did want Sunday school and youth work gave of themselves and all they had to support a programme for young people, engage with them, and try to connect with them with the church.
We have provided boys and girls Beavers, Cubs, and Scouts, junior and senior youth club, a music group and Sunday school. There have been attempts at junior choir, servers’ club, and various other initiatives. At its peak there were over 30 Venture Scouts, more than 30 Beavers, a combined youth club of over 100, and we continue with Air Cadets and other uniformed groups, as well as the Scout group and youth club.
Central to this work was a series of expeditions and activity meetings, often on Dartmoor or in the Brecon Beacons. Twice we sailed a wooden ship to the Channel Islands, went whitewater rafting in Wales, Austria and Canada, pony trekking, cycling in Normandy and Sweden, and hiking in Germany and many other places. 27 Duke of Edinburgh Gold Awards were achieved.
Each event would either start with a Mass in church or include one as part of the week, and journeys started and ended with a prayer. Mass was said beside the Fraser River in Canada, beside Lake Siljan in Sweden, and many other places provided a memorable setting for the Holy Mysteries. Usually most adults and one-third to a half of young people were communicants.
Latterly, in the absence of older youth in great numbers, the 8–14 age range have enjoyed weeks in Norfolk, Wales and the Isle of Wight, with attendance of 30 plus 7 leaders. A wide range of adventurous activities, many of them in the water, have been provided at accredited activity centres. The circus, a pier show, fun-fair and go-karts have been enjoyed to the delight of all.
There are many tales to tell: memories of the UK’s muddiest assault course, of Fr Paul surfing, of copious amounts of ice cream, and of much derring-do and achievement by young people. The events have changed and guided their lives. Now, after 25 years, the time has come to put to so many the claims of Jesus Christ our saviour.A huge contact list has been prepared, a budget of £12,000 drawn up with nearly £2,000 raised by Easter. There will be mail shots four or five times, banners and publicity, an activity week in Wales (already funded by the Lottery), a Youth Fest Day outing to Hastings, a day pilgrimage to Walsingham, and a thanksgiving in the Autumn.
At the centre of the mission will be three special Masses with Bishop Rod of Maidstone (Reform and Church Society), the Archdeacon of Middlesex, and Bishop Timothy Bavin of Alton Abbey. They will explain the wonders of our faith: the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity, and the Holy Communion. Each service will have refreshments such as barbecue or buffet luncheon.
There will be a concerted visiting period to actually go to the homes of young people, and at this time a general leaflet with a response form will be delivered to every home in the parish, advertising an open day as well as weekday events and small meetings.
We are hoping to produce some leaflets to give away on the major sacraments and Christian life, specially written to suit our situation. All young people attending will be given a free New Testament.
The follow-up will continue for a year, by which time we pray that our new youth centre and our new church school will be rising. We hope all this will serve the young people of future generations, not least by passing on the torch of faith for them to take up and pass to others. Please pray for us at this time. Thank you.
Fr Paul Williamson is Parish Priest of St George’s Hanworth.