Gill Brentford says Youth A Part is a wake-up call
f the blessing of God and the wind of the Spirit are behind this report, it will have an impact regardless of its imperfections. Inevitably, as one who was involved in its production, I cannot be entirely objective. Also, I owe loyalty to the others on the committee, with whom it was a privilege and joy to work.
The needs of young people nation-wide are clamouring for attention. As the Bishop of Carlisle says in his introduction, “There needs to be a fresh start in developing creative partnerships with other agencies working in the same field, many of whom have high expectations of the Churches.” Schools are open for help with Assemblies, the police ask churches for help with community projects and local authorities are seeking help from Christian communities for writing curricula and all kinds of projects. (See Chapter 7).
I know that not everyone will read the entire report, but four chapters are particularly worth a look. There is also a good index and an excellent bibliography!
Youth Cultures and Theology (Chapters 1 & 2)
The heart of the Good News for young people and the call to discipleship are heartwarming and relevant. New forms of worship and church structure may be threatening, but they bring with them the dynamic wind of God’s Spirit to blow fresh life into the Church. As Graham Cray, the author of the theological chapter says, “It is the Holy Spirit acting through the next generation of leaders whom we must trust”.
This Easter, the media polls told us that over 50% of people in the UK did not know what Easter was celebrating. So knowledge of the Christian story can no longer be assumed. This has implications for every church service we plan (especially if we want to take account of anyone under twenty-five), for the language we use and for our ability to relate to a world which is becoming more and more alien to the one in which most of us grew up. For instance, how much trouble do any of us take to buy the magazines our seventeen year old daughters like to read?
Where are we, the Church, in all this? Where should we be? I believe the people we need to ask are the young people themselves.
Where is the Church in a world dominated by the new information and communications technology? The report highlights some crucial issues relating to how we understand our culture and relate it to our faith and to the faith journey of our young people. Christians of all churchmanships must address these, and soon. Both wings of the Church have so much to offer as the report highlights. For example, the exuberant life and zest of Spring Harvest and the deeply spiritual tranquility of Taize are reflected well in this report.
Youth Workers (Chapter 6)
Perhaps some of the best work of the committee lies in the examples of good practice scattered throughout the Report – they are in italics and worth scanning. The chapter on youth workers is essentially a resource giving guidelines and reminders of the opportunities and pitfalls in this area. Health and Safety and the Children Act are covered, as are many small, but important issues, such as insurance. Our responsibilities are clearly explained, as is the desire and need for training.
There is a growing and encouraging trend for Churches to employ their own Youth Workers. However, our research found that the use of terms of employment and support mechanisms were patchy. The help provided by this chapter is excellent.
The Recommendations (Chapter 9)
I hope that if you read nothing else, you will read the recommendations. In the committee, we shared a passionate desire to give a “wake up” call to the Christian Church. We shared a common vision to see all the core Churches in this country focusing love and attention on the young people in their parishes, spending time developing relationships, consulting them and empowering them. The recommendations on resources are not just about money: they are concerned about our “brain space.” How much thinking time, corporate attention and focus will we give to those under twenty-five? I was thrilled while writing this to be asked to speak to our PCC on the Report. When I discussed the possibility of the Parish doing an audit of youth work, our vicar warmed to the idea and immediately saw the benefits this could bring. I am not saying that it will be so easy everywhere, but surely we should try.
Other Areas of Interest
The nurture of faith, the spiritual journey, development of faith and some aspects of spirituality are covered. However, the report does not deal in depth with the issues of conversion or assurance of faith, for which so many young people are looking.
One of the strongest criticisms of the report that I have heard is that it does not give a “Gospel Message.” It leaves a feeling of a “bleak picture” in the reader’s mind. While that may be so for some, others need the harsh realities clearly stated. We need to face up to our failings, but also to take hope and heart from the many signs of life. Together we need to seek God’s help in finding the people with the vision and the resources to meet that need.
Relationships are a key
The report rightly focuses much attention on relationships. Mutuality, respect and real love and concern are seen to be the keys. There are many examples given of extending the opportunities to our young people for involvement in whichever kind of youth activity is appropriate for them. If a retreat is not suitable, maybe a camp or houseparty would be!
There is only a brief discussion of many areas of significant interest to young people, such as bullying, work and training, not having a job, homes and housing, drink and drugs, being a victim, family tensions and sexuality (but see p.7). These topics would make a wonderful series of talks for a congregation committed to understanding the needs of its young people.
The committee of twenty who wrote this report come from very diverse churchmanships, age ranges and backgrounds, but we shared a common passionate vision.
A vision for a Church which “takes young people seriously. It is a Church where young people participate fully and actively at every level. It is a Church which is built on good relationships, particularly where young people are concerned, not only with each other, but with those inside and outside the Church. It is a Church where there is a good theological understanding of why and how it goes about its work with young people. It is a Church which recognises that work of this quality needs resources and has the faith and courage to commit significant resources to the young people in the Church.”
Gill Brentford is lay chairman of the Chichester Diocesan Synod and a member of the General Synod.