Ronald Crane explains how the Forward in Faith Youth Event has gone from strength to strength

SHEEPDIP. It is a funny name for a Youth Festival. One priest who works in a farming parish insisted that he could not send anyone to anything called ‘Sheepdip’. It appears that dipping sheep – the real thing, not the youth festival – is a highly toxic substance. Many farm workers have been seriously hurt using sheepdip.

We called out youth festival SHEEPDIP because I would not allow my teenage daughter to call it….something else! It’s just a name, a funny name. However, it occurs to me that unless sheep are dipped, or treated in some other way, they are liable to contact all sorts of nasty diseases. Now, unless we are dipped regularly in the Scriptures, the Creeds and the Fathers of the Church, we too are liable to contract serious diseases – like liberalism!

Two years ago we held the first SHEEPDIP here in Birmingham. It was just for local teenagers. Last year the second SHEEPDIP was for teenagers from all over the West Midlands. SHEEPDIP later this year is for teenagers from all over England, and as Birmingham is roughly in the centre of the country, that seemed as good a place to hold it as any.

Gathering from about 6.00pm on Friday evening for registration, everyone has to find their way about. Upon arrival everyone is given a pack of information, map, timetable, menu and a copy of the first edition of the youth festival newspaper ‘The Gazette’. A strange place; new people; it’s all very odd. Having found our way to the bedroom and sorted out our stuff, it is time for the opening worship; a simple mixture of prayers and praises, easy to sing songs, and plenty of things to look at. Supper follows, and then each workshop leader has five minutes for a commercial. ‘Come to my workshop, because it will be the best workshop ever!’ is how many leaders approach this. Not Fr. Peter Green. He said, ‘Yes, they are right. The other workshops will all be better than mine. Go to the other ones!’ Needless to say, his workshop – the Drama one – was crowded out! Some ‘getting to know you’ and ‘getting to know the place’ games are on offer before bed at midnight. The Coffee Shop is open all the time, except bed-time.

Saturday morning begins with the chance to have a shower, and the Workshops begin at 9.00am. There are lots of workshops on offer, all in creative subjects. Drama, Art and Music (both church and secular) are always popular; but we can also offer things like poetry, mime and dance. The teenagers choose which one to attend. Mass is at noon, and lunch at one. Saturday afternoon is semi-free time. Swimming can be arranged, but most opt to go abseiling! After tea, Evening Prayers and an opportunity for Confession, some preparation time, and then the Saturday evening Disco.

The pattern on Sunday is similar to Saturday. After Lunch its time to pack, before Benediction and off home. Many new friendships are forged, old ones renewed and deepened. The energy surrounding so many teenagers all gathered in one place generates its own atmosphere. But when all is done in the name of Our Lord it is an exciting weekend.

There are lots of problems with any Youth Festival. The first evening is always chaotic, the food never satisfies everyone. But all in all a good time is had by all our SHEEPDIP teenagers. After all, some of them come back year after year!

SHEEPDIP this year is being held at St Alban’s, Conybere Street, Birmingham, both Church and School. We have space of 150 teenagers. To book places, just write to the SHEEPDIP Office, or to Forward in Faith. Make sure that all the teenagers you know book places at SHEEPDIP.

We need teenagers – of course we do – but we also need youth leaders. To volunteer contact the SHEEPDIP Office. The workshops on offer depend on what skills our adults make available. If you could organised a workshop in any creative subject please contact us!

SHEEPDIP is from Friday, October 4 to Sunday, October 6, 1996 the cost is £15 per person. This covers everything except your travel to and from Birmingham. It is for teenagers, minimum age 13 years. There is no upper age limit!

Ronald Crane is Vicar of St. Mark’s, Washwood Heath, Birmingham and Regional Dean of Mercia.