Young People: The Church of TODAY

‘Child Samuel and Eli’ by Branston

In the second of two posts on children’s and youth ministry (https://allthingslawfulandhonest.wordpress.com/2020/07/03/seen-and-not-heard/), Clare Williams argues that intergenerational communities are vital to the Church, and highlights the disparities in our provision for children and older youth. She indicates the undervaluing of youth work in the pandemic context, and stresses the crucial need for children’s and youth ministry to be regarded, properly, as a vocation.

The importance of building intergenerational communities

Next to worship, churches of course also provide fellowship for all ages. Another measure of a healthy church is one which welcomes well and creates a sense of belonging. Through connections created online – which may have engaged some for the first time – this has given us something further to reflect upon: “through Zoom, church members’ milestones are also being celebrated… and happy birthdays are being sung to the young, the old and every age in between. People even spoke about the window Zoom gave them to the homes of their church friends.”(1)

This ‘window’ into the homes of others may be impossible to replicate when church communities return to buildings. However, the scaffolding of intergenerational communities still needs to be provided. It is in this multi-age setting that the faith of both old and young is best nurtured. Building this kind of community within both worship and fellowship is vital, so perhaps Zoom coffee mornings are here to stay.

In addition to this, we should reflect on what opportunities we offer for all ages to learn together – do we have a segregated or intergenerational approach? Is there space for both? “Many churches’ response to this situation – if they have the resources – is to replicate Sunday and midweek activities online. These continue to take a compartmentalised approach: Zoom sessions for youth groups; services and sermons aimed primarily at adults; and a plethora of special activities for children.”(2) Where is it helpful to provide age-appropriate discipleship opportunities? And where are there possibilities for intergenerational learning to take place?

The need to prioritise youth work 

When lockdown began towards the end of March my social media feeds were flooded with resources for children’s work – both new material and previously available material being made free. While this has dissipated somewhat as time has gone on, this was the virtual equivalent of the best ‘marketplace’ I’ve ever browsed at a workshop or conference. It highlights the enthusiasm about children’s work that exists within an active number of paid and volunteer workers. This is a wonderful thing and one which needs to be acknowledged, built on and celebrated. What it also shows, however, is the disparity between the volume of resources and workers/volunteers involved in youth work compared with children’s work.

As ever, the youth work sector remains under-resourced and prioritised, despite the fact that the wellbeing of young people is much more likely to have suffered under these conditions, and that the need for pastoral and spiritual support is increasing, rather than decreasing, among the young people of this nation. With questions about financing the Church for the future, how can we ensure that resources for youth work and paid youth ministers are a part of that future?

The need to recognise children’s and youth ministry as a vocation

We have seen the lament of clergy who have been unable to function in the normal way, yet there has been little coverage of children’s and youth ministers, for whom this time must have involved a similar lament – being separated from the creative and relational interactions with children and young people they are so used to as part of their life and ministry. It is my conclusion that the absence of lament heard from these voices is because they are so often not empowered to see their ministry as a vocation.

The other side to this story is the immediate furloughing of children’s and youth workers, again in opposition to the overall treatment of clergy. Out of 184 salaried children’s and youth workers recently surveyed, 25% were on furlough with a further 5% seeing either furlough or redundancy as a likely outcome. While recognising the financial strain the Church has been under, I do have to question the priorities implied by furloughing children’s and youth workers in this way.

Finally, there will be an enormous task for society, churches and many other organisations as they seek to rebuild community in a new way from now on. All of our lives will have been changed and affected by the pandemic; in the lives of children and young people at such formative stages there are likely to be even more lasting effects. Those involved in ministry with children and young people are going to have a vital part to play.

Conclusions

For many, these points may simply reinforce previously held beliefs, but there may be others for whom this perspective has raised something new. However, all of us have been functioning in new and different ways and can learn from that. So, this is a natural point to consider how we move forward as the Church. It is my prayer that this will be a moment for the Church to re-evaluate children’s and youth ministry. Key in this will be:

  • Not losing sight of the new insights we have gained about faith in the home
  • Redressing the balance of online and offline provision
  • Learning from our experiences about engaging everyone in all-age worship
  • Taking forward an intergenerational approach to worshipping communities
  • Raising the priority of youth work in our churches 
  • Recognising and supporting those who have a vocation in children’s and youth ministry by valuing and increasing its workforce

Clare Williams is a youth worker and editor of ROOTS children’s and young people’s resources.

Notes
1)  Tori Smit, ‘Some thoughts on the inclusion of children and youth in online worship’ (May 2020) LINK
2) Ali Campbell, ‘Faith in the home is not just for the pandemic’, Church Times (8 May 2020)

2 thoughts on “Young People: The Church of TODAY

  1. Prior to March I had attended services at about a third of the national stock. Whilst not all were representative of any given congregation, enough were. I concluded that <1% had viable congregations. The absence of anyone at all between about 10 and 50 was excruciating.

    The want of investment in youth work – by that I mean those in their teens and twenties – almost everywhere, has been devastating. I could attend services at 100 churches and almost never see anyone in their teens.

    Whilst youth attendance was fading fast before 1993, the liberalisation of Sunday trading, and the rapid rise of other Sunday morning activities, led quickly to the disappearance of anyone not of mature years from almost all churches. The implications of this were not realised or fully understood for some time. This was an inexcusable oversight.

    It was in the wake of 1993 that there needed to be a a massive investment in youth engagement.

    This did not occur. Instead, the blunder was compounded in 1997 when Synod reformed clergy pensions, pushing the entire, and increasing, weight of prospective accruals onto the parishes via the parish share system.

    Therefore, at just the point at which it became essential for the Church to invest in the future or face death, the decision was made to divert that capital to the past. As the weight of post-1998 accruals increases with every passing year, less and less is left for investment at the parish level. All the while the Commissioners congratulate themselves on their success (how could they fail when their success is underwritten by the parishes?), and give certain favoured communities dollops of cash from time to time as part of the ill-conceived R&R.

    It is for this strategic reason, above all, that I consider Synodical government worse than useless, and that the Church – taken as a whole – to be institutionally incompetent. Whenever it really matters, Synod can be relied upon to fail.

    As Ms Williams has noted, the Church's mishandling of the virus has provided further evidence of this incompetence.

    Like

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