Last Thursday, along with one of my Bishops, I was at the Regeneration Summit organised by Mark Russell (Church Army) and Robin Rolls (Archbishop of Yorks Youth Trust) and then facilitated by Sam Follett and Team (a great bunch of passionate young adults) . . .
The day kicked off at 9.30am with GREAT refreshments! Copious amounts of coffee, pastries etc. The cavenous space of St Thomas, Sheffield (Philadelphia Campus) was the venue . . . . (see picture below):
I put on my badge and opened my pack of stuff received at registration . . . . immediately I noticed that I had a job! As a youth worker, I was to facilitate a small group (in my case consisting of a bunch of young adults, a Bishop and Helen Crawford – works on Youthwork Magazine, amongst other things . . . )
Well, we kicked off with a nice and brief welcome from Mark Russell, who handed straight over to Sam Follett – and he and team did a great job of keeping the day going, hosting, linking the various bits . . .
Sam led into ++ Rowan, who spoke briefly . . . just by way of introduction really, I noted a couple of things, so will repeat them here (note, paraphrase of what ++Rowan said): “Freezing the Church at 17 is just as stupid as doing that at 61 . . . God is never finished (I interpret that as, never finished with us as individuals, and never finshed with the Church . . .); “God acts first, he starts stuff, he gets everything going . . . . ” (God initiates . . . how do we respond to Gods invitation?) and, the big one in terms of statements that need thinking about . . . “think yourself back to the church before the church” . . . (this is really important! If “tradition”, what we literally “pass on” to the next generation has to be “filtered” through our prejudices, perspectives, wings of the church, experiences . . . and then has “additives” to contend with – worship styles, the “way” we do Eucharist, the “way” we pray, the “way” we see Church as “services on a Sunday morning” . . . do we actually have a good GRASP of what the church is, and how we should “be” as the people of God?) . . . .
After Rowan we moved into a time of group work . . . 21 groups in all, I was faciliatating the wonderful group 7. A newish Bishop from Lichfield Diocese (Geoff Annas) and a bunch of 7 students (from a variety of universities in the north . . . ) . . . we (the three *not young adults*) tried to keep our own input to a minimum – those of you who know me will know this would have taken considerable effort . . .
The group were articulate, passionate and new what they lliked and did not like about being part of the Church. Key things that they felt were important about church . . . . how it should be:
- community. They all spoke about how important this was, it was the glue, for them that enabled them to worship, be discipled etc.
- peer groups. For most, having a significant peer group made a real difference to their faith as it has developed.
- integenerational. They all felt that the Church needs to be intergenerational, they valued the times when everyone was together and thought this should happen more.
- the opportunity to DO something. A number of the group spoke about how they (or a friend) had been drawn to faith – in the first instance – by following the example of others and getting stuck in with a social action project / street pastors type stuff etc.
- Demonstration and proclaimation. This was focused on when we spoke about evangelism and they group were clear that it was “BOTH AND” not “either or”.
Videos were produced from each group (a minute each) . . . and we were told they should be available about 10 days after the event . . . so by Monday next week?
We broke for lunch having not done half of what was on my “facilitators sheet”, there was too much shoved into the time in that sense . . . . but lunch was great, huge sandwiches . . . . !
More worship, input from ++ Sentamu. I was relying on twitter hashtag for the summit to throw in some quotes from Sentamu, but cannot get them . . . the gist was – God has always used the young – so take risks and go for it!
All in all, a good day . . . certainly, the young people who attended were inspired and encouraged – just being listened to is incredibly empowering.
In Chichester Diocese – endevaouring to empower, equip, and if they are not in the church . . . engage young people is part of what my department is here for. We are hosting an event on 8th April called “Gifted”, with youth groups coming from across the Diocese to worship, share together and get excited about what they have to offer the Church right now . . . we are also asking them some questions about how they feel being in the Church and what they think their place is within it – their undiluted answers will be relayed to Bishops Staff, Bishops Council and Diocesan Synod . . . the key to anything developing and “regeneration” actually happening is local churches engaging with local young people . . . . no national summit is going to achieve this – though, if it proves to be a catalyst for others then it will have been a spark that potentially sets us alight with a passion to reach, nurture, equip and send out this generation . . . .
- National or Local? We had a national event last week, with people from all over the country BUT – it was not representative of young people (mostly white, well educated, very articulate and passionately interested in the Church) . . . it is encouraging, but these young people do not represent a majority of young people in the Church and we need to think of far more radical things than a “Summit” to engage those who are IN our churches but disengaged, never mind those who we are yet to meet . . . . every part of this country is unique – with a uniqe church dynamic and unique local issues, groups, tribes, rural, urban, places with opportunity and places with none. A national scandal (average age is 61, we are wrinking and shrinking) needs a locally driven, locally adopted strategy of engagement – resourced locally, and aimed at deanery / parish level.
- The missing Link? It was great to have 150 passionate young adults together with a bunch of Bishops who could hear, first had, some of the joys and frustrations of being in the church today. However, part of the reason for the summit (I thought) was to ask some challenging questions about how the Church needs to change, how do we become more radical . . . . it seemed ironic that we sat in the Philadelphia Campus of a church in Sheffield that has been very effective at reaching young people and young adults . . . regularly attracting as many of them to a single service as there were young delegates at our national Summit! Yet, we did not hear from ANYONE who is – week in week out – growing a local church that works well with young people. It is great for young people to say what works from their perspective AND for Bishops to hear it – but every local church has significant autonomy in terms of practice . . . there needs to be a way of drawing in to this conversations youth workers (again, many of us who were present at the Summit in this capacity, were “advisers” ABOUT youth work . . . not COALFACE people anymore . . . , unless my colleagues have time to do that too!) and Church leaders who – ordinarily – might be too busy getting on with Kingdom stuff in their community to engage with a Diocese . . . but WE NEED THEIR INPUT. Our place should be to broker the kind of meetings, conversations that our “view across a Diocese” allows . . . not to LEAD stuff ourselves, but do all we can to see where God is working and point others to these best practice examples . . . .
- Communication and Translation across the whole Church. Whilst we had communion to close the day, the rest of the content, worship etc was what (for want of a better description) I would call “mainstream evangelical” . . . it is my prefered way of worshipping and drawing near to God, but it is NOT for everyone . . . and it felt to me that on the day last week there were very few Anglo-Catholics . . . I do not know where the place is to do this, but we need a deeper conversation about what it means to be a Christian in the Church today if (as the one Anglo-Catholic young man in our group articualted it) you feel that others in the Church (and his reference point for this was the Christian Union at his University “hates you” . . . the issues we have as adults are being passed on (as in any family) to the next generation. Where do we go with this? This young man was clearly hurting . . . I do not know if he found it a productive conversation, but as we had the Arbishop of Canterbury sat nearby, our group Bishop went and introduced him and he sat for 15 minutes sharing his concerns with ++Rowan. He was heard . . . but, institutionally, we have some significant things to work through . . . what kind of church will this generation inherit from us? What we COMMUNICATE is often lost on young adults – who feel the pain – but do not understand WHY certain things in the Church are happening . . . can we TRANSLATE this stuff in a way that the differences and challenges are understood. . . . ? Linked with this dilema is an added dynamic – when asked, whether they would call themselves “Anglican” – none of our young people would, they all saw themselves as Christians . . . or simply followers of Christ. Do we need to “bring them up to speed” on what it means to be Anglican? Or – do we need to focus more on what it means to be Christian and re-discover an ecumenism with real power and drive . . . it is possible for there to a united Church witness in our country to this generation of young people and young adults?
Whatever we do or do not do . . . . NOTHING is only an option if we are not fussed about whether there is a church AT ALL in the future (in this country) or not.