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Don’t talk down to them

20 November 2015

New styles of youth spirituality need careful thought, says Ronni Lamont

Reaching Young People: New ideas for youth
Alex Taylor, editor
BRF £8.99 (978-0-85746-248-0)
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (Use code CT692)

The Teenage Prayer Experiment Notebook
Miranda and Noah Threlfall-Holmes
SPCK £9.99 (978-0-281-07257-6)
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT692)

THOSE of us working in the area of children’s and youth ministry always welcome stories of success, when success means relating to, befriending, and working alongside children and young people rather than imposing ideas on them from above. Neither of these books addresses that sacred concept of people in pews, but both are about enabling children and young people to explore their spirituality, to form, or build on, a real relationship with God.

Reaching Young People is a collection of ten accounts of ministries in which the writers clearly saw positive outcomes in terms of relationships between them and the young people, as well as with the young people and their wider community and context.

The accounts are diverse, ranging from “Trashy Church” (a type of Messy Church, with an industrial village’s group of young people) to “Hanging Around Ministry” (incarnational ministry) or “Wide Open” (working with teenagers with additional needs). Each chapter contains an account of the method or ministry, reflection on how and why it worked in that context, and some guidelines for those thinking of emulating that ministry.

The Teenage Prayer Experiment Notebook is taken from a blog telling the story of how a mother and son experimented with different types of prayer to widen the concept of what prayer might be for a teenage self-confessed nerd. So we have Noah, 13 at the time, trying out 15 prayer ideas suggested by Miranda, and reflecting, with others, on how effective he found them.

I lent the book to two friends. Becky is 17, Elly is 13, and they told me what they thought. Neither liked the design, saying it looked too young for them, more suitable for Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11); but both enjoyed the contents, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. They especially liked the variety, and each preferred different chapters — which reflects the reviews already in the book.

But Becky was not so keen on the peer reviews: they felt a bit like padding; and Elly also thought the book was a bit wordy. She would have liked permission to go further: for example, in the session of prayer with your body, she went on to use dance as prayer. The different methods are all for individuals rather than for corporate prayers, but they could be adapted.

Books that encourage prayer styles are to be welcomed. This would be helpful for anyone trying to break away from more traditional prayer. I can see those who work with children and young people dipping into it for inspiration.

I have already alluded to the design of the books. It seems you either notice it a lot, or not at all; but several found the “down with the kids” design off-putting, and requested books for young people that are just books, not attempts to market a certain concept of “young person”. Publishers, please take note.


The Revd Ronni Lamont is Faith and Nurture Adviser for the diocese of Canterbury.

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