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General Synod: youth evangelism

01 March 2019


Mark Russell introduces the debate

Mark Russell introduces the debate

A MOTION seeking to encourage youth evangelism, and urging help for Christian parents in passing on faith to their children, was carried by the General Synod on Saturday.

Introducing the debate on his motion, Mark Russell (Sheffield) spoke of the mission work that the Archbishop of York had led in the Northern Province. Evangelism wasn’t about preventing the extinction of the Church, but about calling people to the gospel. “Evangelism leads to changed lives. Changed lives changes live, changed lives changes communities,” he said.

In his 14 years on the Synod, he couldn’t remember having debated youth evangelism. He said that 95 per cent of churches had fewer than 25 young people in them. More than half, he estimated, had no teenagers. Changing this was crucial for the Church, but also for God’s Kingdom.

He thanked diocesan youth officers, and those who supported them. He said: “Church Army’s research into evangelism with young adults told us that what they wanted most of all was a safe space to explore important questions and issues.” This motion was about how the Church reached the thousands and millions of young people who had nothing to do with the Church. This was a generation open to faith, but the Synod should not be surprised that clergy saw youth evangelism as optional, considering how little funding it had.

He and young people had spent last night praying for this debate. “Someone once said that the floor of heaven was littered with vision that God wanted to give his Church, but leaders didn’t ask for it,” he said.

“Young people can and must change the Church. . . We must not drop the ball this time.” The numbers were so bad, that it wouldn’t take much to turn them around, he said. “This is a long-term vision, rooted in prayer, rooted in conviction that the gospel of Jesus Christ really does change lives, rooted in our passion to help more and more young people know that God thinks they are fantastic.”

Speaking to her amendment about parents and their children, Sarah Finch (London) said that the parish was an important space to reach and nurture children in the gospel, and she wanted to make a bridge between Friday’s debate on growing faith, and this debate: they should not be treated separately.

Mr Russell accepted the amendment.

Simon Friend (Exeter), the father of four boys, all at university, said that, despite their Christian upbringing, they had failed to join a church at university. This was owing to a lack of a clear message of inclusion for LGBT people, as the current position was unclear. They could not comprehend why the Church would differentiate people in that way. The longer the Church took to come to a decision on this, the longer people would be turned away from the Church. He said that his sons were living a more Christlike life than many of those within, and suggested that the Church needed a deep cultural change, to find Christ in the excluded and the marginalised.

Angela Scott (Rochester), welcoming the amendment, said that she wished she had had the support of the Church in bringing up her three children as her daughter-in-law had now, through the parent scheme.

The amendment was carried.

In a maiden speech, Rachel Bell (Derby) said that the motion was encouraging. If the Church really wanted to prioritise children and young people, it should invest in training and employment for people dealing with children’s ministry. There should be diocesan or national funding to prioritise children’s ministry. People couldn’t afford to self-fund, and, while training for adults was paid for, training for children was not. Did the Church value young people? “They are the Church of today as well. Jesus says the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them as well.”

Also in a maiden speech, Canon Chris Tebbutt (Salisbury) welcomed the motion. “The best evangelists are young people,” he said. The Church should rethink how it interacted with children at school. In his deanery, he had helped to provide youth work and help young people, including running a bus, and he said that his examples were incarnational as well as evangelical. Quoting the report, he said: “Do not be anxious about starting something new.” He wanted to say: “Do not rule out the power of collective ministry through the deanery.”

In another maiden speech, Canon Leah Vasey-Saunders (Leeds) thanked Mr Russell for mentioning cathedrals, as she was a cathedral precentor. She often found herself as the youngest person in the room, despite previous reports. She said that “we still see” calls to put youth evangelism into training as mandatory, not an optional extra. She spoke of the impact of the Church of England Youth Council, but also said that they should be hearing young people’s voices at every level of the Church. She said that she had been part of the success of Church Apart, and that this had not been built on since 1996. You couldn’t separate youth empowerment and evangelism. The Synod had said good things before, but “now is the time to act.”

Elizabeth Paver (Sheffield) said that the motion was for every type of parish, and every type of church. She spoke of her experience in requesting money from the Centenary Project fund, and said that her church was going to take the pews out, to make room for young people, from pool-players to a toddler group. This was a wonderful opportunity for youth workers to come to every church: she and urged members to invite them to their PCCs.

Carolyn Graham (Guildford) ran through some of the things that her church did to help young people, including having boys and girls’ choirs. She said that uniformed youth groups also were present, and it was through Brownies that she had first got into it. She echoed what Mr Friend had said earlier: her sons could not understand the Church’s ethical position.

The Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, said that it was an honour to be the bishop in charge of youth evangelism. This was a decisive moment. The Church was in contact with a small proportion of those young people whom it wanted to transform with the love of Christ. He quoted 2 Timothy. He wanted to inspire young people with what God was already doing, as well as what God could do for them. “I believe we need to go beyond simply thinking outside the box on this one: we need to be free.”

Captain Nicholas Lebey CA (Southwark) said that he was encouraged by the work that the Church was doing, but more needed to be done. He told a story of two young girls who had come to church after the work of a youth officer, and had been confirmed. The Church should be a place of love and hope for young people.

Hannah Grivell (Derby) worked for a tour operator that works with Scouts and Guides, and they were very important in spreading the Good News. Diocesan youth officers were doing important work, but their resources were being cut. She had been invited on a weekend away by Derby’s DYO for clergy children, and this had been crucial in the growth of her faith.

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) said that young people need two things: a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. The Church provided both. Belonging was particularly important for children in care, and could prevent a life of anti-social behaviour, he said. There was nothing better for a sense of purpose than social action, and the Church could do this through volunteering work and charity.

Lucy Gorman (York) said that something important had been missed. On Thursday, the Synod had heard from the Pastoral Advisory Group, and the Church needed to tackle silence. It needed to be better at talking about taboo subjects, including sex, death, and mental health, so as to help young people. One in 25 young people was LGB, and it wasn’t mentioned in this motion or the previous day’s evangelism motion; this was a mistake. The Church did not need to press pause while the LLF group did it’s work, and should speak into that silence.

The Archdeacon of The Meon, the Ven. Gavin Collins (Portsmouth), said that often there were no young people in churches. The Church had been complacent in the past about their coming back, and there had been two or three lost generations. He spoke of a reformed church in Southsea which had attracted young people.

The Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that he was sporting a £500 haircut, after his head had been shaved to raise money for a primary academy. This had been done by an LGBT group who had come to his church to find a space to meet in safety, and were being ever more integrated into his congregation. He said that the group would also commemorate those killed in the 1999 Admiral Duncan pub bombing, some of whom are buried in his church’s cemetery.

The amended motion was carried overwhelmingly.

That this Synod:
a) affirm the importance of evangelism to and with younger people, recognising that many parishes and fresh expressions of church are doing excellent work with young people;
b) commend the work of Diocesan Youth Officers and the staff of the National Church Institutions in inspiring the wider Church in youth evangelism;
c) support dioceses in investing resources to create more youth ministry posts across the Church; and
d) encourage dioceses and parishes to consider fresh ways to reach young people with the good news of Jesus Christ and to nurture them as Christian disciples, in particular by helping Christian parents fulfil these tasks with their own children.

Click here to read about other General Synod debates and motions

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