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General Synod digest: Motion on child outreach given wider reference

21 February 2020

Madeleine Davies, Hattie Williams, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in London

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Mark Sheard (Archbishops Council) moved the motion supporting youth ministry

Mark Sheard (Archbishops Council) moved the motion supporting youth ministry

A HEAVILY amended motion sup­porting youth ministry was carried on Wednesday afternoon.

Introducing the debate, Mark Sheard (Archbishops’ Council) said that the debate built on last year’s re­port Encouraging Youth Evan­gelism, and recalled the finding that “The majority of churches have no or very few people under 16.”

He quoted two figures: in the past five years, overall attendance of under-16s had decreased by 20 per cent, while the number of churches and parishes with 25 or more under-16s had decreased by 28 per cent to 903 churches. “If these trends con­tinue at the same speed, in less than ten years there will be no children or young people in our churches. What we are facing is an existential threat to the Church of England,” he said.

He acknowledged the work of Messy Church, but asked: “How are we actively looking to move young people into paths of discipleship?”

Small could be beautiful. Nearly 20 per cent of churches with fewer than ten children and young people reported an increase in numbers. Further growth was possible. Action came at a cost, from investing in family ministry to building links with schools. “We have to do all we can to encourage faith in families.”

“Of course, resources are tight; so it is key that we invest where we are most likely to see impact, to avoid an unco-ordinated approach, or an ap­­proach that seeks to resource every­one, and leads to short-term, shal­low, low-impact investment where there is little if any lasting change.”

He defended the commitment to investing in churches that already had many under-16s on the grounds that they could resource other churches. Another commit­ment was to embracing “new ways of­ reaching young people”, he said. “We need to dream and enact big plans . . . and we need to value the small, and encourage and resource that. But it’s urgent: we need to do it now.”

The Bishop of Southwell & Not­ting­ham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, the lead bishop for youth evan­gelism, said that the report pre­sented a “sobering challenge” , but he urged the Synod not to become over­whelmed by “inward-facing mis­sional angst” or a “fog of despair”.

Katrina Thomas (Southwell & Nottingham), supported the motion, but “This needs to be about re­­sourcing everyone to reach every child in our nation, not just those who live near a larger church.” She questioned whether the Church was prepared to answer the questions of the new generation.

The Revd Chris Newlands (Black­burn) said that not every youth initiative needed to be some­thing new: at his church, 75 people aged between seven and 23 were engaged through a robed choir. The other factor attract­ing young people was LGBT inclu­sion, he suggested.

Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities) spoke to his amend­ment, which proposed an “expan­sion of the motion” by replacing a ref­­erence to supporting churches with many under-16s with a wider phrase encompassing churches that did not yet have big youth groups. In many parts of England, the demographic context meant that parishes could never realistically expect many young people, but they still needed “resourcing and advice”.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesKatrina Thomas (Southwell & Nottingham)

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin (Canterbury), was excited by Fr Seville’s amend­ment because of its use of the word “aspiration”. In her church when she was growing up, the elderly Reader had decided to en­­courage the small number of young people in the congregation to take part in services, which meant that it grew. “What we need are churches with a real sense of aspira­tion,” she said.

The Revd Gary Waddington (Leeds) agreed with Bishop Hudson-Wilkin. He had been horrified to discover that his church was among the 6.4 per cent that had more than 25 chil­dren involved. Why should extra money go to that tiny minority rather than the 93.6 per cent that had fewer children, he asked. Money was like muck: “Spread it thinly and it does a lot of good, but dollop it in a few piles, and it stinks.”

The Revd Andrew Lightbown (Oxford) supported the motion, pro­vided it was amended. Focusing on the big and successful would create a purely suburban model of success. His own churches had fewer than 25 children, but he felt that they could get there without the support of a larger resource church — in­­stead, they needed help directly.

The Revd Tiffer Robinson (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that his group of small rural parishes had managed slightly to expand its small pool of children over the past seven years, mostly helped by two families who had joined them from large city-centre churches that had good children’s ministry. He resisted the amend­ment. Larger churches needed to be resourced to bless the Church.
The amendment was carried.

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) sought to remove the under-16-year-old age limit, and allow it to be for 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds. He spoke about child trust funds. He offered to speak with members of the Synod to help organise events in which children could gain access to their trust funds.

Responding, the Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ips­wich) said that the data was focused on under-16s owing to ad­­mis­­sion to the electoral roll, but that he would accept the amendment.

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford) urged re­­moval of the age limitation. It seemed as if this motion was treating young people like a separate cat­egory. James Cary (Bath & Wells) opposed the amend­ment.

Emily McDonald (C of E Youth Council) said that she had the most recent memory of being under 16 of anyone in the chamber. “We need to value young people as the members of the Church that they are.” She supported the amend­ment, and it was carried.

Canon Beverley Hollins (Peter­borough) had been a member of a Sunday school that had failed to link young people into the church. But she had become a member of the church choir, and had felt valued alongside other adult members of the congregation. She worried that the motion did not fully value the work of small or rural churches.

Ben Hodson-Franks (Birming­ham) was grateful to those, often lay and unpaid, who worked with young people. All dioceses needed a plan. Evangelical churches were ahead. Churches of central and Catholic tradi­tion needed to do more.

The Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, feared that the main motion, unamended, “looks like saying that we think in an urban way, in a suburban way, in a metropolitan way”. The reality of rural ministry was “quite different”. His churches did not relate easily to large churches, did not have suffi­cient transport links, and were often of a central churchmanship. He wanted to encourage them to do good work. “Let’s not give the im­­pression that rural can work by trickle-down from urban and sub­urban; let’s encourage and affirm rural ministry for its own sake.”

Canon Simon Butler (South­wark) said that “we keep asking people to do more and more things with less and less resources.” The Synod kept sending things down to dio­ceses that were “incredibly well-meaning and correct”, but “we have got to allow our dioceses to get on with doing what they need to do.”

Canon Hollins’s amendment was carried.

Canon Martyn Taylor (Lincoln) moved his amendment seeking more detail, including qualitative research.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, welcomed it. “Society has changed enormously,” he said. “The factors that once cre­ated an environment for growth of faith among children and young people are no longer working the way they did before. We need to learn.”

The Revd Mike Booker (Ely) said that the amendments had made “sig­nificant progress” on a motion that he had not liked. Statistics were “a blunt instrument”. In Ely diocese, most churches with many young people were in and around Cam­bridge. “You can­­not take models from there and dump them in Wisbech and expect them to work.”

Canon Taylor’s amendment was carried.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesFr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities)

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, moved his amend­ment to request that the Evangelism and Discipleship team ensure that the work was “clearly joined up with Growing Faith”. The Revd Dr Benjamin Carter (New­­castle) talked about the God’s Tent initiative in the diocese. It was “a sign of true hope and true growth in a rural land­scape” which had, this month, en­­gaged with 50 children and their families.

The Revd Martin Gough (Armed Forces) said that they had recently baptised 70 young men, aged 16 to 18, in the Royal Navy. For one man, playing football had led to con­versation with a chaplain and an exploration of life’s big questions.

Bishop Butler’s amendment was carried, and debate on the main measure as amended resumed.

Rosemary Walters (Canterbury) suggested that secondary-school as­­sem­blies were missing from the dis­cus­sion. These encounters were “truly a form of collective worship, and might help many young people to say, ‘Perhaps I will go along and explore what the Christian com­mun­ity has to say.’”

Philip Geldard (Manchester) spoke of the work of the Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigades, often in deprived areas.

Rebecca Chapman (Southwark) spoke of “fierce competition for family time on a Sunday”. There was a need to look beyond Sunday morn­­­ings. Her son was autistic, and services could feel like a “night­mare”, including being asked what was “wrong” with him. Messy Church offered a different way. She also made a plea to hear from young people, stayers and leavers alike.

Shayne Ardron (Leicester) ob­­served that the statistics told only part of the story and did not talk about their engagement or disciple­ship. “Children invariably learn by watching,” she said. “We need to take that seriously: they are going to be watching our every movement, and what we say.”

Canon Barney De Berry (Canter­bury) feared that the sense of ur­­gency had been lost. He had spent time with a Fresh Expression run by young people for young people, under a Bishop’s Mission Order with the Church Army. They expressed “unashamed confidence in the gos­pel of Jesus. . . They are living testi­monies to that power. . . Back what is hap­pening now.”

The amended motion was carried.

That this Synod, recognising the con­tinuing decline in numbers of under 16’s engaging with Church:

(a) en­­courage dioceses to act urgently and consider practical ways they can support and resource those churches both with significant numbers of children and young people and with specific aspirations to increase their numbers of the same

(b) encourage dioceses to make pro­vision to support and resource those churches serving communities which currently have small numbers of children, teenagers and young people

(c) request dioceses to share good models of practice through churches helping to resource others so that we have many more churches engaging with children and young people

(d) request the NCI’s to commit funding for qualitative research on the data received to help understand best practice in a variety of contexts; and

(e) encourage dioceses to explore new ways to grow new church com­mun­ities with young people as a primary missional focus; and

(f) request the Evangelism and Dis­cipleship team to ensure this work is clearly joined up with Growing Faith.

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