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Church of Ireland General Synod: Youth ministry ‘still recovering’

19 May 2023

Church of Ireland

Andrew Watson, a youth worker, addresses the Synod

Andrew Watson, a youth worker, addresses the Synod

Youth ministry

YOUTH ministry needed more funding, the Synod heard, as it debated the latest report from the Church of Ireland Youth Department (CIYD). Simon Henry (Down & Dromore), the Church’s national youth officer, began by explaining that youth ministry was still recovering from the impact of the pandemic, despite the hard work of all of those who worked with young people.

Society was racing ahead at “breakneck speed” with the rise of “expressive individualism”, Mr Henry warned, and that made presenting “objective gospel truth” harder. Young people were left disorientated, isolated, and exhausted as a result. They had to learn what it meant to be made in the image of God, and the true joy that came from following Jesus. This task was not just for youth ministers, he said, but families and congregations, too.

Especially challenging were the deep cuts to youth work in Northern Ireland in recent years, and the Church needed much more “strategic investment in youth workers”, he argued. On behalf of the young people he worked with, Mr Henry also asked the Synod to give new generations more opportunities in the parishes, and hailed the impact of a fund created to support raising up young leaders in the Church.

The Bishop of Down & Dromore, the Rt Revd David McClay, lamented the fact there was only one paid youth worker for every 25,000 young Irish people. Less than five per cent of the 1.3 million young people in Ireland attended any church of any denomination on the average Sunday, he said. Do not ignore these challenges, he urged the Synod. Just as the Church had released significant money for pioneer ministry, he asked if it could also release, over a 20-year period, even larger sums to employ youth workers “up and down the length and breadth of the island of Ireland, to win the next generation for Christ”.

Brigid Barrett (Derry & Raphoe) said that, given how much more secular society was becoming year on year, the current funding from the Government could not be relied on indefinitely. So the Church needed to think of its own plans to attract the more than one million Irish young people not in church.

Andrew Watson (Down & Dromore), a full-time youth worker, praised the work of CIYD, but said that there was too rapid a turnover of staff among youth ministry workers. It was vital that youth workers got support, mentorship, and regular refreshment, and it was disappointing that not every diocese had a diocesan youth officer, he said. The Synod then voted to receive the report. 

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