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Church of Ireland Synod: Call for more funding for youth work

24 May 2024

Tim Wyatt reports from the Church of Ireland Synod in Armagh


Hannah O’Neill seconds the Youth Department report

Hannah O’Neill seconds the Youth Department report

CALLS for more funding for youth work were heard in a debate, on Saturday morning, when the Synod received the Youth Department’s latest report.

Simon Henry (Down & Dromore) began by explaining how the Youth Department had recently launched an audit of youth work in the Church, hoping to collate precise numbers and data after the disruption of the pandemic. Parish youth ministry had really begun to recover from this shock only in the past 18 months, he told the Synod. It was vital that the Church kept talking to its young people about what it meant to be made in the image of God, and to form a Christian world-view in them, Mr Henry said. “Our job is to pass on the faith that we have,” and this ministry needed continual support and financial investment. He asked the Synod to back his calls for more central funding from the Church.

Members were then shown a video of some of the activities of the Youth Department over the past year, including weekends away with young people in Ireland.

Hannah O’Neill (Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh) said that the video “summed up how amazing young people are. . . They are the Church of the future, but they are also the Church of today, with faith-filled and faith-fuelled ideas.” She said a recent Youth Forum was essential in helping the central Church listen properly to the voices of young people. “The young people were encouraged to make new connections, to be a voice for change in their schools, parishes, and dioceses, and to deepen their faith and learn more about Jesus and his Church.” Ms O’Neill finished by thanking everybody in the Church who was working at the “coalface of youth ministry”, but called for more investment, as currently there was only, on average, one youth worker for every 13 parishes: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

Sally Siggins (Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh), a member of the youth department’s board, said she would not be standing at the Synod were it not for dedicated youth workers in her parish 30 years ago. She urged churches to prioritise youth ministry.

Jan Peach (Down & Dromore), who is the director of a Christian retreat centre, said that the Young Leaders in Ministry grant they had received had been essential for them to develop their internship programme. She quoted from the book of Joel about young people prophesying, and said that the Synod should be encouraged that, across Ireland, young people were coming to Christ.

The Revd Clive Atkinson (Down & Dromore) spoke about a scheme, Project Y, which had grown out of his church, which sought to secure a paid youth worker based in a church in every town in Ireland. Could the Youth Department engage with this, too, he asked.

Jack Wilson (Down & Dromore), a youth worker himself, said that young people were missing from churches across the land, but that did not mean that Ireland had lost its youth. “They are just not where we are.” He said that the Church had to take its young people “more seriously”, investing finance, prayer, time, and creativity in them. Christian faith could be an “oasis in a desert” for young people trying to find a firm footing in an unsettling world.

The Bishop of Meath & Kildare, the Most Revd Pat Storey, said that, for anyone still wondering if the under-45 rule (which compels every diocese to include a clerical and lay representative aged 44 or below in their synodical delegation) achieved anything, the results were plain all around them.

The Archdeacon of Elphin, the Ven. Patrick Bamber (Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh), praised the Young Leaders in Training fund, which had funded his son and an intern to go on a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Andrew McCaw (Down & Dromore), a youth evangelist in East Belfast, said that the Church needed to work harder to include young people from working-class backgrounds.

The Revd Raymond Kettyle (Down & Dromore) told the Synod how his church had swapped a poorly attended Sunday school with no more than seven children for a Friday-evening youth group, which now attracted 36 or more young people each week, many of whom were not connected to any church. There was no need to be cynical about youth ministry, he said: many young people were more interested than was thought.

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