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Flourish network seeks to train young leaders in schools

03 July 2024

DIOCESE OF PORTSMOUTH

Students at Horndean C of E Junior School, in the diocese of Portsmouth, which is one of the partnerships taking part in the pilot scheme

Students at Horndean C of E Junior School, in the diocese of Portsmouth, which is one of the partnerships taking part in the pilot scheme

A NEW network, launched on Tuesday, aims to encourage partnerships between churches and schools by offering training to 1000 people — the majority of them young leaders in schools and colleges.

Starting as a pilot scheme of 40 worshipping communities, the network, named Flourish, is co-ordinated by the National Society — the C of E’s education office — and builds on the work of the Church’s Growing Faith Foundation.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Jonathan Frost, who is the lead bishop on education, said that the network consisted of partnerships that were already in place. “This is about churches and schools that already have a flourishing relationship, and building on that,” he said. The scheme seeks to pool learning about such partnerships.

Key to the scheme is the central part played by young people in worship. “Many of the children and young people who are engaged in collective worship are leading the way,” Bishop Frost said, and the support provided to the network would give them further opportunities to develop this leadership position.

Reaching young people requires the Church to be “imaginative”, he said, and “meeting children and young people where they are, giving them leadership responsibility, and recognising [that] their voices really matter”.

He referred to the story of the feeding of the five thousand, and the part played by the child in it. “The child who’s got the packed lunch from home isn’t looking at the problem; the child is looking to Jesus . . . for me, that’s a picture of how we need the voice of children and young people in the Church today. They are the Church of today, not of tomorrow.”

Developing worshipping communities outside church settings was part of “becoming a Church that is younger and more diverse”, the C of E’s co-director of vision and strategy, Debbie Clinton, suggested.

“Flourish offers a highly creative and innovative way of connecting with large numbers of children, young people, and their families by locating these worshipping communities in educational settings, while grounding them in strategic partnerships with local churches,” she said.

The executive director of education for the C of E, Andy Wolfe, said: “The Church of England has a great opportunity to imagine new ways for children, young people, and their families to grow in faith through deepened strategic partnerships between schools, colleges, and their local churches.

“The Flourish pilot will help us learn more about this opportunity, and open up the chance for churches, schools, colleges, and their dioceses to explore this on a larger scale in the future.”

The pilot scheme will run for two years, after which it is hoped that the network will expand to incorporate many more partnerships. Asked what advice he would give to churches looking to do this kind of work now, Bishop Frost said that the first step was to ask “How can we serve?”, and not to fixate on creating a worshipping community.

“The answers to the question ‘How can we serve?’ will be as many as there are churches and contexts. . . If a parish church is keen to develop its relations with a school, the place to start is by asking the question, and then listening.”

The process, he said, involves “engaging and listening”, and being “open to the adventure that unfolds”.

Bishop Frost was asked about the criteria by which the scheme would be assessed, in a question submitted in advance of the July meeting of the General Synod.

His answer, published on Wednesday afternoon, says: “The pilot will involve measuring engagement of children, young people and their families, some of which will be quantitative — for example evaluating attendance and participation patterns — and some of which will be qualitative — for example evaluating journeys of faith, discipleship, and transition into next phase (for example from primary to secondary).”

As to what sustainability planning was in place, Bishop Frost said: “Detailed planning has already been undertaken to ensure that the pilot locations align strategically with other development activities (both new and existing), ensuring that children and young people are central to the dioceses’ vision and strategy.”

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