Dear Young People,
We, the church, the church of Great Britain, messed up looking after you, and on many occasions over the last 50-100 years we abandoned you in your hours of need. When you came to us with behaviour or attitude we couldn’t cope with, we locked doors, painted vandal proof paint, or erected barbed wire, or decided that you weren’t worth it. We found it difficult to know or understand, given that you’re not like the church, you dont have masks, or a desire for routine and respectability, or sometimes a respect for the place of the church, oh, and why would you…
Its not just recent research by @naistanton http://faithdebates.org.uk/blog/youthwork-church-growth-works/, which has shown this, but also instances where i have been involved in churches and their reaction to you, has been little short of rude, ignorant and uncompassionate. Like the time when my own church youth club aged 15 closed because windows started getting smashed.. and no one tried to work out a solution to this, or give you ownership – where are you now?, the church in the north east that tried but couldn’t cope with the ‘challenging’ young people in the community, or the church in Scotland that didnt feel it necessary to work with young people in its local community (and painted the roof in vandal paint), or the church in Devon which locked its doors a few years ago when young people huddled in the porchway on a cold evening, these are just three examples in my own life, if we multiply this across the board… thats a huge number of rejections young people have had to deal with from the church.
And thats just the young people whom the church hasnt thought of since, what of those in groups and clubs and activities, who are treated as consumers, not people? or whom are kept as ‘children’ in whats done to and for them, and not with, not young adults, surely not..
We , the church, have tried, we got our heads into gear in the 80’s and tried to get professional, training up youth workers and youth ministers, and so a few of these kick about, yet we could make out that we’re doing our best, as the church, but if we have abandoned you, we need to apologise and make up, and do something to repair this;
repent of the error of our ways, the maintenance committees, or sunday school leaders meetings, that dont include you, or giving you the latest programme or event without your consultation, repent of not treating and accepting you for who you are, not what you might become, repent of favouring the boys in the group ( as they make better leaders later on), repent of asking you to conform to our standards of behaviour in settings alien to you, repent of thinking that you abandoned us, when we didnt do anything to accept you when you needed us to be there for you. Repent of not giving you the chance to think and ask questions of us, or repent of thinking that these questions and doubts are part of faith, not someone leaving the faith. repent of stinting the God-given creativity in you, your giftings, fire, energy and ambitions;
Its not that we weren’t warned;
“The situation in which the community of the Church is set, asks questions of it about the age structure, the class structure, the openness to go out into the world and receive the world, The crucial thing at this stage is that all of us who have this concern (for young people in the community) deeply in our hearts should recognise that any remedial christian action will emerge only out of painful, searing, physical and mental acceptance, in love, of a generation which is painfully different. What we need to know about the strategy of action must be learned at the point of personal involvement, of ourselves or of other groups” Lecture given to World christian youth commission in May 1964, Rev HA Hamilton.
We dont deserve you to accept us again, when you came we abandoned you, you were our test, and we let you down. As an institution we need to change and repent, but as a people who are also messed up we are trying to change, to be for you and with you, and to learn from the mistakes of the past.
As a youthworker, i can only speak of the young people that i know of, and the churches i have been involved in, but even then there are too many instances, and too many young people who could have been accepted in the church but weren’t, and if i could find you, and apologise personally on behalf of them i would. If you’re a youthworker reading this, then maybe this Christmas why not apologise to your young people or the young people in the community on behalf of the church, both now and historically, we might not want to admit it, but but we have let young people down. Grace starts with forgiveness and humility, not just works…