Well, sorry for the long title – hopefully this blog post will be shorter than the one I wrote on Tuesday.
We are the “day after” debate and, while it is fresh in my mind, I wanted to share a few further reflections for those interested. So, in no particular order.
Debating Amendments. I get there is a process with motions being presented in papers and, if amendments are put forward, they need to be discussed and voted on . . . but, this gives very little space for serious consideration about what is contained in the paper! I listened in and watched via Youtube – it was something approaching 90 minutes before we got through the amendments and then – finally – Synod could consider the paper as a whole – for all of 15 minutes! There has to be a better process for something so crucial!
- Either a paper like this needs a whole day of discussion and consideration or amendments tabled need to fast tracked through by those presenting the paper (i.e. if, on reading the suggested amendments, it is acknowledged there might have been an oversight or something should have been included in the motion, say so at the outset. A few amendments seemed obvious additions – e.g. Growing Faith being integral, which was brought by Bishop Paul Butler – did it need a short talk about why? Just lob it in so we can crack on with an actual debate!)
DYOs and CWAs. What are those I hear you cry? Well, in some Diocese’ there are youth officers and children’s advisers (or youth advisers and children’s officers, take your pick). There is a cursory mention of them in the acknowledgements and thanks at the end of GS 2161. In the debate (what there was of one) I didn’t hear them mentioned. What I did hear mentioned, more than once, is how limited the resources are “at the centre” and this was used it seemed to me, to justify the – misguided – plan to invest resources in places that are already well resourced.
Let’s be frank here, we’ve seen a number of Diocese’ over the last decade reduce or remove their provision of support services for churches involved in children’s and youth work. I’m flabbergasted when I see this happening. It makes no sense, is strategically inept and a failure to appreciate what is being delivered through the awesome work of people in these roles – often the unseen, getting alongside, encouragement and guidance that makes the difference to churches. No mention of them at all in the debate was a huge shame.
Some of the most talented, experienced and wise children’s and youth workers in the Church of England don’t work at a “Vanguard” resourcing church, but serve and resource everyone they can – often across vast areas geographically – to ensure, as best they can, that local churches are seen and heard and children and young people are supported, and volunteers encouraged and equipped.
- There needs to be a re-imagining of these roles nationally and every Diocese needs be encouraged to invest in the provision of this kind of support. Within each Diocese where these posts do exist, these servants of the church need the tools, resourcing, budget and profile that befits their vital role.
Theological Reflection. Dry bones anyone? I start with asking that question, a touch facetiously, because theological reflection seemed to be entirely absent from the GS 2161. You might remember the passage in Ezekiel 37, “Can these bones live . . . ” . . . “Oh Sovereign Lord, only you know.” Then comes the instruction,
Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.”
What is dead can come to life! We need to rediscover our prophetic imagination. The desolate places need water, where the land is dry and parched of the laughter, the joy and the presence of children . . . we need to be there as the church, we need to be resourcing and investing in those places as a church. DYOs and CWAs can help – and do – resourcing from the centre is not what we need to make this happen! The initiative, “Every Day Faith” is not limiting it’s effort to those places that “get it”. Scripture is littered with the least and the last being called and equipped by God not the biggest, best and the greatest in number! You might recall the army that was reduced in size (Gideon commanding, you know – one of the least and the last) 32,000 down to 300 so God would get the glory.
The approach being adopted to invest in the places that already have does not, in my view, represent the values of the Kingdom.
- A theological narrative needs to develop that brings inspiration and hope – we will see life come from nothing! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is in us (Romans 8:11). We can, with the Spirit’s help, do this. We also need to consider again what we mean by “ecclesia” – “Church” was repeatedly mentioned in the context of attendance on Sunday morning, but this is just one facet of the community of the called out ones.
Parents and the Home. I think I mentioned this in my blog post of Tuesday, but in the 48 pages presented to Synod, parents were mentioned just the once.
I’ve written about this, talked about it, taught about – others have to – yet somehow the story doesn’t change.
Youth Groups / Youth Workers / Children’s Workers . . . compartmentalised groups for children and young people will NOT solve our challenges. I’m afraid it is the pursuit of these things that have helped create the environment we are in. Not because they are not valuable – these roles are vital – but we continue to fail in our assessment of what makes the difference.
Headlines from the Church of England and Hope research a few years ago, “Talking Jesus” focused on just how open young people were to hearing about God (which is fantastic) but in the key things mentioned when the research was released not much was made of some of the starkest statistics – despite the way our culture has changed. Namely, the impact of parents and the home environment on faith formation.
Of the top six influences for people becoming followers of Jesus, for both adults and young people – growing up in a Christian family was top. Top I tell you, TOP.
That is just one report, one piece of research – but the impact of parents and their role in formation is key. For a wide ranging summary of 54 (yes, 54 research projects and surveys and reports) then it is worth looking at the key findings from the Theos report, “Passing on Faith“.
by means of an extensive study of the existing literature on this subject, Passing on Faith reinforces that which has been advanced for years by those involved in children’s ministry within the Christian tradition. The assimilation of research studies in this report confirms that:
- foundations for faith are laid in childhood;
- the role and responsibility of the family is central in faith transmission (a theological assertion as well as an observation of child development theory);
- enduring adolescent and adult believers are largely the product of caring, supportive, stable homes, where faith is seen, heard and experienced;
- modelling is key: parents need to ‘be’ and ‘do’ what they want their child to become.
It continues to stagger me that mission to and in and with the home is not front and centre for the NCIs (National Church Institutions), every Diocese and every parish. So, it was super frustrating to see just a small reference in GS 2161.
- The Household of Faith needs to be a priority for mission – to give confidence to parents as they seek to share their faith and live it out in front of their children, to encourage church communities to connect with the diversity of family life in our society today, to build connections with homes where there is limited engagement with the church.
Growing Faith and Joined Up Thinking. This connects with the previous point about parents and the home. The Growing Faith initiative is the most exciting thing I’ve seen the Church invest in – probably within the last 20 years. Bringing together as it does the need to be holistic in mission to children and young people (hooray!) with Church / Home and School all featuring. I’m grateful to Bishop Paul Butler for ensuring this was mentioned in the motion through his amendment.
The fact that this had to be added is troubling. There needs to be far greater joined up thinking if the NCI (National Church Institutions) are going to bring forward initiatives and projects they have to form part of a cohesive narrative. I have no idea to what extent the Department for Education were involved in putting together GS 2161 – if anything, the youth evangelism role (and the task group focused on youth evangelism) needs to sit within and work within the parameters of Growing Faith.
There is something holistic about Growing Faith that is drawing strands together that have previously been running in separate silos – the last thing we need, with Growing Faith having only been launched last year – is to have break away initiatives that dilute the progress and bring confusing mixed messages about national priorities.
- Everything related to investing in ministry with children, young people and families should sit within the Growing Faith initiative.
Salaried Children’s, Youth and Families Workers. I’m mentioning this separately (although it could equally have been included under Joined Up Thinking) because apart from an encouragement for diocese’ to invest in these kinds of roles nothing was highlighted about the implications of taking these posts seriously. A sizeable part of GS 2161, especially in the data analysis, was given over to thinking about the impact these roles have.
However, having only seen my report / research on the Terms and Conditions of Salaried Workers released in September last year, it wasn’t mentioned or referred to at all in GS 2161. My research, commissioned by Bishop Martyn Snow, highlights a few things that really need to be grappled with if we are to see salaried children’s, youth and families workers flourish. Indeed, if a majority of those churches “doing well” employ a worker, then it is beholden on the National Church to create an environment where these posts don’t sit vacant for months; where salaried workers are given a commensurate package to that of Clergy on a Stipend. Alongside the influence and engagement of the home and parents, children’s, youth and families workers are a linchpin in connecting the dots – partnering with the home in discipleship and faith formation, bringing skills to pastoral care and nurture, leading the way in so many places with fresh expressions of church and community.
- The Church (National / Diocese) cannot leave it to the local parish to “employ as they see fit” – unfortunately, in terms of resourcing, this has led to a massive disparity between wealthy areas of the country and poorer. I don’t have exact figures – but looking at Guildford Diocese – they have across their 217 churches something in the region of 80 salaried workers. No other Diocese can match that – but then no other Diocese has so much of Surrey. We must also ensure that parishes are recruiting, employing, and caring for their salaried workers following best practice. Earlier this week, a Covenant that promotes awareness of the dangers of stress and burnout for clergy was declared an Act of Synod. Churches and dioceses across the country will be invited to adopt the “Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing.” This is excellent and much needed. Can we have something similar that promotes awareness of short term contracts, impossible job descriptions and the stress of redundancy that face many salaried workers?
Thoughts? Do comment and share . . .