Followers of this blog (and those who zipped over to read a couple of articles in January / February, thanks – primarily – to the prompting of Church Mouse!) will be aware of the threat to the Church of England’s two national posts – we currently have a national children’s work adviser – Mary Hawes; and a national youth officer – Peter Ball.

At General Synod in February, following a shed load of questions and the petition etc etc.  A couple of things happened:

1.  The process was slowed down, with the Bishop of Oxford planning to convene a “reflection group” to assess the state of play in light of the disquiet, questions and challenges to the proposal from Jan Ainsworth (National Education Officer) to reduce the full time team – and to have a “Going for Growth” adviser instead of the two, distinct, national posts.

2.  Change of Name.  I think, it was agreed that “Children” and “Youth” would somehow be retained in the title of the new post.

Well, all that was a couple of months ago.  Where are we now?

This week, both networks of CWA (Children’s Work Advisers) and DYO (Diocesan Youth Officers) were sent the following two documents:

A letter from Jan Ainsworth (Chief Education Officer)

An Appendix – attached to the letter with comments about some of the objections that had been raised.

DO, please read the letter and the appendix . . . what follows are my thoughts / comments:

1.  The first thing you will notice is that the Education Division is pressing ahead AS PLANNED with reducing our national officers from 2 to 1.  This is very disappointing, but an illustration of nature of employment law once a particular course of action has been embarked upon.  YES, the Church must apply (and also be held accountable by) employment law . . . HOWEVER, the Church – when it employs people (this is not quite the same as having “post holders” under “common tenure” . . . which is the new lot for Vicars etc) is not simply acting as “employer” with an “employee”, whether that is a national institution or a local PCC.  The Bible describes the Church as a body, if one bit of the body hurts or is damaged, then it impacts the rest of the body.  The pain is not isolated to the finger, toe, limb . . . . in the case of the Board of Education I think they were taken by suprise at our interest – in what they believed to be an “internal reorganisation” of their Department.  BUT, that is just it . . . a breathtaking degree of misunderstanding the significance, the value etc – not just of these two roles – but the individuals that hold these posts.  To the national network of Children’s and Youth Work Advisers they are not removed mandarins at our equivalent of Whitehall – but, individuals who we have been partnering with in seeking to champion (sometimes against all odds it seems) the vital importance of work with children and young people.

2.  The amendments mentioned in the letter, in response to comments received, and – I assume – the reflection group discussion  (see the above link) do not amount to much . . .

  • yes, the name has been changed (Children and Youth) appearing in brackets in the title of the new post.
  • business speak then follows as another amendment “to manage consultants and projects to deliver agreed outcomes.”
  • and – an explicit commitment to “reflect the area not represented in depth in the national post as a first call on the funds released, both in focus and time.” (Well, we had this already . .. it was called TWO national officers, with distinct specialisms).

Turning to the Appendix, we find the objections have been put into two categories and then comments made about those:

: Lack of Consultation.  In point 1 the point is made (as it has been throughout the process) that NCIs have been followed . . . this is the challenging part of on the one hand being the “Body of Christ” and, on the other, being an employer.  Still, part of MY attempt to engage in the process (although not invivted to!), has continued to leave me with unanswered questions – these are as follows:

  • Who else in the Board of Education has had a work plan specifically tied to the “Going for Growth” document?  It was presented to Synod, when “Going for Growth” began, as a whole department endeavour encompassing everything . . . including Schools.
  • If the above IS true, why aren’t other areas of the department under similar scrutiny?

: Reduction of resource to children and youth work

  • Proportionally, for the MISSION of the Church – and, I continue to hear from the Chief Education Officer that our Schools are “at the forefront” of the mission of the Church – only 9% of children and young people are IN our schools (1 million out of 11 million) . . . and, NOWHERE near that number attend our Churches . . . so we have at LEAST 91% of the children and young people in this nation to REACH with the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Nationally, we need more resources (and more money) to enable this.  Regionally, we need more resources (and more money) to enable this.  Locally, at Parish level, we need more resources (and more money) to enable this.  Why isn’t the Chief Education Officer and her team a SMALL part of a national “Children’s, Youth and Families” Team?  YES we have a satutory duty at Diocesan Level (at National Level?) to have DDEs – but equally important is the Gospel imperative to reach the next generation . . .
  • In relation to specialism – reference is not made in the appendix to theology or what the church is for, or the differences in faith development, engagement with family etc that discussing spiritual life requires . . . never MIND a word BARELY mentioend by this National Department – evangelism.  No, what is referred to here is what the Government do, how the Government distinguish work – we are, apparently, a Church that look to what the Government does to inform our MINISTRY with children and young people – the name of the department for “Children, Young People and Families” was changed back to the “Department for Education” – this might form some kind of synergy for the Chief Education Officer . . . but – whilst being involved in the education of the next generation is a great thing that we are part of . . it is not our primary activity in relation to the next generation.
  • Consultants are mentioned . . . I could say a lot about this.  The first question though might be “Who?” would be invited to “consult”?  Academics?  Institutes that specialise in consultants?  Young People do not need (and the church does not need / require) MORE consultants.  Effective ministry with children and young people is not something that can be “consulted on”, and a “short term” programme will not fix the situation we are in.  Bishop Gavin Read, who I mentioned in a previous post, was the Chair and main Editor of the group (and I guess consultants may well have been part of that process), wrote “Children’s Evangelism in Crisis”, this was on the cusp of the decade in which 250,000 children and young people walked away from the Church . . . consultants might “re-arrange” some of the furniture – we might even have more “events” like the “Re-Generation Summit”, March 2012.  It was a nice event, the young people who came were encouraged and inspired . . . BUT, what did it achieve for the wider church?  A bunch of predominantly white, middle class, degree studying young people came together with Bishops.  Great conversations were had with young people we ALREADY have.  Consultants might have been useful for the “event” based activity of re-juvinating the churches engagement with Baptism and the Wedding Project – but, children and young people are not a project.  We cannot tick them off in the same way as “more baptisms” or “more church weddings”, we need to walk the Emmaus Road with them . . it takes time that the Church is fast running out of, because of the wrong headed desire for change NOW (by tinkering), rather than root and branch reform of HOW and WHY we work with children and young people.

Finally, although not mentioned in the letter above (or the appendix) the biggest issue I had with the proposal (not the process) were the suggestions for what “phase 2” activity might look like – and here, I quote from a document that was sent to DDEs on 16th January (if the type of work to be carried out now differs from the stuff mentioned below – I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW):

“There are a number of ways in which this funding may be used, including :

support for data collecting in Diocese to enable is to speak with clarity about what impact the Church is having (I thought we had a national statistical division?  I also KNOW what many of our churches are – and are not – doing for and with children and young people – NOT, from looking at returns or analysing data – but by knowing people who are working with children and young people, meeting with them and encouraging, supporting and training them – data does not adequately illustrate “impact”.)

additi0nal support for the Church of England Youth Council to bring it more firmly into central decision making (I don’t think this needs a consultant – it just needs a conversati0n, which – even if it happens via phone – won’t cost a member of staff their JOB.  Talk to the ABC and ask, “Can the Chair of the CEYC be a member of AB Council?  Thanks.  Done.)

bringing professional expertise to bear on building regional conferences for children and young people to explore their responses to faith and the Church, and build pilot programmes from their responses (This is part of my JOB.  I am a professional, I run a camp for young people and their youth leaders, I help parishes – along with my team – explore what they need to do that engages with children and young people in their communities.  It is NOT a programme that is going to make the difference – Jan Ainsworth, please read, “Contemplative Youth Ministry”, “Youth Work After Christendom”, “Sticky Faith” and “Almost Christian” . . for staters, as recommended by me).

Seriously, if this awful plan is going ahead.  So be it.  Can you please have a fresh look at the actual activity of “Phase 2”, the above examples of activity are not worth getting in consultants – they are certainly not worth a full time national post.