Over three hundred young people aged 11-18 gathered together on a cold Saturday in January for our third annual Breathe Deep day. They came to St Thomas Philadelphia, with their leaders, from all across the Diocese. Together we were exploring faith and the rhythm of life with God. The number of young people involved has more than doubled since our first day in 2014. People love the day together and are keen to bring their friends.
We worshipped together. We explored Scripture. This year I spoke about living our whole lives in the rhythm of the two great commandments Jesus gives: loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves. There were workshops on prayer, on going deeper with God, on service, on transforming God’s world. All through the morning the young people text in questions on anything to do with life and faith and, just before lunch, I try and answer them. We eat together (Subway – a big highlight). Each year this part looks a little more like the feeding of the 5,000 as small groups of teenagers gather across the conference room (there are no chairs so everyone sits on the floor).
Over lunch the huge inflatables arrive and the first part of the afternoon is given over to some serious fun and games. Then it’s worship again, the results of various competitions, some filming for the music video of the day and the chance to be still, to reflect and to collect a holding cross to take away to remind us of the theme of the day.
You can catch a flavour of what happened here in the various videos made on the day and the photographs we took.
When people ask me what’s happening in the parishes of the diocese at the moment, I’m never short of things to say. There are so many stories of life and growth. But one of my favourite things, if I’m honest, has to be the new work we are beginning to do with children and young people and families. Together we are helping the next generation discover faith in Jesus Christ.
When I was 12 years old, I was on the very edge of the life of my small, local parish church and set to drift away from faith. If I had, my life would have been very different. One person in that parish was determined to do something. She had no qualifications but she started a small youth group for me and just two other teenagers. Over time she went on training courses and involved others. Through that group (and at a Diocesan event), I found faith and God found me. Jean still prays for me and for the others involved in that youth group more than forty years later.
There is no greater gift that we can pass on to children and young people in our families, in our churches, in our schools, in our wider society than the gift of faith. The whole course of a young person’s life will be affected by developing faith in childhood. It is an immense gift to know that you are loved by God, the maker of the universe; to know that you are called to a lifelong friendship with your creator; to know you can begin again through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross; to know that you are part of a worldwide family; to understand the great gift of prayer; to receive God’s guidance at life’s great crossroads; to develop Christian character; to become all that you are meant to be. All of these gifts and more are given through the development of faith in children and young people. Lives are saved, deepened and enriched, families are transformed and the world is changed.
The bible tells us many stories of those who learnt their faith as children and young people. The prophet Samuel is nurtured in faith as a child through his mother, Hannah, who prays for him and prays with him. He is nurtured in faith as a child through Eli who instructs him in prayer and in listening to God’s voice. Samuel will go on to lead Israel and change his nation. But the foundations of his life and his friendship with God are laid in childhood.
Encouraging faith within and through the family is vital. Last Saturday I commissioned Pauline Reynolds as President of the Mothers’ Union in this Diocese. The second of the Mothers’ Union’s five objectives is to encourage parents in their role to develop the faith of their children. As children grow into young people, the role of the local church is vital in nurturing and encouraging faith into adult life. You can read the sermon here
Last week the Church of England General Synod strongly encouraged parishes and dioceses to prioritise evangelism and witness with younger people. What are we doing here?
- We now have funding and support available for churches to grow families and children’s and youth work again. You can read about the Centenary Project here. Our first four workers are now in post and their work is bearing fruit.
- We have excellent training courses to help people who want to take the first steps. If you want to do something for the young people in your Church take a look at Aurora.
- We’ve already booked the date for our fourth Breathe Deep day on 28th January next year.
- If there is nothing happening in your parish for young people, the place to begin is prayer. If you can’t help yourself then email a link to this post to someone who might be able to make a new beginning. Let’s do what we can to help young people in every community to rediscover faith in Jesus Christ.
One of the most interesting conversations I had at Breathe Deep was with an adult who had come on her own to the day precisely because there were no young people in her church. It was a small beginning. I’m hoping for great things.