I hope this finds you well and this letter comes with thanksgiving and appreciation for your ministry especially during this season of Lent and Passiontide.

Our Diocesan Synod last Saturday spent time addressing our mission and ministry with children and young people. Can I encourage you to take time to listen to or read the transcript of my Presidential Address which details why this is so important at this time.

Following widespread consultation, I have taken the unusual step of asking every parish and deanery to give greater priority to this ministry, to pray and plan next steps between now and September. At the conclusion of the afternoon’s debate, the need for urgency was recognised by our Synod and I am hugely encouraged by their unanimous support and endorsement of the following motion:

“That this Synod endorses the need to significantly increase our engagement with children, young people, families and schools, building on Disciples Together and to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and calls on every deanery and benefice in 2024 to develop plans and partnerships for growth.”

I’ve been a bishop long enough now to know that bishops need to be sparing in directives and appeals of this kind. All too easily they can produce guilt and weariness rather than fresh energy and initiative. However, it does seem to me that this is a moment to make an exception. Over the last year, the Discipleship Enablers have spent a lot of time listening to children and young people and those who work with them; to parishes and to deaneries. We know there is energy around this agenda. We know there is consensus to make this a priority. We know that churches are already committing resources. We are confident that people understand that this will mean many different things in many different places.

Over half a million children and young people live in the Diocese of Oxford – between a fifth and a quarter of our population of 2.4 million people are under 20. We are all aware that the post-lockdown regathering and restoring of our work with children and young people has been much slower than for adults. We need to face the reality that although we are engaging with tens of thousands of children and families through our schools, our engagement with children and young people through our parish churches is no longer as confident and strong.

This reality should not lead us to despair, but it should be a spur to reset our youth and children’s work with urgency as a vital part of our service to our communities and of sharing in God’s mission to God’s world.

The process for developing deanery plans will be led by your Area Teams working through their Area Deans, Lay Chairs and relevant local deanery structures. The process of developing parish plans is the responsibility of every PCC. I would be grateful if you could pass this letter and the appropriate links onto the PCC and create space on an agenda in the near future for a full discussion to follow.

Parishes and deaneries will be supported by the team of Discipleship Enablers who are producing resources, parish mapping templates and supportive statistical data available through your deanery. Listening to the voice of children and young people themselves will be vital to our planning. Can I commend to you our exciting new resource ‘Amplify: from a whisper to a waves‘ which will provide the ideas and approaches you need. The focus is not on grand plans but on discerning the ‘one next step’ which can make a difference in your context.

These plans are not for the sake of the church but for the sake of God’s Kingdom and for the sake of the tens of thousands of children and young people and families we will serve through this vision: children who need a foundation; who need purpose; who need love and support; families who need community and practical help and guidance; young people who need investment and friendship and confidence; young adults who need models for living.

We want children and young people to come to know Jesus and love Jesus and follow Jesus. We want to make disciples. We want to bless families and young adults and see them access the immense treasure of the gospel.

With thanks in anticipation for all you are able to do to raise the profile of this ministry.

Watch Bishop Steven’s presidential address or download the transcript.