Together: United

Published on: 1 January 2019

The impact of ecumenical youth ministry and some of its expressions in Norfolk.

There is something important about being together; it’s uplifting, encouraging and brings new energy and dynamic. With busy lives, it can be all too easy to operate in our own silos, but in a large Diocese such as ours, it can be all the more important to create opportunities for young people to come together. Doing so highlights that they are not the only ones choosing to attend church or live out life as Christians, but that there are connections and friendships to be made with others and new worship and discipleship experiences to be part of, which they may not have considered or been given the opportunity to explore before.

I recently met with Sequoia Mallett from St Stephen’s Church who is involved in running a group drawing together young people from across five different Anglican churches in Norwich. She explained the background to its recent formation.

“As churches, we recognised that we each had several children with established faith moving up to high school who needed something beyond Sunday School, but none of us had enough to start a youth group on our own, so we decided to team up and work together.

“High school is a tricky time to negotiate so the group is intended for discipleship – really digging deeper into purpose, the Bible, and what it means to have faith in high school and beyond – while also being a place where they can have some fun and be pastorally supported. For them, it is two hours a fortnight where they can ask questions, socialise with other Christians their age, and be honest about their feelings.”

In the Autumn, this Norwich-based youth group attended Cathedral@Night – a biennial 12-hour overnight event jointly run by the Diocese of Norwich and Norwich Cathedral.

“We chose to go to Cathedral@Night because we wanted the group to have time outside of our regular slot to bond, and to have some fun with us and each other. We place a huge emphasis in our group on respecting and understanding different traditions and opinions within Christianity and this event facilitated this as so many different expressions of faith were covered across the night.

“We want them, as a group made up of different churches, to realise that the ‘church’ isn’t just the building they go to on Sunday mornings, it is a family. They have since been very interested in the varied ways that God can speak to us, and this has opened doors for us to explore with them their personal faith and relationship with God.”

Molly Carroll, 16, came to Cathedral@Night with her youth group from Fountain of Life Church, Ashill, and explained: “Lots of my friends were there, many of whom aren’t Christians, and we all loved it. For them, it was a real eye-opener, seeing that church isn’t just confined to pews and hymnbooks – one of the highlights being a rather crazy worship session from Soul Youth. For me, it was great to meet new people in a completely new environment.”

Soul Church’s Youth Leader Sam Milchem compèred the event with input from the Soul Church band, and together with other local churches and ecumenical organisations including Yare Valley Churches, Aylsham Parish Church, Norfolk Street Partnership, Norwich Youth for Christ and Christian Aid, were strategically involved in producing the large-scale event attended by hundreds of young people.

There was a range of different worship experiences throughout the night which the young people were encouraged to participate in, from the energetic worship sets led by the Soul Youth team to the tranquillity of the beautiful compline sung by candlelight at 1.30am with participation from individuals who had attended a singing workshop earlier in the evening.

As morning light broke, young people gathered for acoustic worship led by Matt and Grace Schwarzenberger from Fountain of Life Church before groups of young people gathered side by side with existing and newly-made friends in a feeding the 5,000-style breakfast. The event culminated in an Agape feast – an early apostolic practice of sharing a communal meal among Christians to strengthen bonds and show love to one another, which is often used today in ecumenical settings.

These unique and memorable events play an important part in encouraging groups to participate together but regular opportunities for groups to plug into are also key.

Once a term on a Friday evening ‘Encounter’ – a city-wide worship service – takes place at Norwich Central Baptist Church. Nick Blanch, Director of Norwich Youth for Christ who leads the event, talked about the reason for running it.

“Encounter is for young people of high school age upwards. It seeks to unite young Christians with contemporary worship, relevant teaching and lots of fun!

“A lot of youth groups don’t have a relationship with each other so young people end up as Christians in isolation, often not knowing that there are other Christians even in their school class. In a youth group, it can sometimes be the hardest thing to create opportunities where young people get to spend time and know individuals from other groups and churches.

“Encounter brings individuals and groups together in an accessible way. It doesn’t look or feel like any particular denomination, which makes it appealing and engaging for all young people whether they have faith or not. And as relationships develop it’s great to see young people from different backgrounds commit to serving, whether on the band or as part of the café team.”

There are other great examples of churches working cooperatively to draw young Christians together including ‘Limitless’ – a youth worship event run between Dereham, Watton and Swaffham churches – annual camps in the region such as Intents and Newday, and the Diocese of Norwich Residential weekend Soulshaper.

These experiences offer huge encouragement to young people; giving space to meet other Christians their own age and grow in their journey with God. Many Norfolk churches are proactively engaging youth and seeking to broaden their horizons, but there is always more to be done in reaching the next generation.

Perhaps you could facilitate young people you know to be part of some of these existing events? Or maybe there is an opportunity to start something similar between churches in your area?

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