General Synod Day 3: ‘Don’t give up on the young’

June 13, 2022

Encouraging our young people back to church after the pandemic was the standout theme on the final day of General Synod 2022 in Edinburgh.

A series of personal contributions from the Provincial Youth Committee gave honest assessments of where we find ourselves after lockdown, and inspiring visions of how we can flourish again.

The Rev Tembu Rongong, Convener of the Provincial Youth Committee, was clear in his message: ‘Don’t give up’.

“How do we continue to support and nurture our young people in this changing and challenging world around us?” he asked, as members gathered at St Paul’s & St George’s for the final day of General Synod 2022. “And what can I say to those who have found the youth in their churches have not yet returned?

“Keep that door open. I don’t suppose all of your people from other age groups have returned yet either? And please, please, please, do not blame them. If your young people come back, when they come back, please say ‘welcome it is lovely to see you’ not ‘well, you’ve not been here in ages’.”

(PYC representatives from top left clockwise: Beki Cansdale, James Gardner, Tembu Rongong and Claire Benton-Evans)

Claire Benton-Evans, Provincial Youth Co-ordinator and Youth & Children Officer for the Diocese of Edinburgh, agreed that the PYC finds itself in the same position as many churches, wondering where our young people have gone.

“Many congregations might find themselves wishing for the key to the magic cupboard – you know the one: the magic cupboard that’s bursting with young people who are eager to fill our pews, Sunday schools and youth groups! It’s easy for us to get stuck, wishing for the key to that magic cupboard, which will make our ministry to young people come alive again.

“Of course, there is no such key. Instead, what we have to do is more important than whichever teaching programme we use or whatever events we put on: the work of ministry to and with young people is all about building relationship – and this is the most important thing when it comes to developing disciples. Building relationship is about embodying the love and grace of God in our relationship with young people; it is about helping them to belong.”

Claire added: “Building relationship with teenagers in our churches has been a particular challenge since the pandemic, with all its lockdowns and restrictions. Young people have been swamped by the demands of school assessments, deprived of the emotional and social support of their peers, and denied much of the freewheeling fun of being a teenager. Many of them are struggling with their mental health. They are hungry to reconnect in person: as one said to me, “Face-to-face is way better than FaceTime”.

Provincial Youth Week will take place in person this summer at Glenalmond College, with the theme of ‘God’s Year: Out of the Ordinary’

Synod also held from James Gardner, Youth Officer for the Diocese of St Andrew’s, Dunkeld & Dunblane, who effectively gave a case study of Diocesan activity since 2019. Accepting the challenge of finding out what was and was not working, a Young People’s Committee was set up in the Diocese, followed by the creation of a Youth Forum, the organising of a Youth Gathering, the creation of a Youth Hymn, and the holding of a first residential development planning weekend.

Ley-Anne Forsyth, Diocese of Moray, Ross & Caithness followed with a personal and emotional reflection on what happened when she was a young person having a tough time at Glen, the PYC annual camp, paying heartfelt tribute to her Bishop for recognising her problems and, just as importantly, listening to her.

The PYC session was rounded off by the Rev Beki Cansdale, Diocese of Argyll & The Isles, who admitted that at the age of 26 she can often be the youngest person in the room in a church-related situation by at least 20 years.

“There are two ways we could respond to this,” said Beki. “We could lament the lack of younger people, we could see the frustrations and difficulties, and simply give up. Or we could see it as an incredible opportunity to build a community that is not only welcoming and inclusive but also multi-generational.”

Beki added: “We have a unique opportunity right now – in this season as we are building back after two long and hard years, we have the chance to really get to know our young people and children by name, to help provide a space for them to learn, to grow, to ask questions, to be encouraged and supported, to really be heard.

“In the words of Dr Seuss: ‘A person’s a person no matter how small’.”

Earlier in the day, Synod heard the Rev Canon Charlotte Methuen report on Inter-Church Relations Committee activities over the past year, including the signing of the St Andrew Declaration with the Church of Scotland last November, before motions were carried on the strengthening of safeguarding measures in line with developments generally, and the setting of a quota figure of £685,000 for the year 2023, representing a 3.79 per cent rise on 2022.

There was extended debate over proposed changes to Rules of Order, which led to the carrying of a series of motions following amendment to the original proposal.

All election motions were carried.

The meeting ended with the closing act of worship and confirmation of the Acts of Synod (pictured above).