As September begins I hope you have managed to live August with a different rhythm.
For many, this is the start of a new academic year, and as I look at our commitment to share the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ so that people may know life in all its fullness, I want to shine a spotlight on children and their families, young people, schools, colleges and the university. A number of our vision priorities add a beam to this light, and I am encouraged by worshipping communities revealing good news stories of nurturing faith and flourishing in children, families and young people; yet I am also struck by a dearth in other places.
And so I am beginning this term in a place of both thanksgiving and lament:
Deep thanksgiving for all who are creative and courageous in engagement with children and families and young people; and for the children and young people themselves who lead,
challenge and inspire us as the Church together. And yet there is another angle on the picture, and my deep Lament is for the places where we are complacent, or lacking in hunger to fully embrace the God-given opportunities of generous welcome and connection with children, young people and families.
This letter is therefore an invitation to every worshipping community to join me in thanksgiving and lament as we pray and reflect across the diocese. It has been hugely encouraging to hear and experience stories of new toddler groups emerging; prayer spaces in schools; increasing connection with young people through sport; takeaway family activities at Messy Church; young people attending the Spree camp weekend in July; creative preparation and follow-up with baptism families; and our connection with young people through our Liedentity campaign. I know these examples are only a snapshot of what is going on.
And yet, I’m sure that like me, many of you are saddened by some people’s attitude towards baptism families and their guests; or those instances of people expressing objection to all-age events or family friendly spaces because of mess, financial implications or tradition being threatened. I am also aware of parts of our diocese where there is seemingly no church engagement with young people.
Our calling to be Christ’s ambassadors, not least to and with children, families and young people, is a calling for every baptised member of the Body of Christ.
In those places where courageous ways of worshipping are being explored so as to connect with more people and complement that which already exists, it is wonderful when all those who worship in the more traditional Sunday services pledge their support, not least with prayer.
I therefore invite you to…
– for the events which are being shaped in different ways and often happening in different places (such as schools, sports centres, pubs and village halls)
– for all children, families and young people across the diocese – those who don’t yet know Christ and those who do. Pray for faith to be sparked and nurtured in all the different contexts of each week.
– for those who live out their Christian faith during the week working with children, families and young people, particularly praying for Christian teachers and staff in schools, nurseries, colleges and universities, that they may confidently share Christ’s love and hope in who they are.
• Talk, listen, challenge and encourage: I hope that PCCs and worshipping communities will continue to have discussions which are both encouraging and challenging, and which include children and young people themselves. And in parish churches where the latter are absent, it might be enlightening to find a creative way of asking them ‘why?’ so that the church can be challenged afresh.
I am also keen to give young people a voice and engage them in diocesan decision making and leadership, not only regarding our diocesan boards and committees, but also using a different forum such as a youth council. If you can share any creative ways in which you do this, I would like to hear from you.
• Encourage representatives from every worshipping community to participate in events and training emerging from LIFE: Please take particular note of Mega Messy Church (Sept 16) and the Catalyst event focused on initiating or developing youth ministry (Sept 22). If you’re not sure what else is coming up you can check our online events calendar
I would also like to draw your attention to an exciting development with Cheltenham Literature Festival (Oct 5-14). This year the Diocese of Gloucester is a major partner and will be running a family tent for the Festival. This will require a high number of volunteers. Please do consider contributing to this exciting project. To register your interest please contact Kerry Pateman on or 01452 835512.
This vital emphasis on young people, children and families will continue to be a key focus in Church House and College Green in the ongoing desire to resource and support worshipping communities. I have therefore provided a useful contacts list at the end of this letter.
And finally, I invite you to send me a postcard to share how your worshipping community is responding, particularly to lament. I would love to hear about fresh commitments to pray,
or plans to hold a discussion with young people to hear their voices, or??
As you walk into September please be assured of my prayers as we seek to join in with what God is doing.
With my thanks and prayers as ever
Leader – Jo Wetherall (contact details above)