During a Candlemas service at Cheltenham College, I was interviewed and was asked a question about who I thought had suffered the most as a result of the pandemic. My response was that while people of all ages have stories of pain and loss, I do think that young people have been particularly impacted.
Two years is a large percentage of your life if you are a teenager, and in those years when you are already grappling with physical and emotional change, as well as making choices about the next steps towards your future, the endless uncertainty of a pandemic has added to teenager turbulence.
Given all that has been out of the control of young people, whether that be the spread of a virus, decisions around learning, or restrictions around what you can do and who you can be with, it is hardly surprising that issues around mental health are so prevalent.
Last week I was delighted to visit Cotswold School with Lucy Taylor (Diocesan Director of Communications and Engagement) to discuss our Liedentity work and to make plans for a future visit. It was good to hear of all that the school have put in place regarding mental health and I’m looking forward to making a podcast on the issue next month which will involve some of the students at the school.
Also last week I heard the story from a speaker in another diocese, of a young person with many struggles in her life. Someone rather tentatively invited her to a church youth event where she heard about Jesus Christ for the first time and at the end of it expressed some anger and frustration. This was not because of the event, but because she couldn’t understand why no one had told her of this good news before.
That is a sobering challenge for all of us who are adults. It is not an issue simply to be placed at the feet of youth ministers or Christian teenagers, teachers or parents, but rather I believe it is something God longs for each of us to hear and to respond to with lament, hope, action and prayer.
In LIFE Together in this diocese, local stories have resulted in the shining of a spotlight on ‘Investing in people and programmes which excite young people to explore and grow in faith’.
I give thanks for all those involved in youth ministry and for our growing team of Youth Connectors across our deaneries. I give thanks for our amazing Christian teachers and chaplains in schools, the University of Gloucestershire and Hartpury College; chaplains to Cadet groups and those involved with other uniformed organisations; all the connections being made with young people through Sportily and environmental issues; and all the sparks people are seeking to fan into flame in many different local contexts, not least through a desire to live the vision of Growing Faith across school, home and local worshipping community.
In this week and all weeks, let us commit to praying for all this as we pray for the well-being of young people, and may we be personally challenged. Let us pray for mutual encounters in safe and respectful ways, marked by listening and learning, and a desire to be and share the good news of Jesus Christ with young people.
This comes with thanks and prayers as ever,