Sarah Howes is one of our new Mission Enablers for the Gen2 Project. Sarah is based at St Mary’s Wollaston and Bozeat, and shares her experience of lockdown with us.
When lockdown hit, all our usual youth ministry had to stop and suddenly we were faced with the challenge of trying to reach out, support and disciple young people in this unusual time.
We began a youth WhatsApp group to simply keep in touch and offer support to the young people. We weren’t able to keep in touch with everyone but it gave us the opportunity to keep in touch with some. We began two youth Zoom groups per week, which we will continue for the duration of the pandemic. With services moving online, we began to produce pre-recorded video content for young people as part of the service, and a midweek video for young people with a short simple message. We were aiming, as the incarnational model advocates, to simply build relationships with the young people, whilst walking with them (in an online sense) in their day-to-day life. At the same time I felt strongly that Jesus still had something to say to them in the current situation, and so wanted to open up conversations immediately about where God was in this pandemic. My first online video was on ‘Walking in faith, not fear’ as I felt this reflected his heart for them in this situation.
Personally, I feel lockdown has given me a real opportunity to reflect on the youth ministry in our context, in theory and in practice. In the past, our youth ministry model has felt very much like the funnel model – open youth groups as outreach attracting unchurched young people with the hope that they will begin to attend one of our smaller discipleship groups or youth work during a Sunday service. Although I continue to see the positives of this model, I am now becoming more aware and interested in other models of ministry – particularly the intergenerational model. I became very aware over lockdown that faith (or no faith) in young people really starts in the home (not with church youth clubs) and so, moving forward, I’m beginning to look at how we can encourage faith in families, and better support parents of youth alongside supporting young people.
I’m also thinking differently about our youth provision during Sunday services, and instead trying to discern how to involve young people in all we do, at least some of the time. I’m beginning to work out how we can facilitate a number of adults in our church to get alongside a young person and encourage their involvement – for example, asking our volunteer on the sound desk to have a young person sat next to him to learn and be involved in that area of church life. Looking forward, I am envisioning an approach to youth ministry that unifies the best bits of several of the ministry models, and is wider than our previous approach.
The pandemic has also encouraged me to consider other youth ministry practices – for example, detached youth work and youth work outside of the church building, which, through a process of risk assessment, can be considerably more Covid secure. In the last few weeks, we have been able to meet small groups of young people outside in places informal and familiar to them – for example, in Bozeat we meet at a local café, buy them a takeaway milkshake and then walk to the local park. We’ve been able to have some fire pit events too and it’s been great to have some face-to-face conversations with them during this time.