This was my very first 24 hour time away with Children’s Ministry Network and whilst I knew one or two people who were going, I didn’t know many. However, they seemed to know me and we had fun working out how and when we’d met – this included in my changing the gender of Mel and also seeing that Marth had legs (joys of only meeting on Zoom)! It was good to meet people from different denominations, some of whom arrived late or not at all (meet you next time Aled) due to the snowy weather.
High Leigh conference centre was our home for these precious hours, a place I visited 39 years ago at a conference held by the Methodist Church in the International Year of Youth. I shared how investing in young people is so important and that I bear witness to the investment others put into my life.
‘Wrestling the big world questions with children’ was our theme and Sam and Lorraine led us in 3 sessions. These focussed on Exploring, Experiencing and Expressing and using our heart, mind and strength to think, feel and act! Judy from Wales gave some interesting insights via video and in our small discussion groups we explored how we engender a collaborative process with our children and how do we truly engage them in meaningful conversations? Tokenism was off limits and we wanted to know how do enable children to effect change?
Sam and Lorraine shared about the power of ‘pen portraits’ and how they had asked children to put these together for a conference using the 2 stars, 1 wish idea. 2 stars for things they like about church and 1 wish for something they’d like to be different. Each child completed one of these and their profile was left on the chairs of the delegates. Each delegate was asked to read that profile and in all the decision making, they had to keep this child in mind. This was incredibly powerful.
The need to ‘create a brave space’ was the major challenge for us all, and we realised that many of the gatekeepers of children’s voices need to have a cultural change and shift.
Fishcy music was used creatively in the times of worship and reflection, and the use of imagery and children’s words reflecting on major world events was hard hitting. Those hard and tough questions often have no answers and in the midst of all, God is with us.
Hearing updates from different denominations across Britain and Ireland was both an encouragement and also challenge, as people grapple with change, budgets and priorities. Two highlights for me were the news of 2 resources coming out from the Salvation Army – ‘The Small Fish’ podcast aimed at 11 year olds due for release in the summer and also the BOUNCE ball which uses a simple ball with accompanying cards to help children explore their feelings and responses – look out for these.
Food featured throughout the 24 hours, and meal times generated rich times of conversation and connection. A thread throughout our time was the power of getting alongside people in the everyday and doing life together. The news about a ‘Chop and Chat’ session in a Quaker church demonstrated how young people preparing soup was a nourishment on so many levels as they shared the activity and outcome with others.
In our last reflection time, the focus was on ‘excuses’ for why children are not listened to. It was very challenging as many of the excuses were ones we’ve heard many times and we wondered what would happen if the roles were reversed and we said old people are ‘too old to join in’ or ‘they are not competent’. Hearing of a session being led by young people who asked an old person ‘to read the lesson’ and another older person ‘to take the collection’ led to many wry smiles.
We heard how Sam finds pots of money down the back of denominational sofas and how this has led to a creative award scheme, that honours children and young people who are making their voice heard and make a difference in their world. Children as young as 4 have received an award and we all loved hearing about Henry whose love of lampposts has led to him setting up a Lamppost Society with its own Facebook group. He’d raised funds for a village in Africa where there were no lampposts in order to bring light to that place.
Agents of Change in the Methodist Church is another way in which children and young people have been recognised and we were challenged re how are we recording these stories and sharing them for others to hear, and be inspired. Demonstrating our impact is good for funding but also so rewarding for people who invest so much time into working with children and young people.
The 24 hours ended with a business meeting, and we were all excited to hear about the ‘Ministry Essentials’ training programme. We talked about which other organisations and denominations needed to be in the room and that the children and young people of Britain and Ireland need us to be championing a cultural change across the UK so that their voices are heard.