Vision for children and young people

I want to speak a bit differently today from normal. Rather than focussing on the bible passages we’ve just heard, rich, challenging and important as they are, I want to focus on us - this church community - and to share with you something of a new vision.

And because the gospel is profoundly challenging and important, I’ve posted a sermon specifically on that on the website - and as you listen to what I’m about to say, I hope you’ll hear some connections with Jesus’ teaching as well.

I hope that, if you’re a regular part of the church community here, you will know that Caroline, our wonderful friend and sister in Christ, is embarking on a new chapter in her life. After two and a half years as the Lay Minister at St Mary’s, with responsibility for our ministry with children, young people and families, and after many years of prayer and discernment, she is heading off, at the end of this month, to train as a priest. 

That’s good news for the Church of England, which Caroline has been called to serve, and it’s good news for Caroline, whose deep sense of calling has been affirmed and blessed. It’s good news for us too, because we are seeing someone we love stepping out in faith and hope into a new ministry. But it does mean Caroline is going to have to cut down her working hours. That means that, from the end of September, she will only be working for 3 days a week with us, with the rest of her week focussed on her training. 

So with all that in mind, the Church Leadership Team has been thinking and praying about our next steps - and earlier this week we shared a vision with the PCC, who said a wholehearted ‘yes’ - and that’s what I want to share with you all now.

3 years ago we said we wanted to invest more in our work with children, young people and families. There were lots of children and teenagers in church, and we were doing some really good stuff, and we wanted to do more - more for our own kids, more with the schools and more with the families that we have no contact with.

And around that time we were given a very, very generous donation which made it possible for us to employ Caroline for three years. And her job was focused on three areas - children and families within church; our work with the preschool and primary school and outreach to those that we have no contact with.

And over the last 2 and half years, we have seen the fruit of that work; of that investment. Our Sunday Groups continue to flourish. And the Youth Group is great, and we’ve run two weekends away to St Bartz. We’ve shaped a whole approach to church life around ‘Raising Faith’,  and our young people have led services and preached and prayed up the front.

And we’re in the preschool every week, as well as being heavily engaged with Goudhurst Primary and also Colliers Green, where we take assemblies, run special services, visit classes and lead creative Prayer Spaces for children and staff. And we’ve developed new contacts with the High Weald Academy which have led to us setting up a mentoring scheme, with 10 adults trained to support the students there - a piece of work which has been taken on by the Weald Family Hub.

And then there’s Blend. Hopefully you all know something about Blend - our pop up Cafe for young people in years 7 to 11 which takes place here every Wednesday. Blend has 87 kids on its books and a regular attendance of 30 young people each week, along with a team of adult leaders. Through it new friendships have emerged, important conversations have taken place, prayers have been said and faith has been shared. And last week Blend went out on tour to the estate and nearly 40 kids turned up, along with their families.

And Blend is reaching parts of the community that Sunday morning church isn’t and probably won’t. However well we do church like ‘this’ - however welcoming we are, however accessible and well advertised our services, however full of faith and worship and teaching, the fact is the vast majority of people in our local communities will not come along. Church like this is too alien, too strange, too off putting. 

And Blend is engaging with some of those people - especially the teenagers and their families. 

And let’s be really honest. We have not managed, in particular, to engage with the part of this village community which lives on the estate. We’ve said for years that we want to, but it hasn’t happened.

And Blend is engaging with that part of our community. 

And other people from other churches are seeing what’s going on with Blend and are wanting to run it too. And with Caroline’s support, Blend Sandhurst and Blend Sittingbourne will be starting next week, and at least three other churches are looking to start it in the near future as well. 

We invested in our work with young people, and so much has happened as a result. 

So the question we’ve been asking is, what is the opportunity that God is offering us now, as Caroline changes her role? How can we build on what has happened?

And here’s the vision, part one.

We give Caroline three days a week to grow Blend. To grow the number of kids and families that are involved, to grow the possibility of faith with those young people and their families, and to grow the number of Blends that exist. 

To help that, she will also continue with her schools work - because that’s where the key relationships with children and families are first built, as well as with organising the various services and events that we do for the wider community - things like the Light Party for instance.

And that means her no longer being responsible for the work with children, young people and families within church - Sunday groups, St Bartz, Youth Group and so on. 

And the vision, part two; because we care passionately about the place of children and young people within our own church, we start a new 2 or 3 day a week job to oversee that ministry. That job will be to help us keep children and young people at the very centre of church life, so that we remain absolutely committed to their faith and belonging. 

So, one job becomes two. Caroline leading on mission ‘out there’, and a new post leading on our own children and young people ‘in here’.

I’ve been here for 7 years now, and that’s long enough to have seen a 4 year old, just starting school when we arrived, become an 11 year old beginning their Secondary adventure, and an 11 year old in their new secondary school blazer, become an 18 year old school leaver heading off to University, and an 18 year old just starting student life, grow into a mature 25 year old adult.

And my greatest joy has been to see many of those children and young people growing up as people of faith, rooted in a caring community and resourced to live well in a complex world.

And we want to see more of that - we want to see another generation on the same journey, and we want to see more young people coming to faith, from more diverse communities and having the chance to belong to a community of believers in the same way.

And that’s what drives this vision. We have seen the fruit of the commitment we made a few years ago, and we want more.

But….and there is a but.

At the moment we can’t afford it.

We are committed to Caroline continuing in post, on the new 3 day a week role, until her training ends and she heads off to be ordained - that’ll be in July 2021. We can afford that with the money that we were given 3 years ago and with other external sources of income.

But we have no money for the other part of the post - the bit focussed on the children in the church community. And that will cost £12,000 a year - that’s £1,000 a month.

So here is a request. An invitation. Can we make that possible together? Could you help make that possible? Could we, between us, commit to giving £1,000 a month, so that we can get this new post up and running?

At the PCC this week, we decided that we would ask, in faith, and see what happens. 

Could you consider giving something extra towards that total of £1000 per month, so that we can commit to more mission, and to more support to the young people in church?

Specifically, what we want to ask is for you - if you can - to pray about this, asking God to bless this vision and to sense whether this is something you feel led to support.  If you feel that the answer is yes, then to consider making a pledge for whatever you are able to give so that we know whether we can make the £12,000 per year that we need. If so, we will go ahead with the post. If not, we will have to re-think. If we get more than that, we can do even more exciting things. 

In a minute the band will play and you’ll be given a leaflet. And if you can and if you want to - please fill it in with the amount you feel able to pledge. You might need to take it home to think, pray and talk to others. Or you may know right now what you can do. And there’s a postbox at the back for your completed leaflets, or you can also do it on the church website or by post. 

Only Dave, the Treasurer, Becky who runs the finances and John, who does all our Gift Aid, will know what you write. I won’t know, the PCC won’t know - nobody else will know. 

And of course, there’s absolutely no pressure, and nobody is going to check up with you, so you should feel absolutely and completely free to give whatever you are able to give, whether that’s something or nothing. 

And if it’s easier for you, you can also email your pledge to the address on the leaflet - which will only be seen by those three people, or you can talk privately to Dave. 

We’ll leave a couple of weeks for everyone - including people who aren’t here today - to think and pray and  towards the end of September, when we know where we’ve reached, we’ll make a decision about our next steps and let you all know.

We don’t do this very often - in fact I don’t think I’ve ever done this before. But I am unashamed in asking you today. We are confident that the vision is a good one. We know that when we have invested in our children’s ministry it has borne fruit. We know that we want to do more. We know we want more children coming to faith, and more children growing in faith

Could you consider investing in making that vision come true?

Amen.

Hugh Nelson