Thursday, 26 March 2015

Prepare For Our Children's Future

 One statement that got jotted up on the flip chart at the Vision Day was 'we need to prepare our children and young people for the rest of their lives.'

Reflecting on this I thought about the activities and themes we explore on Youth Programme weekends.

Our topics include self-esteem, leadership, exploration of gender and sexuality issues, meditation techniques, teamwork, listening skills, creativity and the building of rituals and sacred space. We all hope that these skills and experiences will help prepare our young people for valuable and happy adult lives in which they can find their voice, know some meditation and relaxation techniques, continue to develop an open, questioning faith if they wish and feel part of a supportive community. At youth weekends the youth leaders and young people have a great deal of freedom in choosing activities that seem relevant and we craft a kind of worship that feels fresh and engaging.

Many of our congregations have a rich tradition and history that holds and grounds them in the present. However, many of us know that it is this same rich heritage and church culture that can sometimes, paradoxically, prevent us from ensuring that the style of worship and kind of activities we offer are truly inviting and inspiring to local people who are seeking a vibrant, liberal faith and have yet to discover the Unitarian approach.

I believe we have a great deal to learn from our Unitarian young people. Our children and young people have a habit of speaking their truth, as many of us know only too well, and tend to have a preference for spontaneous exploration of the joys and challenges of today rather than the following old ways of doing things just for the sake of tradition.

Perhaps one could conclude that unless we make our weekly worship and mid-week activities more accessible to people of all ages, cultures and identities and truly keep our open minded, liberal faith alive and kicking and growing and really relevant for the needs of today's communities then we will inevitably watch our decline and slow transition from a dissenting, radical faith to a museum piece.
I believe it was a previous Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, who controversially predicted that the Unitarians would be the first religious movement in the UK to become extinct in the not too distant future. How can we collectively make sure that his fortune telling of doom does not come true?

So I would suggest that British Unitarians have a huge responsibility to continue to develop our work with children and young people for two main reasons.

Firstly, because our engagement with and investment in the younger generations has the power to transform lives.

Secondly, because unless we are proactive in bridging the gap between the way our young people want to put Unitarianism into practice and the way some of us want to protect our Sunday four hymn sandwich culture and other tried and tested ways of doing things then we may inevitably lose some of our relevance and vitality in today's ever changing society.

I would argue that we need to learn how children and teenagers' vision and ideas about our faith can prepare us adults for a more Unitarian, honest and vital future. We need to be more creative and proactive in seeking out this vision.

Greater involvement of young people in our decision making and governance would be a good step forward. Was it just a coincidence in the recent referendum on Scottish independence that young people of 16 and over were allowed to vote and the poll achieved one of the highest turn outs in recent history?

Recently, the newly formed Youth Strategy group made a formal proposal that an urgent priority for our Unitarian Movement should be to support a new position, preferably paid, to focus on engaging with and supporting the 18-35 age group.

For God's sake, or rather for the sake of ensuring that more people in Britain can find a welcoming, accessible liberal faith tradition when they look for it, let's invest more in our children and young people, not just financially but spiritually and politically.

Rev. John Harley GA Youth Coordinator

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