Friday, September 23, 2011

My Reflections on the International Anglican Youth Network Provincial Youth Officers’ Meeting in Hong Kong: 13th - 18th August 2011

This was a gathering of 16 people from 14 different Provinces within the Anglican Communion. A further 7 people from 6 Provinces (and one of the ACC youth reps) were unable to attend due to lack of finance to attend, inability to gain an entry visa, or difficulty in taking time off work. Given the difficult times we live in both for the Communion and economically, this showed that interest in the work of this Network is still strong, and we continue to fulfil a vital role in encouraging those working with young people at the Provincial level, and in advocating for youth ministry and those who work with them across the Communion.
It was a privilege to be present, both representing youth ministry in this Province, and as one of the organising group. It was inspiring to meet people from around the world who share our passion for youth ministry, getting to know them, learning from them, and to be able to offer what we have learnt from doing youth work in our context. We are one of the best resourced youth ministries in the Communion, and at the moment one of the most experienced. It confirmed for me the importance of people from our church being present and playing a significant role in these events. We have a lot of wisdom to share, and it is incumbent on us to share it.
One of the highlights was the time we spent at engaged with the church in Hong Kong: attending a revolutionary youth service[1], dinner with the Archbishop, and meeting with the Diocesan Youth Officers and some young people from the three Dioceses[2] and the Macau Missionary Area. It was important to engage with the local church and get to know some of their issues. All of these people are full time parish clergy, in busy parishes who work hard to ensure good programmes are in place for young people across their Diocese and the Province. It was impressive to see how well they worked together and supported each other.
The meeting occurred in three parts. In the first we heard reports from each of the Provinces present, and were able to celebrate with them their highlights, and to share the issues of concern. The issues that arose out of those reports[3] shaped much of the rest of our time together.
We had two large sections of time working in small groups, the first to address several of the agenda items including:  ACC Resolutions from IAYN, IAYN statement of purpose with terms of reference for the Steering Group and Regional Steering Group Representatives, and a rewriting of the introduction to ‘Ending Violence Against Young Women and Girls’; and the second writing articles for the next edition of Buenas Nuevas. These articles began to address some of the issues raised in the Provincial reports. Being collaborative efforts written by people from a variety of cultural and theological perspectives they offer a rich contribution to our understanding of and practice of youth ministry across the Anglican Church. I am really looking forward to this edition being publish early next year.
Other highlights for me included the daily rhythm of prayer that was led using the languages and prayers and songs from each of the Provinces present. This was a rich and life giving experience, more so than if we had just used the common language of English.
We were shown a moving DVD was shown outlining the devastation of the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the response by NSKK. The ‘let us walk together project’ which was set up by the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK),  a workshop for mentally handicapped people in the Miyagi Prefecture[4] to make Madoka crafts to sell and raise funds. We were each given samples to sell. IAYN decided to make this a Network project for the next year to support this ministry. The suggested minimum donation is $10 each for the crafts.   Orders can be made through John.
The Archbishop of Canterbury recently said that the real work of the Communion happens through the Networks. This meeting was a good example of the truth of this statement. Many Provinces struggle to fund youth ministry, and to adequately support those who work in this most important ministry. Those that were able to attend were greatly encouraged and supported by being able to participate in such a gathering. Our understanding of the huge variety of issues facing those working in this ministry was expanded, along with work on ways to address some of those issues. As a Province have a lot to offer this network, and I hope that we continue to play our part.

[1] This was held in the Cathedral for Eastern Kowloon Diocese. It was the first time they had used modern music with guitars and drums in a liturgy of the Eucharist. There were 500 young people present from the three Dioceses in Hong Kong, along with the local Bishop, the Dean, and other clergy, all of whom seemed very supportive.
[2] Hong Kong Island, Eastern Kowloon, Western Kowloon.
[3] Natural disasters -  response in provincial youth work context; Combination of children and youth work (ministry); Lack of practical application of  promises to take youth work seriously – priority of youth work and training; Sexuality- HIV & AIDS ; Emigration of young people; Impact of Technology and secularism; Moving youth ministry from ‘priority’ to consciousness of the church; Developing youth leadership; Ensuring that youth ministry practitioners are cared for appropriately/holistically; Violence and young people in their communities  and what is being said by them through this - paying attention to  the voice of young people; Issue of human trafficking; Suicide and its causes – creating sense of purpose in the lives of young people; Communication across the  communion.
[4] The region most affected by the earthquake and tsunami. 

Moving youth ministry from being a priority to being part of the fabric of who we are?

At the recent meeting of Anglican Provincial Youth Officers in Hong Kong we worked on a new edition for Buenas Nuevas, the journal of the International Anglican Youth Network. As a taster, here is one of the articles that will come out in this next edition.

Over recent years many dioceses and provinces within the Communion have made ministry to and among young people a priority. A lot has been written about the importance of youth ministry. Youth policies have been approved by synods with acclamation. Bishops have spoken enthusiastically about youth ministry, sometimes beginning their Synod report with this good news. Other provinces have affirmed the priority of funding youth ministry initiatives and the importance of engaging those under 25 with the gospel and Anglican tradition.
At the recent meeting of Provincial Youth Officers in Hong Kong there was a lot of good news on this front. But there was also a lot of concern. Too often these good intentions and encouraging pronouncements have not been translated into action. Stories were told of bishops affirming youth ministry in their synod addresses, while the youth ministry budget were cut, in some cases by 90%. We heard of the struggle some leaders have in finding ways of helping their bishop attend diocesan youth events, or of engaging with young people at any level. While youth ministry is often a stated priority, when funds become short, youth ministry is one of the first things to be cut. When the demands on time become too large, spending time with young people and those who work with them are among the first things to be dropped. We heard stories of parish priests not spending time with young people, of cutting services targeting young people and children, and overseeing the demise of youth and children’s ministries due to lack of resources and time. None of these stories speak of youth ministry being a priority. Nor is it a priority when we struggle to find examples of ordinands or those ordained being offered any training or encouragement to engage in youth ministry. Yes, a lot is being said about the importance of youth ministry. But too often these grand intentions are not translated into actions. There is a desperate need for this priority to be taken out of the “good intention basket”, into the consciousness of our provincial, diocesan and parish leadership, and into the consciousness of all those who belong to our church. There is a desperate need for it to become part of the fabric of who we are.
We don’t say this because we want to save the church. (Although to be honest the long term prognosis of too many provinces is pretty dire.) Nor do we say this to make people feel guilty. We understand that we operate under tight constraints financially and time-wise.
We say this because young people are a significant part of the wider community in every province. In some parts of our church young people are a very significant component. For example around 70% of the Church of Melanesia is under the age of 30. Young people are part of our communities and our church.
How then can we take them seriously, hear their voice and allow them to take their place among those of us who are older? How can we live out for young people what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians “We cared so much for you, and you became so dear to us, that we were willing to give our lives for you when we gave you God's message.”[1] This care is part of our calling as baptised people, people called into God’s ongoing mission as members of Christ’s church. It is also how we live out the promises we make at every baptism. “As the community of faith, we rejoice at this baptism and will share with N what we ourselves have received: a delight in prayer, a love for the word of God, a desire to follow the way of Christ, and food for the journey.”[2]
The report on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s address to the House of Lords on the UK riots reinforces this. “Reflecting on the frustration of many young people at the betrayal of their own generation by some of their contemporaries, Williams said, ‘Communities deserve the best, and above all, let me repeat it My Lords, young people deserve the best.’"[3] Youth ministry needs to be more than a stated priority because young people deserve the best we have to offer, not the leftovers like crumbs under the table.
None of this is very new. That is why we often assert that youth ministry is important. The hard part is moving this thought into our consciousness so that it shapes how we act and the decisions we make. While we might say that youth are important most people in church would rather spend time with people their own age. Many also feel inadequate when faced with being involved with young people and look for others to engage in this ministry. Most adults in church do not have the time to run a youth group, and often don’t have the skills.
We are not suggesting we all get involved in running youth groups. Instead we suggest that we need to prayerfully engage with young people, meet them as fellow human beings, fellow pilgrims, as those beloved by God. Rather than wondering how we might fix young people, we might more fruitfully wonder how we experience God in their lives. Rather than asking what it is we should be producing, it might be more faithful to ask how we are being invited to join in God’s ongoing mission among young people. Rather than being stressed about what to do next, maybe we need to spend time in prayer, so that we might be filled with God’s infinite and life giving love for young people. Then maybe youth ministry will no longer be a priority but be part of the fabric of who we are as we live out who God invites us to be.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 2:8
[2] A New Zealand Prayer Book, He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa Published by Genesis Publications, Christchurch: 2005

Monday, September 19, 2011


I recieved from a friend
It is work reading and thinking about.


A few weeks ago, my daughter attended a “team building” exercise at which the members of the team gave a presentation on their lives.  One team member, who grew up on the Cape Flats spoke of her impoverished childhood, describing a small home without electricity or running water. She mentioned that she and her two brothers shared clothes because they didn’t have enough to have a complete set each. She said, “I didn’t know that was WRONG.”  She said that she had only one pair of shoes, and thought that was OK because she didn’t know that it was WRONG to have only one pair.   She concluded by saying that she had thought it was an easy happy existence, and only learned later that she was WRONG because it was a very hard life and she was  unhappy without knowing it. . She apologised, giving the excuse that she DIDN’T KNOW ANY BETTER. 

Thandi, who through grit, intelligence and perseverance in the face of many obstacles was achieving her goals,  abased herself before the more privileged ands less accomplished members of the team because she had been taught that being poor was  WRONG and somehow below standard.

 [“Whose standard?”  I hope you’re asking yourselves. Certainly not God’s or St Francis’.]

There, my friends, we have in a nutshell the pernicious and corrosive effect of the invasion of Western consumerism into the Third World.. .

What could be a greater psychological abuse than teaching someone that they are too ignorant or stupid to know what their real feelings are?  What could be more evil than making happy confident people unhappy and diffident?

Multiply Thandi’s experience by millions - millions of people wounded, scarred, and made to despise themselves – all to feed the greed of Western business. What a crime against humanity!  What a social and environmental catastrophe!

Just consider the psychological and economic consequences of making someone feel inferior because they thought one pair of shoes was enough. Look at the result of lying to people that they have to buy a lot to be worthy people. .  We’re reaping the harvest of that lie now:  envy, crime, violence, hatred, environmental degradation, and the collapse of the social contract and economic morality.

And most of all, we have made it extremely unlikely that any movement to save the environment will succeed. For every person willing to decrease their consumption significantly, and there are very few, thousands are desperately trying to increase their consumption to prove that they are “worthy” people. For every person calling for less consumption and waste, there are thousands asserting their right as “worthy” people to consume and waste more.

Francis would have wept and we should too.  Not only for Thandi, but for ourselves as well.