I, along with Megan, Synod Youth Rep for Wales, jumped at the chance to attend the Church of Scotland’s National Youth Assembly, partly to fill up some time over summer (:P), but also, more importantly, to learn about another denomination’s work with young people, and to strengthen the bonds between our two denominations (and respective youth bodies). Despite being very envious of the acronym for Church of Scotland Youth – CoSY, I came into the Assembly with an open mind!
The welcome we received from all the delegates was fantastic. We were instantly made to feel like one of the CoSY family! This may have been aided by the fact that nearly half of the participants were attending for the first time, so were in the same boat. I know that if I were one of the team running the NYA, I’d be encouraged to see that nearly half were new!
Many aspects of the Assembly mirrored that of our own Youth Assembly (which you can now book your place for at www.urc.org.uk/urcya, shameless plug complete!), but there were also some differences, and it was that diversity, that fresh way of looking at things and approaching issues, that really inspired me over the weekend.
Worship was varied in content, but always contained some rousing praise songs to start off! We followed the engaging themes of calling, journeying and pilgrimage.
As we journeyed through the weekend together, we discussed three key topics: Gender Justice, Mental Health and Future of Ministries (Fresh Expressions). These vital topics were covered by a variety of workshops and keynote speakers giving input into the discussions. The input provided gave great depth and breadth around each topic, allowing fruitful conversations, both in small group discussions and plenary sessions.
The main topic of interest for me was Mental Health. I felt that, attending as a representative of URC Youth, it would be fitting to tell the story of our progress with regards to mental wellbeing awareness and provision throughout our denomination. NYA was delighted to hear what we had done and my contribution seemed to change the dynamic of the conversation from thoughts into action. Many ideas and initiatives were thought of by delegates, all of which have been minuted and will be taken forward by the Youth Reps (similar to our Youth Executive) to work on throughout the year.
With the Church of Scotland encountering similar issues to us regarding changing patterns of ministry, I felt reasonably well informed on the matter and it seemed that we had an awful lot in common. It was good to hear CoSY advocating schemes like Fresh Expressions, and exploring how we can make better use of the resources that we have to further the work of the Church as we seek to spread Jesus’ message of love together.
One recurring issue which I emphasised to the Assembly was the reasons we should be considering these matters vs the reasons we often do so. In my own, personal opinion, most of these conversations around future patterns of ministry have arisen because of a shortage of ministers of word and sacraments (or excess of churches, whatever way you look at it), almost as if these conversations have been forced upon us. However, I feel that part of the issue can be addressed if we change our approach to “we should discuss this because we want to, not because we have to”. Surely it should be a positive thing that we’re looking at new, innovative, exciting ways of working both within and outside of our churches, looking at new ways of using ministers, elders, lay preachers etc., creating and endorsing new forms of ministry? Isn’t that exciting? Daunting, yes, but also exciting! We shouldn’t have a negative reason for doing this. We must be positive, so that we can move forward with excitement and hope. If you really want a reason, don’t let it be decline! Let it be God calling us to all be ministers to the people, and a calling to love thy neighbour and spread the love of Christ to all who will hear.
Surely having church in a pub once a month is an exciting example of a fresh expression?! I do, however, regret to admit that I alluded to church in a pub during the discussions over the weekend a few too many times, and have painted a rather warped picture of the United Reformed Church. For this, I am sorry.
You don’t need a reason to be able to find, start up, or grow fresh expressions of church, nor invest lots of, often non-existent, resources into community outreach. Anyone can do something new and interesting to serve God in their community.
So, thank you to the Church of Scotland Youth for welcoming me as one of your own and for an incredible, inspiring weekend. I have made many friends along the way who I don’t intend to forget in a hurry! I pray too the relationship between our two denominations will continue to grow as we live our faith, share the love of Jesus and serve our God together.