A youth worker from one of our churches has shared experiences of youth ministry during lockdown in a new article.
Natalie Jones, Youth Pastor for St Mark’s Harrogate, has written about how St Mark’s has been supporting young people in the area, what new things they have done and how the experience is helping them prepare for the future.
Her article can be found below.
Liz Morton, Children, Young People and Families Team Leader, said: “We’ve heard of some really imaginative ways in which people have engaged with children, young people and their families over the last few months and it would be brilliant to hear others share their experiences as Natalie has done.”
If you would like to share your stories of youth ministry, be that in text, photo or even video form, please send them to communications [at] leeds.anglican.org.
"Youth Ministry Lockdown Style: Where to begin? Where have the last few months gone? How are you coping? How are young people coping? You may be asking similar questions. It feels somewhat impossible to put into words what life has been like for our young people and our youth ministry since 23rd March but I hope that this article offers a truthful insight from us at St Mark’s in Harrogate.
"I was taking part in our school’s ministry on Tuesday 17th for a lunch club with the year 7-9s and afterwards being told it’s ‘probably best to not come back on Thursday’ for the weekly Christian Union meeting that I helped to support. Initially, it felt quite personal and took me by surprise. Of course, looking back we are all well too aware it was only a few days later that the seriousness of the pandemic began to come to light. From that point we all know the story - all the schools were closed along with churches and other meeting places. The online world had begun.
"We took to Zoom for our meetings online quite quickly and created small groups for different year groups that were led by our team of awesome volunteers. We also began a Sunday evening Youth Gathering working alongside another church to equip and disciple our young people together. The engagement for these groups started off well and it was positive knowing we were able to offers these online safe spaces during a chaotic and unknown time. However, as the weeks continued we began to see less and less young people signing in. After some time and some helpful conversations with our young people, we came to the conclusion that young people were simply not wanting to engage online. There was disappointment and frustration. Yet hope lingered because despite online not being successful that didn’t mean they didn’t want to engage with us.
"So the challenge continued - we must think of new ways to innovate to help them connect with our community and with God. One way we attempted this was through our missional values. At St Mark’s Youth we have always aimed to look outwards beyond ourselves and by creating a Youth Phone Call Support Team enabled us to do this effectively. The idea was very simple - our young people would be matched up with an older member or couple of our congregation who were isolating and have a weekly conversation with them. We offered tips for conversation starters for our young people, a few example questions to ask and ideas for things to say. Hearing back from both parties confirmed how important it has been to link generations together. We cannot underestimate the power of a phone call during times of isolation.
"As lockdown began to ease we asked young people across Harrogate to complete a survey of their experiences throughout this time. 30 young people between the ages of 11-18 completed the survey and the results offered us a glimpse into how they have been managing and what they had learnt through this time. When asked ‘How have you been feeling throughout lockdown?’ the top results were ‘thankful’ and ‘happy’ - surprising right?! When asked about prayer during Covid-19, we discovered the 10% had prayed for the first time and over 40% prayed because they believe it makes a difference. When asked what they have learnt there was a real sense about appreciating the life they have been given, a hopeful future and reliance on God.
"As a youth team we are reflecting on these answers and asking questions around what it looks like to point young people to Jesus who are living in a post Covid-19 world. As the summer kicks off it felt really important to give our leaders rest - as volunteers they have served tirelessly week in week out supporting our young people - many of them continuing to work full-time and spend much of their days on screens. As we are all too well aware digital burnout is very much live and can have an effect on us all - so we have stopped our Zoom gatherings and are putting our focus into a summer booklet which we have posted out to young people. We have filled it with ways to keep active, space to reflect and write things that they are thankful for and ideas of inspiring Christian biographies to read across the summer.
"This time has inevitably been a season of adaptation and trialling new things. There have been many times of anticipation, confusion and deflation as we realised much of our online work wasn’t reaching young people in the way we had hoped. Personally this threatened my confidence and ability to be a youth worker. It felt incredibly hard to give myself that permission to fail. Yet, in time I have come to realise the importance of acknowledging that failure is part of the story.
"Moments of crisis shape us and form us. Early on in lockdown I reflected on a young person’s blog post about her experiences of leaving Year 13 and what the future will look like.2 She comments that ‘the class of 2020 will have been prepared in a new and wholesome way for the trials that life will challenge them with’. Just like the young people we are serving, youth workers have an opportunity to not fear tomorrow but believe, as this passionate writer declared 'we have been prepared for it'.
"So however much we may feel like we have failed in the past, our role as God’s workers means claiming the authority we have been given to tune into His heart for His church and young people. As we press on - let’s go together establishing relationships amongst our fellow youth workers that are built on honesty and humility where we are able to share both our failures and our triumphs. As we become more aware of our own spiritual formation, it is then that we will be prepared and equipped to lead young people who becomes Jesus’ disciples who make disciples."