On Friday I was part of a team that spent the morning at a local primary school with a Scripture Union worker, running an interactive session on Advent and Christmas, called Bubblegum’n’Fluff. We had over 2 hours with around thirty P6 children, playing games, doing crafts, and telling stories that would help to refresh and deepen their knowledge of the Christian tradition surrounding the birth of Jesus.
There was a lot of fun, laughter and noise, and they engaged brilliantly in everything from watching puppet theatre, learning a song and receiving a visit from the “Nutty Professor of Presentology”, to making mosaic tiles of presents and candles. In the final session, though, the atmosphere changed from frivolous to something different. They started to listen incredibly attentively as three short bible stories were told. You could have heard a pin drop as they heard about Jesus healing Jairus’ daughter, and the Christian hope that Jesus came to heal the brokenness of our lives and our world.
At the end of the morning, each young person took a paper candle. We invited them to think about their biggest hopes for this Christmas, to write them on a candle and to attach the candle to an advent wreath. Here are some of the things they wrote:
“I hope for peace on earth”
“To cure all illnesses”
“Clean food and water around the world”
“For my family and children in the war camps to be safe this Christmas”
“I’d like my friend to get better from cancer”
“I hope Paris reforms big and strong”
“I hope my mum and dad get back together”.
I came away from the school feeling that I received much more from these young people than I gave.
Then on Saturday I was at a training day to help leaders in my diocese reconsider what it means to work with our youth – both those who have a church connection, and those who don’t. One of the most important outcomes for me was the reminder that the Bible is full of positive depictions of young people as people of faith, insight and ability, whom God uses in powerful ways.
We reflected on how we tend to work with young people, and on whether we need to get away from dictating to them. There’s just no point trying to “do stuff to” young people. Instead, we need to let them have their voice – to invite them to speak, not only because if we ignore them we’re very likely lose them (although that’s true), but because they have unique gifts to give to us. They’re concerned about this world of theirs, and they have important truths to teach us. The question for us is how to give them the space they need and deserve, and whether we’re prepared to listen and to learn.