Not so Rocky a Road

[Speech written for the debate about Youth Evangelism – General Synod, February 2019 – There being a time limit only word in italics were spoken]

Thank you chair – Andrew Dotchin – 208 – St Edmundsbury & Ipswich

On the lapel of my jacket I wear a Langer Primary Academy Flipper the Turtle Gold Award. I was given this award not because I have excellent numeracy or literacy skills but because I had a haircut. When I was awarded it Year 6 serenaded it with a rendition of a Beatles’ hit which begins with the line, ‘When I get older, losing my hair…’ At least they adjusted the rest of the lyrics to reflect that I am in fact only 63.

This haircut, well complete shave. was given to me by a group of LGBTI teenagers who call themselves Rocky Road, not because of any particular teenage angst – though they have (as with all teenagers) more of that than they need – but because they like cake.

How was it that this group came to give the vicar a shave to help raise £500 for Langer Primary Academy?

It began with the raising of a flag every Saturday outside St John’s Church and some Twitter posts with the hash tag #SaturdayRainbow.

Knowing our parish was aiming to live up to its motto ‘Open to God, Open to All’. A few of these LGBTI youngsters asked if they could use our meeting room as a safe place to be.

Over a year the group has grown and they are now part of Level Two, a Felixstowe charity which provides support and care for young people across our town.

Each year at Christmas they put their own version of a crib scene in a window in our church – and in it recognise that it is love and not the gender or number of parents which make a holy family.

They gave up their October half-term to assist at our Holiday Club for Junior School children.

They go to the church for support as they try to find the words to tell their stories of ‘coming out’ and exploring their identity to family and friends

They are core members of the Theology Club at our local High School.

They plan to join me in attending Suffolk Pride on Ipswich Waterfront in the summer

They even come into church to pray quietly and light candles.

And at the end of April, they will come to church to help our town and county remember the life of Nik Moore; whose remains rest in our churchyard and who, with two others (one of them with child) was murdered in the nail bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho twenty years ago this year.

They are challenging, they are wonderful, they are Holy.

They are a group of adolescents on a journey into adulthood and it is humbling that they have chosen to make the church a home.

…and all because Saturday by Saturday a rainbow flag flies outside a church in Felixstowe to say we are ‘Open to God, Open to all’.

This group of wonderful Young People continually inspire and challenge me and I look forward to their further growth.

I do worry though for all those Young People, be they LGBTI or not, who do not have a nearby church which will give them space with a vicar who used to be a school chaplain.

Friends, ministry amongst young people should not be difficult but it seems all too often we focus on the C of CYP and leave the awkward, angst-filled, questing YPs to their own devices. We bring our babies for baptism and our children for confirmation and then, when their minds are most open, their hearts most receptive, that we fail them most.

James Fowler, in Stages of Faith Development, demonstrated that the stage of faith we reach by the time we are in our mid 20’s is where 80% of us will remain for the rest of our life. Adolescence is not the time to allow our catechesis to coast and confirmation to be branded as some kind of Church Leaving Certificate. Adolescence should become a time to accelerate engagement, stretch horizons, and deepen discipleship.

This is why I am supporting this motion

I welcome this motion, especially paragraph (d), applaud the work already being by DYO’s across the church, and encourage everyone to ensure that every Young Person feels able to find a home in the Church.

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