When the members of the Church of England’s General synod were asked to vote on Saturday to pass a motion that called on church communities to play a key role in combatting serious youth violence in their communities, the decision to say yes was unanimous. It’s a hopeful and promising posture, one that begins to take and bear responsibility for the experiences and futures of young people at risk of, engaged in and affected by violent and organised crime.
On Monday night as I gathered with others in East London for an event coordinated by Newham Youth for Christ and delivered by Power the Fight, informing and training the Church to combat youth violence, I was struck by this unassuming group of ordinary people. The old, young, retired, professionals, students, different backgrounds, different denominations and a multitude of ethnicities; this is the Church. This is where it starts – where the unanimous yes starts to become real. We are all learning, but slowly we will begin to see this motion, which was voted through Synod, transformed into active solutions.
Here’s five ways you and your church can get involved:
1. ‘Seek the welfare of the city… pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare’ (Jeremiah 29:7).
Loving our city is rarely just about what happens within the four walls of our church. To seek the welfare of a community is to get involved, to know it, to care about what happens to it. Where are decisions being made in our communities about young people, about the marginalised, about policing, and does the church have a voice in those spaces? What community board could you join, meeting could you attend, letter could you write that would give you a platform to advocate, challenge, learn and bless in Jesus’ name?
2. Open your building to the community. What might we use our four walls for in a way that glorifies God and protects and loves the children he so passionately speaks of (“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven”, Matthew 19:14)? After school provision, alternative education provision and safe youth spaces are all possible options that the church can provide. Christian youth ministries can be helpful partners in equipping and resourcing churches to become safe spaces of welcome for vulnerable young people and their families.
3. A space is only as good as the relationship it fosters. People are essential. You are essential. Research is clear: if young people have access to one trusted adult within the plethora of services available to them, engagement with those services is likely to be higher and more meaningful. Mentoring is a purposeful and meaningful way for the church to build relationships with vulnerable young people, not only giving us the privilege to speak into their lives from a gospel centred view of hope and redemption, but one that will help to foster other positive relationships around them, enabling them to flourish and fulfil their potential.
4. Mentoring is only the starting point; because for every young vulnerable person at risk of, or engaged in, violent or organised crime, there is a story, a family, a community that may have wider issues and needs. Familiarising ourselves and our churches with organisations and resources that can help and support children, young people and families who have experienced or are involved in youth violence, and looking at how we can address the wide range of causes behind this issue, is a practical way of addressing the tragic consequences. Even if as a church you are not actively providing this support – could you be funding and partnering with organisations in your community that are?
5. It’s not all about being practical with our hands and feet. Some of this is about being honest and real about the condition of our hearts. It’s about recognising that the stories splashed across our newspapers of the violent deaths of children on our streets are also our stories, to own, to lean into and become part of. It’s realising that this isn’t about ‘other people’ that we need to do good to, it’s about us. Perhaps in the breaking down of our walls, our egos, our pride and our fear, we might find that there is an abundance of life, of hope, that will transform the heart of our churches from the inside out. I know my heart needs that, and we should celebrate the fact that the established church of this nation is declaring publicly that she needs it too.
Ellie Hughes is development manager for London and the south east for Youth for Christ