Shared Conversations – shared with whom?

Today I attended the “Common Ground” event in Oxford, aimed at allowing a wider range of people to have some participation in the Shared Conversations about sexuality than the small number from each diocese who can participate in the official Conversations themselves. There is much that could be said about that event, but that is for another time.

What struck me the minute I walked in the door was this: the age profile. At 28, I was certainly among the youngest there, if not the youngest, and most of the other people there were (I would guess) at least 20-30 years older than me – a whole generation.

So, being who I am and doing what I do, I immediately thought “never mind my generation, what is being done to engage actual young people? as in, people aged 18 and under?” Where are their voices in the Shared Conversation process? My guess is, nowhere.

I was glad that I got a chance to pass that question on to those organising the event, and I hope I will hear back about what can and will be done to listen to young people on this issue. But I won’t be holding my breath.

And here’s why I think it’s vitally important that we do hear the voices of young people in these conversations: the difference even between my generation and those who are currently teenagers is enormous. In all sorts of ways: they are ‘digital natives’, I am not; they are growing up in an information landscape, and an educational environment, which is entirely unrecognisable from my own teenage years.

We keep being told in the discussion about sexuality, and it was said again today, that things are moving fast. Too right. If we’re only hearing from people my age and older, we’re already behind the times.

In the context of the Shared Conversations, perhaps the most significant difference between my generation and the one below it is the repeal of Section 28. The whole of my compulsory education took place under Section 28. And as a piece of legislation, it worked. Not once in my whole time at school was homosexuality mentioned. I studied Catullus at GCSE and The Great Gatsby at A Level, all without anyone mentioning the word “gay”. I never experienced homophobia at school – the concept of sexual orientation just might as well not have existed. And, like it or not, that education informs my engagement with the topic.

It isn’t like that for the young people I work with today. Their teachers are not censored in the way they handle issues of sexuality. Their schools are not banned from addressing the topic, and an increasing number of schools are doing a great job at presenting their students with a positive, affirming education about all sexual orientations, with a current drive towards more inclusive sex education. And, like it or not, that education informs these young people’s engagement with the topic.

There were people in the room today, many of them, who were educated when homosexuality was still illegal. And, like it or not, that education informs their engagement with the topic too.

But the world has moved on and is still moving on, faster than ever. If we exclude, or fail to intentionally include, the voices of young people in the Shared Conversations process, the church is missing out. Missing out on a different perspective, perhaps a challenging perspective, but also missing out on what God is saying to the church through our young people.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” – a youth group session plan to prepare for Peace Sunday

I have done this session with Encounter, my 10-13 year olds. They are a small group who know each other well, are very open with each other and me, and have a keen sense of justice. We meet once a fortnight for an hour and a half, of which this plan covered the last hour.

Starter: word association – ask each person to say the first thing that comes into their head when they hear the word “peace”.

Discussion: put on the table/floor a selection of quotes about peace, some scriptural, others from peace activists, theologians, philosophers, etc. Invite comment: “which do you feel draw to?”, “are there any you disagree with?”, etc. Allow discussion to move freely for 10 mins or so. Draw links where possible with ‘word association’ responses.

Reflection: move to another area where you have marked out on the floor three squares inside each other:

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Our peace diagram before…

Invite everyone to stand in the outer square. Explain that here we are thinking about “Peace in the world”. Move to the next square in, which is “Peace in relationships” and finally the inner square, which is “Peace within ourselves”. Check that everyone has understood what is meant my each of these phrases.

Provide post-it notes and pens, and ask the young people to write/draw their thoughts/ideas/images/prayers about peace and stick them to the diagram on the floor. Encourage them to read each other’s ideas and discuss them together as they go along.

...and after.

…and after.

Response: Introduce (if you have not already done so) the phrase “blessed are the peacemakers”. Ask for and discuss examples of situations where there is no peace, and what the actions of a peacemaker could be in those situations.

Invite the young people to find a quiet space in which to reflect on how they can be a peacmeaker. Ask them to write and/or draw a “peace pledge” – one or more things they are pledging to do in order to be a peacemaker. Add these to a noticeboard to create a display. This could be added to later by other groups in the church.

Display of peace pledges.

Display of peace pledges.

Prayer: Invite the young people to pray for God’s help and guidance in beng peacemakers, and for places and situations where there is no peace. This could be a time of open prayer or something more structured.

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