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Children and Youth Ministry

Gazing at furniture and
learning about youth ministry

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The Revd Nicholas Russell, Chaplain of Christ Church Grammar School and Member of the Anglican Children and Youth Ministries Commission (ACYMC)

Have you seen a school classroom recently? The arrangement, design and furniture has changed dramatically over the last few decades. A century ago or so, a classroom would be set up lecture style.

Most interestingly, the chairs and desks were large - chairs so big that young children’s feet couldn’t reach the floor. The furniture was wooden and hard. Learning was designed to be done in a single space, physically removed from others as much as possible. The teacher was the focus and the blackboard central.

Today if you enter a new-build primary school, you’ll see that things are dramatically different to when we were at school. Desks are a cluster of unusual shapes and colours, usually with wheels. Some desks are designed with a surface that enables students to draw on it with markers, easily erased. Ottoman’s and footstools litter the room alongside beanbags, couches and benches. The rooms are entirely flexible, enabling any kind of arrangement that works for the learning. Colours and light are in abundance. Rooms sometimes whiteboards on every available wall, some with projectors others without.

The old schools believed that they were inviting children to attend, they simply had to put aside their youth and acts like adults, even if their bodies didn’t fit the furniture. The new schools take the approach of building the very spaces around the bodies, minds and behaviours of children and young people so that learning is most effective.

Both systems would see themselves as being ‘welcoming’, ‘inclusive’ and ‘inviting’ to young people, but I’m sure you can see which one is truer to the meaning of those words. The modern classroom is undoubtedly the winner when it comes to spaces moulded around the bodies, and characteristics of children and young people.

Almost all our parishes long for more children and young people in our congregations. We mourn their absence and are perplexed by how to reach them with the gospel of Christ. The truth is that children and young people in our community have not abandoned their search for God. I met with the other school chaplains from WA recently and many of us shared stories of students quickly abandoning their atheism or apathy and embracing a fervent interest in God and faith. These kids and youth exist in your suburbs and in your neighbourhoods, but they have not yet found a spiritual home. One of the great challenges the school chaplains face is how to funnel these young people into parishes that understand and truly welcome them, and I’m not just talking about the furniture.

If we want to continue to proclaim the good news of God’s love through Jesus Christ, we need to build environments, congregations, liturgies and programs that are truly designed for young people, not just invite them into ‘our space’. If we truly want change, this is a conversation we must have. As always, ACYM is here to help.

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