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rural ministry

Resolving tensions – a place for teenagers in the village


t. James, Welland, Worcestershire, is a large Victorian church, until recently used rarely except on Sunday mornings. Sadly, the church was not at the heart of the community and was seen as unconnected with everyday village life. A “Vision for St. James’” was established with a mission to extend the outreach beyond the existing congregation by identifying and serving the needs of the community whilst remaining a centre of worship. To implement this, a Development Group, consisting of church and non-church members was formed and thorough research undertaken.

Simultaneously, the County Youth service was working with a core of young people who were seeking a meeting place rather than simply hanging around the village. A presentation to the Parish Council to request the use of a bus shelter attracted strong opposition; the shelter was close to housing and tensions were evident with discussion about behaviour and noise. The idea was seen as a threat. The Development Group saw an opportunity for the young people to use a disused, original downstairs vestry, with a separate lockable entrance.

The teenagers were introduced to this “cellar” and to its potential for conversion to a meeting area. Adjectives such as “cool” or even “wicked” were used, the latter quite an interesting description for a part of a church! A major problem was the horrific state of the facility which had not been used for many years.

In addition the teenagers were wary of being seen as members of a church youth club. Indeed, one of the group confessed that he had never been in a church before and others had never been inside St. James church. An innovative approach of establishing an unsupervised youth group using an agreed a code of conduct was explored. The County Youth Service was particularly helpful and the teenagers quickly accepted that the motives of the Development group were satisfying their needs rather than “converting non-believers.”

A £7,000 grant from the Local Network Fund financed the work and equipment to transform it into a comfortable room with sofas, a pool table and DVD players. The teenagers were involved in planning, decorating and choosing the equipment. Safety was a major consideration when the group would be self-supervised and where major building modifications were difficult. The Code of Conduct, which the teenagers themselves helped to devise, covers rules for use of the facility, security arrangements, child protection, parental or guardian consent, agreed activities and on-going responsibilities. Sixteen teenagers are now using the facility on weekday evenings. Activities include playing pool,

listening to music, watching films and playing computer games as well as simply talking and drinking coffee.

So far no major problems have been experienced and the community support has been overwhelming. Working with teenagers in a village community is a challenge for any church but the relationship established between the adults and the young people does, at the very least, convince them that “we really do care”. Of course, some church members expressed reservations; however, sympathetic listening and persuasion convinced them of our Christian duty to open our building for the benefit of the village. 

David Richardson, Welland, Worcestershire 25

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