The Bishop of London's legacy for young people

Last week the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, retired after nearly 25 years in the role. YCW's consulting editor and head of children’s and youth ministry support for the Diocese of London, Sam Donoghue, shares his experiences of working with him over the years.

I have worked for the London Diocese for nearly ten years now which means that incredibly I cover less than half of Bishop Richard’s time in the role. A time judged by people far better qualified than me as a resounding success!

When I first arrived an early engagement was a plan by an environmental charity to run an event to raise their profile by transporting a group of children up the Thames in a boat. Before dropping the children off at Westminster for an event in the park next to Parliament featuring a few MPs, the charity director, a mobile zoo and the Bishop of London. I didn’t get to go on the boat so I waited in the park for everyone to arrive. When they did the line of children was headed by the Bishop holding hands with a child on each side and being followed by another child holding his crook. All the children were keen to talk with him and he had time for each of them. It reflected something you often saw with Bishop Richard – that despite his size and deep voice, children really loved him and he was very warm in the way he spoke with them. At the end of the event the children sat to hear the speeches and each speaker spoke straight over the heads of the children and addressed the press reporters and guests sat making up the back few rows. The Bishop did the opposite, speaking to the children and holding them transfixed while he ignored the dignitaries, even referencing the conversations he’d had on the boat with them.

I have also stood with around 100 children surrounding the altar at St Paul’s while Bishop Richard in all his finery prepared the table for communion with every child utterly transfixed, silent and motionless. Bishop Richard made no concessions to the children being there other than to welcome them and to trust them to realise the significance of what was happening. On the inside all I could think was that he was going slower and slower but still the attention of not a single child broke from him. I thought he showed an amazing respect of those children to resist the urge to simplify and dumb down.

However it is in a wider sphere that Bishop Richard has made the biggest difference to children and young people, setting a course that has gradually raised their profile and seeking to allow people like me the freedom to do our job with his blessing while trusting us to get on with it. Capital Vision 2020, the Diocese’s plan for the seven years up to 2020 includes a core commitment to see more young people in our churches. You see the fruit of that in our budget for children and youth that has gone up every year that I’ve been here, and perhaps the fruit is most strongly seen in the Bishop of London’s Mission Fund which he founded. There is no doubt that a paid youth worker is the most valuable thing a church can do to grow its youth work and this fund has allowed parishes for whom the cost of such a project would be prohibitive to reach out to young people in the poorest areas of London. Four years ago the fund decided to focus its efforts entirely onto youth work and there are still many youth workers in post in London who only exist because their church was able to access this funding and has allowed the launch of a ground breaking apprentice scheme that works with young people from London to become youth workers in their communities. Of course in the bishop’s retirement the Richard Chatres Fund for London will continue this legacy of providing funding for Christian youth work in our city among other things.

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