From the horse’s mouth: “Young people will bring the change in churches”
Matt Harris is the associate minister with responsibility for youth (an actual job title!) at St Mary’s Church in Reigate, Surrey. He interviewed Laura Arnaud about changes in church. Laura is 17 and has some excellent thoughts on church and change.
Matt: Is change a good or bad thing for church?
Laura: I think there’s a base thing that has to be kept - the reason for church being there, which is God and everything surrounding it. But then how that is done can be interpreted in so many different ways, which is why I like St Mary’s. The church I grew up in was full of hymns, it wasn’t ‘high church’, but it was very posh and you wore your best clothes on a Sunday. At my old church nobody put their hands in the air or anything, I’d never heard of Soul Survivor. I like that I don’t have to change myself when I come to church. The worship music I listen to at home is the same as at St Mary’s.
M: So overall change is OK; it’s a good thing for church?
L: I think progression is good, but I do think change can be daunting.
M: How do you think church needs to change?
L: I like the services. Sometimes I get drowsy, but that’s because I am a teenager and in an eternal state of being tired! Sometimes things could be less passive, so we don’t feel like we’re sitting in a lecture theatre having someone talk at us sometimes for half an hour, and then reflect on that, and then we sing, and we haven’t taken much of it in! Sometimes it feels like going to church is like going to school with singing. It’s not because the content is boring, we wouldn’t come if we found it boring, we have an interest, but sometimes the delivery and the way people convey it can be a bit like: “You sit here, and we’ll talk,” rather than, “What do you think?” Jesus didn’t just stand on a mountain and shout at people, he was in with the people; I feel like sometimes that gets forgotten about. Christianity is about learning but it’s about learning through interaction. I feel like sometimes if it’s just absorbing information like sponges, it’s hard to learn how to squeeze… you’ve got all this knowledge and you think: “Where can I put this in my daily life?”
M: Is change easy?
L: No. Just no.
M: Why not?
L: It’s like breaking in new shoes. You don’t want to do it at first, you know they’ll look nice otherwise you wouldn’t have bought them, but it’s just getting into them and it feeling uncomfortable for a while.
M: What role do young people have in change in church?
L: We’re the ones who can stimulate it. We can explain what we think we would like, because we’re the ones who are going to be lifting up the Church when our elders can’t; we’ll bring the change, and then the next generation will bring their change and it just keeps evolving. We supply the ideas for the change.
M: How can youth workers make change easier for young people?
L: Get the young people in a position where you can ask: “What do you think should happen? If you were the youth worker, what would you do?” or: “If you could run church for a day, how would you do the services differently?” Then you can help young people think about it and implement it.
M: How can youth workers help young people in change, when change happens?
L: Be a constant. People look for routine when something else has changed. Keep things as routine and as safe as possible. A youth worker is a big thing to be to people, if I had a problem I would look to a youth worker, I would talk to you. You can talk to your youth worker about change and they’re supportive.
M: If a youth worker did want to change things, what’s the best way to do that?
L: I think keep it like a choice. Offering alternatives is massive.
Becca: Laura being glad she didn’t have to change herself to come to church is a beautiful thing to say and feel - to be able to come as you are. However throughout the interview it becomes apparent that it’s a difficult balancing act between feeling safe with the status quo and dealing with the discomfort of change or progress. I thought Laura’s analogy of breaking in new shoes was spot on.
There’s some lovely wisdom and advice in Laura’s take on the role of youth workers - we share in this balancing act. Young people have so many changes to deal with at their stage of life, Laura talks about youth workers providing a sense of safety and continuity, although she also thinks young people and youth workers should stimulate change.
Laura and Matt highlight that change is complex. They begin to explore how to increase young people’s agency in change, which I suspect is vital in managing change for young people and empowering them to impact the church for change themselves. Brilliant conversations like this are a really helpful way to prepare young people for the changes they experience and to help us understand their perspectives.