The dramatic shift in youth ministry, young people and their culture was highlighted during the report of the Church of Ireland Youth Department which was presented at General Synod today (Saturday May 13).

Proposing the report, Simon Henry of CIYD noted: “The fast rise of expressive individualism for Generation Z and Generation Alpha encourages young people to make themselves morally authoritative, create their own identity, declare it to the world and to find their tribe.  Make no mistake – there has been a dramatic shift in youth ministry, in young people themselves, in their culture, and of course the Church itself. Empty pithy phrases like ‘you do you’, ‘your truth / my truth’, ‘follow your heart’, are the prevailing conversational norms of the day, lest we upset anyone with objective Gospel truth”.

He said that young people were bombarded with ideas and notions that the highest good is individual freedom, self–definition and self–expression which are all unbiblical ideas.  He said that this led young people to be disorientated, isolated and exhausted. “We must talk to our children and young people about what it means to be made in the image of God for a purpose, to actively seek to form a Christian worldview within them, and teach and model that true joy comes from a life dedicated to following Jesus – picking up our cross and following him,” he said.

Mr Henry urged parishes and dioceses to think carefully about how to better equip and train parents in the vital role they play in raising faithful Christian young people, a task that could not just be left to youth fellowship leaders or Sunday School teachers.

Recent brutal cuts to the youth work sector in Northern Ireland had impacted the lives of young people, he said, and called on the Church and its leaders to respond to this. He said there was a need for more strategic financial investment in youth ministry and youth workers. He also called for an increase to the CIYD budget.

Highlighting the Church of Ireland Youth Forum which took place in January, he said they had received overwhelmingly positive feedback which emphasised the importance of bringing young people of faith together to debate, discuss, be challenged and grow.

He noted that the Young Leaders in Ministry Fund continued successfully with its biggest response ever within the last 12 months. It exists to support young people taking part in training and development courses, mission teams, leadership opportunities and placements that will develop their Christian faith. A Next Steps fund will be launched later this year with thanks to the Priorities Fund. It aims to encourage young people and youth leaders to undertake third level professional qualifications and development within the wider youth ministry sector, the impact of which would benefit ministry in the Church of Ireland.

Seconding the report, Hilda Connolly (Cork) thanked the CIYD team on behalf of Diocesan Youth Officers for all they did for youth officers keeping them up to date with training and retreats.

“Their encouragement, support and help are phenomenal. And they do it without complaining that they might have to travel to the remotest parts of Cork, at the other end of the country, to speak at our annual Confirmation Retreat weekend or our past trips out to Cape Clear Island! The resources and tools that they make available are of enormous help to us and the youth groups in our areas,” she said.

She highlighted the number of resources and events facilitated by CIYD and commended their use.

Speaking to the report, Bishop Pat Storey, highlighted a CIYD resource – the Climate Justice Toolkit. She said it was available from CIYD and was all age inclusive in giving people tools to take one small step.

Bishop David McClay thanked all who work with young people and have done so during a particularly difficult time during the pandemic. He said youth work needed to be viewed through a different lens. He said on the island there were 1.3 million young people aged between 10 and 35. According to a study there is one youth worker for every 25,000 young people, or for every 82 churches. He said that on any given Sunday there was less than 5% of those young people in any church of any denomination. In the same way as the church has released significant money for Pioneer Ministry he asked Synod to consider a well thought out plan that would release sums more significant than pioneer ministry that would see youth workers employed in churches the length and breadth of the island. “Let’s win the next generation for Christ,” he said.

Bridget Barrett (Raphoe), chairperson of CIYD, thanked the DYOs in the Church of Ireland and the hundreds of volunteers that work with young people and the two and a half staff of CIYD who do a huge amount of work. She expressed gratitude for funding of £145,000 but added that the Department of Children also provided funding. This has increased year on year but given increasing secularity she felt that CIYD could not rely on that funding going forward. She said that the Church needed to focus on how we move forward.

Andrew Austin (Down) praise, complimented and applauded the work of CIYD. As a full time youth worker he said he felt well supported by CIYD. He encouraged the Church to put people in roles which allowed youth ministry to flourish in the Church of Ireland and hoped that the Church would continue to resource that.