A Place They Can Own: How We Started Engaging Young People
Adele Burgess tells us how they started supporting young people in their transition from primary to secondary school, through a simple room they called ‘The Den’.
I hope I didn’t look too horrified when my training incumbent mentioned on day one of my training post that I would be taking school assembly later that week.
I hadn’t done any schools work since my early 20’s – about three decades ago – and felt decidedly inadequate for the task. However, I found, as I have seen throughout my life as a Christian, that God uses whoever is available to do his work. Within a few weeks, taking assemblies became one of my weekly highlights.
Shortly after, I realised that there were a small number of children in Year Six at our church who had outgrown Sunday School, who we would almost certainly lose if we didn’t start doing something for their age-group. It didn’t seem right that the children would be making the huge leap from primary school to secondary school without spiritual support along the way. As I looked around the church to see who we could task with this vital role, I ended up back where I started – the 50-something curate.
“It didn’t seem right that children would be making the huge leap from primary school to secondary school without spiritual support along the way.”
A straw-poll revealed that the only time the teens were all around at the same time was in fact Sunday morning, so the first problem was that we didn’t have anywhere to host them, as the hall was being used for Sunday School. We thought about the bell-tower (to the horror of the bell-ringers!) but there was another available space: a small junk room (replete with junk) above the main hall. It was quickly cleared out, renamed ‘The Den’, painted and given to our teenagers to use as their own.
They love having their own space. No grown-ups have any reason to go up there and it is a good demonstration that the church cares about them enough to give them a small space to call their own.
The Den is aimed at 11-14 year olds. The most we’ve had so far on a Sunday is twelve. Now in its second year, we have anywhere between 3 and 7 on any given Sunday, with an irregular Friday evening of Ping Pong and Pizza proving very popular and good for drawing in those who might be in danger of slipping away.
One lesson in this for me, has been how quickly God warms your heart to those you are called to minister. I really love these teens; I pray for them all the time and get some of my retired friends to pray for them too. Recently, it was an absolute joy to see the first of them confirmed.
“Pray for the teens that you have and find ways of demonstrating that you really care about them.”
I certainly wouldn’t have been my first (or even third) choice as a youth worker, but it’s obvious that God has put me in the right place at the right time and grown this.
My advice to smaller churches like ours who can’t afford a youth worker is: don’t wait for the ideal person or someone of the right age. Pray for the teens that you have and find ways of demonstrating that you really care about them.
About Adele Burgess
Originally from the North East of Scotland, Adele Burgess studied modern languages before heading for London where she worked for 24 years mainly in the financial services sector before leaving to complete a theology degree at Oak Hill College in North London. She was ordained in 2016 and is serving her curacy in leafy Monken Hadley at St Mary the Virgin. ‘And I thought City life was full-on!’ she jokes. ‘Best thing about ministry thus far is that feeling of utter dependency on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, strength and power. It’s his church and his work and an amazing privilege to have a role to play.’