I had never been to the Easter Monday Youth Pilgrimage when I was appointed to my role of ChYP’s Ministry Adviser, so it was with some trepidation that I took responsibility for my first EMYP in 2011. I was hugely impressed with the team that were in place, and thoroughly enjoyed my first EMYP experience feeling certain that we were tapping into something important about walking, meeting and worshipping together.
EMYP in 2012 was the first event that I planned from the beginning to end in my new role and, on reflection; I see it as one of the high points of my time in the Diocese. It gave me the opportunity to share some of my favourite ideas, notably the uBuntu concept (that we can only be human together, our humanity is tied up together) that have stayed with me as I moved to the UK from my South African home.
The team continued to pour huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm into the next few years of EMYP and we have had some amazing moments: welcoming Archbishop Justin at the celebration of 40 years of EMYP in 2013, an incredible response to the appeal to help our link Diocese in Madagascar in 2014, and the continued support of groups from Europe – particularly our friends from the Diocese of Arras.
It has, however, begun to be more difficult to design and deliver this event in the face of changing contexts and circumstances across the Diocese and its impact over the years has undoubtedly decreased. One of the challenges is the simple fact that there are fewer youth groups in our parishes; those that were once thriving are either much smaller in number or have closed altogether. Each year we have casually quoted our total number of attendees as so many hundred “young people of all ages” with no small amount of ‘tongue in cheek’, and each year as we began to plan the next event we faced the question of whether we could still honestly call it a ‘youth’ pilgrimage. We began tracking the age profile of these “young people of all ages” and the results have been uncomfortable. Last year’s event saw our smallest total yet of 400 attendees but, most significantly, only 180 of those were under the age of 18. We have been able to welcome young people from France and the Netherlands to swell our numbers, but still the figures beg a question or two.
I am always loath to talk solely in terms of numbers so let me also talk about the purpose of an event like EMYP. EMYP has always been seen as an expression of the Diocese’s commitment to provide a space for young people to share together with God and each other in this the “mother church”. We remain committed to the deep tradition of physical journey of pilgrimage as a way to enrich our spiritual lives. In these times of walking together we have engaged in conversations that have deepened our understanding of ourselves and our experience of God.
Our commitment to gathering people together to share something of their faith hasn’t changed, nor has our passion for the opportunities given to us through making physical journeys together.
However, a question has been growing about how EMYP fits within our commitment to become ‘intergenerational communities’ seeing people of all ages as ’fellow pilgrims’ – equals on a journey of faith. If EMYP remains as an intentionally ‘youth’ oriented event are we at risk of undermining our own desire to move away from ghettoised youth and children’s groups with little or no connection with other age groups in the local church? What would need to change for EMYP to be appropriate, accessible and affirming of intergenerational relationships within and across worshipping communities? Would simply changing the name be enough?
It is now the right time to ask whether EMYP is still the right event for our Diocese. My personal view is that the youth group model of the 1980s that persists in much of the Diocese is no longer necessarily the best fit for today’s teenagers. Those youth groups that are thriving around the Diocese are smaller, focussed on relationships and providing a safe space to share, be and become together. Gone are the programmes and exciting events, replaced by a lounge with pizza, music and people who genuinely want to hear about one another’s lives. Does an event like EMYP match this changing trend in youth ministry? As our priorities and vision have changed, perhaps it is time to think afresh.
In light of all of this, and in consultation with Bishop Trevor, the Easter Monday Youth Pilgrimage team has decided that the Easter Monday Youth Pilgrimage will not take place in 2016. We need to consider what other opportunities we might create to share and celebrate our faith in the risen Jesus. We understand that this will be disappointing news for many people. This decision has not been taken lightly, nor must it be seen as a reflection of what EMYP has achieved in the past. It is not a declaration of failure, nor a retreat – instead, recognition that as times and contexts change, so must we.
This decision will give us the opportunity to invest some time and energy into asking some of those bigger questions together as a Diocese – and we hope that you will join us in addressing them. The EMYP Team is planning a number of events throughout the first half of 2016 where we want to invite anyone for whom the Easter Monday Youth Pilgrimage has been important to join this challenging conversation. We want you to help us understand how we might preserve the good things that EMYP has given us over the years, but express them in new ways that will resonate with our vision to become a Whole Church. We are trying to find the right positive way forward as we face up to these realities, rather than throwing our hands up in the air in defeat.
The first of these conversation events is being held at:
St Mary’s Church in Dover on 7th February 2016: 12pm -2.30pm
A bring and share lunch will be followed by an open, facilitated discussion about what we could do as a Diocese.
Our second event will be held at
St. Nicholas Church in Allington, Maidstone on 27th February 2016: 2.30pm-4.30pm
No lunch this time but the same opportunity to join in an open, facilitated discussion.
Following that there will be another two similar events as well as a training day after Easter on how to better listen to the voices of children and young people, using the recently published ‘Learn to Listen’ toolkit. Watch this space for further dates and details.
The EMYP team has been asked by Bishop Trevor to facilitate and be ready to respond to these creative conversations.
There is no set agenda, no set plan for 2017.
It is a decision that we need to make together.
Please come to the events and tell us what you think – we want to hear your comments, criticisms and reflections. But most of all please join us through 2016 in this ambitious, and challenging task of listening to each other and listening to God together.