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.

uBuntu bracelet made in Cape Town for #EMYP2012 by Phambili ngeThembaEMYP 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.

Pilgrims walking to Canterbury 1I 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.

cotj _master_rd_sanstxt

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.


cotj_master_ yl_sanstxtOur 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.


  1. Very sad to hear this, but do you not contradict your self? Looking at the figures 55% are already adults therefore is it not already an intergenerational event for people of all ages? Possibly all that is needed is to drop the Y? and call it Easter Monday Pilgrimage

    1. I am also very sorry to hear the news. Yes, half the folk attending EMYP are over 18 but so what? We’ve always plugged it as ‘anyone under age 90 is youth’ and it’s been a really encouraging all-age event in a ‘safe’ place which has is well-loved by and has a lot of resonances for folk of different generations. It’s been a place where youngsters have been able to worship in ways that aren’t always possible in their home churches and equally a place where oldsters can happily learn new worship materials and vicars know that what oldsters have learned at EMYP in the Cathedral can also be introduced in the parish because there’s a group of committed folk who are already on board.
      Additionally as a diocese we have been doing our best to invite youngsters from our link churches in Arras Diocese and in Germany to attend – we were inviting youngsters from our link churches in Markgraeflerland and Zossen-Flaeming only six weeks ago to attend the EMYP as a way of developing our diocesan partnerships.
      I’m afraid that we may be shooting ourselves in the foot here and killing off an event which fulfils a number of purposes at a time of year which is at the heart of our faith and discipleship; and I agree entirely with Russel’s comment above that maybe all we need to do is drop the ‘Y’ and focus on it being a joyful and inspiring pilgrimage event for the diocese and the wider Christian community in Kent.

      1. Having given this more thought and seen the reply from Peter, I am heartened to hear that in his church it is viewed in the same way, There are not many times of the year that one can walk with other likeminded people expressing our faith openly, coming from different church families who all believe in the same thing but choose to show it in differing ways in our home church. This shows that in an age of rampant commercialism and a lead to a more secular society dare I say it a society with fewer morals, I feel that to stop something that has regularly appeared on news bulletins for the past ten or so years, allows something else to fill the space. Are we not a Christians who live in a society based on our basic beliefs and to stop doing it with what appears very little consultation is just another nail in our coffin and a leg up for those who don’t understand.

  2. Thank you both for your comments. We need everyone’s viewpoint in the mix as we try to decide together as a Diocese what we should plan for 2017. If you can’t make it to either of the advertised conversations, please respond to the questions as they are posted in the new year.

  3. Absolutely shocked to hear this news!!

    I was a member of a small youth group in a fairly small church and I cannot really emphasis how encouraging the EMYP was each year. It was amazing; new music – a band with real guitars!! – an exciting atmosphere, brilliant speakers, and most of all, the chance to see that the five of us sitting in a chilly social centre trying to work through a remodelled Alpha course were not the only Christians of our age in Kent!
    Christian Unions in schools in Canterbury are run on friendship groups – it is hard to attend a faith group in our rather secularised society, let alone invite new people – but through the EMYP and meeting people from other villages and towns and suddenly realising ‘They are Christian too!’, both the girls’ and boys’ Langton CUs swelled in numbers. I am now at university, but the last two years have been important for me to catch-up with my Christian friends whom I would otherwise never see.

    What made the EMYP so special?
    I think that because it wasn’t designed for adults specifically, the youth didn’t feel out of place. The worship style was different to most of our churches and it was exciting! It was truly intergenerational – we in the children’s group loved going, and many of the elderly folk came along as well (even if they caught a bus to the city centre!).
    It was held on the Bank Holiday Monday of the Easter Holidays. It is true that some people will have been away for holidays – and perhaps this is the true reason behind this new arrangement? – but it was a day when everyone could get involved, even those working. It was the day after the biggest Christian celebration in the calendar, and a demonstration that unity in Christ Jesus and the gospel was important. It was a yearly outing, an annual gathering of likeminded people openly expressing their shared faith. As Russell and Peter have also pointed out, we live in a non-Christian, very secular society, and it is important to develop more of a unity – especially if the Church of England is trying to stay ‘relevant’.

    I don’t really think the Bring and Share lunches or Open Question evenings are going to get a true reflection of everyone’s wishes – they are more likely to attract the older generations and I fear that the diocese will acquire slightly skewed results
    I don’t really understand why the group of people who will be most impacted by this new arrangement have not at least been consulted; why was there no questionnaire or survey handed out at last years’ EMYP, if there were questions already about whether it should continue?!

    I am really quite disappointed in this; I feel strongly that the Diocese ought to cater to the needs of the faiths of everyone, and I am concerned that the youth and childrens’ work across all of the parishes has just been dealt a massive repressant. You have stated that the youth groups are falling in numbers; surely the response ought to be to run large-scale events such as the EMYP to encourage people back into the fold? Individual, isolated groups are surely far more likely to face dwindling numbers, than individual groups who can receive earthly and spiritual motivation from a regular meeting with others from the Diocese?

    Re-reading this over, it sounds more of a rant than intended. I pray God would give the Diocesan team and our churches wisdom on which course of action is best, and I pray the Diocese would continue to serve everyone and encourage everyone in our shared faith of the resurrected Lord.

  4. We have been coming most of the last 40 years, with varying numbers of youth; down in the last few years but the few we do bring are unchurched youth from childrens after school club and youth drop-in. They have invariably loved it and wanted to come again. The interactive prayer resources we used to have were very popular; I still recall one lairy girl’s excitement as she encouraged her unchurched friend ‘come and see how you can pray’.
    It has also been an annual excitement and reward for a group of people with simple faith, who have walked with us for twenty years. Two of them were confirmed in the cathedral this year, their nerves dissipated by the friendship built with the cathedral in EMYP since childhood.
    When our church youth went off to more exciting churches with professionally run youth groups they still came back to the cathedral for EMYP and brought their Baptist and Pentecostal friends with them.
    Yes, the age demographic has changed. We are older people still wanting to join in. Perhaps it is an expression of all age worship rather than child and youth ghettoes. EMYP is already expressing Bishop Trevor’s desire to integrate worship.
    Just drop the Y if you want to but make sure that youth are still catered for.

  5. Good afternoon now that the two open discussions have been held could we have some feedback please for those of us that were unable to attend?

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