‘Hand over the keys’ to children and young people

handoverKaren Morrison leaves her post as Head of Children’s and Youth Work today (24 February) after 18 years of service with the United Reformed Church.

Colleagues and friends from Church House gathered in Lumen URC, London, to say goodbye to Karen and wish her well for the future. She received many presents, including book and gardening gift cards, cookery books from one of her favourite restaurants, and five fruit trees (to be delivered to her home...)

Many of those who have worked alongside Karen gave their own tributes and highlighted her accomplishments. The Revd John Proctor, General Secretary, said, ‘The only way the Church can keep the faith is to share it, and part of sharing the faith is to deal seriously, honestly and carefully with children and young people. Karen has been a leader in that task. She has challenged the rest of us to realise and remember the importance of children and young people, and to let them take a full and active place in the life and work of the Church.’

Simon Peters, Children's and Youth Work Programme Officer, spoke for those she had nurtured in their faith and witness – and recalled what Karen had said to him when he took his first steps into the life of the URC as a young person, ‘Be yourself, don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young, that you don’t have talent. You belong here; this is your Church, this is your place.’ It was a lesson he had never forgotten and he thanked her for sharing it with so many others.

In reply, Karen said she found it difficult to hear the kind words. ‘I don’t do these things for me! I have been serving God by serving children and young people and the Church. I have always enjoyed my time here; it has been like a proper family.’ Her final call was to anyone who gets the chance to go to URC Youth Assembly in future, ‘Do it! It’s the most inspirational thing ever; to see those young people own this Church as their Church.’

Read Karen’s farewell blog (below) in which she encourages and challenges the URC to allow children and young people to shape their own churches, and the Church as a whole.

Children come and go and some, like me, stay! In early 1998, there was great excitement in the Pilots community as we looked forward to the appointment of the first ever Pilots Development Officer. I’d been a member of the United Reformed Church all of my life, a Pilot from the age of six and a Pilots Officer for a number of years. For some time, I’d been creating and writing my own materials as well as writing for Partners in Learning, the predecessor to Roots. I hadn’t intended applying for the post but several friends encouraged me to and so began my working life in the URC.

We seem surprised when children stay – we can easily fall into the trap of viewing children and young people as being ‘in training’ to be like us! We want them to continue as we have done and to carry on the traditions that we have treasured. But is that right? Surely we should be handing over the keys, putting some traditions aside as new ones emerge and celebrating the church as it evolves with the next generations. We should trust them as they take the Church, their church (as well as ours) forward to be a place where people of all ages come together.

When we look around the churches we sit in, do we see familiar faces? Are we inviting our friends, our peers to join us in our regular worship and to become part of the community that we value? Many of us do. We take comfort and joy in sharing our faith and enjoy exploring it with them as we respond to questions and feel the changes in our own understanding. But how can children and young people do this if the church they want to bring their friends to still feels like it belongs to someone else?

‘Good enough’ is not a phrase I use often and certainly not in the context of my work with children and young people, I want the best for them, don’t you? The children’s and youth work department produces resources and literature to a high professional level. We take pride in producing material that is challenging and exciting and engages with children and young people as they develop their own faith. The events we run are the best they can be, ensuring that where possible all needs are met. We engage with people from within and without our churches and children and young people bring their friends to the groups that are offered.

So, that raises questions for me: Why aren’t there more Pilots Companies in the URC? It is, after all, the URC’s own organisation for children and young people, and it is a great mission tool. Why aren’t more young people coming to the URC Youth Assembly? It’s a great event and has been growing steadily over the past few years.

There are plenty of children in our communities, what are we doing to reach them, how are we sharing our faith in their sight? Lots of you are doing many things, Messy Church, Open the Book, uniformed organisations, working in schools to name but a few. We need to hear your stories and get them circulating to encourage others.

As a child who came and stayed, I count myself lucky. I have been privileged to serve the church over the past 18 years, to see it wrestle, celebrate, challenge and be challenged, take the lead and follow. But what will I miss most? I’ll miss the people - especially children and young people, a true blessing in this church both now and in the future.