inclusion, Marginalised, Youth and Children's Work

“Don’t let the local kids in…”

“Jesus said: ‘let the children come to me and do not stop them'”.

I was doing a youth event and we’d hired a local youth club for it, with lights and smoke and the whole works and a band of young people were leading the worship which was fab.

Suddenly a couple of faces appeared at the door, local guys, “Can we come in?” they asked. The rain was pouring down outside, and our incredibly gifted speaker was getting ready to speak.

“Of course” I said, wanting to be welcoming and let them come in, suddenly from 2 or 3, became 5 or 6, and then a couple appeared on their bikes from no where.

They shot into the kitchen and began to eat the left over food, which was okay, most of it had already been eaten by the Church kids, it reminded me of the guys we had been working with earlier in the day at the skate park, who used to eat us out of house and home, but they felt welcomed and loved there, and we had got to know them. I didn’t mind “help yourself” I said.

A few went down stairs rather than hear the talk bit, again didn’t mind really, better to have a relationship to build on and be welcoming and hospitable.

Did try and eyeball some of the other youth workers as they were all sitting listening to the talk -which is great but wasn’t being hospitable to our visitors.

Then heard an alarm go off and ran downstairs, turned out that someone had punched a fire alarm, which caused more problems as we tried to turn it off setting off the burglar alarm too, they then ran off out the fire exit.

“They don’t teach you this at theological college” I thought to myself!

Anyway kids soon ran off, and had to sort everything out, including ringing the people in charge of the building, who said “next time, don’t let the local young people in”.

To be honest I can understand the position, yet it feels like this is going against our very ethos of who we are. 

We were about to start a Church plant here in this part of the parish, using this youth centre, I have always wanted Church to be open to all, I think Jesus has a a particular compassion for disenfranchised young people.

Yet, there was the moral dilemma that we also have to respect the wishes of those who own the building, it is part of being a good guest on someone else’s place.

When it is your Church hall that gets trashed, having to stand in the mess with angry Churchy people wanting to ban youth work and close down projects whilst trying to hold the costly line that even though it is painful and costly, the call to missional hospitality, generosity and love must continue if we are to be faithful to Christ.

I once said “I would happily see every window in this place broken if we could see young peoples lives transformed by Christ!” Sadly, not a position always shared by those within our Churches.

It reminding me of a fateful evening when I was running an under18’s nightclub and we had been running without incident for 18 months and then some new kids who we didn’t know came in, and ended up causing a fight, and then ended up smashing a window in the door of MacDonald’s. The police came. It was horrible. I remember clearing up afterwards and felt as though someone had kicked me in the stomach. Hospitality and love, can be costly and can cause us pain. Hospitality can be rejected.

More recently, with the young people from Southey Skate park, eating all our food and being told that “you are just being exploited and taken advantage of”, but Christ-like hospitality sometimes risks being taken advantage of. When I thought of Matthew 25 -the sheep and the goats parable- I wonder if Jesus in cap and on a scooter said “you welcomed me, fed me when I was hungry and gave me a drink when I was thirsty” rather than I came to Church and you wouldn’t let me in because of what I wore, my age and where I lived.

I remember in Poole, we had some feisty nights with the AREA under18’s night club we used to run, and I remember a pretty brutal complaint from a neighbouring Church-goer complaining about the kids behaviour, their thinking was “can’t you just reach nice young people” not those nasty “hoodlum” types.

Jesus said “those who are well don’t need a doctor”… “I tell you the truth there is more joy in heaven over 1 sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who need no repentance”.

The truth is that much of the Church think this, sometimes Church is massively judgemental and a little bit snobby too. I worry that as C church as an institution looks more like the Pharisees than Jesus.

Jesus never said “just reach out to the ‘nice’ ones”.

I think Levi the tax collector, or Mary Magdalene who had 6 demons in her, or Simon the Zealot all were people you might not want to sit next too.

These are the people I long to see coming to Church. 

I know too I’m a bit of an inverted snob, where I have more time for someone with an obvious dysfunctional life than some elderly, affluent daily mail reader who I struggle to love.  So, I need to be careful of not pointing the finger, only to find three pointing back at me.

So, there we were, running a youth event in a youth club, with the clear instructions “Don’t let the local kids in!”

A fortnight later, we were due to start our new Church plant there… What do I do now that maybe we’re not supposed to let in the local kids?

Again, it makes me ask how these young people in Kingswood and Hanham will ever hear about Jesus?

I don’t know what I think, but it reminds me of the hill we have to climb to see this generation hear the gospel of Christ in a way they can understand and respond too, it is a bigger challenge than we think.

But it is a hill we need to climb.

Who is up for climbing?