7 December 2022

Dozens of Melbourne parishes without any teenagers: Synod

By Mark Brolly

11 November 2021

LESS than a third of Melbourne churches have hit targets for appropriate youth ministry models, putting the diocese well short of targets for 2022.

The diocese had aimed to have these models in at least half of its parishes by next year.

October’s Melbourne Synod heard that 66 parishes had no teenagers, while 62 had hit targets outlined in Our Journey: Visions and Directions 2017-2025.

Ridley College Centre for Children and Youth Ministry director Reverend Dr Graeme Stanton said only 13 Melbourne parishes had groups of young people with more than 30 members. He said the remaining 104 parishes had an average of eight young people each.

Dr Stanton said without action, the numbers were not enough to maintain the institution of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, let alone fulfil its mission “To Make the Word of God Fully Known” among the next generation of young people.

He cited the results of nine months of work by the Youth Ministry Futures research team, which interviewed 186 vicars, covering more than 80 per cent of all parishes in the diocese. 

He said what the diocese needed as a renewed commitment to build on it strengths, to fill gaps in training, resourcing and cooperating.

“We have too few leaders willing and able to share Jesus with young people, parishes lack the resources needed to help them start from scratch, we don’t cooperate as much as we could. We are facing significant challenges,” Dr Stanton said.

“But there are also signs of hope. When there are effective leaders for youth ministry, where there is a plan or vision for youth ministry and when there is a flow of young people from children’s ministry into high school, each of these are identified as factors that give us hope for the future.”

Dr Stanton was proposing a motion asking Archbishop in Council to establish a broadly based Children’s and Youth Ministry Working Group to review current strategies and opportunities.

The motion also called for a fully funded diocesan office to be included in the 2023 budget to effectively plan for, resource and support growth in the number of children and young people involved as active disciples in parishes, and to report to the 2022 Synod.

Synod overwhelmingly endorsed the project, 477 for, six against, with one abstention.

The first members of the working group will be Dr Stanton, Vicar of Bellarine Gateway Anglican Parish Reverend Dr Elizabeth Breakey, Diocesan Youth Ministry Consultant Brian Holden and KidsPlus+/GFS Melbourne Inc Helen Petering.

Dr Breakey, who seconded the motion, said she led “a childless parish”.

“Parishes like mine do not need to seek support for existing family and youth ministers – we just need help to get started again,” Dr Breakey said.

She said that last Christmas, two pews were filled with people from the same family – grandparents, parents and teenagers – who parishioners had not met before. The family lingered after church and seemed to connect with parishioners in a positive way.

“The grandparents now worship with us every week but the children and their grandchildren we never saw again,” Dr Breakey said. 

“I asked what happened and the answer was that they went to another church on the other side of town with lots of young folk. Why? Because there were no young people worshipping in this parish. It’s as simple and as stark as that.

“It’s not that we haven’t tried. There have been plenty of initiatives over the years. In fact, 20 years ago the parish appointed a lay minister to support young people and families to remain in this parish but he told me that he knew just a week after it was launched that it was too little, too late.

“Loading the future success of a multi-generational parish on one lay minister’s shoulders is unrealistic and, frankly, unfair.”

Dr Breakey said parishes such as hers were not helpless but needed some direction and help, to learn from successful ministries and for those ministries to be encouraged to collaborate. She said parishes needed a fully funded resource in the diocese to get going again.

“I know this feels overwhelming, I know it’s expensive but God willing, we can find … a path out of this sad and grievous situation,” she said.

“So many parishes, including mine, are at risk of complacency, forgetting how great a treasure has been placed in our care for future generations.”

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