Oswestry Rural Youth Church gets growing
The four Mission Projects launched by +Michael in 2017 each cover one of four areas of Christian community: Parishes, Schools, Chaplaincies and Fresh Expressions.
The Fresh Expressions project focusses on young people in Shropshire, and in particular how to gather, encourage, teach and disciple those age 11-18 in widely dispersed rural homes, hamlets and villages.
Titled '4 Rural Youth' it has one strand trying to support young people from villages where they gather during the day - through school chaplaincy - and three strands testing different ways of supporting young people's faith in rural communities through local projects in the deaneries themselves: Oswestry Rural Youth Church is the last to get going, but progress is certainly being made...
Unlike the other deanery-based projects in Wrockwardine and Hodnet, ORYC's leaders wanted to employ a full-time youth worker to be able to network more quickly and build relationships with both youth and the 18 churches of the deanery.
"There has been good work with Messy Churches within the deanery but nothing connecting with those of secondary school age [outside of Oswestry town centre] - some of those young people that had gone for confirmation in the last two or three years who we've lost contact with" says 4 Rural Youth coordinator, Diane Woolridge.
Tudor Humphreys has been a youth worker for 30 years and had been concerned about the lack of Christian work with young people in the villages. "I'm not part of the local anglican churches, I'm a member of an independent church. But while out walking the dog one day I had a picture of a spired church, like that at Rhyd-y-Croesau and it made me think about what was happening in those villages - some of which I grew up in - and what was happening for young people with their faith and within a few weeks of that experience somebody handed me a letter at church talking about a meeting pulling together some of the youth work leaders around Oswestry, collaboration that has been very poor in the past. I was really keen to be part of that. ...Two of the local vicars, Revd Helen Morby and Revd Sarah Burton had been trying to get something off the ground." Tudor quickly became one of the original ORYC steering group.
They began to make progress, and using fundraising skills in the group managed to match a grant from the diocese in half the anticipated time enabling them to move forward to appoint a pioneer youth minister, Matt Barkley, in September 2018.
"There are lots of things churches can be doing to support Matt in this role," says Diane. "Coming alongside on events like this, raising the profile within their churches, village fetes, but equally there's a need to be patient and realise that when you're pioneering something, often there are lots of things that you can't see happening that are still vital foundations to be put in place."
One of the obvious things happening was the 'Unseen' wide game organised by Matt with Cat Davies (children & youth worker at Hope Church in Oswestry) at nearby Quinta one sunny Sunday afternoon earlier this summer - see the video above for the fun, the serious message, and more about the ORYC project.
ORYC has its own website with further information and the opportunity to subscribe to their newsletters and make donations.