Recently I became aware of a young person in one of our youth groups who was starting to think about their personal preferences. They were exploring their feelings and coming to the conclusion that they might be embracing what could be considered an ‘alternative lifestyle’. This was causing them some concern as they had questions about how their feelings could be reconciled with their Christian faith.
Wanting to talk it through “hypothetically” without being too explicit about their opinion, this young person sought out one of our volunteers and clumsily hinted that they might be leaning towards embracing that life. Sadly, the volunteer’s reaction was one of surprise and disdain where they dismissed the young person’s confession by bluntly stating that it was “wrong”.
Frustratingly but not surprisingly, it’s had a knock-on effect with other members of the group who have questioned how and why this person was treated that way.
It was partly this incident that prompted me to revisit and rewrite our mission statement for our youth work. It now reads:
ACCelerate shares a passion to help children and young people feel valued and respected. We aim to meet their spiritual, social & personal needs, empowering them to realise their full potential and find a place where they belong.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter if a volunteer or worker believes something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, we desperately want every young person to feel welcome, valued and accepted for who they are. We might disagree with them (or maybe not), but when we build a relationship of mutual trust then some of these difficult subjects can be tackled – without judging them. It also means we have a clear rationale for working with young people of other or no faiths: we want them to be valued and empowered as individuals.
We’re working hard to educate the team and instil these values into the volunteers so that incidents like the one above don’t happen again. Thankfully, there’s been some great reconciliation and this particular young person is still involved and included – and still working out who they are.