Tag Archives: youth group

Easter at St James’

The New Paschal Candle

So that’s Easter over for another year. Over the last twenty-four hours we’ve been to five services, and we’ve seen over five hundred people pass through the Church.

We kicked off late last night with the service that starts the Easter Vigil, which as in previous years the Youth Group took part in, and as with last year, we didn’t have to! As with last year we helped set up the vigil service, and then could head home to bed, rather than spending the night in the Parish Centre. This year there were about twenty-five of the young people who spent the night at the Church, and as is traditional, a lot of them looked decidedly rough come 6am on Easter morning.

The 6am service was our first appointment of the day, along with another sixty or so people who also got up early to see the sun rise at the church – although thanks to the cloud you couldn’t see much – and then after the service everybody went over to the Parish Centre to partake of the traditional bacon butties and/or croissants.

Dawn on Easter Morning

Since Beth was down to be sidesperson at the 9:30am Family service, there wasn’t much point in going home after breakfast, so we stayed for the 8am said Eucharist, which also had fifty people appear for it. That was quickly followed by the 9:30am Family service, where things started getting really crazy.

There has been a lot of grumbling about the fact that Easter this year doesn’t fall within the school holidays. That maybe a problem for some, but in terms of our numbers at Easter it seems to have made a massive difference. At 9:30am, even without a choir taking up a lot of pews, the building was absolutely full. We ran out of chairs, so had to go over to the Parish Centre to get some more, and ran out of hymn books too – a total of two-hundred and twenty-seven people squeezed into our little Church. Things were much the same come 11am – this time we had people seated in the vestry, and other people standing in the North Aisle – certainly it looks like another attendance in excess of two hundred for that service too.

The 11am was the big choir service of the day, and we had pretty well one hundred percent attendance – and we needed it as the anthem for the day was the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s Messiah. It has to be said that we’ve been having problems with this over the past couple of weeks, and although it came together a lot better on the day, it still wasn’t quite right from where we were standing. Having said that, it went down really well – even inducing spontaneous applause from the congregation. As was said afterwards, it may not have been exactly right, but there aren’t many village church choir’s who would even attempt it!

Anyway, the weirdest aspect of the whole day was the weather. You can see a shot from dawn (there are more in our photo galleries) where it was dry but cold – but look at what it was doing a couple of hours later… to be followed by sunshine and blue skies a few hours after that! If you look at this picture, you can see that for a while the snow was actually settling too!

Easter Snow at St James from Richard Peat on Vimeo.

Knights that say Ning

Ok, I know it’s a tenuous link – but I’m not the only one who instantly thought of Monty Python when I heard about Ning!

I have to say, that I hadn’t come across Ning until Scoble interviewed Marc Andreessen (of Netscape fame) and Gina Bianchini recently, and also filmed Gina giving a demo of the site.

Now I have to say, some of the time with these new web offerings I tend to have the “it’s cool but…” attitude – I can see that it is a nice idea, or a good concept, but often there isn’t enough to get me to switch from the way I am currently doing things, or whatever the site is doing doesn’t really appeal. However watching the video about version 2.0 of Ning was definitely one of those light bulb moments!

I’ve discussed before the concerns about the rise of Social Networking sites such as MySpace and Bebo, particularly with regards to the Child Protection issues. For example with the Church website we have strict rules over getting permission to use pictures of anyone under 18, and even then we can’t directly identify them, but then for many of the young people, all it takes is a few minutes on MySpace and Bebo and you can get really quite detailed information about them that they have quite happily posted for the whole internet to see. However, trying to control access to the sites, whether this be through an age limit (which doesn’t even need a fake ID to get around), or through site blocking, as both schools and parents have tried to do, really doesn’t address the issue – young people want to socialise, and doing so online is just a natural extension of what they do face to face. Unfortunately many of them will regard the age limits, or site blocks as an unnecessary restriction, without really realising the serious consequences and dangers implicit on what they post to the sites.

That leaves you with trying to find a way to facilitate this socialising online, so I know of people who have tried closed blog sites, discussion forums and so on, however all of that requires some degree of technical know how, so many have just signed up to MySpace and Bebo to keep an eye on their young people. However, Ning seems to address this issue straight on. Marc Andreessen mentions Churches several times in the video, however in terms of our congregation, where for many the level of technical literacy is relatively low, I’d suggest it would probably end up being an exclusive tool rather than an inclusive tool. However in addressing the issues with MySpace, Bebo and Child Protection it does seem an excellent solution. It makes it really easy to set up a Social Networking site for a Youth Group, whilst giving you the tools to control both access, and what is posted. In this way you can allow your group to share pictures and videos – the kind of things that would never get past the Child Protection policy for a fully public site, and to control access to the members of the group. It’s all fully customisable, but for the basic sites it is drag-and-drop simplicity, so you don’t need to be technical to get a basic site up and running. It will also allow members of the group to personalise their own pages too.

The main issues would be though, that it probably doesn’t have the street-cred of MySpace and Bebo, and also that by limiting access it wouldn’t be as straightforward to include the wider networks that some of the young people have on the major sites, however as an online place to extend the social aspects of a Youth Group it does seem ideal. Certainly, it does seem well worth checking out.

This first video is the interview, which is quite long and in places technical, but also includes some good comments about the rise of Social Networking, and the Internet as a whole – there is also an interesting discussion about which sites attract which age groups:

The second video is a lot shorter, and is basically an introduction to the features of Ning:

Alongside this, both TechCrunch and GigaOM have loads more detail in their reviews of the new version of the site.

Change as Good as a Rest?

Ok, I’m extending my rule of thumb over never talking to a comedian before a show to vicars before services as well. As many of you will know, we’re stopping running the Youth Group for a year from the end of the year, having said that, as somewhat of a trail run, we’ve not actually done that much this last term. Anyway, last night was the last Youth Group of the year, the annual barbecue, and Beth happened to mention this to Rev Richard before the service yesterday morning. She also mentioned a conversation we’d had a couple of weeks ago where I’d remarked how much I liked having Sunday evenings back, and that I’d said that I could well see myself not wanting to go back after the year, and to do something different. Anyway, Rev Richard read the first reading yesterday, stood up, and said that in view of the content of the reading, it seemed like a good opportunity to thank two people in the congregation who have done a lot for our Youth Group for a number of years. Cue me trying to hide behind my hymnbook…

Anyway, we got some nice comments after the service, and for a change we managed to hold a Youth Group barbecue in the evening without needing umbrellas or the gazebo. Although as usual by the time the barbecue had got going there was barely enough time for the food. Having said that it definitely confirmed that we were right to take a time out. Whilst I know there are some people who do the same job in the church for decades, in a Church like St James there is such a lot going on, and enough people that people can move round and do something different from time to time without feeling like you’re leaving someone, or some other group in the lurch. By forewarning people that we were wanting a change a number of parents have come forward wanting to help out with the Youth Group, and Cathy and Steve are still there providing some continuity with what went before. So that leaves Beth more time to do her Portfolio, and me with another job potentially coming my way next week…

The Popularity of MySpace and Bebo

As I mentioned in my previous post, tonight we had our planning meeting for the summer term at Youth Group. As usual, the discussion at the meeting also included more general talk about areas of concern, one subject being the popularity amongst the young people of sites like Bebo and MySpace.

In terms of the Church web sites we now have pretty tight rules over the use of pictures of any young people. The rules have actually been tightened several times over the years following concerns expressed by various parents, so you’ll notice that there aren’t any pictures of the Youth Group on this site where the young people are identifiable – and we’ve also tried to make sure that the public photo sets have any pictures with children and young people removed.

However the irony is that you can fairly easily go on to both Bebo and MySpace and locate pages belonging to a large number of the young people in the Church, and of course since the sites encourage people to list their friends, you can from there track through from person to person, browse through photo albums, many of which are helpfully named so you know exactly who you are looking at. Essentially it is just young people socialising, but in an electronic form – however the big problem is how accessible it all is, and how easy it is to build up a picture of them.

Recently, the BBC has produced an article on the issue, and whilst the sites are arguing that they are posting warnings, and trying to educate users, they still have a site that is especially attractive to teenagers. As a result, it is still a matter of some concern to us as youth leaders, quite how much information can be obtained with little or no checks of the person getting the information.

Sonning Deanery Youth Day

Redefined 2

As you may have been aware, this weekend was to have been the annual Sonning Deanery Youth Residential Weekend, Moving On. However, about a month ago, we took the decision to cancel, as we just weren’t getting the level of applications we needed, and were heading towards a sizeable loss for the whole weekend.

However, although we cancelled the residential weekend, Mike Buckland at Wargrave decided to still bring the Exalt team down, and to organise a youth day at Wargrave, with two free sessions during the day, and a free performance in the evening. Unfortunately from a St James point of view, although we had the largest contingent of young people from all the Churches booked to go on the weekend, that didn’t translate into interest in the youth day. Indeed we suffered a bit from the classic ‘group think’ problem when working with young people, that if one or two key people decide not to do something, everybody else decides not to come along too. The young people were able to come to as many or as few of the sessions as they liked, and looking at the list we had about 25 people through the doors during the day, with a number coming to all three sessions. In terms of St James, there was no official contingent, however we did have one person who came along with friends from school who attended one of the other Churches.

Although we didn’t need to go along to look after our youth group, we decided to go along to the evening session, which as always was a good show, and also a chance for us to catch up with the other youth leaders from around the deanery.

Exalt have been through another evolution in terms of their structure, so whereas the last time we saw them back in 2004 they were a five member group, they now work under two names – as the three member Exalt Ministries when doing Youth Work, and as a duo called Redefined when performing. In terms of the team, the only face from the previous team is Holly, a singer and dancer, and she is joined by Deano a rapper and break dancer for Redefined, and a professional Youth Worker, Colleen, all the way from Nova Scotia, for the Exalt Ministries sessions.

The actual session was fairly similar to previous years, with games, discussion and workshops, and then the songs. Certainly they seemed to go down just as well as in previous years, and as before many of the young people were around chatting to the team for a long while after the end of the performance. However what was interesting is that many of the people who came today, weren’t booked on the weekend, and yet many of the people who were booked on the weekend, such as those at St James, didn’t come today. From what we’ve heard, what we had today were more generally the older young people who had attended Moving On weekends before, who were essentially fans of Exalt, and the younger young people were booked on the weekend primarily because it was a sleep-over. What we seem to have lost is the momentum – the older ones who keep coming back to see Exalt, and the younger ones who initially come for the sleep-over aspect, and then keep coming back. So in general the day was well recieved from those who attended, it’s more a question of getting the interest from others in order to get the kind of numbers we need to make these things viable, and more especially the interest from adults in the Churches who are willing to put in the time to help out.

After the problems this year, and the abortive attempt to organise a weekend in 2005 (the 2006 weekend was largely put together as a response to young people upset that we didn’t do a weekend in 2005 – and yet many of them didn’t sign up) we are looking to have a proper ‘Where do we go from here’ type meeting with both the youth leaders, and the Deanery Synod who stump up the money, so hopefully this won’t have been a swan song for Deanery Youth events.