31 August 2023

A Year of Adventure and Understanding: Reflections on my time as Youth President

By James Carver, Youth President 2022-23


As my year as Youth President comes to a close, I reflect on my time, the work I have done, the people I have met and my personal development. The Youth President is a unique and vital role within the Methodist Church, created to ensure that children and young people are heard at every level of Church life. However, no Youth President year is the same with each incumbent sharing the unique messages and talents that God has provided to them and through a mixture of headings, short stories, and potentially a Douglas Adams quote, I shall now attempt to sum up my year.

A Year of Adventure

During my year, I wanted to visit as many groups as possible to show the diversity of worship within Methodism and this year was interesting due to co-ordinating visits from Nottingham instead of London. However, being located in “pretty much” the centre of England opened up many potentials both physical and digital. Despite all these questions, I did not have to worry, as through a fantastic set of railway connections I managed to spend more time with many energetic and fantastic people who were extremely welcoming and accommodating. This even helped me to fulfil an aim of my year, which was to visit as many groups as possible and show the diversity of Methodist Worship in Britain.

At Church on the Farm in Oxfordshire, now called Exploring Faith in Nature, I experienced, as the original name implies, a church on a farm. With wildlife activities, campfires and stargazing I felt connected with God. At a gathering with the Metal Methodists, I found new friends and was surprised at the seamlessness of how well heavy metal music works within churches. At Methodist Central Hall Westminster, it was inspirational to discover the challenges and thoughts of older teenagers. At a group in west Tyneside, I got to put my Zoom skills to the test and was flabbergasted by the work the children and young people were doing in the local community.  Similarly, at Manor Park Methodist Church, I was blown away by the concern for others and the deep sense of faithfulness conveyed by the young people in attendance; also, thanks for the sweets!

However, the visit I remember most was my first to the youth group at Cotgrave Methodist Church in Nottingham. Thank you for opening your doors to me in my first few weeks. You inspired me and helped me to identify the kind of Youth President I wanted to be.

A Year of Development

One big question often asked when reflecting on a big experience in your life is “how has it changed you.” Being Youth President has given me many opportunities to understand both my skills and myself as a person. When I first started, for fear of saying the wrong thing, I was determined I would never participate in blog posts, radio broadcasts or TV interviews, but I have undertaken all of these. I have felt my confidence increase along with my ability to stand my ground when needed. However, the biggest change is the way I have understood my neurodiverse conditions and myself.

Over this past year, I made it my mission to raise awareness of neurodiverse conditions and the realities beyond the stereotypes. For me, this was important. The neurodiverse population is often invisible to the public eye and often we are forced to try and change to fit in with a society not suited to how we operate.

I want to thank everyone for allowing me to share my story, for allowing change, and for sending me all the testimonies of all the amazing work that has been done in response; be assured, I read them all, even though time prevented me from responding. Although in the blog post I only have a small space to reflect, this is my proudest achievement and I believe, together, we are creating a Church that is more open and where all are welcome and fewer are judged.

However, as well as the future, this year has also acknowledged the past by celebrating the 15th and the 25th anniversary of this amazing role; I shall leave it to my mathematician friends to work out this conundrum [1]. For the historian in me, I knew this was a momentous achievement which needed celebrating and, over the past year, it has been an honour to communicate and share in reflection with many of the past Youth Presidents. Together, we have created a fantastic online series showing the diversity of the role over time and how anyone can be Youth President with the opportunity to share their stories with the Church.

A Year of Tragedy

The possibility of a national or international tragedy occurring during a Youth President’s tenure is forever present and some of these situations require the Youth President to comment on them.

At the beginning of any Youth President’s year, it can be difficult to know who you are going to be and how you are going to engage with young people and the wider Church. You hope for a quiet first month. With the sad passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in September last year, the whole Connexional Team was at action stations. As many of you may remember, at this time I was asked to write a reflection for the children and young people which was a daunting task for any individual. I constantly had questions, such as what could be said to commemorate this fantastic person. What words were correct? How do I share the views of a group of people with differing beliefs over the relevance of the monarchy at this time? These were all thoughts that came through my mind. However, with help from the Communications team, the 3Generate Representatives, and others, a response was pieced together which I believe was representative of the children and young people.

Additionally, a second incident occurred during my time that, as those following the Youth President social media channels will know, occurred during an amazing international partnership visit I had to South Korea. For my first time travelling outside of the United Kingdom, it was a privilege to visit South Korea and get to understand more about the culture, people, beliefs, and the work of the Methodist Church internationally. However, sadly, half way through my trip a national tragedy took place in South Korea when on the 29 October 2022, a crowd crush occurred in Seoul resulting in 159 individuals losing their life and 196 others becoming injured. That night, I was having difficulty sleeping and woke up at 1am to read of the sad occurrence, to say that I was in shock is beyond words. However, realising that people back home knew of my location and close proximity to the tragedy, myself and the Communications team in Britain worked together, me at 3am and them at 11am, writing a response detailing our prayers for South Korea, the victims, and their families, but also informing everyone at home that we were safe.

Finally an incident much closer to home. In June, many reading this post may remember latterly reading of the tragic news of an incident in Nottingham in which Barnaby Webber, Grace O’Malley and Ian Coates were killed. When I first saw the news, I did not know how to respond for the United Kingdom has had incidents like this in the past, which my predecessors commented on, however this was on my patch and home ground. For this, and the other tragedies that took place on my watch, I released statements at the time, snapshots of my thoughts but the events will stay with me forever.

A Year of Advocacy

Possibly the most important aspect of Youth President is advocacy. This year has been one of exploration and wonderment for the young people and the Methodist Church. From the cost of living crisis to worship styles, how individuals feel in church to agriculture, I have often been amazed at the level of understanding children and young people have on matters around the world. Over this past year, I have had many conversations and through reports, blog posts, meetings, and social media, I have shared these the best I can. However, one person cannot aid children and young people together. Additionally, as those who followed Conference know, the personal and theological development of children and young people is everyone’s responsibility.

As I close my year, I encourage everyone to do this. Read the 3Generate Conference Report, engage with the Youthscape Essentials Course, and have conversations with young people about their faith and the immensity of the Methodist Church in Britain; for without this, the Church has no hope of surviving sustainably in the coming years.

Conclusion

Sadly, I shall soon be signing off this, my final blog post and there are two final questions in store. My future and my legacy as Youth President. Unfortunately, put simply, at the time of writing this post I am unsure of what my next step along God’s path will be for it has not been revealed yet. Despite this, I am confident something will turn up soon and have plans to identify them. However, similarly, I do not know what my legacy shall be or if I shall even be remembered; only time shall tell. Saying this, I do know that; a) I have often been challenged and impacted by the views of the children and young people this year, and b) that I shall be leaving you in the capable hands of Thomas Hart who is taking over from 1 September, It has been a pleasure to introduce Tom to the role of Youth President and I am excited to see what happens.

Thank you to the Methodist Youth Reps for their friendship and support this year, the members of the Connexional Team for making my first full-time job enjoyable, and most importantly to the children and young people at 3Generate 2021 for placing their trust in me.

So in the words of Douglas Adams:

So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

James Carver

 

[1] For those not mathematically inclined, it has been 25 years since the roles inception but 15 since its latest iteration.

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