I've been stressing out a lot lately on how to start doing service projects with the older Sunday School kids. We have very few teenagers at St. George's, but we have a large number of 9- to 11-year-olds, and I'm working on slowly turning them into their own "clique" (in a good way), so that when they outgrow Sunday School, we'll have a ready-made youth group ready for them.
A lot of them are very enthusiastic about raising money for charities - we had a child who raised over £120 with a bake sale for Children in Need - but I want them to know more than just fund-raising. I want to do hands-on projects with them. But I don't want to do it in a way that is patronising ("hey, kids, let's go meet some poor people and help them!"), and I don't want to do it in a way that gets in the way of actual skilled charity workers doing their actual skilled work. My experience volunteering with the Children's Mission of St. Paul and St. James showed me that well-meaning groups of teenagers from the suburbs can actually be more hassle than they're worth - the staff know what they're doing, and when the teenagers come to "help with a programme for inner-city kids," the staff ends up having to babysit the clueless teenage helpers as well as do the actual programme. Sometimes, what's needed is for people to just give money and let the people who know what they're doing get on with the work.
But that can lead to isolation - children in wealthy areas of Kensington sending money off to charities without any real contact with people who are different from them, or people who are suffering. The desire to "help" can become insular or even smug, and disconnected from any sense of the realities of other people's lives, or the feeling that real love involves getting in the trenches with people as well as sharing resources with them.
Martin (our new Administrator) and I went to a course on "Power, Poverty and the Church" last week, which advocated for a relational model of service as opposed to a noblesse oblige model or a procedural/bureaucratic model. That the way to give people not just aid but agency and power over their own lives is to build relationships with them first and then to see what they need and help empower them to gain it. The idea of starting with relationship has helped to sort out some of these issues. Possibly we could get in touch with a church in a deprived area and start a youth group together - an arts group, or a sports group (or both), and work on creating relationships between the young people and seeing where that leads us. Perhaps we could open a youth club in the community space one or two afternoons per week, focusing at first solely on getting to know people, and then on serving their needs. Perhaps we could visit a domestic violence shelter around Christmas and focus not on giving (we'd bring a donation of toys but that wouldn't be the main event) but just on sharing time and activities together.
And I can't forget to grab the pastoral opportunities that arise in normal church life and share them with the kids. A child in our Sunday School is ill and has been hospitalised for the last week (she's home now), and so I've amended our Sunday School lesson plan for this week to include making a Get Well card for her. That's an act of service that comes out of an existing relationship, and the kids will take the lead on it. It's a start.