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How can the Church convince young people that God loves them?

Youth Forum participants encouraged to be an active generation for the Gospel

How can the Church convince young people that God loves them?

This headline was one of the key messages to young people from across the Church of Ireland who participated in the CIYD Youth Forum at the end of January. The focus of this year’s Forum, which took place over two days in Dromantine Conference Centre, Newry, was on maintaining positive mental health and the importance of story – our story, listening to other stories, and the story of the Gospel. The annual CIYD Youth Forum was facilitated by Susie Mapledoram, Diocesan Youth Officer for the Diocese of Manchester, with special guests Mark Wells (Bible Society in Northern Ireland) and Ben Jones (Missional Generation).

The morning started with a reflection from Archbishop John McDowell, addressing the young people with a number of challenges and reflections. Archbishop John shared personally what Jesus meant to him, the purity of his love, and that Jesus was keenly aware of his own role – he knew he was hurrying along world–changing events, even as he sat among children, outcasts and sinners.

He challenged the young people to figure out their place and part in God’s story, despite the challenges of this current generation, reminding us that every generation has its concerns and anxieties – war, climate, famine, sickness: “Don’t let anxiety eat away at the decisions you make… God is in control.”

The Archbishop reminded us that we should be a people of reconciliation – “You will have a family resemblance to God if you are a peacemaker, and that will stand out” – and that the Church’s great calling was to be peacemakers, as Jesus said.

“The story of redemption… the story of salvation… is the greatest story ever told,” he observed, “In the beginning was the Word, and He is also the End.”

This was the third in a three–year cycle focusing on the well–being of young people. Susie emphasized that the Forum was about hearing the voices of young people and their well–being. She encouraged the participants to reflect on their stories and their importance through a study of Joshua chapter 4 – “God shows us through Scripture that story is so important, written down. Captured, saved, learned from and remembered for generations.”

Mark Wells led the young people through an interactive retelling of the story of the Prodigal Son, encouraging young people to engage with Scripture and see themselves in the characters Jesus talks about. Ben Jones was on–hand to assist with the social media presence of the Forum as well as helping young people to produce short videos around mental well–being from real–life examples – this proved to be a highlight of the Forum for a majority.

There was also a visit from Bishop Pat Storey, CIYD’s President, on the Sunday morning to encourage young people in their faith and to thank leaders for their time and dedication.

National Youth Officer, Simon Henry, said: “The importance of bringing young people together in the Church of Ireland, from all corners of the island, cannot be underestimated. This Youth Forum was our best one yet according to feedback, and the enthusiasm from the young people to debate, discuss, participate and be heard was just amazing – mental well–being is an issue that young people care about greatly – and the Youth Forum encouraged them to make new connections, be a voice for change in their schools, parishes and dioceses, and to deepen their faith and learn more about Jesus and His Church, and the vital role they have within that.”

CIYD’s Youth Forum seeks to bring young people from across the Church together to debate issues affecting all young people, encourage and support youth participation, facilitate change and action, and support young people on their spiritual journey.

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