On Saturday 27th October, I went to Grange Park URC, Leyton, for a Thames North Synod Church and Society Day with the theme Embracing Difference. Our opening worship was led by Brian Ball, a member of the Church and Society Network Planning Group.
William Jagessar, a Child Line volunteer, then gave a talk about Children on the Edge, giving us examples of some of the cases he encounters when he answers calls on Child Line, which was set up thirty-two years ago by Esther Rantzen.
After that we had a session on Hate Crime, which has increased alarmingly in the UK over the past few years, almost doubling from 42,255 cases in 2012/2013 to 80,393 cases in 2016/2017. Reasons for such crimes are varied but mainly include race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and transgender issues.
In our ethnically diverse groups, we heard some moving accounts from people who had been victims of hate crimes in the past and how they had been supported by their local church and community. However, we were told as churches we should not hate the perpetrators of hate crimes, but pray for them.
Lorraine Downer, a full time youth worker at High Cross URC in Tottenham then told us about Opportunities and Challenges for Young People in the Church. She explained how in her work, she organises Leadership Training for 17-20 year olds, where activities with peers are set up, a sense of citizenship is developed and support and encouragement is given. Annual residential weekends are held and training in First Aid, Safeguarding, Team Work, Leadership
Skills and Practical Planning is given. Skills learned can then be applied to everyday life. Involvement with the wider church is encouraged with young people attending URC Youth Assembly.
We next had a taster session on Conversations on Diversity, when we split up into groups and considered for example, what we could do within our churches to encourage people to interact with those who are different from ourselves. This could mean at a wider church gathering, not always sitting at the same table as people from our own church or ethnic group, even though this is more challenging and takes more effort and awareness.
The morning finished with a summary of what we had heard and discussed, given by Alex Bediako, a member of the Church and Society planning group. This was followed by a buffet lunch prepared by members of the local church. I came away challenged by what I had heard and glad to have been part of such a diverse group of Christians.