Community Matters: Leading with Character in Faith - Dr Ann Casson

October 22, 2021
Community Matters: Leading with Character in Faith - Dr Ann Casson

The below extract is a reflection written by Dr Ann Casson for the eBook Community Matters: Helping Young People Lead with Character in a Post-Covid World. Download the full eBook here.

How do you bring faith alive for young people? For the last seven years, I have been researching secondary and primary church schools investigating how young people understand faith/spiritual development and what they believe helps them flourish spiritually. One of my conclusions is that for young people, faith involves both being and doing.

- ‘Being’ in terms of having time and space to reflect, to think about life’s big questions, reflect on who you are, and wonder at creation and God.

- ‘Doing’ in terms of helping others, as one student said, “you can change the world with your actions if you put faith before everything”.

For young people, faith is not just something to be studied and understood but something to be put into practice. It is living out the message in the parable of the sheep and the goats, within their school community, their local community and wider. It is an understanding human beings are made in the image of God and called to love God and neighbour, to serve each other.

As we emerge into a world shaped by the ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic, the need for faith in action is even more acute. Within school, rooting calls for social justice within a faith context provides the opportunity to bring faith alive for young people. Many young people felt isolated during the pandemic. One school chaplain reported students were frustrated that they could not respond as a school community to issues in the local community or global issues.

I have been moved by the enthusiasm and hope of young people engaged with faith in action in my research. In one church secondary school in the north of England, the students told me of the charity work they undertook from their initiative. Their experience of the Archbishop of York Youth Trust Young Leaders Award in school had given them skills that they were now using in campaigning for the homeless, supporting the local food bank, or playing an active part in Citizens UK. One student explained that they wanted to raise awareness that young people can make a difference in their community.

Empowering young people to be involved and take leadership roles enables them to see faith in action and understand faith as lived out in everyday life.

School leadership teams have a vital role to play in enabling an environment where young people can put this enthusiasm to make a difference into practice. As a primary school head explained, she talked to the school about the Christian response to the refugee crisis and asked the pupils ‘how we as a school might respond’. The children suggested a variety of activities, which they then instigated. Empowering young people to be involved and take leadership roles enables them to see faith in action and understand faith as lived out in everyday life.

One of the most important aspects of bringing faith alive for young people is having a holistic, integrated response. Collaboration between school, church and home is critical here. The Faith in the Nexus research project found that where a robust and active relationship between church and school was perceived, there was more evidence of faith-related activities at home. For many children and their parents in the Nexus study, faith was not confined to worship activities or Religious Education in school. Faith was primarily about how you lived your life, the values espoused, and what you did – caring for others and creation.

Schools and churches must pay attention to young people’s understanding of faith and listen to their questions about faith and social justice. Schools and churches should be places that enable young people to see faith lived out in the community, and they should provide young people with opportunities to engage, respond and lead.

References

Casson, A., Cooling, T., & Francis, L. J. (2017). Lessons in Spiritual Development: learning from leading secondary schools. Church House Publishing.

Casson, A., Hulbert, S., Woolley, M., & Bowie, R. A. (2020). Faith in the nexus: Church schools and children’s exploration of faith in the home: A NICER research study of twenty church primary schools in England.

The below extract is a reflection written by Dr Ann Casson for the eBook Community Matters: Helping Young People Lead with Character in a Post-Covid World. Download the full eBook here.

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