Twenty-two years ago, a group of church youth leaders in rural Berwickshire met to pray about the decline in the number of young people attending their churches. By the end of that time of prayer, they all felt that God was telling them to go into the places where the young people were – their schools. They asked headteachers whether they would welcome their involvement and received a very positive response. They presented their vision to local church leaders who agreed to provide financial support for the establishment of a Trust, which became an Associate Trust of Scripture Union. So Berwickshire Christian Youth Trust (BCYT) was born.
BCYT is supported by churches in Berwickshire to be their agent in schools to reach out to young people. Its management committee consists of representatives from local churches, who support the one full-time and one part-time schools worker whom the Trust employs. For much of their work, they rely on the support of volunteers from churches to run Bible clubs during lunchtimes in schools, to take assemblies, to introduce a Christian dimension into the curriculum at the request of headteachers and to run weekend camps, summer holiday clubs and activity days during half-terms. Churches are pleased to support the Trust financially, and to provide volunteers, because they see this, in many cases, as their only outreach to young people, or as complementing their own youth work.
The Scottish curriculum requires that schools introduce children to the basic tenets of the Christian faith as part of their provision of religious and moral education. Many schools appreciate support from the community in fulfilling this obligation and naturally turn to an organisation like BCYT. BCYT’s schools workers, for example, team up with volunteers from local churches to act out the Christmas and Easter stories, often within the local church building. Recently, older primary pupils have spent considerable time studying the Easter story from the York cycle of miracle plays and performing it to the school and their parents. One teacher, who was dealing with incidents of name-calling and bullying in her class, invited a BCYT worker to lead several sessions on the theme of respect. He shared with the class accounts of Jesus showing respect for different people whom his countrymen would have despised.
One project – Priory Live! – takes place on the site of a medieval monastery, of which only the church remains in use. Eighty 10-11 year olds, from a number of local schools, spend a day ‘on pilgrimage’ at the Priory during the summer term learning about the beliefs and worship practices of the monks and engaging in activities which would have taken place within the Priory’s precincts, e.g. breadmaking, cider-pressing, tile-making, the production and use of herbal medicines, basket-weaving, etc. Each group of 8 children spends the day with volunteers from local churches who act as ‘pilgrim guides’, dressed in monastic habits, who are available to answer their questions and to share their own story with them. For many of these pilgrim guides, this is the only opportunity they have to interact on a spiritual level with children and to relate with folk from other churches in Christian outreach; they find the experience immensely encouraging.
BCYT is invited to work in every school in Berwickshire. They have contact with children many times during their school lives. ‘One sows, another waters, but God makes the seeds grow’ (1 Cor. 3:6). We trust God that that is happening!