The summer holidays are usually an occasion which many look forward to – perhaps with the exception of parents, who have around six weeks to ‘entertain’ their offspring! However, what should ordinarily be several weeks of enjoyment and relaxation, can often be a perilous time for some young people in many towns and cities in the United Kingdom. Police-related statistics reveal that there are often massive spikes in what is known as serious youth violence (SYV), during the summer break which sadly sees fatalities and injuries largely linked to knife-related criminal activities. (Indeed, one of the few positives of the COVID-19 pandemic was the decrease in SYV during the lockdown.)
Aware of this alarming phenomenon, the Synergy Network (SN) launched its ‘Standing Together Weekend’ on 16 and 17 July 2022 (the weekend before many schools in the UK break up for the summer), which encouraged churches, parachurch groups and others to get involved in the work to address SYV. The SN wanted Christian congregations to provide practical action to young people and their families whose lives are devastated by the realities of SYV. Churches have excellent ‘assets’ that make them ideal to engage in this diversionary work; they have buildings that can be used for both play and learning during weekdays. Equally, they have a proliferation of youth workers who could carry out engagement activities with young people from surrounding communities. Likewise, they have congregants who are professional people with the skills and abilities to work alongside youth workers and others to help young people.
As a consequence, on ‘Standing Together Saturday’ (16 July), there was a large church service at St Mark’s Church, Kennington, south London at which attendees had an opportunity to pray and reflect on the tragedy of young lives lost to violence, and to hear about the good work churches and others are doing to bring hope to desperate situations. Those in attendance included youth workers and practitioners from Christian youthwork organisations, Borough Commanders from the Metropolitan Police Service, senior clergy, community leaders and interested parties. There was also a hybrid dimension to the meeting which saw pre-recorded contributions from clergy and laity.
The following day, on ‘Standing Together Sunday’ (17 July), churches in cities and regions such as Belfast, Bradford, Buckinghamshire, Cardiff, Coventry, East Sussex, Luton, Manchester and Northampton, joined with a plethora of congregations in London to focus on SYV. Churches from a range of denominations and traditions included a segment, or chose to give over their entire service, to this issue. The SN produced a range of excellent resources that equipped these churches to pray and take action on what is one of the most pressing issues of our time. These resources will remain available on the SN’s website, which is www.wearesynergy.org.uk/events
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) and the Diocese of Southwark are key members of the SN, and I was encouraged by the interest in our inaugural Standing Together Weekend activities. The feedback from participants has been extremely positive, and the SN team is already working on next year’s events. The SN would like the Standing Together event to be a regular fixture in the Church’s calendar in Britain and Ireland, taking its place alongside other ecumenical activities.