First Friday Origins
How it came about
During the last interregnum, after Lars left, I felt there was a need to provide some meeting point for young people of secondary school age and offered to try and do something. The Wardens agreed to redecorate and refurbish NCH to provide an attractive room where they could meet, and the work was quickly carried out by a large team of workers.
There was no existing youth group, so I had to recruit from scratch. Obvious potential members were those who had been confirmed in the previous couple of years plus those who had once attended Sunday School but grown too old for it. The Confirmation register and Rosalie McAndrew’s memory provided some names. I duly drafted a letter of invitation and delivered it to all the homes. I delivered reminders every month thereafter to members.
I wanted to create an opportunity once a month for young people with some present or former connection with the Church to meet for food and friendship and to get to know some adult members of the congregation – all in the context of faith.
I had long experience of leading Christian youth groups but I chose the format of this new group after having read on CMS’s website about a successful ecumenical experiment in an Oxfordshire village where a lot of unchurched youngsters had been attracted in by the offer, not just of a free meal, but also with the opportunity of learning how to cook it! I hoped we might be able to create something equally attractive and open to all.
The question was, however, would anybody come? Eleven did and that number included three girls from outside the parish who had heard about it from a friend. At the first one I demonstrated how to cook a particular Norwegian favourite of mine which we then ate (I had made a goodly portion in advance), Dr Claire Summers was my first invited adult who spoke about her work in A & E and how she came to be a doctor and answered a few questions, and I gave a 5 minute talk at the end suggesting a simple way in which they could reflect/pray each night about what had happened during the day. I deliberately wanted the meetings to be ‘religiously light’, i.e. religious enough to be attractive but not so heavy that it would be off-putting. So, no Bible-bashing, but at the second meeting I did give out free copies of Luke’s Gospel and offered some suggestions on how to get the best out of reading it – again, all done, in five minutes. Simple, short encouragement to grow spiritually was what I was aiming at in the ‘God slot’.
Sally Kennedy was there at the first one to help serve food (she also provided a dessert), wash up etc which some of the youngsters stayed to help with. It went from there. Over the year we had a wide range of interesting speakers : from a very successful mini-workshop on writing poetry led by Lois Howard to a physically active session of martial arts led by Janice Knight – and there were several helpers, some of whom prepared meals, others helped with washing up etc. And, very important, there was always a female adult present, as there were both girls and boys in the group. As a priest with Permission to Officiate, I had the mandatory permission needed to work with young people.
Did it meet the need?
Seven of the original eleven came to the second meeting plus a few others, and the number gradually grew over the year – the highest attendance on just one occasion was, I think, twenty-three. The numbers would suggest the format and the frequency of the meetings– just once a month on what had been agreed was the most convenient night in the week for them, i.e. Friday, worked. It did attract a few who had had no previous connection with the Priory, thanks to members bringing a friend with them. It enabled young people from the village and from St Bees School to meet in a relaxed, social environment, and for all of them to get to know a few of the adults who worship regularly in the Priory and for them to get to know some young people. Cliff attended the last meeting I led just a couple of days before his institution. Thereafter it was in his hands. I hope the above account helps you understand how the group began. I pray you will be guided as you plan for the future.