“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

Lasty week I was in the Corrymeela Centre in Northern Ireland for the Children’s Ministry Network conference. We were privileged to experience two workshops led by Yvonne Naylor (www.puppetwoman.org) who has made extensive use of puppets in her work with children over many years. A member of the Corrymeela Community, she was part of their school team bringing together groups of pupils from deeply opposed communities throughout the time of ‘The Troubles.’ Through anecdotes, creative arts, story-telling, discussions and play activities with puppets, she helped bring them into dialogue with one another. We experienced her methodology in our workshop.

Each group she met with would set their own ground-rules for their exchanges, but two key principles were always insisted on. One was about listening and the other was about speaking. Firstly, to listen without judgement when others were speaking, to give the space and respect to truly hear the individual’s personal story. Secondly, to ‘speak for yourself.’ It was the second of these that was particularly transformative. To ‘speak for yourself’ meant no-one could say “we Protestants…” or “we Catholics…” Each person had to speak as “I” and not as “we” or “our” or “us.” These simple practices let people share and hear one another’s stories and experiences. And once their stories were heard, their relationships were transformed. And once their voices were heard, the relationships of their adults and carers were transformed too.

We also spent time with Nicola Brady, the General Secretary of CTBI (the parent body of the Children’s Ministry Network) exploring the CTBI Strategic Plan for 2023-27 (‘Endurance Inspired by Hope’). Under the heading of ‘Promoting ethical and inclusive leadership’ is a commitment to “promote the Children’s Youth Ministry Network as a resource for our member churches.” Perhaps inspired by Yvonne Naylor’s workshops and her ground-rules, our feedback on this commitment stressed that “Our work with children and youth is not just about developing ‘the next generation’ but is also about their place in the churches just now and about hearing their voices, their stories, and their insights in the here and now.”

May we learn to hear one another’s stories, especially the stories of our children.