A leading UK youth ministry event has included a focus on the question of how youth workers should respond to young people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT).
Speakers at the Youth Work Summit in Manchester last Saturday included transgender vicar Rev Rachel Mann, and two Christian young people from LGBT communities.
The session on this question was just a 45 minute part of a full day event, the theme of which was 'Open Up'. The conference, which featured a broad range of speakers including Christian Aid CEO Loretta Minghella, Message Trust founder Andy Hawthorne and US activist Shane Claiborne, drew together delegates and contributors from across the Church and invited them to listen to and learn from one another.
One of the stated aims of the event was to encourage delegates to listen to voices they wouldn't normally engage with, and to 'open up' their hearts and minds to what God might want to say to them through one another.
The session on pastoral responses to LGBT young people was timely in the light of recent events involving Steve Chalke and the Evangelical Alliance, and the recent legalisation of gay marriage. Rather than looking at the rights and wrongs of these issues however, the on-stage conversation - which took place in front of more than 800 people at Manchester's Audacious Church - focused on how to pastorally respond to young people who identify as LGBT.
Chris Curtis, CEO of Youthscape and one of the organisers of the event, said: "For us the discussion around pastoral responses to LGBT teenagers was one of the highlights of the day. It was important that this wasn't a debate about theology - although inevitably we had to touch on that - rather it was a much-needed space for the youth work community to tackle a vital pastoral issue.
"Too many young people, including those who are straight, are growing up believing that the church hates LGBT people. That makes no sense to them, and it's absolutely not true. Yet there's a danger that because it's not an easy question to address, we simply go on avoiding it.
"The theme of the Summit was 'Open Up'; it was a day which encouraged youth workers from right across the denomination spectrum to put down their pre-conceptions for a day and listen to voices with which they perhaps wouldn't usually engage. This discussion was just part of that, and in that wider context delegates felt released to listen, to think again, and to seek God's heart together on this question."
The session began with an introduction from host and evangelical youth worker Martin Saunders, who set a context of openness, listening and respect before welcoming the first speaker, Rev Rachel Mann.
Mann's talk was followed by testimonies from two young people, who shared their experience of growing up gay or transgender in an evangelical context.
The last speaker in the session was Andrew Marin, the founder and President of the Marin Foundation, an organisation which seeks to build bridges between conservative churches and the LGBT community. His talk included a call to all delegates to go back to the Bible in forming their understanding on this question.
Saunders closed the session by praying for the speakers and delegates, and by repeating Marin's call to seek a Biblical perspective. The session was followed by a lengthy Q+A session featuring Mann, Young and Marin, during which other perspectives on the question were discussed.
All the talks from the Youth Work Summit are available at www.youthworksummit.com