Church of England commits to doing more to stop serious youth violence

(Photo: Unsplash/King's Church International)

Providing weapons bins and opening up churches as "safe places" for young people are some of the actions that churches should be taking to stop serious youth violence, the Church of England has heard.

Members of the General Synod - the Church's parliament - meeting in York over the weekend unanimously backed calls for the Church of England to play a bigger role in protecting young people and preventing violent crime. 

In addition to helping reduce gun and knife crime, it was proposed that churches open their doors to act as safe havens for young people at risk of being drawn into gangs.

The Rev Canon Dr Rosemarie Mallett, a priest in Angell Town, south London, said that weapons bins were a "practical and prophetic witness" to the calling upon Christians to be peacemakers. 

Dr Mallett, a member of the Church's Mission and Public Affairs Council, said that churches needed to make the shift from reacting to violent crime in their communities, to preventing it. 

"At present churches are remarkably good at responding when a death occurs on our patch," she said. 

"However, our contribution is mostly reactive, and this motion is calling upon the church to be proactive. We must remember that the stories of violence among young people are not simply 'their' stories, they are 'our' stories, not only through our common creation in the image of God but also because these young people are part of our communities, many either attending a church school or living in the local area." 

She went on to say that churches could play a key role in fostering reconciliation where there is division. 

"In some parishes families of perpetrators and victims live side by side, and there the church can be a place not only of pastoral care for individuals but also repentance, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation with each other and with God," she said. 

She added: "We can sometimes see this as just an urban issue. But, with middle class drug taking fuelling the rise in 'county lines' drug trafficking, vulnerable young people are groomed and exploited to feed this lifestyle and violent crime in our coastal, university and market towns has increased.

"One of the young men from my parish was moved for safety to Portsmouth and was shot dead there not long after."

Kashmir Garton, a lay member from the Diocese of Worcester who works as a senior manager within the criminal justice system, said: "The Church is in a unique position to be proactive in such situations as it exists in every parish community; it is present at key life events and is involved in the delivery of education in its church schools, Sunday schools, toddler groups and youth groups." 

Recent figures reveal that in London alone, 40 knife incidents a day were reported to police over 2017 and 2018, while on average one person was stabbed to death every four days in the capital. Over the same two year period, Met Police dealt with a total of 29,232 knife offences.

Violent crime reported to police across England and Wales rose by 19% between 2017 and 2018 to the highest levels in 10 years, according to Home Office figures.