As the General Assembly opens tomorrow, an Edinburgh parish is reaching out with a new appeal to the young. Aileen Little reports
A year ago Fiona Fidgin took six weeks' unpaid leave from her Church of England primary school in Lancashire. She wanted to lead a youth programme on Iona, and there she met the Iona Community's mainland youth development officer who sounded her out about a job in Edinburgh.
Mayfield Salisbury Church had spent Pounds 45,000 on a flat in Causewayside in the parish. The congregation wanted to recruit a youth worker who would make the flat her home and a focus for outreach work. Ms Fidgin says: "In Lancashire I had open house one evening a week - 14-year-olds used to come round for tea. I always wanted to do it on a larger scale."
She moved to Edinburgh in January to an Pounds 80 a week post where her income does not allow for the use of her car. Armed with the numbers of some teenagers in the congregation, "I phoned them and invited them to paint the flat for me". She stresses that the flat is not a drop-in centre. "Young people want to belong rather than join. And you can't teach people to belong. They have to feel it."
The distinction, she says, is at the root of young people's antipathy to the Church. There is no lack of spirituality but "they are looking for something meaningful".
The project was launched with a pancake evening. "Forty were invited, 10 turned up, a high return in marketing terms." She now holds open house three evenings a week. There is no programme of events because the project is based on relationships. In a middle-class parish young people are subject to tremendous pressures at school or university, Ms Fidgin claims, with uncertain prospects ahead of them. Parents are often too busy to talk to their children.
A homework club is now planned on church premises, and it is hoped to make contact with youngsters from other denominations. A logo for the project is also needed. Edmund Bethine, aged 16, says: "I think a symbol is important, something to catch a teenager's eye."
Sandy Young, minister at Mayfield Salisbury, says: "The days of chapping on doors and being welcomed are gone. Nowadays we have to target our outreach. "