Generation Z – Transgenderism in the Church

For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever”  Isaiah 56:4-6

Michael* was just ten when he moved in with his foster family. He was a victim of neglect and arrived with many behavioural and developmental issues. He was a very quiet and incredibly vulnerable child. 

He loved coming to church, especially our Friday club. He would engage in the discussions and Bible teaching and asked many questions. Michael made many friends at the church but was reluctant to get too close to anyone. He would sit on his own for much of the time building cars out of lego. Our church windowsills were often filled with his creations with “keep off” notes attached.

Michael progressed well through school and due to the great work of his foster family and wider support team, he caught up in many aspects of his life. It was a joy to see. The church loved him dearly.

At the age of 15 Michael came to speak to me in private. He wanted to tell me something that he was yet to share with his social workers, parents, teachers and foster family. I was the first to know and very touched by this. But what he told me was surprising.

Michael wanted to identify as a woman (Michelle).

With Michael’s consent I prayed with him.

I explained to Michael that God made him (Psalm 139:14) and that God does not make mistakes (Psalm 18:30) and yes, this may mean that God made Michael as a male who (at that present time) feels happier as a female (Matthew 19:12), but this does not exclude him from God’s Grace (Romans 3:23-24). I understood that such feelings are real and in direct contradiction to his biology and that having to live with such an inner conflict must be very hard for him. I told Michael that he was very brave and that I was very proud of him. Michael knew that we all loved him.

I explained to Michael that God wants him to be happy within himself (Hebrews 13:5) and what we learn from the Bible (as in life) is that changing who we are externally is unlikely to provide the inner peace that we all desire (Matthew 23:27-28). The root of any internal conflict is caused by our separation from God and thus cannot be resolved until we are reunited with Him again by faith (Romans 5:1). I reminded Michael of the good news of Jesus Christ. That because of His perfect self-sacrifice on the cross (1 Peter 2:24) every human-being can now come to God just as we are (Revelation 22:17) whatever age, race, sex or class. No matter what we have done in the past, no matter what inner conflicts we are burdened with, King Jesus has made it possible for everyone to come and unite and know God in the most beautiful and intimate way. We do not have to change anything external to know God. We just need to come to Him, openly and honestly and trust in Him (Psalm 51:10).

I reminded Michael that as a Christian I believe with all my heart that he is an image bearer of God (Genesis 1:27) and thus of infinite value and greatly treasured (Ephesians 2:4-5).

I pointed Michael to Jesus (as I would any person whatever their orientation). And I made it clear to Michael that whatever he decided to do, he will always be loved and welcomed, just like everyone else.

The following week I was in discussions with the foster family. The school and the local authority were alerted and Michael started to come to church as Michelle. She had a new outfit, wavy hair, contours on her cheeks and lipstick.

As the months past Michelle became very popular and outgoing. As a church we had to accommodate in certain ways, the hardest part for me was getting used to the name change.

That Christmas all the youth received their daily devotionals for the following year, and Michelle got to chose whether she wanted the one for girls or boys (she chose the Girl’s version). Michelle grew in confidence and asked many questions about the LGBT+ movement.

 This allowed me to share what I believe is a “better love story” (the Gospel) with the wider group.

Michelle’s willingness to come to church offered us a wonderful opportunity to speak into our changing culture and challenge many assumptions of what the Bible teaches on the subject of transgenderism and LGBT+. It gave us the opportunity to share with Michelle’s peers that God and His church value you beyond your sexual orientation, that God’s message in the Bible is one of grace and His precepts are given for the benefit of human flourishing, that salvation is based on nothing else than your relationship with Jesus and thus Hell is full of proud heterosexuals who have dismissed God’s love for them. We looked together at how other (unchristianized) cultures treat the LGBT+ community (in most cases horrifically) and we thanked God for their safety in the UK.

Although Michelle did not make a profession of faith (that I know of) she was a real pleasure to have in the group, a catalyst to discussion and a tangible testimony of the Church’s  love and welcome to all people.

Months went by and Michelle grew in confidence, church was her safe space and a number of her friends were joining her as a result.

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One Sunday Morning

Ten minutes before the service started a member from Michelle’s foster family came into the church. At first I was delighted, but I could see she was upset and had not come for the service. She asked me to follow her home “It was an emergency”. Michelle was dead, suspected suicide. She had just turned 16. 

It was so hard to preach that morning. As I spoke I could barely look into her young friends’ eyes, knowing the tragic news that awaited them. By God’s grace the message was fitting for the circumstance.

After the service I took the teenagers outside and told them, whilst our elder prayed with the congregation. There were many tears over the following weeks and several visits made to Michelle’s family and friends.

Owing to Michelle being in foster care we had little say in regards to the funeral plans. The birth family had a right to decide but knew nothing of Michelle’s new identity and roots in our church community. Would she be buried at her place of birth, and who would they bury? Michelle or Michael?

We had to do something as a church regardless, for the sake of Michelle’s friends and foster family. We held an open air service with all of her favourite food and drinks. Her friends read poems, performed songs, we sang hymns and shared memories and I gave a short gospel presentation to those who gathered.

Two borough councils were involved in the funeral proceedings as well as the parents, foster family (who were amazing), school and the police. They all agreed that the funeral should be held at our church, but that Michael/Michelle be laid to rest at his/her place of birth.

The service was difficult to plan. We were saying our goodbyes to a transgender minor, in the care system, who had tragically cut her own life short. Owing to the birth family’s history the police were to be present and we were expecting many school children. But God worked in such a powerful way through this process. The church grew closer to many in the community that we would not have reached otherwise. I spoke on “David and Goliath” and the giants in life that we all can overcome by God’s Grace. The Lord was present.

The last five years of Christian teaching that I had given Michael/Michelle and her friends were now being put into practice. In their suffering and grief our teenagers could see God’s love tangibly expressed through His church and it has grafted them in. Most now come every Sunday and several are moving on with the Lord.

This entire experience has brought me close to many teenagers in our community and I have listened to them (Proverbs 18:13) and reevaluated my approach to youth ministry. In the extremes of this ordeal they have taught me many lessons. I hope the below findings help.

Generation Z

Today’s youth (Generation Z) are growing up in a unique time where Christianity is seen as all but dead. Without the “absolute” of God, nothing in their culture is certain, not even their gender. Without a Christian moral framework, relationships often break down, the family unit is fluid and unstable. Generation Z has the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, but little stability to build anything on. With the ‘death’ of Christianity there is no longer an absolute truth, so everything is free to question, but this has made Generation Z surprisingly open to ideas of the miraculous. For this reason they are less interested in apologetics (compared to Generation X, Y and the Millennials). 

Generation Z are incredibly compassionate but also very lonely, their relationships are mainly digital, aesthetical and superficial. They are isolated from their wider community and have limited multi-generational influences. This has starved them of the opportunity to learn important social skills (such as patience and empathy) that you would naturally develop when engaging in mixed groups (church). They have been bought by a material culture, and define themselves by what they own or consume. Generation Z crave sincere togetherness (church).

They have been taught that Christianity is an archaic and bigoted institution and directly opposed to their liberated secular world. Generation Z do not feel that they can be ‘good citizens’ and ‘Christians’ at the same time because of such false assumptions.

This is the new challenge of our youth work today. To break down these assumptions!

We do not need to argue or justify the virgin birth or undermine neo-Darwinism with Generation Z (as we needed to with the millennials), rather show them the better love story that we have (1 John 3:18).

Our nation’s youth desperately need to hear that they are not simply products of chance in a meaningless universe, they need to know that they are not defined by their mere sexual desires or by the products that they own.  They need to know that their self worth is not measured by how many instagram followers they have or what clothes they wear. Our nation’s youth desperately need the stability, consistency and accountability that church uniquely provides and most importantly they need to hear that they are eternally valued by a God who loves them to death!

When these truths are taught and practiced by the church, God’s love (revealed to us perfectly in Jesus Christ), will become as irresistible to this lost generation as it was to ours.

We continue to pray.

*The names have been changed to protect all those involved. I have received permission from the foster family to publish the above in the hope that it will help other churches and build bridges with the LGBT+ community.

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Schools Bible Exhibition 2018

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Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6

This month our church took over 600 children from Garnteg, Cwmffrdoer and Victoria Village Primary school(s) on a journey through the Bible.

The exhibition (provided by the Open Air Mission) comprised of 18 boards that included pictures, infographics and bite size narrative for the children to follow*.

The first board told the story of creation, the second the Garden of Eden and so on.

The children could see how wonderful the world was when God first made it. There was no death, no pain, no sickness, what a wonderful place to be.

God then made Adam and Eve and gave them all that they could possibly have wanted. With just one rule to follow, “do not to eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” (Genesis 2:17).

This rule gave Adam and Eve freedom, they now had a choice, to love God or disobey Him.

As we all know the devil entered into the garden as a serpent and convinced Adam and Eve to break this rule and partake in the forbidden fruit.

The children were then invited to share some of their school rules and the punishments they would receive if they break them. (Times have changed).

The children could all see from this simple exercise that (just like in school) God gives us rules for our own benefit and safety. They could also see that God has every right to punish people for breaking His rules (which is what the Bible calls sin).

Adam and Eve sinned, they broke God’s rule. For the first time they knew that they were naked. They felt ashamed at what they had done and were banished from the garden to live in this cold, hard, fallen world.

But in love, we are told that God covered their shame and comforted them with animal skin.

The children could see right at the start of the exhibition (and the Bible) that rejecting or ignoring God’s life giving rules, logically leads to death. God loved Adam and Eve and did not want them to die, so innocent blood was shed, so that Adam and Eve’s shame could be covered.

This theme pointed all of the children forward to the promised Messiah who would fix the problem of sin in the same way by His death.

The display moved on to Noah, then the Tower of Babel, we looked at Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel, God’s family whom the promised Messiah would come into the world). The Exhibition took us then to Joseph and his journey to Egypt, the Story of Moses, the Ten Commandments, the Passover and Exodus. Always reaffirming the point that God (who made us) gave us rules to live by so that we could be happy but (just like today) the people in the Bible constantly rejected God and broke His rules (sin) and that such action requires punishment, just like when you break the school rules.

The children could see for themselves that for the guilty to be reunited with our loving God, innocent blood had to be shed, so that God can also remain just in His punishment, whilst at the same time remaining merciful to those who He love who did the wrong.

The exhibition progressed onto Elijah, the Judges, then King Saul and David, the Babylonian captivity, Daniel and the prophets, before ending with Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, explaining again the significance that for the guilty (us) to be reunited with God by grace, innocent blood has to be shed to make atonement for our wrongs, so that God can remain just whilst at the same time being merciful to us.

The display ended with a clear lesson.

Christian’s believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the one who God sent to deal with the problem of sin (that alienates humanity from our loving Father in Heaven).

Jesus did not break a single rule, He was totally innocent, yet on the Cross He took the just punishment for the sins of all people who love Him. (1 Peter 2:24).

A truth that we asked each of the children to consider.

Volunteers from the church dressed up as characters and spoke through their story (in first person) at different stages throughout the exhibition. The children then had the opportunity to interact one to one with the “heroes of faith” that brought the teaching alive.

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The exhibition gave clear Biblical themes throughout to help the children come to their own conclusions.

The Christian world view was presented to them fairly and in the greatest of love without putting any pressure on them that could damage the witness in the future.

The exhibition takes just one hour out of the school day and is interactive (so the children stay focused throughout). Head teacher Garnteg Primary School Susan Roche said: “The whole week last week was great as it gave the children something different. It combined very important aspects of the curriculum like RE, history and the humanities and brought it together in an interactive way which made it very meaningful.

We can thank God that many children still know the key events of the Bible today; from the fall to Passover, David and Goliath to the birth of Christ, but the exhibition illustrates superbly how all of these historic events fit together as one big story of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.

 

 

At the end of the exhibition the children filled out a quiz, which volunteers from the church marked. The following week the Mayor, local councillor and the press joined us to present prizes to the children.

Each child was rewarded with an information pack that includes games, treats and information about the church.

We hope that such outreach will inform the children and their families of the many services that we provide for the community and that through this outreach the elect would come to church, hear the gospel and know a changed life that will glorify God.

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Read the Article online here

 A huge big thank you to the wonderful volunteers at the church who gave up significant time and resources for this to happen and to the OPEN AIR MISSION for their support.

*Narrative by JP Earnest (Field Operations Manager) Open Air Mission

Pray for the children

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6)

Two much loved institutions in our little community, Victoria Village School and Brynteg Nursery are set to close in twelve months’ time.

The church at Noddfa have been publicly against the decision and it has been our prayer that the schools would remain open as both are performing well and were in high demand.

I have seen it as a privilege to be able to serve the schools with regular visits, Bible missions and talks over the last two years. As a church we remain committed to this ministry until they both close.

Thank you

As a father and someone passionate about this community I want to thank all those involved in both schools for their professionalism and honesty throughout the process.

Miss Dando, Mrs Ryan and their respected Governors have shown excellent leadership and my children’s education has continued to improve despite all the pressures imposed.

I want to thank; the parent committees who have worked so hard to challenge the decision, our MP, AM and the Councillors that have made our voices heard in the county chambers.

I want to thank all those that have taken time to attend various protests, media interviews and public meetings. I also want to thank everyone for their prayers, the 770 letter writers and the thousands of people who signed petitions.

Save our School

I am thankful to God for; allowing my children to be a part of the school’s history, to have had the opportunity to attend a village school that is at the heart of our community, where the head teacher lovingly knows every pupil personally and takes the greatest interest in their lives, a school that they could walk to with friends and feel as safe and loved as they do at home.

Let us now celebrate these wonderful institutions whilst we still have them in our community and help our teachers, school workers and children have the best year of their lives, so that the memory of Victoria Village Primary School and Brynteg Nursery can continue for generations to come.

What to do next

I will be committing substantial time to pray for all those affected by the closure (including my family).

Below are some thoughts that I have listed if you would like to join me.

Please Pray for;

The children at Victoria and Brynteg as they come to terms with losing their school. Pray that they will not be anxious by the pending move and that friendships will not suffer as they begin to part ways.

The children at Garnteg and Cwmffrwdoer primary schools as they have to deal with significant change. Pray that their education will not be interrupted by the building work to expand the schools and that they will make new friends as
the children integrate.

Pray for the teachers and school workers at Victoria and Brynteg. Pray that their future will be made clear as soon as possible and that many opportunities will be made available for them.

Pray for the teachers and school workers at Garnteg and Cwmffrwdoer primary schools as they lead their pupils through the change, managing the expansion with all the pressures that this will inevitably bring.

Please pray for the families who will be significantly affected by the closure of the schools, pray that their employers will give them flexibility to adjust to the alternative school runs and changes to their childcare provision. May there be as little disruption as possible.

Pray for the Councillors and the education authority (1 Timothy 2:2) as they work through this process. Pray that the changes will deliver the results as promised for the good of the wider community and our children’s future.

Pray for us as a church as we seek to serve our community and witness the Love of Christ amidst such uncertainty.

To all those saddened and anxious please know that we have a God that will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6), in such weakness we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-11) and that all things work together for good for those who
love God (Romans 8:28).

As a church we are of course here to help you.

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Save our School

A letter in response to Cabinet Meeting 06 OCTOBER 2015

Please sign our petition to keep our local school open

SCHOOL REORGANISATION PROPOSALS ARISING FROM THE 21st CENTURY

2.3 To consider whether to proceed with the closure of Victoria Primary and Abersychan Brynteg Nursery Schools at the end of the 2016/2017 academic session, and if so, approve the commencement of formal consultation.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

To whom,

I had the privilege of moving to Abersychan (Torfaen) 18 months ago to take up the voluntary position of Pastor at Noddfa Baptist Evangelical Church. My wife, four young children and I have been warmly welcomed into the community.

Owing to our relocation our eldest two children had to move schools, and are now in their second year(s) at Victoria Village Primary School. I am pleased to say that since their time at the school they have both grown academically as well as socially. The school provides a magnificent environment to learn and live. The teachers and staff have been wonderfully supportive during the move and my children have made many friends. I attend the school regularly to give assemblies and have welcomed invites to concerts and end of year performances as both a Father and in the guise of local Minister.

I have the utmost respect for all the staff, teachers, governors and pupils at Victoria Village Primary School. It is a school that echoes the values of our community that I am proud to serve and love as their local Minister (and now as School Governor).

With that said you can begin to understand how mortified I am about the plans to close such a pillar of our community and I wish to voice my objection.

Our church is independent and thus self funding, so my role as a Minister is voluntary. This does mean that I have to work to support my family in addition to the Ministry. My secular vocation is one of a Department Director for a business headquartered in Wales with offices in the USA, so I am not naive to book balancing and managing P&L. I have had to make many tough decisions in my career that have affected people’s lives, so my sympathies do go out to you all as you face this consultation. Yet I also understand that your roll in government is not to run a business but to serve the needs of the community. A community that will be lost if these schools are closed! We are dealing with many people’s lives here, a fact I doubt you need reminding of.

These schools are the last bastions of community in an already beleaguered district. They bring hundreds of people through our village that would suffer economically without such passing trade. Children can currently walk to school rather than commute by car, which (if the schools were to close) would no doubt add to further congestion in our already saturated road networks. The locality of the school’s allow for many parents in the area the ability to work, thus provide for their families and give back into the community. A greater commute could affect working hours and thus their income. Removing such a popular school from the area would also impact business investment; I for one would not relocate to an area that would not be able to provide suitable facilities for the families of those I would choose to hire.

As I bring this heartfelt plea to an end. I want to stress again the wider social impact that closing these most beloved institutions will cause. I want to reaffirm that to the parents, families and all those that love our community; this is not just a cost cutting exercise. Your decision is one that will define the future of our village, our county and our country. The principle of removing local amenities from Welsh towns and villages such as ours will undermine the very fabric of what makes them special places to live.

Your decision to close these schools could turn our little loving village into a barren ghost town of commuters, leaving early for the bigger cities. People will lose self worth as they daily migrate to be lost in a metropolis, and they would care little for the strangers around them when they return home.

I repeat, your decision to close these schools will turn a local, loving community into another cold and alien commuter town. I have witnessed such a transition myself. Once loved neighbours will become alien, families will grow insular and children’s freedom restricted to their garden fences, the high street desolate and a hotbed for crime. This principle of closing local amenities is disgusting and eating away at the foundation of our countries soul. Without community, you lose respect and accountability for your local environment and people.

However, what saddens me the most, is that many within our community are already disillusioned, especially those who have recently had to move their children into Victoria Village School because of previous closures. Many in our community feel that the decision is already made and that they are powerless to do anything.

What a sad state we have fallen into, if many of the people you serve feel that they do not have a voice, or do not believe it will make any difference.

I hope that we can work together to prove them wrong and begin to fight against this trend of closure in our Valley and restore our communities, starting with the end of this ridiculous notion to close Victoria Village Primary and Abersychan Brynteg Nursery Schools.

We are on our knees in prayer that it is God’s will that the school will remain open and will fight to support it.

Pastor John Funnell

Noddfa Baptist Evangelical Church

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” 1 Peter 4:10

Please sign our petition to keep our local school open

Save our School