CIYD Youth Forum

I was delighted to be the opening speaker, to explore with a great variety of participants from all over Ireland the Candlemas story of Simeon and Anna in the temple, and to reflect on how this lovely –  but in a way ambiguous –  story of light, shade and bittersweetness speaks remarkably into many of our present concerns re looking after our mental health.   Rt Revd Michael Burrows, Bishop of Tuam, Limerick & Killaloe Diocese

‘You are heard by God’ – Youth Forum participants consider importance of listening and hearing

“You are heard by the God who created you” was one of the key messages to young people from across the Church of Ireland who participated in the CIYD Youth Forum on Saturday (January 28). The focus of this year’s forum, which took place in the City North Hotel, Dublin, was on maintaining positive mental health and the importance of listening, being heard and wisdom. It was organised by CIYD, and the forum was facilitated by Susie Mapledoram, Diocesan Youth Officer for the Diocese of Manchester.

The morning started with a time of worship followed by a reflection from the Bishop of Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows. He spoke of the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Candlemas) which is marked on February 2. He observed that “two old people who are hanging around in the temple day in day out”– Simeon and Anna – recognised that this was no ordinary presentation and observed the light that had come into the world. He described Simeon and Anna as representing the faithful people – “decent old souls who keep turning up – you will be them yourself,” he said.

Bishop Burrows explained that the presentation of Christ was a profoundly bitter sweet moment. “It is a celebration of a child’s birth, his presentation to God, the celebration of parenthood and hope. But this old man perceptively reveals that especially for Mary this child will bring trouble, the rising and falling of nations and a sword will pierce your own soul so somehow we are looking forward towards the cross. Simeon is glimpsing that Mary will stand at the foot of the cross of her son. It is terribly bitter sweet. But then life is bitter sweet. The older I get the more I know it. Bitterness and sweetness live together as you go through life. You cannot have light without shadows. Bitter sweetness is part of what we are and have to cope with and handle. Part of good spiritual mental health is to cope with bitter sweetness because it isn’t all easy all the time. But know that your faith will help you balance the bitterness and the sweetness and that the sweetness will always transcend the bitter but never erode its reality.”

He continued: “Candlemas is a hinge moment – we look back at the crib and forwards towards the cross. It is on the cusp… Life is full of hinge moments. These are crucial tests of our faith and of our mental health. If we can handle the hinge moments well and faithfully, you have a pathway to a certain maturity of approach that will stand you well… It’s not always easy but the light is always there”.

This was the second event in a three–year programme focussing on the wellbeing of young people. Susie emphasised that the forum was about hearing the voices of young people and their wellbeing. She encouraged the participants to reflect on the importance of listening and being heard through the lens of Elihu in the Book of Job.

Susie Mapledoram, Steve Grasham, Simon Henry, Brigid Barrett, Bishop Michael Burrows and Ben Jones at the CIYD Youth Forum.

She said bittersweet moments in life could have a knock–on effect on mental health and it was important to take care of mental wellbeing. It was also important to talk about mental health to take away the stigma which can be attached to mental health struggles. Speaking out impacts other young people and Susie said that young people speaking to other young people was very important. Elihu highlighted the importance of being heard and being listened to, she stated.

She also talked about the concept of wisdom which was generally attributed to older people but she said that did not mean that profound wisdom could not come from younger people. “Speak up and tell your truth and your wisdom,” she urged. “The value of being heard and the gift of listening is precious… You are heard by the God who created you. Elihu is young but he is connected to the God he serves so he speaks with wisdom. Wisdom comes at any age because God’s wisdom is in us. So listen and speak up.”