Eighty-four Salvation Army territorial youth and children’s officers from 57 countries met at Sunbury Court near London, at the invitation of General André Cox, to explore faith and lifestyle, spirituality for children and young people, discipleship, safeguarding, justice and gender. The conference, the first of its kind, took the theme 'Right at the Heart'.
Addressing delegates, the General reaffirmed his regularly stated position that 'children and young people are an important priority for The Salvation Army'. He continued: 'These are more than words and we are working to ensure our young people are not only heard but that we are also intentional in the way that we nurture, disciple and develop the leadership potential in each young person.'
Major Janet Robson (International Youth and Children’s Officer) convened the conference to bring together expertise from around the world for a time of sharing and learning, but also to send a clear message that The Salvation Army wishes children to know that they are welcome, safe and secure – and that the message of Jesus calling children to be disciples is still one that young people should know and experience.
The fact that the General and Commissioner Silvia Cox (World President of Women's Ministries) visited the conference twice, joined by senior leaders from International Headquarters, served to highlight the priority that should be given to work with young people and children in the life of The Salvation Army.
'It is so important,' said the General, 'that we listen to our young people and that they are invited to speak at our councils and boards so we know what they are thinking.' To illustrate this practice, three young people attended the conference for two days to let the leaders hear and understand their understanding of the world and their spiritual experience.
Among many highlights of the practical sessions was the opportunity for everyone to experience 'Godly play' – a storytelling tool that enables children to have a greater understanding of faith.
Moments of sharing, singing and prayer – and significant teaching from eminent speakers – served to provide training and resources for the leaders to impact the work that is being done in their own territories, benefitting many thousands of children around the world.