Column: ‘Let no-one despise your youth’

Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster
Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster

As I move towards the last six months in post, following the recent announcement of my retirement, I am prompted to think about passing on the baton to the next generation.

It is possible, however, for senior leaders to abrogate their responsibility and pass on the leadership too soon.

At the start of my ministry I went on an ordination retreat with my peers. They all went to the Cathedral to be ordained as ministers while I was sent home.

It wasn’t because of any misdemeanour on my part, but because I was too young.

But as soon as I was 23 years old I was ordained on my own in a parish church in the middle of Wakefield. A few years later I was growing a beard to try to make myself appear older and more experienced!

In later years, I had a series of young curates. One Monday morning, one of them answered the vicarage doorbell in the middle of our staff meeting. The caller said to him, ‘Is your father in?’

He was very young looking and he found it hard that everyone seemed to comment about his youthful appearance; but I quickly reminded him of the Scripture where the apostle Paul says to young Timothy, ‘Let no-one despise your youth’.

Young people are understandably irritated when their elders keep reminding them of their inexperience.

But young, enthusiastic, passionate leaders are needed.

Just as one example, I seem to find that young married priests who have children are more keen than ever to make sure Sunday School and youth work are up to scratch.

Leaders have most influence with those who are ten years younger or older than themselves so it makes sense that we are trying to encourage young vocations.

Should bishops be younger? I think there is a case for not limiting their ranks to old grey heads.

One of my colleagues who is about to move to a senior bishopric was first appointed younger than most.

He continues to echo that sentiment, ‘Let no-one despise your youth’ and many will be grateful to receive his ministry.