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Curiosity, candour and consciousness – Young people’s experiences of The Alban Way

Gemma Madle

29 May, 2024


One of the projects we are working on in the Centre for Research is evaluating the impact of The Alban Way, a new programme for young adults and young people in The Diocese of St Albans. Previous research has suggesting that young people aren’t curious about the Christian faith but this month Gemma went to observe one of the sessions with the Year 6 group and found something that might be stirring their curiosity and connecting with their lives.


As I arrived through the main door of the Church at 12pm I was momentarily discombobulated by the lack of noise and semi-chaos I had expected from a group of Year 6 students not long finished their SATs and preparing to leave their primary school for the big wide world! But fear not, the energy, curiosity and enthusiasm I had expected to encounter was simply being re-fuelled by cheese and ham sandwiches. It wasn’t long before 27 young people were scattered again all around the church, exploring the altar, the organ and the baby toys and were energetically running up and down through the rows of chairs. Their inquisitiveness was evident and it was lovely to see them so comfortable in a space that most, if not all, had not entered before that morning.

By the time I arrived they had already enjoyed a carousel of activities, all with the aim of consolidating the learning they had experienced from 8 sessions they had received in their schools over the Autumn and Winter terms. The sessions and this ‘Day in the Parish’ were part of a wider programme within The Diocese of St Albans called ‘The Alban Way’. The overall aim is to provide a tool for churches to build relationships with their local schools and subsequently support young people to build resilience through the transition from primary to secondary school. This is achieved by helping them to learn about spiritual practices such as The Examen and a Rule of Life, for the young people these are referred to as ‘tools in their toolbox’, things they can draw on to help them throughout their lives. Of course the extended hope is that this connection with the church might lead to greater enquiry or future engagement, perhaps through youth groups or other activities later on. But simply enabling young people to feel comfortable in a Church building and to stir up the thought that the Church and God might have something to offer them is surely a good place to start!

My role for the afternoon was to observe and try to gather some data that indicated how the young people felt about the day, what they may have learned and the impact the programme may have had on them. There was lots to take in, but the key things I noticed were:

  • Curiosity
  • Candour
  • Consciousness


It seemed that the programme was sparking curiosity about both Church and God and each other. When asked what they had learned one young person gave me a potted history of St Ignatius conversion story which led to a brief conversation where they

considered whether having difficult things happen in your life might make you wonder if God exists. Another asked one of the leaders “Is church always like this?” whilst one young person described how she had discovered new connections between her and another classmate through a game they had played “I didn’t know [her] but now I know I have things in common with her”. Comments in their presentation to parents & members of the Church congregation reflected some curiosity about Jesus, valuing having learned about him and about God. One young person felt this was going to help them when they were older if they can “remember all the answers to the different questions”.


The young people were remarkably honest about themselves and their experiences. They openly spoke about learning about and respecting people’s different beliefs, some shared how they valued learning about Jesus and being able to ask questions about him. Their prayers were honest about situations where they felt they had got things wrong and wanted forgiveness –“I’m sorry for hitting my sister” “I feel guilt when I lie” – or what they were apprehensive about - “I’m nervous about going to [Year 6 trip]” “I’m worried about the transition to [secondary] school”. One young person spoke matter of factly about what she and others sometimes say when they get “uncontrollably angry” and said that she was going to use her experience of this to help others stay calm.


There was a widespread understanding and awareness of mental health and resilience was a key theme of the day. One young person talked about the symbolic trellis model they had made and how all the sticks needed to be in place to hold it up, another said he had learned that “work can be hard but you need to show resilience.” For one girl the examen was a tool that was helping her to cope with bullying and another referenced some her own experience of other people’s mental ill health and how she now felt she might respond differently.

It struck me that the journey of these young people on the Alban Way could be illustrated by the Examen prayer that they led us in at the end:

  • Pause: Be still and breathe – step out of your normal rhythms, take time to pause away from school, from lessons and allow your body to downregulate from the usual pressures of life
  • Gratitude: What are you grateful for? – what’s good in your life, who are you connected to, what can you celebrate?
  • Self-awareness: What do you notice? – where have your emotions been today, what have you experienced?
  • Support: Where do you need help? – Are there things you wish you’d done differently/want to say sorry for, do you need help with anything? What would you like to change?
  • Self-efficacy: What can you change? – Going back into your lives from here where is your agency, what can you influence?

The day ended with one of the students bravely performing a song she had written herself during the day. Her words were what I imagine Jesus might have been saying to her and her peers:

“Be yourself, not someone else

Be brave and have resilience

Don’t give up.”

Something I’ve had to remind myself multiple times this week already!

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