Values in Detached youthwork

Values, Values, Values, there’s quite a bit spoken of values in youth work, what they are, how they are embodied, who they are for, how they can be attained, visualised and where they come from and what is, isnt, could be or may be a value. This may not be the place to begin a conversation about the changing values of youth work, or the paradigm change in the value based youthwork recently (some might say that youth work has lost much of its ‘value’ orientation instead being redefined through merely functionality). It may be tentative to suggest that the values that underpin youth work stem from individualism thinking that in itself is being deconstructed through post modernism, post structuralism, and a realisation of the infallibility of the human. Possibly then a new horizon of values brought about by a new construction of the human condition, and new dimension of hope and community is required to take the place of the dying embers of pre modern hoped for values, such as democracy, individual freedom and plurality… some of which are being assigned to the post-secularisation bin.

As a detached youthworker, i find the clash of values, rather that the seeking of underpinning values as interesting to reflect upon, something i realised in the practise of doing detached youthwork in Perth over the last few years. Its one that i didnt quite understand until i read, and re read Goetschius & Tash’s seminal piece on detached work and in particular on values ( 1967: 101-103) within practice, and related to the choices young people made, and the expectations of them.

They highlight three distinct areas where standards and values occur; two in the community(high and low) and also the young people.

The Community (high) Values are those in the community set/created by the agencies in the community; schools, police, local government, health, social servs all whom young people interact with or not in one way or another, and include the church, or at least at times , or in some contexts do.  The values determined by these agencies often “made specific demands which included particular expectations, compliance with which could on occasions be enforced by the officials representing the organisations – the school attendance officer, probation, policeman” (Goetschius and Tash 1967)

The Community ( low) are the values in the community as set by the people in the community in families, relationships, outwith the responsibility of local agency, the value system created is more subtle, but more influential as it includes the pervading values that arise out of the family unit, and to a point young people subscribe to it fully in compliance with the local contextual values that they have grown up with, until they are able to reflect upon them….

The Young People:  obviously the values of the young people which are described by Goetschius and Tash as “amorphous, undefined, often contradictory, sometimes complying with the neighbourhood, sometimes at variance with it” For instance these ‘values’ affect the reasons which a young person is; there at all, drinking, not going to school, on benefits, in a relationship, working, driving, swearing or all manner of things, often affected by the dominant community and their values in their life at that point, be it friends, family and/or rebellion of institutional values.

Goetschius and Tash recognised, and i would say that as a detached youthworker some 45 years later, that this triplex of values has such a huge bearing on detached youthwork. It is worth thinking about a few questions in relation to them, however:

1. What about the values of the youthworker and the organisation they represent?  do they fit within those of the ‘high’ community ones, and how should the youthworker be honest about these?

It can be very easy to revert to moralising and judging young people on the streets, and this occurs predominately because the hype is believed about them, yet as Rogers considers, making judgements is a hindrance to being empathetic ( Rogers 1980:154). So, even as we’re out on the streets we can be non- judgemental, but not lack of judgement, its that we realise the limitations and conditioning of the values that we have, though this does not mean that we have to accept wholeheartedly the values of young people. After all its important to be accepted by the young people for who we are in our role, rather than just because we lose our sense of identity/role and play the fool.

This adaptation does not involve mimicry, rather the opposite. We cannot insist enough on the importance of a street worker showing solidarity with yet at the same time a difference from the people they meet. Too many young workers mortgage their integration into the street by trying to imitate the habits, customs and behavioural patterns of the target audience.It is essential to remain who you are. It is in facing differences that real mutual enrichment is possible. (International Guide to the methodology of streetwork 2008)


2. Why might these values be more apparent in detached youthwork than other centre based youthwork?  My response to this is that because the youthwork occurs in the context of the community, and where/when young people are more at ease to express themselves and behave more naturally their chosen space, then this could be seen to be more at odds with the community at large. It is precisely because the young people are being engaged with, with and in their context that it is less acceptable to challenge, moralise or insist upon changed behaviour, when this may be a viable communication, transition, bonding activity for them over a long period of time, such as drinking publically, smoking, swearing. I would say that even the most ‘liberal’ of centre based youthwork will have socially constructed boundaries of acceptability, or code of conduct, and so these values can create a newly shaped social reality for the young person in that space, to become natural and ‘at home’ but maybe not immediately.  So being detached, being on the streets it is the youthworker that has to reflect on their values, whereas in the centre its often the young person who is conditioned to change.. 

One challenge that is often faced is that of role/value identity in detached, or to put it more bluntly ” who’s side are you on?” – in situations of high authority tension this is probably a real concern, and to a large extent in Perth we tried to make sure that the young people did not see us chatting with the police during the work on the city centre, however there were times when we worked with the Police in emergency situations, involving young people. But it wasnt just the police, to be part of any establishment, when to all intense and purposes, many of the young people felt rejected or judged unfairly by the establishments, was something that we had to be careful of, but at the same time want the young people to use and make the most of what the establishments could offer them. Part of the role of being there is to “to help individuals, groups and social institutions understand, accept or reject, use and affect, their social environment.”(Goetchius and Tash 1969:168). For me its a bit like being social double glazing salespeople, where we hold invite young people to see and reflect upon not only their own values, but also our values, and maybe more importantly those of the community around them. We , in our dealings with other agencies, can also hold that same glass pane to help them understand more about young people in their communities.

One of the things i am facing at the moment is the pre conceived notion that because young people are on the streets that they are in need or trouble of some kind, and yet the streets and parks are places exactly for the social gathering of young people, them to have some space away from adults, in groups socialising, have some fun, and yet a value suggested by the community (at large) is that this is a source of trouble, or young people being bored.  If we only stop before we rush out to rescue, condemn or entertain, and just for a moment let young people have open spaces to be, to meet, to chat, in the public spaces, and not judge this behaviour before we get there.

So whilst values change, the conflict of values on the ground, in our communities some of these values are taken for granted, and yet one of the healing roles that youthworkers in the streets can play is seeking to bring understanding and reconciliation from different perspectives in this value triangle.

So whilst values are often ideals, and shape the nature and practise of youthwork, as they should, we should also reflect upon the values and standards embedded in our communities that affect behaviours and actions of young people and seek to provide tools for them, for their families and for the agencies around them, to reflect, be challenged and understand a little more.





Breakfast on the beach

Seaham Beach

I quite like Peter, ie the Biblical Peter. Not for his foot in mouth honesty at times or his renegade spirit. But I like it that we have a record of someone who has a relationship with Jesus, Jesus in human existence. I like it that its not a rosy experience, and that there are times when Peter felt on cloud nine, and when he was the scapegoat, and when he was given responsibility, a time to try things out, and yet the main event that most will think of with him is the moment when he denies Jesus three times, in that dark courtyard, only days before the Crucifixion itself. The tears of Peter at that moment (Luke 22:62) must have been very bitter indeed. The low point of their relationship, now as Peter is thrust from the limelight, ashamed, guilty, and all so aware that Jesus himself was in earshot of his denial.  So what does Peter do, at his low point, he is still in Jerusalem, still at the location of the action that weekend, but probably in the background, afraid that Jesus might give him that  look. For all the status he’d had previously Peter wasn’t even close, for it was the women who were there, and even they watched from a distance ( Mark 15:40).

So, feeling guilty, afraid and ashamed what does Peter do next. Well, give him credit he was with John in that moment when they ran to the tomb ( only to find ‘nothing’- a body that wasnt there) (John 20:3-4), but i wonder, what kind of reception would Peter have wanted should Jesus had been there? and what was Peter feeling as he ran? relief? fear?

And yet, despite the occurances of Jesus with them, the disciples at this point had not been with Jesus like that used to be, their new role had not been defined, it was a kind of in between stage, of chaos, of uncertainty, of the dawning of new reality but being unsure what it all means. I guess its easy to look back and say that , as NT wright, and Vanhoozer say that Jesus resurrection, and the emergence of the church are separate Acts in the stage production of the Christo-Theodrama ( Vanhoozer 2005:3), but at the time, what was this post-resurrection, pre-commission time like – and what was going through Peters mind at the time?

I like Peter, i get the impression he likes to feel as though he’s accomplished something every day, you know, tried to make something happen, or be involved to make a difference, quite a purposeful type. So in this uncertain time, what does Peter do? well, instead of ‘just sitting around’ he finds purpose for the day by rekindling something old and familiar, something that he once knew about and could rely on to give him purpose, a role and satisfaction “I am going fishing!” (John 21:3), and the others with him join him. For Peter, was the dream over, all hope gone? well no Jesus had been seen alive, but did think or know or want to be part of Jesus’ future plans? 

For Peter, going fishing was what he grew up with, what he knew, he was after all ‘a fisherman’  this was his role, he knew his tasks, the boats, the water, the nets and tools. This was a place he could feel comfortable, and until he met Jesus, this was a place he could feel alive, feel important, worthy and purposeful. I guess thats why i like Peter, no doubt we can all relate to wanting to feel purposeful, or busy when we’re in an uncertain place.  Not only is it nice to know that Peter didnt have it all rosy, but that he reacts in a way that we all might do, or maybe thats just me.., we all have things we do when our ‘principle’ work/mission gets a bit stodgy, directionless or difficult, those little jobs around that give us purpose, some DIY, cooking or a ride on the bike, even vacuuming and dusting..? Something that helps us feel important, and purposeful, but also something ‘of old’ that helps us be reminded of where and who we once were.   

It was also a place where Peter felt safe. However, it was also a place that would remind him of that first time, where he first encountered Jesus, near the boats, the nets and the fish, way back when.. and so Peter was not escaping the scene stage left, not like Jonah, trying to run away, but the actions of a guilty man, trying to relive something he was familiar with, avoid that moment with Jesus.

And yet, that nights fishing, the former fishermen caught nothing.  So not even the things of old gave them satisfaction, just piled on the frustration, at least it could have done. Maybe they were aware that ‘natural’ things are at best unpredictable, but i would have thought that they thought that they were likely to catch at least something.  And so, as the boat appears back towards the shore, just after dawn there was a man on the beach, unrecognised at first, who gave them a new instruction, after asking whether they’d caught anything, suggests that they place their nets in a new place, just the right hand side of the boat.  Although the text suggests an element of passive compliance in Peter, you could imagine the sense of furore in the boat, as the night had been wasted and some bloke tells them to use the other side, yet they do.

It was John that recognised Jesus first, and then Peter, Peter who lost the race to the tomb ( John 20:3) was not going to be beaten this time and jumped in, clothed and splashed his way up the shore, a 100 yards or so while the others rowed up in the boat, a little more serenely.

When the others arrived, the barbeque was on the go, the fish and bread were there cooking away… breakfast on the beach. Jesus is creating for the disciples a new memory, a new place, where the familiar things are being renewed, but also where he recognises that they needed to show their uncertainty, their feelings and try and go back.

Jesus and probably Peter too,  cooks for them , shares the food around… now what might this be a memory of… oh yes that final meal in the upper room…

Jesus is on the beach… what does that feel like.. oh yes that first time they first met….

Its Bread and fish again…. whats that a reminder of …. remember that time when there was just a few of these to go round… and that big crowd…. it was so amazing we did this twice….

Maybe all these things were unspoken, or so frequent experiences that of course they’ll overlap… however i wonder what the conversation would have been like over breakfast.. and then after  the meal Jesus takes Peter aside,  maybe it was his turn to wash up?  but Jesus let the meal happen, the collective moment occur with the sense of wonder and peace, and then, afterwards continued the gradual process of reconciling Peter. So far, Jesus has tackled Peters past role ( being a fisherman) his present (the revelation of Jesus resurrected) and now Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to be part of the future. Jesus investment strategy in Peter is high risk, and clearly high maintenance and now the moment where Peter has to have that  conversation.

Its first name terms for Peter – “Simon, son of John” –  not Peter – the rock, that Jesus uses… “do you love me more than these?” (Jesus question is the same he asks of the crowds in Luke 14:26 – “hate everything by comparison”, or love everyone else a little less)

Jesus is asking of Peter, do you still love me, love me more that the others love me, more than you love the other disciples, love me more than fishing, love me… and if you do care for and feed my sheep.  Go, Peter and use what you know, coupled with the experiences you have had, be redeemed and reconciled to me and minister to others.  Dont forget what happened, but use it as a reminder of how much I, Jesus can love you, forgive you and still use you. Jesus is about reconciliation, thus Mission is about reconciliation, reconciling people to God as gently as Jesus did to Peter, reconciling the world to the great shalom. As Barth said:

Human acts of reconciliation are in accordance with the structure of reality which God in Christ creates and the existence of which the gospel  testifies: and therefore they are acts which tend towards the true end of creation that Gods reconciling act establishes once and for all in Christ’s  reconciling person and work (1953)

and similarly Vanhoozer (2005):

The church does not have to achieve reconciliation so much as display and exhibit the reconciliation already achieved through the death of Christ

So I love Peter, love Peter because he gives me hope, a hope because in Peter, Jesus is revealed as one who understands the need of the guilty to run somewhere comfortable, to pine after previous glories, to find purpose in the mundane, to react backwards during uncertainty, Jesus lets Peter have that time, those few days between the tomb and the beach, time to wrestle with his own thoughts, and the conversations of others.  Jesus knows that there will be a time on the beach, there will be a time where we run, a time when the wondering has gone on just too long, and where his work is the work now should do.






Seven Steps to Leaving “Evangelical Christianity” without Losing Your Faith: Step #1 “It’s OK to see God differently”

Contemplative Christianity

Step #1: “It’s OK to see God differently”

by peter traben haas

I begin in our family name, Your most holy three-fold name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Here are five ways I began to see God differently on my journey into the contemplative dimension of Christianity. If you are interested in reading more, I’ve written about this first step in further detail in my book The God Who Is Here.

A presupposition: We tend to inherit our initial God-view from our family of origin, early religious education, experiences/practices, worship, or  the culture and religion we are raised in.


My first perception of God was that God lived up in the church nave, where high above the Lord’s Table at the pinnacle of the ceiling there was a door, or what looked like a door to my 5-year-old mind. I remember loving being in the sanctuary of Elm Grove Lutheran Church and looking up at the…

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Contemplative Christianity

Seven Steps to Leaving “Evangelical Christianity” without Loosing Your Faith

by Peter Traben Haas, M.Div., D.Min.

Part One: Introduction

During the weeks between Easter and Pentecost, I’m starting a new series on this important subject.

I’m not against anyone or any kind of Christianity. I am for a deepening, growing faith relationship with God through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit which at its heart is the goal of contemplative Christianity. These thoughts are in service to anyone who is seeking a way forward in their faith.

I’m also writing this because it feels to me that Christianity, and especially Evangelical Christianity, is reaching a tipping point. And I’d like to be a part of the conversation that helps folks find a way forward in faith and not suffer like I did.

Intellectually, much of Evangelical Christianity’s perspectives did not make sense to me. So I gave up trying to get the circle of…

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