Streetspace Gathering 2015

Imagine if you will the following:

A Field in Derbyshire, on a small community farm

13 tents, two marquees and a shelter

4 portaloos, and 2 showers that needed people outside the door to adjust the temperature.

A fire

A mobile Pizza Van courtesy of Rustic Pizza’s

2 BBQ’s

35 People, some youthworkers, project leaders, volunteers, new junior leaders, some children.

Now imagine that with all of those contingents, a conference was held;

Imagine a conference, where the attendees decided what the main themes were

and where thats what was actually discussed in sessions- so themes such as;

Homelessness, Management skills, politics, change management, age transitions, philosophy of  youthwork, Hope

imagine that these sessions were well attended by people who decided on them.

imagine the energy that created

imagine how it felt that people created actions out of that energy and passion

imagine how many ideas might have been ignored but hopefully wont be

imagine a gathering where the energy & creativity was harnessed, not ignored

imagine having your voice heard at a gathering.

imagine that happening, and children also being part of the weekend, and contributing to the programme, activities and ideas.

imagine the impact on children being involved (and the junior leaders), and hearing the stories and inspiration of these 35 people might have on them.

imagine hearing a child tell you that they thought the stories were powerful and emotional

imagine a community that whilst encouraging giving is giving to others (such as the charity Farm, Blend, Derbyshire)

Imagine a youthwork conference that acted with its participants something like youthwork values, democracy, equality (of voice, opinion), empowerment, value individuals/community. Imagine how validating that feels for a new youthworker, an experienced one or a struggling one.

All of that happened, as well as the usual positives such as the ‘networking’ that occurs at these kind of things, but for once, or at least, again, it wasnt a youthwork conference where the best thing was the networking.

In a small part, this was the FYT Streetspace gathering over the weekend.

During the weekend I was reading this, which summed up something of the sense of the gathering this weekend:

“Art is created in adverse circumstances, under pressure, against the odds, and sometimes God uses people as the iron that sharpens you in your artistic pursuits. Artists are passionate, in the same sense that Christ experienced Passion. Jesus said this kind of life would characterise his followers” (Johnson & Savidge ‘Performing the Sacred, 2009)

I was truly inspired to be in the company of passionate artists, artists that create the possibility of hope in hopeless places, who act beautifully in their desire for restoration, who challenge dramatically in the face of oppression.

If you are serious about social change, young people led community youthwork, holistic redemption and seeing young people flourishing – and having validity for that space you’re creating to embrace a young person with the Godly embrace that welcomes and restores, then being part of Streetspace, and joining in the adventure of this movement is for you.





Taking the Bishop on Detached…

Last week at Durham YFC we took the Bishop of Durham out on detached with the team. He’d walked about 12 miles during the day on his deanery prayer walk, and its transpired he’d done detached youthwork before, back in the early 1970’s.

One thing that we tried to do, and its possible to do, is not only to give him an authentic experience, but also that it proved the leveller that detached youthwork is. Once he’d donned the team jacket, and volunteer badge – he was a stranger, a new volunteer to the community, to the young people. For the young people who he spoke to, or spoke with the team he was with, he was just anyone else. He was able to, like we all do, to remove ourselves and our role from the stage, but to focus on the young people, being the best, most approachable, real person that a young person would want us to be. He wasn’t given any special respect, honour or grace, but the few young people connected with him because he was there and interested in them.

He didnt see many young people, that’s because we didn’t want to manufacture young people, ring ahead, or prepare them for a ‘special’ night. He saw it as it was. Gilesgate at its unpredictable best. Young people in their space.

It was undoubtedly great for the team, and i, but i hope it was also good for the Bishop, his wife and Chaplain who joined us, saw how meeting young people in their space, takes time, is valid, and is the way to discover  in the informal spaces faith conversation and belief, none of which is planned, predictable or organised, yet as church, to improvise beyond the walls, in the land of dragons, takes time.


Peter Brierleys Research : Have Church based youthworkers worked? (in relation to church attendance)

You can find this information at

For an American Audience, this might give you some insight into the context of young people & the British church.

§ 14.5 Have ‘Youth Workers’ Worked? Page 1
r Neil Summertown, Chairman of Partnership, the network of churches of Christian Brethren background,posed an
interesting strategic question – has the advent of paid Youth Workers into the British church scene been successful?
Ever since Robert Raikes started the Sunday School movement back in 1780, there has always been the necessity for a
huge number of volunteers to work with the children in our churches. At its peak (which lasted for about 25 years, 1880
to 1905), some 56% of the nation’s children went to Sunday School every week (see previous article). In 1905 that meant
more than 7 million children in total. The largest, in a Stockport church, had 5,000 children!1
There is no data whatever on the size of an average class, but if it was, say, 25, that means well over a quarter of a million
teachers spread across the 50,000 churches thatwere in the UK in 1905 or about 6 volunteers for every single church –
a veritable army who taught children Bible stories, good manners, honesty, uprightness, faithfulness and doing one’s duty.
A recent book (see Page 14.4) has suggested itwas this teaching on such a wide scale that sustained Britain through two
World Wars and the depression in between .
Nor is there any data on the age (or gender) of the majority of these volunteer teachers, but there is no reason to think that
they didn’t come from all ages of people in church life, since church membership was high at the start of the 20 century th
(almost a quarter, 23%, of the UK population). It peaked at 10.4 million in 1930.
Measuring basic numbers
The first English Church Census took place in 1979 and the second 10 years later in 1989. A comparison of the two sets
of figures showed that during the 1980s a huge number of teenagers had left the church. Church leaders didn’t need the
Census results to be told that– they simply confirmed what they already knew from experience. The question was what
to do about it. The 1989 Census also showed that while the number of those in their 20s coming to church had dropped,
those 30 and over s ti l l cam e in good numbers. It is likely that these (to be dubbed later the “builder” or “booster”
generation), who liked to teach and share their knowledge, were often Sunday School teachers.
But change was already happening, and the Builder Generation was giving way to the Baby BoomerGenerationin the late
1980s and when these folk hit their late teens and 20s they dropped off going to church. There began to be a dearth in
the numbers of volunteers willing to take Sunday School. The next generation of children, the so-called GenXers,were
very different from their parents and grandparents, and the generation gap began to become very real. This was also the
start of the time when going to church twice on a Sunday (still quite common in 1979) was also beginning to change, and,
if you only went once, you didn’t want to spend that “once” teaching in Sunday School.
Thus, in the 1990s, the concept of paying people to work with the church’s young people began, and academic colleges
began to put on courses for aspiring Youth Workers, and later degree courses. The 1998 English Church Census asked
churches if they had a paid youth worker, and some 7,500 churches replied in the affirmative,aboutone church in every
five, although a few churches shared a single individual.Has this battalion (hardly an “army”!) of paid youth workers made
any substantial difference to young people coming to church?
The situation in 1989
It is interesting to see now that in the 1989 book of the Census results no attempt was made to forecast the age results 3
forward into the future, perhaps because there was far too little data to do so. In 1979 5,441,000 people were counted in
church on an average Sunday; by 1989 that had become 4,742,800, a drop of 698,200. Table 14.5.1 shows the actual
changes by each age-group between 1979 and 1989, and what these would have become if those same trends had
continued until 1998, a 9-year period instead of 10 years.
Table 14.5.1: Net change in number of churchgoers by age, actual and projected
Period Under 15 15 to 19 20 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 64 65 & over TOTAL
1979-1989 -229,000 -157,700 -124,200 -64,300 -44,800 -78,200 -698,200
1989-1998E -206,100 -141,900 -111,800 -57,900 -40,300 -70,400 -628,400
The situation in 1998
However, with the actual data of 1998 now available, it is of course very easy to compare the results that might have been
anticipated in 1989 for 1998 with the specific findings. This is given in Table 14.5.2, on the next page, where the first line
simply repeats the last line of Table 14.5.1. The 1998 total of churchgoers was 3,714,700,a drop of 1,028,100 people,
64% above that expected from the total in Table 14.5.1.
§ 14.5 Have ‘Youth Workers’ Worked? Page 2
Table 14.5.2: Net change in number of churchgoers by age, projected and actual
Period Under 15 15 to 19 20 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 64 65 & over TOTAL
1989-1998E -206,100 -141,900 -111,800 -57,900 -40,300 -70,400 -628,400
1989-1998 -479,900 -109,100 -139,900 -174,800 -151,900 +27,500 -1,028,100
It is immediately obvious that, except in two age groupings (15 to 19 and 20 to 29), the projected and actual figures are
verydifferent, simplybecause during the 1990s so many more people left the church than might have been expected. A
better method of comparing would be to pretend that the actual total decline by1998 was the same as that projected in
1989,thatis, to reduce pro rata the various age-group losses in the bottom line so that their total was -628,400. This is
done in Table 14.5.3.
Table 14.5.3: Net change in number of churchgoers by age, projected and made-to-equal projection
Period Under 15 15 to 19 20 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 64 65 & over TOTAL
1989-1998E -206,100 -141,900 -111,800 -57,900 -40,300 -70,400 -628,400
1989-1998 -293,400 -66,700 -85,500 -106,800 -92,800 +16,800 -628,400
The two sets of figures in Table 14.5.3 are verydifferent,which supports the wisdom of not forecasting ahead based on
insufficient data! However, what Table 14.5.3 shows is interesting. If one assumed that the overall trend of losses
experienced in the 1980s had continued in the 1990s, then the actual count shows that many more children left than
expected and also adults aged 30 to 44 and 45 to 64, many of whom were probablythe parents of the children who left.
The number of teenagers who left was less than half what might have been expected, and the number in their 20s leaving
was also less (some of whom would have been in their teens in 1989).
Youth workers by definition work with “youth”, not always interpreted identically, but usuallymeaning those 15 and over
in manychurches. The number of youth who left the church in the 1990s was far fewer than would have been expected
from the 1980s data, suggesting thatyouth workers,who largelybegan working in churches in the 1990s, were making
a real impact in their churches and enabling more young people to stayon in church life than might have been the case.
If the constraining mechanism used in Table 14.5.3 is ignored, and one just looks at the actual full results given in Table
14.5.2, it may be seen thatthe actual number of teenagers who left in the 1990s was still much less than would have been
anticipated from, the 1980s data.
Youth Workers work!
The conclusion is that the employment of youth workers was successful, if “success” means young people staying on in
a church fellowship. That this was also the result on the ground is evidenced by the fact that many churches seeing this
success, but also observing in experience the appalling loss of children under 15 in the 1990s shown in Table 14.5.2,
started to appoint Children’s Workers as well as Youth Workers in the hope thattheytoo wouldsee similarsuccess. Some
churches have gone further and appointed Family Workers to take account of the loss of parents as well as children.
The situation in 2005
Afourth English Church Census was undertaken in 2005. It showed the total number of churchgoers was then 3,166,200
or a loss ofa further -548,500 people since 1998. Based on the actual losses shown in the bottom line ofTable 2 in the
1990s, what might the losses have been if constrained to just 7 years by 2005? Table 14.5.4 shows the actual losses
between 1989 and 1998, a 9 year period, and what they would have been if they had continued at the same rate for the
next 7 years to 2005.
Table 14.5.4: Net change in number of churchgoers by age, actual and projected
Period Under 15 15 to 19 20 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 64 65 & over TOTAL
1989-1998 -479,900 -109,100 -139,900 -174,800 -151,900 +27,500 -1,028,100
1998-2005E -373,200 -84,900 -108,800 -136,000 -118,100 +21,400 -799,600
This time, however, the anticipated drop in the number of churchgoers judging by the 1990s experience is more than the
actualloss of people. This is mainly because of the huge surge in the number of non-whitechurchgoers attendingchurch
in the opening years of the 21 century, which suggests that this fairly simplistic analysis really needs to be done broken st
down by denomination as well. The necessary data is available for anyone who would like to do it!4
1 How f ar this m ight hav e depended on phy sical prov isions such as m eals, drinks, f ood, clothing etc . in an era of extrem e pov erty in the working class is not
2 The Strange Death of M oral Britain, Christie Dav ies, Transaction Publishers, London, 2007.
3 ‘Christian’ England, Peter Brierley , MAR C Europe, London, 1991, C hapter 4.
4 See Religious Trends, No 6, 2006/2007, C hristian R esearch, Eltham , London, 2006, Table 5.6.2.
This is an extract from UK Church Statistics 2005-2015, published June 2011, giving an update of
the latest statistics across all denominations in the UK. It is available from Brierley Consultancy. See
website for details or email Peter Brierley at
§ 14.5 Have ‘Youth Workers’ Worked? Page 3
Table 14.5.5 compares the anticipated losses shown in the bottom line of Table 14.5.4 with the actual losses which
occurred between 1998 and 2005. The middle line of the Table constrains the anticipated losses between 1998 to 2005
to the actual total loss by 2005, to enable easier comparisons.
Table 14.5.5: Net change in number of churchgoers by age, projected and actual
Period Under 15 15 to 19 20 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 64 65 & over TOTAL
1998-2005E -373,200 -84,900 -108,800 -136,000 -118,100 +21,400 -799,600
1998-2005E -256,000 -58,300 -74,600 -93,300 -81,000 +14,700 -548,500
1998-2005 -104,200 -64,600 -112,700 -124,900 -131,600 -10,500 -548,500
The comparison in the bottom two lines, as before, is interesting. The number of children who actually left between 1998
and 2005 is way below the number that might have been expected to leave had past trends continued. As paid Children’s
Workers, rather than volunteers, began working in churches during the late 1990s and early 2000s this again would
suggest that their work has been successful.
It may be seen thatthe number ofteenagers leaving is perhaps slightlymore than expected, but it needs to be remembered
that this is a fairly crude analysis and a difference of 6,000 teenagers spread across 37,500 churches is almost certainly
within the margins of error. In other words, Youth Workers can do so much, but they can’t do everything. Some teenagers
will leave the church however brilliant the Youth Worker. Likewise the variation in numbers forthose 65 and over is not
really consequential.
What Table 14.5.5 does confirm, however, is the very serious situation with many more people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and
50s leaving the church than might have been expected from earlier studies.Even taking the full expected loss between
1998 and 2005 (the first line in Table 5) the actual numbers of those leaving in their 20s and aged 45 to 64 is still greater.
The percentage of people in their 20s attending church is the lowest percentage, 3%, of all age-groups taken as a
proportion of the population. These and those aged 30 to 44 roughly form the GenXer generation.
We are also losing those aged 45 to 64, the (Baby) Boomers generation. It should be noted that “loss” in this context
invariably means attending church far less frequentlythan theyused to, perhaps just once a month, rather than actually
leaving the church altogether. Reaching the age when many would expect to take on responsibility in the church (or
Christian agencies) many are simply turning away from that acceptance, preferring a lack of commitment instead. Many
Christian agencies find it very difficult to get new Trustees of people in this age-range for similar reasons, and a number
have closed when the founder retired unable to hand over to a suitable successor. Many of the New Churches have had
leadership problems, precisely in this age range, and the consequence is their total numbers are now declining.
So what?
This article was requested asking the question whether paid Youth Workers had proved successful. The answer is positive,
but with the recognition that they can’t do everything, and some continuing loss is likely to happen even if a church has
a paid Youth Worker (but the loss would likely be greater if the Youth Worker was not present). The same is true for paid
Children’s Workers, which suggests thatthese relativelynew types of employment will continue to be needed in churches
as the century progresses.
The analysis has also revealed, however, the enormous losses in church attendance being seen atlaterages,especially
among folk in their 20s, and those aged 45 to 64,the Boomer Generation. Some churches are seeking to offset this by
employing Family Workers. The analysis also shows that while volunteers will always be needed, more and more
professional staff will be required if church attendance is not to drop even more drastically in the days ahead.

Youthwork; Learning to play again

Maybe its true after all. After all these years, after all the jibes and comments ” oh you’re a youthworker, do you do anything more than play table tennis with kids?”  in reality ive not played that many games of table tennis with young people – in fact the last time I did I needed knee surgery. But what is it about play – that youthwork might be about?

My reading this week has taken me to Hans Georg Gadamers Truth and Method,  in which he expounds upon the concept of ‘play’ in the context of ontology and art. In it ive been reminded of the variety of definitions or uses of the word ‘play’. As well as the ‘play’ in dramatics, theres the games to play, and also the metaphorical ‘play’ of two substances – ie play of gears/machinery, light or play on words.

Play is described by Gadamer to be a process by which a movement occurs between two objects or people (as in a game) which takes primacy over conciousness, indeed when its becomes intentional play is lost, it becomes a show. In that play there is movement, and counter movement, back and forth, the game itself masters the players. Will the occasion of the 2nd leg of the Middlesborugh vs Brentford play-off game get to the players  tomorrow , for example? If the game is played with too much risk – the play of the game is inhibited, the play of the game is also a deliberate choosing to play – by ‘wanting’ to play. The play of the game is a designated space, a space of regulation and boundary yet a space to play within nonetheless.

A person playing, according to Gadamer, comports him (or her) self from the purposes of the choosing and objectives of the game to the actions of participation of the game, the odering and shaping required in the movement of the game itself. Gadamer goes on to say that in playing the game, the Human self-presents as they perform within the constructed rules of the game, and as a natural correlation, “all presentation is potentially a representation for someone, that this possibility is intended is the characteristic of art as play” (2004:113), and in the closed world of play lets down one of the walls. For an audience, be it the theatre, or a sports ground, to play here is not limited to the self presentation, but also to point beyond themselves to the audience, who participate by watching – it is “representing for someone”

This aspect of Play – as self presentation and presentation for others (heightened because of an audience) is an important point in regarding play as a space ‘in between’ – going back to the original definition of play ( between gears, and so on). A play realises its ideal once its meaning is being absorbed by the audience. As, the audience ignores the individual self presentations, but loses themselves in the enjoyment of the whole play. “Artistic presentation, by its nature, exists for someone, even if there is no one there who merely listens or watches” (Gadamer 2004:114) – we the audience, becomes transformed within the structure of the play. If there is one youthworker in a forest and no one around – is there youthwork?

Over the weekend, there’s been a community production of Joseph, by groups of young people, adults and community groups in Durham, its been a play of Joseph, a collection of self and heightened representations and an audience that engrossed itself in the meaning, visuals, the essence of the overall play.

In the space between people – in the exchange between people – is that the magic of youthwork, or dare i say the educational play of youthwork?   we know youthwork by its definition can only exist with people- not unlike true play, it may also exist with an audience -in a club, with friends on the street – but not unlike play is it something that is less deliberate and informal – as when its tried to be created, it ceases to be ‘play’ or ‘informal’ any more.  To play table tennis with young people, is a safe space to disassociate with the world, to be reabsorbed in play – and within play to receive a new representation of the young person, in a chosen playful space.

The correlation between the art and play – according to Gadamer, should not be lost on those of us who consider youthwork to be an art, a philosophy, and it is largely this that the ‘In defence of youthwork’ campaign seeks to maintain.  Youthwork may have lost its opportunities to play table tennis when it brought in video games – but its educational, liberating relational play continues. Lets play at playing youthwork.



Taking our cue from the context (2) learning to improvise like Philip

“Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked “Do you understand what you are reading?”

This exchange occurs in Acts 9 (v30). At first reading i presumed that Philip could see that the Man was reading something, but now, the Man, an Ethiopian, was clearly reading out loud. Maybe thats what they did in their chariots in the desert, or maybe he was reading it to his servants in the chariot itself.

Two disciples were walking down the road, as they walked along they were talking about the miraculous things that had happened, as they spoke Jesus suddenly appeared to them, and asked “what are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”  This is the first exchange in the conversation between the disciples on the Emmaus road, as recollected by the disciples in Luke 24.

Previously i wrote about taking our cues from the Context , and this was more of a discussion of the political, structural settings of detached work, in theatrical terms, what could be called the conditions of the stage on which to perform. Yet once on that stage we have an obligation to perform – but how?

In taking seriously a call to improvise beyond the fourth wall, where do we start? well – yet again, we start by taking a cue from those already involved in the action. If someone is reading, ask them about it, thats what Philip did, if people are talking already – ask them to describe it, or reflect on it- thats what Jesus did with the two disciples.  A starting point is to hear the conditions and concerns of those already in that environment. Its not about gaining trust, more about finding young peoples concerns interesting, and validating them, and their perspective of them.

When we want to be liked, and sometimes entertaining we, as detached workers, can forget this, but at least we put ourselves out there to hear the real beating of the heart of the young people, their real questions, their real struggles, each one different, each perspective a version  of truth.

In going back to Philip in Acts 9 – the response of the Ethiopian to Philips question is “How can i unless some instructs me?” and he urged Philip to go and sit in the carriage.

It was only at that point that the Ethiopian was ready to be taught and guided about what he was reading, it was at that point where he invited Philip into his personal space, but Philip was out of his comfort zone, in the carriage of Ethiopian, being ready to try and guide. This was only brought about because of Philips original concern, the shaping and tone of the original question – the question that gave meaning to the activity of the ethiopian, and desire to meet him in thought in that same space, to see what he was thinking not just reading.

If we are to be authentic performers on the stage of the world, our first question with people might need to reflect Philip (and Jesus on the Emmaus road) – in the context of the street, the world – we take our cues from the streets, and we then need to improvise with what it is that young people are thinking or doing.

Philip becomes the instructor, or the guide – but still it is the Ethiopian that shapes the subject, in the question he asks. from ‘How can I understand?- to Tell me who was the prophet talking about himself’ (v34)

Over the last few weeks, a group of young people have asked us repeatedly – “Do we believe in Gays and Lesbians?” – which is a question that could be taken a number of ways – but behind it isnt the issue of belief in their existence, or whether we think that being gay or lesbian is acceptable – but more obviously the young persons thinking about personal concerns and sexual identity. By being there we get to hear that young persons thinking in their own space, in a space where our duty is to enable them to be able to express their thoughts, opinion and judgements.

Coincidently the Ethiopian in the story was also struggling with his own religious identity and belonging because of his publically known sexual condition- he was a Eunuch. Yet though he hadnt found acceptance in the space of the religious festival which he had gone to and was returning from – not because of race, but more likely because of sexuality – the authentic words and the inclusive acts of Jesus as described by Philip enabled the Ethiopian to find community and acceptance.

Improvising in the stage of the street might be a place where people find acceptance and love – despite of their own experiences of religious or educational structures previously. To improvise is to hear, to be asked to guide, to be invited, to realise that this one person, in this one place needs me to be listening to them and validate them as they are there, in that space on that day.

Improvising for Philip wasnt just to ask the right question, appropriate to the immediate context, but also, as he would have known about Jesus’ appearance on the Emmaus road from the other disciples, he didnt copy Jesus ver batum, the two opening questions are different, but they carry the same essence ; I am here, I am interested in what you’re thinking, can i ease your confusion by being available to listen, trust me to try and be able to. Philip re-enacted appropriately the same opening moments, it wasnt a scripted copy, but an authentic performance in a new context, learning from the essence of his master.


Theatrical Martyrdom and the story that goes on…

“Suffering is not a particularly popular or attractive strategy for human flourishing. Churches on the look out for effective marketing strategies for Christian discipleship would therefore be advised to look elsewhere” (Vanhoozer 2014)

The English term Martyr means Witness, Soren Kirkegaard defines witness as “someone who directly demonstrates the truth of the doctrine he proclaims, directly by partly by being the truth within him, partly by his volunteering his personal self and saying; See now if you can force me to deny this personal doctrine” (1996)

Suffering is part and parcel of the plight of the evangelist, the plight of the christian, indeed, the plight of the person – especially those who are fighting for a cause, a belief that the world would be better. Especially those who desire better for others in the face of barriers, be they prejudice, disability, academia, health or gender.

In Faith Speaking and Understanding, Kevin Vanhoozer talks about the Theatre of Martyrdom, how the church, the christian is to be prepared to experience suffering due to the doctrine they profess to, and yet although he is talking about Doctrine in terms of Christian doctrine – beliefs in human flourishing and the transformation of communities might also be as compatible to endure suffering for. Vanhoozer goes on to say “Doctrine ( Beliefs) is never more dramatic when, in the face of various internal and external trials, individuals (and communities) must decide in freedom whose story to enact, which plot to develop”

For Christians the pinnacle of the endurance of Suffering is that of Jesus on the cross, yet there are many others who act in suffering in pursuit of a cause without a deep held belief in Christs act, but yet persevere none the less.

There will be suffering. There will be challenge to undergo because we want things to be different for young people, for the church, and for the communities in which we exist in,  There is suffering where faith is met head on with reality, but that reality is exactly the space of the stage where we put ourselves to perform as martyrs, giving of ourselves, our values in the grand cause of human and community and kingdom flourishing.

There is hope, even in the cry of How Long?  How long for the disciples lasted 3 days, yet the Bible is littered with the sentiment of How long? that doesnt go away, we are allowed to question, to suffer, to feel the pain of others we see around us and bring pleas to God, yet there is still hope. One Victory has been won.

Suffering accompanies the actions of the performance yes, but is it the story we are trying to enact? No, it is of hope, it is of freedom, it is of flourishing and change, of grace, forgiveness and love.  We have a plot to develop, actions on the stage of the world to perform, a stage not always to our liking, but the stage none the less. Lets do theatrical martyrdom.

For Ricoeur; “wisdom fulfils one of religions fundamental functions, which is to bind together ethos and cosmos, the sphere of human action and the worlds order. It does not do this by demonstrating that this conjunction is given in things, or by demanding that it be produced through our action. Rather it joins ethos and cosmos at the point of their discordance; in suffering and more precisely, in unjust suffering. Yet wisdom does not teach us how to avoid suffering, or how to magically deny it, or how to dissimulate it under an illusion. It teaches us how to endure, how to suffer suffering. It places suffering into a meaningful context, by producing the active quality of suffering” (Ricouer 2010 p124)


Greed vs Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


Over the weekend I’ve heard a lot about needing to give people aspiration. The problem is that it’s currently being thrown around with very little substance. I understand that the Conservative ideology behind all the horrifying cuts is actually around thinking that they think they are creating aspiration for people to climb out of poverty. Of course my concern is that by taking the ladder away, people can’t lift themselves out of poverty very easily because there are far too many obstacles. You then end up with a situation where the gulf between the rich and poor simply gets wider with more and more issues happening in areas where there are less resources and more people in poverty.

It really does feel as though we’ve forgotten a really basic theory – one which any youth and community worker will know like the back of their hand. We all learn this in…

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Moving from why to what next?

It wasnt that long ago in the hiatus of Tony Blairs government, especially living in the north, or in Scotland that things seemed to be on the up. I remember going to Polmont (young offenders) Prison with college for a field trip on our social policy lecture where they said that it had only been since 1997 that they had had any money for maintenance and rebuilding the post war/victorian jail structure. For 19 years 1978-1997, theyd had virtually diddly-squat. At that time, or at least just after it there had been stories on the news about primary schools using damp buildings, very old hospital buildings across the country, with under investment.

During that same time, a slightly left focussed church left its social concern to charities or its liberal wing, or agencies deemed para or ‘not evangelistic’ enough, such as YMCA’,s or FYT, and got on with trying to increase church numbers. There wasnt a fight it needed to have, because largely the british government, albeit with a few gaps, was doing the welfare bit, it may have bred governmental reliance, but tax credits were introduced,  as were other benefits. The church didnt need to fight against something, because it didnt really need to or have to encounter its community- others were doing it for it. Its gap was in its own ghetto. Though there were niches of practice, where the state couldnt reach, or couldnt resource.

From a youthwork perspective, the reflection afterwards was that during the Blair/labour years that the philosophy of youthwork was being ‘used’ as an aide to help young people into work, or as part of a CCTV/surveillance culture with its data collecting, and not the ‘pure’ inclusive, educational, conversational practice it could be. But now, those days were heady.

Fast forward to now. 5 years have felt a long time. Personally some of them have been pretty rubbish at times, but id still consider myself one of the lucky ones, to a) be in work, and b) now be back in the north east and be in work. Yet in the last 5 years, the church has been able to forge a space where it is profoundly needed on a national scale. The church can be criticised for seemingly only wanting to do social action for its own need or evangelism, but by and large Food banks have been local acts of food sharing and kindness across the whole of the UK that have benefitted all and an actual need, there are other more local, and less publicised actions too, but none that have become as political a fodder. I wonder – though- how many foodbank users were actively encouraged to vote?  or to view their current plight in the wider political and social system?

However, some of this is less ‘what next’ – neither is it ‘why’ either, though for the ‘why’ of the general election result, you’d only need to read through the #ge2015 hashtag, and see the graphs of swings. But reflections on the what next?

Well firstly, not only were the polls wrong, social media was wrong too. At least the version of it that looked like the bit im in. See i like and follow people who generally like and follow me, similar youthworkers, family, friends – my social media world, and what appears on my profile and news feeds is about the things i tend to like or agree with. Id go as far to say that Social media during the election didnt change many peoples voting habits, or the election. Because it feels as though even though 2,000,000 people said they voted on Facebook. Thats an awful lot of the electorate who voted who werent on there, or who abstained. Is it influential at all to like, to quote or to share articles? maybe itll instill views for those interested enough to read them, but what difference did it make overall, or did those of us, myself included become deluded in our own fantasy that we were making a difference, even though only 100 people might read a 140 character statement, even less people will read this. It just helps me, and other people like me who write these things feel like theyre doing something, helping an ongoing conversation continue.

So what next?

The church, its allies and the voluntary sector still have the space and need and mandate to fill even bigger gaps in the welfare system, but why should it? and where might these resources come from?

Should the church fill the widening gaps in welfare provision, housing, libraries and health? it used to, but also it used to in a position of strength of numbers, of altruism, and resource, and well before it had to comply with policies, procedures, commissioning groups and funding. churches struggle to look after their own young people without getting in a professional or student or intern at times, so often forget young people who they dont know or bother with the need outside its building. Will long term change only happen when the church critiques the ideology of the government – rather than complies with it, filling the gaps and fulfilling its own social conscience?

This hasnt really been about moving from the ‘Why?’ to the ‘What next?’ in the way that id have liked to, what next might look different depending where you live and your perspective now. ‘what next’ is maybe too pragmatic, too solution focussed a question.  How do we get to what’s next – through times of sharing, grief and reflection- through anger, frustration and despondency – through collective spirit and urgency, all of the above, might help in getting to the whats next, but What’s next for me, whats next for the young people i know, for the families i know, for the town i live in, and the city i work in, for the church.

What does God require of us, to act (justly), to love (mercy) and to walk (humbly before our God).  (Micah 6:8)

To be givers of life, to be forgivers, to present the political, compassionate, transforming Christ

Today people have taken to the streets of London, to vocalise their frustration of the election of a Conervstive majority. The established media has blacked it out. As Foucault said, “Power is everywhere.” – yet at the same time, for those who are disabled, on benefits, have mental health issues, Power is nowhere.

What next?

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