According to the online dictionary, Observation means the following;
Observation is Key in detached youthwork- or any community work, its part of the beginning, as a way of gathering evidence, knowledge and understand the culture and dynamics of the groups of young people, how they are in social context, movements, activities and power.
though its a beginning process, when im training people as volunteers in detached, especially those who commit to a long period of time, its important to stress the need to continually observe, to soak up what is going on around , in the act of being out in the community, the park or streets. Things change, all the time.
Observation plays a key aspect in Practical Theology too, in whatever reflective cycle – the sense of ‘understanding what is going on’ is a key aspect, regardless of what interpretative lens might be used to decifer this.
To observe a situation is to experience it, to live through it, to watch it unfold and to be attentive. To realise the personal bias in the observing, yes, but to observe none the less.
Heraclitus said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
For Freire; “Always we have to look, Today suddenly a flower is the reason for your surprise, tomorrow it may be the same flower, just with a different colour, because of the age of the flower”
Its fair to say that although important observation plays less of a role in activities in youthwork that occur within a building, but thats not to say understanding groups, body language and actions of young people isnt important in an inside space. Its maybe that the overall environment might play less of a unexpected role in the action ( thats unless the roof is about to cave in)
And, continuing the theme of building centred work, i dont think it would be unfair to suggest that being locally attentive and observing might not be a high priority for a local church. The building and having people in it often dictates or distances the church from its community.
It might be easy to maintain a congregation by the transferral growth of christians across the UK, as they move around and have children the church will have a critical mass. Yet research for long term stability provides patchy prospects for this.
One alternative is the project, the initiative, the national plan, new idea sent from head office/london/america, that promises to save/rescue/deliver/add 100’s to the congregation (after all it worked in London/Sydney/ LA), is this the easy way of becoming despondent quickly? take on the new initiative, have high hopes, pray a bit, do what it said, then if it doesnt work, decide that the people werent ready or there wasnt enough prayer, and then try something again.
Does the church need reclaim an attentiveness as part of its core being ? Observing, listening, and understanding in its locality. Continually observing, continually understanding local culture, continually rejecting generalisations.
There’s a thick line between treating people as a project, a tool for our great ministry (whether evangelistic), and actually serving them. There a fine line between serving people and loving people as friends. (and im desperately trying not to use words like ‘them’ or ‘community’ where these imply us/them, or community/church dichotomies)
For the many that chose not to attend our projects and ministries, there might be many who we haven’t thought about giving time to, being attentive to the locality, family dynamics, interests, needs and gifts. And many who might want space to connect with a person who has time for them.
As a mindset to continually observe locally would mean that opportunities might be only a moment away, to observe would be to be present, to enable trust. To observe would be to develop with, and amongst, and be authentic to the reality, not hope that people might fit in.
To continually observe is to be serious in being part of a community. It changes the game.
Even on detached we don’t always adapt to what we see. Its a struggle, given the pressures of time for volunteers, and myself. That sometimes we have a number of quiet evenings or hear that a different evening is when the young people are all at a certain place. Maybe thats not observing but being in the space to hear the information, but being in the space none the less. We cant just move detached to a different night, even though our observations might indicate that we should. However, we were available and trusted to be given the information in the first place. We make other continual observations such as friendship dynamics, houses boarded up, street lights being on, and the rest, all because every night is different, every moment with young people on the streets is a different interaction, with a weeks worth of life that’s happened since the last time.
So, in what ways does your church community observe information, culture, the life of its local community?
and, how might it being continually observing enable it to have opportunities to interact, to meet with, to gather and become friends with?
What real involvement might the church have in its communities if it continually observed what was going on?
After all, What did Jesus do for 30 years? And once he’d done that didn’t he then know what kind of people, and where they would come from to be his friends and disciples?
Might genuine community discipleship start with community observation?
Might we be surprised by what might be found, rather than what we thought we might find?
To be active in the ongoing redemptive drama, Kevin Vanhoozer (2005) encourages the church to be ‘local performances of holy theatre’ – where the drama occurs in the conversations, the present action, the dialogue, as well as embodying parables in life, hospitality and visible ceremony. The private is made public, the stage is opened, the current non participants may be brought into the action as they interact with the performers.
Without being observant of the community, performances wont be appropriate. History/tradition and Canon shape a performance that doesnt have contemporary relevance. The reverse can also be the case.
Genuine observation is imperative.
Being present in the space to observe might be our opportunity to join God already, without being there we cant find him.