Sharing Youthwork Stories

Has a youthworker changed your life?  Whats your story and did a youthworker have an impact upon you, for a moment, for a long period of time or ongoing even now?

One of the projects that is ongoing right now by Bernard Davies and the IDYW campaign is to gather stories of change, of moments when lives have been changed because of youthwork, and gather stories, mostly in conjunction with current practitioners. Well, what about if you were a young person and benefitted from a youthworker?

Well, unfortunately, if you’re reading this as an adult, and once visited a youth club, chances are that youth club has now closed. Chances are that those youthworkers have been guided towards working with young people on specific programmes. The days of open youth clubs are almost over, unless that is if you encountered youthwork in the church or the voluntary sector. Some of these places for youthwork still remain, however, I wondered whether, if a youthworker had an impact on your life, helped to intervene, helped you to make decisions, gave you something positive, I wondered whether you would be prepared to share your story, share it so that in print, there are several moments recollected where the profession of youthwork has impacted positively on people growing up in the UK over the last 100 years.

So, if you’re now playing wembley stadium, because a youthworker believed in you to play or sing, or gave you space to practice, or if you’re following your dreams, or developed new gifts, or thought about something differently, met your life partner at a youth club, or changed your political view, or changed the world, whatever it was, believed in you, fought for you, heard your voice, would you be prepared to share your story of how this happened? and what the impact a youthworker had upon your life in that?  You can remain confidential if you want, or alternatively share your details so that you can encourage the youthworker that helped.

It would be fantastic to hear from people who attended youth clubs, met youthworkers on the streets, in drop-ins, or community centres, churches or somewhere else.

Over the course of the rest of the year from today, 1st March, would you be prepared to share your story here?  Theyll all be collated in the ‘Youthwork stories’ topic, and shared on this blog.

Contact me via email jamesballantyne1978@yahoo.co.uk, or via the feedback form on this website. I promise to only share the story as you have written it, after all its your story.

Lets share the positive stories of youthwork in the UK and what it has done to change lives. If one day someone reads them they might retract all the policies that have decimated youthwork, and realise the good it did.

Who’s going first?

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If the World is Gods stage- where will i find him at work this evening?

Im not doing detached this evening. Nor am i walking my dog. Or studying. Nope, tonight is a boys night out for me and George. Tonight we’re going to a football match at the Riverside, Middlesbrough.

What will be the signs and symbols of God at work, at a football match ?

As well as the usual moments of unexpected action, of drama, and of celebration ( or frustration if its a 0-0), tonight, around 25,000 people will act in collective remembrance to a local hero, Ali Brownlee.

Ali commentated, no, lived for Boro, the team, the town, the region. Ali was a fan, a person an enthusiast. Ali died of Cancer last week, aged 56.

Scarves already adorn the gates at the stadium, the programme is a tribute, a minutes applause before and during the game, and songs (which have been sung every week) will continue throughout.

The Game might almost be a sideshow to the collective tribute of one man, who narrated the tale of one football club on the radio over a period of 30 odd years.

So the question is, what might tonights events signify about what God is doing in the world already?  How might the moments of collective grief and remembrance witnesses to this reality?

Maybe also that the football community can relate to the voice of Ali, even when he got frustrated with the team he loved, because he was only voicing what they also knew. Does this say something about the collective community of the fans, of a team – only from within can criticism come.

So, back to tonight, moments of collective remembrance, the drama of sport, the unprectable theatre, the unison of audience inspired performance. The stage is set.

And im barely a fan of the team. But the bug, the drama, the sport and the Community is dragging me in….

If any of this is a metaphor for the church as theatre, then go with it, as a moment that embodies local passions, griefs and spirit, and culture – where might God be present in this space?

 

While the media follow the tories split over europe- the following is ignored;

In case anyone hasnt noticed, we have 4 months of infighting within the conservative party, and maybe even in other parties over the EU referendum on June 23. We also have the same amount of time of wearying too-ing and fro-ing of the rhetoric, the opinion polls and consequences. But whilst the media and the 24hour TV media is wholly consumed by this, some headline worthy stories will be forgotten about during this battle for power.

  1. 1,000’s of people in the UK will be in need of Foodbanks
  2. The numbers of homeless young people will increase in our cities
  3. Young people in the UK will have increasing mental health issues with cuts to funding for services for them (an increase recently was after already enacted cuts)
  4. Young people will be victims of sexual and racial abuse, with no youth services in many areas to receive the call of help.
  5. Town/County Councils in the UK, such as Darlington and Durham may drastic reductions to be made in youth & other services due to budget cuts.

Whose voices, and whose situation is the most newsworthy?  What if the nation was more interested in how people are suffering in every local community across the nation. Power and division within the conservative party is making news, but whilst this all goes on, the effect of the ideology of the conservative party is a cause of suffering in this land and nation.

 

Creating a national approach to disciple the high hanging fruit

There was some high hanging fruit on my apple tree this year that was a nightmare to reach. Even more so in that not far from our apple tree a bramble branch and rose branch draped across. So not only were the apples out of reach from me standing on my ladder, there’d be considerable pain trying to get close to them .
The low hanging fruit was easy in comparison. And id be able to see it drop.

It got me thinking. How much of the church’s national mission strategies, including that of organisations, is aiming for the low hanging fruit?

The fruit thats ripe for harvest and easy to get to?
Some of that harvesting includes a brighter, noisier more relevant method,  friends of friends at events, church based activities, even youth groups, or work in the institutions such as schools. For those who might be already interested, linked by friendship or family to others within, of similar upbringing or academic or social standing. Or even the lapsed christians, the previous youth ministry attenders.

Does a national mission strategy for picking and discipling the high hanging fruit need to be fundamentally different?

If there is pain and stretching in the reaching and picking, let alone the finding, identifying and nuturing – then how might all the learning, resources and support of the church be aimed in this direction?

The high hanging fruit need not necessarily be the stereo typical working class estate long forgotten by generally middle class church, but it might be, and there are swaithes of families, young people and children abandoned by the church in these estates. It might be the very articulate academics,  or very wealthy on gated estates, or just the millions who have no interest or connection.
To be deemed successful, ministries and programmes, projects and churches are justified by numbers , but how many actually make transformational disciples of the high hanging fruit?

A national strategy for the high hanging fruit might have to reconsider the locations of, methods of, approaches of church, as it recognises people as gifted (abcd), gatherings as informal, and starting not from the church with church in mind, but in the meeting places of people with presenting Jesus in mind. To transform communities of high hanging fruit the process will be to be specific in intention, to be ready for climbing, to recognise the pain, cut through the thorns and barriers with tools of love, of freedom.

If the church aims for the high hanging fruit, the fruit often forgotten by the world, too out of the way to be put to good purpose, what kind of mercy, love and Christ is on our side in that mission?

What might a national mission and discipleship approach for the high hanging and forgotten fruit, look like? and maybe more crucially how much resource might the church nationally provide to see it start to happen, until then only the low hanging fruit might be in reach.

 

Overcoming the fear of walking

I’ve made a number of excuses for going for a run, or doing any exercise this year so far. Exercise thats involves more than walking around Durham with 100’s of library books, or walking around tescos pushing a shopping trolley. These have been the common excuses for not going out running;

  1. the only time Ive got I should be doing something else more important (even walk the dog, but study has also been pretty intense)
  2. the time i have ive only just eaten
  3. its raining
  4. its cold
  5. the first run after 4 months is going to hurt, and i’m not desiring the pain
  6. the whole changing, showering and recovering time might be longer than the run and is it worth it.
  7. We have enough washing to do, without extra sweaty running kit to get washed

These have been the excuses that have stopped me going for a run this year, or more pertinently since the indulgences of Christmas.  Most of the other new years resolutions I have tried to keep, but the exercise one has been a bit more of a challenge.

My fears & inhibitions about running, and accompanying excuses, ive noticed are matched by an area within youthwork management that has been a struggle for me over the last few years also. That is the fear of walking.

Walking, or should I say, making a path by walking is the metaphor that Horton and Freire use to describe the process of creating something new (and has a book of the same name) , an enterprising making of a new path as it is walked. They use this image to describe the process of education in community, of community liberation.

Walking is to act and make the path.

My problem is that I’m too aware of the dangers of the path. I can picture the fields of corn that would be great to walk through, but I fear unadherance the country code, the farmers dog, or the tractor out of control. And stick wisely to the path already trodden around the edge- subtle changes to whats been done before.

Yet i have many ideas of what that path may look like. I have many ideas, too many ideas. I had many plans for youthwork in Perth, in Ottery, and right now at Durham YFC, and where i live in Hartlepool. Some of those ideas would affect churches, organisations, young people, volunteers and employees. Some never get past the ideas board.

What are some of the things that stop me from walking? and acting some of these out?

Sometimes its lack of resources, young people or finances. Sometimes its fear of change, of challenge or taking the risk. Some ideas may be great on paper, but the process of them coming to fruition might seem too hard work. So, its motivation, or time. Sometimes its a fear that ill get it wrong, or that someone else might be right.  Sometimes its that organisations havent wanted to or been able to walk with me (or vice versa).

Other times Ive been paralysed by the finance question – will the idea attract funding? or create it? – worrying about funding i admit has become a dominant reason. And its a horrible place to try and walk – especially as now I have responsibility for others and their employment, life and job security- or my own.  Its a place that i hate, but one that keeps following me around, a self defeating cycle.  (this is not a plea for money, more an indication of the sector, and Christian youthwork resources)

So, if the field is Durham, County Durham and Hartlepool, what kind of paths are to be made? – for that is where walking needs to happen.

What might it take to start walking, start making new paths in christian youth work & church in County Durham & Hartlepool?  What type of organisations or none are the best to enable this to happen?  What kind of walking needs to occur? What kind of resources might this need?

Where might God be calling me to walk – and have i the trust to overcome fear to follow?

There is that addage that a journey of 1,000 miles starts with one first step. There is a path to be made, can I make it by walking?

Anyone want to join me and walk together…..

 

 

 

But you’re not like those sort of christians are you?

Over the course of many hours on the streets talking with young people, in schools, cafes or parks, one of the major challenges that as a team weve faced is not only the perception young people have of Christians in the media, but the actual actions that theyve experienced by christians in the course of their lives thus far.
It becomes a difficult one to have to deal with as the actions may have had good intentions, but with astute young people perceived rightly as odd, condescending,  or at worse manipulative. Ill not name any names but heres a few;
1. You’re not like the christians who locked us in the cellar to do sunday school
2. You’re not like the christians who encourage us onto their bus and force us to pray a prayer before we get off
3. You’re not like the christians who advertised a rock band night only to use it to advertise a christian programme between every band (youth alpha)
4. You’re not like the christians who take over the park with their bbq and try and talk to us about jesus and their church. But then we dont see them.
5. You’re not like the street preacher who just shouts at people.
6. You’re not like the christians who judge us.
7. You’re not like the christians that put big jesus posters up.
8. You’re not like the christians who turn up at our school, teach us to play music, do a concert then leave.

What im trying to say is that whilst well intentioned ministries (though some are v bad practice, ill leave you to decide), they can act to alienate the very young people who might be interested, be in need of being listened to and journeying in faith together. Young people it seems, especially the very astute ones, not only see a phoney, but also have high ethical standards and want to be respected.
I am no amazing Christian person, but just being one in that space with young people and they can be quick to share their negative experiences of christians thus far. And they should cause us to gulp and take stock of what is going on in actions to young people.

For us, these have been opportunities for us to share to young people that christians are different, and at other times have to apologise on behalf of other brothers and sisters, in the faith’s, actions.
If there are only events and ministries, where is the space to reflect and build relationships with young people, especially those not attached to christianity at all. The streets are one place to do this, one place where young people build those relationships, and have space. Where christians can be not like other christians that young people have issues with.
Meeting young people where they’re at also means meeting head on their previous encounters with christian ministries some of which might claim high attendence/output rates, but at what faith costs?

Mission with young people is not just the message spoken, its the message acted.

Mission; Going on a God-hunt

If the evangelist is wise, they will take time to listen before they talk (Newbigin)

Several related thoughts have started to circle around my head over the last few weeks. You will all know by now my obsession for Vanhoozer/Balthasars work on Theodrama, and in preparation of my MA church & mission module last week I began to read up on what it might mean for church & mission to be in existence in a theodramatic view of the world. In short its the thought that if the whole world is God’s stage for redemption, then what is the church in the world in relation to this, and what might mission be for the christian in Gods already in the world stage?

So, If God is already in the world, and God is already performing on the stage with the actors – what might be the cues, the symbols, the signs and the opportunities to encourage others into the performance that God is already using as prompts?

As part of the MA module last week, our lecturer encouraged us to watch two episodes of How the Celts saved Britain – the link is here – its on iplayer and are 2 episodes about an hour long. Within it tells the story of St Patrick, who on returning back to Ireland, attempted to convert it to Christianity. He established a range of monastries that not only encouraged people to the faith, but also gave them literacy, technology, skills and civilisation. In addition to this, he was able to ascertain that the pagan rituals and religiosity of the natives in Ireland gave him a way in to converse faith that attributes similar signs but to a new faith that offered promise, hope, and material improvement- such as education. Significantly Patrick could use what was already there, moments that God was already acting, already preparing people.

In working with young people in community settings, ie on detached, in the community centres in meeting young people in their spaces, we get to hear moments where their world is already inhabited by God speaking to them, such as the girls who discussed ghosts and faith, the young person who could understand about caring, the connections that they crave with parents, spiritual symbols in the world, such as how they are fascinated by rainbows and the moon.

If the world truly is Gods stage, then the signs and symbols of him being at work will be there, waiting to be listened to, and if the work of the church as mission might be to listen and be amongst God already at work, where these connections are already occuring. There becomes a “fluidity” between he actions of the church and the total human community (Healy 2000 p64). And as such its not about taking something to people, telling people, or inviting people – its listening to the prompts, and connections where God is already at work.

We’re not so much going on a bear hunt – as the childrens book suggests, but going on a God hunt to find God playing hide and seek waiting to be found.

 

 

10 Gifts the church could give in Lent

Yesterday i took down a post, it wasnt meant to be overly negative, but on reflection it could have come across in that way, and so i took it down. Over the past 18 hours ive reflected on it, and if you were someone who read it i apologise. So instead of writing about what the church could give up in lent, ive reflected on what the church could give during lent, give that would, or might change the world.

  1. Time. Yes simple one this one, but how many people in every community across the UK could do with someone giving them time. time for a conversation, time to listen, time for a cup of tea. Its the most significant moment in youthwork, when actually giving time to young people who wonder why when no one else does.
  2. Fruit. Oh yes the fruits of the Spirit. Hmm, they’re not for the church. They’re to share around. How might a local church love its community, be kind, be gentle, be good, be faithful, peace enacting and the rest.
  3. Gifts. Whilst the ‘asset-based-community development’ people talk about trying to recognise the gifts in local community, what gifts in the church – practical, personal, artistic or poetic might brighten, enlighten and renew a local space, a relationship, a persons day, a need.
  4. Money. Yes I said it, but what would it be to be a financially generous church to a local family, local charity or need. Not just the mission project a thousand miles away, but the mission in the midst, just for the sheer goodness and spontaneity of it.
  5. Space. More and more the informal space of the church is a place where people encounter; its in the open door, the cathedral, the candle and the imagery. Its in the space, so how might spaces be opened up for personal reflection, for collective grief, for community creativity or thought.
  6. Solidarity; How might the church stand alongside in lent, alongside the gay young person bullied at school, or the family suffering with benefit changes, or the mental health sufferer. Solidarity with the person and solidarity to challenge the causes of the suffering.
  7. Grace;  In what way would a church act with grace during lent? does it have local wrongs to right – has it acted for its own sake and not considered its effect on local families, does it need to apologise? But how else might it act beyond the perceived deservedness of people and model grace, forgiveness.
  8. Humility; Might a humble church be one more in tune with real life, real life failings, struggles, challenges, and one on an ongoing journey, walking humbly with God. How might a humble walk be reflected in our song, in our actions, in mission.
  9. Hope. We know its needed, but how might the church embody hopefulness, and the hope of change, of something better, of future, even that hope might be needed, before an understanding of eternal hope.
  10. Love;  none of the above is even possible if love wasnt part of the gift. As Friere argues, without love there is no dialogue. In creating space, humility, grace and giving, there is love.

Theres the old addage of not giving up something in lent, but doing something positive instead, and following on from this what might the church, and the people of God within it be able to give during lent, truly give (thats not giving in expectation to receive) but give as God gave.

As Volf suggests ; “But we were created to be and act like God. And so the flow of Gods gifts shouldnt stop as soon as it reaches us. the outbound movement must continue, indeed in addition to making us flourish, giving to others is the very purpose for which God gave the gifts” (2005)

What can I give? What can you give?

 

Being a grumpy old man

As a child I hated the swings, they made me dizzy, they still do, all that balance, equilibrium and circular motion, the best bit was jumping off them and trying to land in beyond the safety surface and into the grass. The slide however, now that was exciting, especially after climbing around some kind of contraption, then hooking on to the bar and catapulting myself down, fast, well hopefully fast, unless it was wet, or sandy or muddy. But still the thrill of the downward slope.

Being the critical reflector type can cause me to verge into grumpy old man territory at times. I am aware of it, and it can take me into situations where ill need to apologise. but, unless its just me and I’ve just surrounded myself with like minded frustrated people, there has got to be an element of frustration we all feel in the world around us, especially for those of us who walk with people in real lives, and real situations.

Sometimes this frustration is that systems and structures carry on regardless leaving people behind. Sometimes this frustration is that people who could help people are viewing them as a project. Sometimes this frustration is that i want to be able to do more, to help more, to give more, to love people more. Sometimes the frustration is that the church isn’t listening to the voices from the margins, or even wanting to be there to hear them. Sometimes this frustration is that I cant do everything. Sometimes this frustration is that people are not free. Sometimes its that I’m not either.

Being on that downward slope is a space of reflection, of despair of frustration, of wanting something different, but not always knowing what it is, of wanting people to wake up and smell the coffee that their actually drinking at the time. I cant be the only one surely who feels this at times?

It is a slippery slope is cynicism, but the beautiful moment is that from the conversations on the slope are energy, are passion are reality.

When you’re trying to build for the future, that’s the creative period. I have always valued these low periods when you have to struggle intellectually to try and get the sense of what was going on, so you could find little pockets to work in. That’s the only way you’ll ever be part of the struggle when you climb out of the valley (Myles Horton)

What is beautiful is the collaborative climbing, the conversations of promise, the synergy of passions and desire that the past doesnt hold back the future. At the end of the slippery slope is the end of the slide, it bottoms out, and I got to get off the slope, and start walking, walking to the different places, not restricted by the edges of the slide anymore.

Maybe being a grumpy old man (or hopefully not so old) isnt so bad after all?

 

 

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