A tale of two free pictures

I took a leaf out of the book from our FYT weekend away (see previous post) and took a risk today. This is how it went;

So, i was walking down to the shop this morning to the DIY store to get a new washing line and outside the local old peoples home was this box with pictures in it going free to a good home. All a bit unusual I thought, but theres nothing to lose.

Having checked them i decided to take them, we have a massive house, and little money to put stuff on the walls to add colour. However, I had no way of thanking the person giving them away. So i thought id pay it forward and take a risk, seeing as they gave away these pictures for my benefit, what could i give away? In a way i felt condemned, as in ministry it can be easy to get stuck into money traps or expectation traps, ie doing something just because it gets a reward back. I thought – what can I give? give away and have the similar little expectation to get back in return?

And so, after lunch i went down into town., and thought i would see how I could give to someone, or be helpful to someone in need. Follow a gut instinct to do something, to give something away.

Theres an empty space at the bottom of the ramp near the library in Hartlepool, where the charity sellers, big issue vendors, dodgy religious sect type people use for selling stuff. Its also where the homeless go to beg. When i got there today the area was empty, just a few guys on a bench. But the usual turnover of people walking past, on phones, chatting, pushing buggies, heads down, focussed or relieved to be heading home from the shops. I thought i would sit and wait to help someone or talk to someone who might need it (i had the whiteboards ready if i needed to advertise, though i was slightly not quite brave enough to write ‘free listening here’ or ‘here to help if you need it on them’ well i wrote it but didnt advertise – maybe next time – what do you think? ).

There was someone trying to carry a bookshelf, i offered to help and they said they were ok (later they carried the shelves seperately)

A few minutes after i was sitting down on the wall. less that 10 metres away a person started opening their bag, got out a few books, (i thought they were going to the library), then got out a sleeping bag from their bag, and chucked a few pennies on their bag, then sat, in the sleeping bag, reading the book and waited for the passers by to make donations. Jacket hood covering their face.

In my mind i was thinking – is this the person im here to talk to? to help? How do i start a conversation? I was sitting down at their level (usually I am walking above those sitting on the ground begging) I was probably for the first time seeing how they were being reacted to.

The woman ( it was the first time id realised their gender) asked if i had a light for a fag, which i didnt, i didnt even have any money on me either. (i deliberately wanted to be empty handed) , she asked me, no she told me that i looked happy and content, and i probably did, i guess i had a glint in my eye as i was looking for ways to give and be helpful, not to consume or shop… though wary of being male, i asked her about the book she was reading, and about what her days are like waiting for money to be donated. She talked about stories, and how the last few weeks had been tough as the abuse by others had got worse to the homeless, how the police were moving people on, and how they get less money, so much so that she was thinking of moving to somewhere new.

This wasnt all in one conversation, as it was disjointed and interrupted, but it was the gist of it. I was then interrupted by a local vicar (female) who said ‘Hello’ and sat down, and we chatted for 15-20 mins or so, all the while keeping an eye on our homeless friend, and wondering what we might do. After a while my clergy friend sat with the female, and listened more intently to her story and situation and gave some money, at the same time someone else put a £1 on the bag (it was the first coin over 2p that had been donated) and someone else came by with a meal deal in a bag from boots.

A meal that was duly eaten pretty quickly, once my clergy friend left.

Without wanting to be rude, in leaving the person i asked whether the afternoon had worked out ok. She said it had, but only in the last 15 mins. She told me about where she lived, and having moved around a bit. Said she was in Newcastle but it was too busy, she looked less than 25, maybe nearly 30. I said that i wanted to give something, but i had nothing. But i asked if she could make use of a small whiteboard and pens, to write down quotes from her books, or phrases to encourage people, or messages to help her cause. She said shed draw pictures and make up stories. I wished her well and told her my name, and she hers ‘D’, Pray for D as you read this. She is camping somewhere in this town.

Though I know shes had food, as this evening, I gave away some herbs to a friend, and walked the dog around the headland area of the town.

And as i drove back down northgate, there was D with someone walking, and eating a large bag of fish and chips on a glorious sunny evening. A luxury we all like, in the sea air. And thats the air she’ll breathe from her tent. And I in my house.

I jokingly said to my clergy friend as we sat on that wall, that I wasnt intending to become all St Franciscan, to side with the poor and homeless by dressing up as a beggar and being waited on.

But sitting at the level of the homeless, being alongside, i learned so much more. That whilst many did nothing, some gave and smiled, a smile that ive given before. As I said , ive walked by many times before. But today I sat, and waited, to interrupt the normal and give, and help where I can. Being at a different level. At knee level.

I am no hero, and i have no idea what the end of this story might be, her friend with the chips, and the whiteboard. She did tell me that she liked the church and took photos of it. But thats not that important. I dont hope that anything other that i learned a lesson in giving, in understanding, and seeing the world through a different lens, even just for a short while. I wanted to give, and give I did, but i gained so much more. It just means i’ll have to give again tomorrow.

The post script to this story, that i have discovered in the last 10 minutes. Is that D was prayed for at the morning prayer in the church of my clergy friend only yesterday morning as a congregation member had been in conversation with her. Tomorrow the two will be meeting up again. This time not on the wall. Where does God lead us to when were being obedient – to the homeless, the lost and the margins. Why- for thats where she is too.

What really happens when we’re asked to ‘clear our minds of all distractions’ before worship

So you have travelled a hundred miles, found the room, unpacked the bag, changed and showered and met a few people over coffee, you’re at ‘The Christian Conference’ and after tea is ‘the evening meeting’. So the programme is dissected, seminars are ringed and the note book and folder is readied, and at 7.30 it is time to toddle off to the evening meeting. You find the best place, half way back, to the left, a few seats away from any one else. And it starts. Theres a countdown, a couple of people chirping away comedically, usually a male and female, with the female laughing hysterically at the males jokes, hes the comic – she’s his sidekick. Its the reality, and what it looks like.

Then the band gets up onto the stage….

Theres a pregnant pause, Were invited to our feet, to stand.

And now the moment;

‘lets just spend a moment forgetting all the things we were doing before today and really focus on God’,

says the now guitar adhorned worship leader bloke. Image result for christian worship bands

And in that split second im thinking;

Did I lock the back door?,

what about the ironing?

Is the heating off?, dont want that to be on all weekend,

cant believe work didnt let me have this weekend off!,

ive got a deadline for tuesday, wh–

‘just focus on God, just a few minutes’

he’s on to me,

he can tell,

im squirming, im trying to focus on God,

but i forgot to chuck out the milk,

i hope the kids are ok at grandmas this weekend,

did i leave her my new phone number?

, did she remember that they dont eat cheese?, or bedtime, did i pack their toothbrush, or car seat, or enough clothes, i think so—-

yes now just listen to what God might be saying to you in the peace and quiet

gulp. erm.

peace and quiet? really, peace and quiet! (internally boils whilst trying to retain a composed more spiritual than thou pose)

I bet that worship leader all he does is write songs all day and ponce around with a band, me, im juggling work and family and coming along here to a conference, with stuff beyond stuff all going on.

I open my eye.

Oh no!, everyone else looks radiant and peaceful. And me, im churning inside, didnt get a moment there, look at them all spiritual, and me too much of a busy mind, too thinking and worried. Too much going on. Give me an open space to think and its the first in a while – so it gets clogged up. Now i feel guilty, guilty that i couldnt be as radiant and spiritual as everyone else, guilty that i couldnt shut off from the normal, guilty that Im not like everyone else. Guilty that a spiritual switch that everyone else seems to have I dont.

now were ready to worship – lets sing a song together…. 

But, im not ready to sing, because i havent been able to ‘just switch off from the normal’

But is that actually what God requires of us?

Yes we are told not to worry, we are more precious that the sparrows. But is worship time a time to need to forget the things of the everyday?, instead is worship an act of doing good, and worship a time to reconnect into the story of Gods ongoing redemption which includes all the things that we worry about, the stuff of life itself. It is not healthy to divorce the normal from the spiritual, neither is it to deny the opportunity that God might use all things for his overall good, and so trying to fake our own spiritualness seems at odds with approaching with humility and honesty. We dont have the capacity to clear our minds of things, its barely how we’re wired. Switching off from the normal to worship, its more how weve come to see worship as performance, and also an attempt to devolve power and critical thought to the atmosphere and worship leader. We cant forget the really important things in our lives like our families, our children and all these things, and Im not sure God, even in a few moments prior to a worship set might be asking us to either.

And I bet everyone else is thinking the same too.

The 12 youthwork days of Christmas

Image result for 12 days of christmas


altogether now…..


On the 12 days of Christmas my youthworker gave to me…

12 annoying icebreakers

11 months of funding

10 broken ground rules

9 (or ninety) games of ping pongImage result for table tennis

8 hr sessional contracts

7 jeffs and smith books

6 franchise projects (speaking of which..)

N….C…. S…….  (or if you cant bring yourself to say NCS, say D…B….S instead)

4 smart objectives

3 supervisions

2 junior leaders

and (deep breath) an annual report for the charities commission!

Just getting in there early with a bit of Christmas cheer, I hope your end of term, last few sessions, staff meal outs, final mentoring group for the term goes well, and that you have a restful and positive Christmas, ready for the challenges that 2018 might bring us all in the youth work community. Thank you for reading, sharing and being part of the ongoing conversation in youth work in the UK and I hope reflections from this site have been useful for you this year. Happy Christmas!

ps. this might not be the last post this year….

A leaked first draft of the Archbishops letter

You may have seen that the Bishops of Canterbury released a statement over the weekend in regard to the upcoming general election, a copy of it is here: https://www.churchofengland.org/media/3977056/electionletter_text.pdf

A response has been released by a number of people who agree with the essence of the original letter, but the use of the wording that includes words like ‘Stable’ refers too directly to the political slogans of the current government and is at best unadvisable. Al Barrets excellent letter is here: https://thisestate.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/dear-archbishops-response-ge2017.html?showComment=1494182747865#c7945166281891278643 in response.

What is less known is that the original letter from the Bishops underwent a few early redrafts, the final one was a long distance from the first, and under the much heralded vault in church house, a copy of the first draft has been found, dusted off a bit, here it is…Related image

‘To The Parishes and Chaplaincies of the Church of England The General Election, June 8th 2017 Embargoed until 00:01, Saturday May 6th 2017. 

May is dawning and what season this Spring time is!  We your strong and stable Bishops have found peace and tranquility in the latest addition to Church house, our new little conservatory just around the back. Its a place of quiet reflection where we ponder the latest issues of the world in prayer and thanks giving. We say its a new conservatory but its been here nearly seven years now and we dont know what we would do without it. We had some bother with the roof last year when some youths chucked some bricks at the roof, and since the bricks hit, the conservatory hasnt been quite as secure and stable. 

But despite this setback, at this time of turmoil in the nation, our conservatory really has been a God-send, from looking outside into our garden we can see that our trees are getting stronger and stronger . Recently from B&Q we bought a new table for ants, its helps attact them and its great to watch them, its built out of oak, it really is a strong ants table, and its sits at the pride of place near to our trees. 

It is only recently that we have noticed that our trees have been going weak, but now in the month of May, we desire that our trees a bit more strong and stable. 

May we take this opportunity to encourage all of you to participate in the upcoming process of the General Election, and participate in the process of democracy that one of the core values of this country, a county where strong and stable trees a what we need to keep our breaths and provide oxygen and life in this barren and parched land. 

Soon we will be launching a new 8/6 initiative with the hashtag #maketreesastrong, on the 8th June we want you to buy the t-shirts and pray for all the trees a so that they can be strong and stable. For no trees at this time should be weak or insecure. 

In addition we are concerned about the fragmentation of the many churches across the land, there are so many denominations now that we now require spreadsheets to keep track; it may dawn on us soon that this is a coalition of chaos and its destroying the nation. We’re so worried about this that we’ve decided that a new 8/6 mission initiative #prayfortreesa is about destroying the chaos, killing them off, and forming one united Church, to gather under one strong and stable roof, with a building we are taking back control of and one where we can negotiate our faith amongst all the other faiths. 

So please join us on the 8th June, across the land, #prayfortreesa, and #maketreesastrong.  May you bring unity and control to our faith, bring strength and stability to this nation, may strength be our sTory and song. 

In good Faith, 


The Archbishops

#prayfortreesa  #maketreesastrong

8 common reactions to the displays at the conference market-place.  

There’s a thing in christian and other conferences circles. It’s the publicity stands that adorn the outskirts of many a conference hall or networking event. They’re usually manned by ‘the weekend staff’ a volunteer or the sole person in the organisation who has to be there to advertise the organisation or project or opportunity.

The stands bring out an array of reactions.

What’s noticeable from running a stand at a variety of places is that the mixture of reactions by the general public to such publicity stands.

Heres a few of the more popular ones;

1. The ‘can I get away with just taking a leaflet and not have a conversation’ person.  These people often glide past the stall holder, give no eye contact and head straight to the table, the leaflet, pick it up, give it a read, quite seriously. 

2. The ‘glazed eye view’ these people are easy to spot. They walk past stands with glazed eyes, polite smile but then walk on.

3. The overkeen. Mega enthusiastic people, go to every stand, sign up to everything but don’t commit to anything.

4. The freebie frenzy. They leave the christian conference with 30 free pencils, badges, USB sticks, 200 leaflets, 30 sweets.

5. The long conversation, difficult question people. Usually they appear when there’s 20 other people who look actually interested but you end up using up all your attention on the responses from this awkward customer who wants to know your theological position on mission or why anyone should do youth work with young people outside the church. Meanwhile the resources and possibility of 20 others goes untapped.

6. The person who thinks you’re someone else. So after a long conversation and interest, the persons says ‘oh I thought you were from ________ organisation,  not that one, sorry to waste your time, (sigh).

7. The person who only wants the free pencil, but acts politely and has a conversatiom  just to not feel too guilty about taking it.

8. And yes there’s the perfect person. Who asks good questions, listens intently and signs up, and then emails back and then participates in the programmes, course or opportunity. But its probably about 1 in every 8 people. Actually it’s more like 1 in every 18.

So. The conference stands, from the other side we watch how our displays have a strange reaction on the conference delegates. I guess from the other point of view there are a few approaches that work well for attracting people to a specific publicity stand and in a competitive christian market place these can be bigger brighter and more outlandish. Yet often the more useful or appropriate ministry for you in a church or as an individual might be the smaller stand or might not even be there at all playing the conference publicity game. Because for 1 opportunity out of 15-18 it’s often a tough gig and time consuming. Though there can be some really good networking & conversations between stand holders and shared opportunities too.

Tories to launch ‘War on Church attendance’

Whilst the Conservative party have shot themselves in or each others foot,  in the EU referendum debate, a cruel twist to their plan for welfare state shrinkage was announced last week. THE CHURCH IS LOSING PEOPLE.


FAITH IS WANING – said the reports!

And this matters to the conservative party. why? Because without the church, there wouldnt be food banks propping up the welfare system, voluntary groups delivering childcare, volunteers patrolling the streets during the evenings as street pastors/angels/lights, groups doing community work, education and running free schools. Without the church, and the activities of the church, the conservative party will look even more like the bad guy that shrunk the country than it already is.

A source close to me has told me of a secret battle plan for the Tories once theyve recovered from the EU referendum and kissed and made up over a glass of Cava and quinoia pate topped foccacia.

They’re going to launch a new war.


Yes, clear the front page of daily mail, telegraph and evening standard – WAR ON CHURCH ATTENDANCE or Operation WOCA as it will be known will be flung into action from July 2016. However, Twitter will soon regard it operation TWAT,  short for ‘Tories Will Advance Theology’, and their plan for christian domination of the UK will be in tatters, though this is what they had planned;

A series of measures and initiatives will be launched from central government including:

Churches will be able to obtain funding from the government for all types of evangelism, including those that might be considered manipulative

Tory MPs will actively talk and big up Darwinism, Atheism and Secularism to turn people off these forms of religion.

Laws will be passed to close churches in areas, in the hope that this will galvanise support for them.

The Archbishop of Canterbury will have a daily chat show, and religious broadcasting and opinion will be part of everyday life.

The CAT benefit will be introduced as a Church Attendees Tax Break, attend church, fewer taxes, even more tax breaks if you contribute voluntary hours or financially to the church. Sounds unfair and manipulative. Well its cheaper than running a library.

To encourage people to visit churches all rural post offices will be shut down, and a new initiative to turn historic churches into post offices will be introduced, there will be no regulations on preventing people from being invited to other church services.

The Conservative battle bus will roll around the counties, Tory MPs will have photo shoots outside churches, announcing that according to intelligence that the only way to stop ISIS, cancer and meteroite attack is through prayer and fasting.

New housing estates must include at least three different spaces for Christian church buildings, and a food bank drop off point, no point in leaving an essential part of the community to be built afterwards.

There will be a ban on Sunday papers, TV, shopping and football on Sundays.

This is only phase one – but THE WAR ON CHURCH ATTENDANCE is on its way.



Church like Tescos- every little helps?


In his article British Christianity isnt dying. Its Sleeping, Evangelism can awaken it, Tim Stanley writes: 

Put it this way. Imagine, say, that the Anglican Church was like Tesco. If Tesco stopped advertising, people would stop shopping there. If Tesco constantly banged on about how its own products are old fashioned and in need of updating, people would stop shopping there. If Tesco said that it would be nice if you’d visit once in a while but entirely understood why you don’t, people would stop shopping there. Christians have become their own worst enemy – killing their faith with silence.

You can read the full article Here, But Tim was responding to the article in the Guardian last week which asserted that church going, or belief in God is now lower than non belief in God. Tims article is a written version of essentially what he discussed on the BBC News channel in the ‘Papers section’ as the response. There is a serious point to be made about how the church advertises itself, and whether it should do at all, instead focus on the kingdom and world transformation that the church should be active in the process of, rather than nominal belief or church attendance per se.

However its bank Holiday Monday, and instead I wondered what would happen if the church really was like Tescos?

If the church adopted the tescos style approach, rather than the coffee shop style that in many places it is going for, then what might this look like, in the tescos model.

Shall we take a walk along to our local Tescos Church…..

As you enter the church you’ll receive the attack on your senses from the fruit of the Spirit aisle, a space of play of joy and boundlessness – where there is no law.

Moving around the church there’ll be the chilled section, Christians only fed on milk, a few bland packages of cheesus (this joke might be found later too, likely to be cathedral cheddar). A variety of ready meals, all ready for you to take home, microwave and share with your small groups. Less we say about the sour cream in this section the better.

Then there the Condiments section, the salt, the oil and the herbs. All there to make slight adaptations to your ready meals, though theres not as in use as they used to be, your ready meals dont needs them. They’re already included.

From the Condiments you get to the Deli -ght in the Lord-catessen counter. The speciality Chesses, Theres Feminist Cheese, Liberation cheese, deep cheese, Theres theology cheese, reformed cheese. These are expensive, so at most you can only have one at any time. To give your bland cheese a bit of a kick.

leaving the condiments section you get to the Butchers section, an array of meats sacrifices for you, first born cattle, young heifer, and slightly unusually lamb lying next to lion meat.

In the fish section, the actual fish is less appetising than the weekly changed banners that adorn the counter, these have included:

‘Go trout and multiply’, ‘Great is our Cod’ , Our Cod is so big’, ‘ Sing a new Tuna unto the Lord’ , ‘Find your perfect plaice with cheesus here’  Our tescos has received plaudits in the ‘advertising our fish section banners of the year’ receiving the silver award in 2014.

Of course there’s an abundance of Breads, Bread of abundant long life, Bread of the wheat (not the chaff), Bread of Heaven (for the welsh).

In the frozen section theres the all the products that have lasted forever in a frozen state. Some of them are built with strong material and old stones, the cathedrals of your tescos experience. Theres a few newly shipped over products in here too, like pizza-driven church, a boxed frozen bread product with a lots of everything else on top, neatly to be sliced and eaten by hand, you can choose the flavour – but the taste remains pretty much the same.

Also in the frozen sections is an empty space for the unspoken myths, frozen in time, you can open the door of this section, but it only leads to disillusionment to what you’ve got in your trolley. The most popular ones are ‘this tescos used to be full in the 1960’s’ ‘this tescos shop is never as exciting as the summer tescos shop when all the UK shoppers gather together’ ‘Keeping shopping simple will make shopping more popular’ or ‘because of the deconstruction of food by philosophy ‘i think therefore i spam’ then shopping will soon follow suit’  Dont ever open the door to this freezer section on a bad weeks shopping, only if you have an argument ready.

During your trip to tescos church there’s also announcements over the tannoy ; “Dont believe people when they say they can shop elsewhere, this is the only way to shop”, and for help for the non shoppers: ‘”to help people shop therell be 5 week courses for the non shoppers” , and “if you know of a small shop struggling not far away, then we at tescos church would like to help, , make those shoppers aware of the new and exciting range that Tescos church has to offer instead, go an find those struggling shoppers and bring them to big tescos church”. “Next month we’ll have free mega shopping, on a monthly occasion, as well as shopping weekly,  come back for a special big shopping night to buy some more, especially for the non shoppers, the tills will all be set to free, and people can buy all the best items on offer”

As you pay for your products in the trolley, you have two options , the Graham Kendrick (Hallelujah, ‘the price is paid’) option and the second the food for works option.

People should opt for the first, but most go for the second.  Opt for the first and tescos church might become glorified in all what you do, and you’re free to eat, work and play and you give your food away telling people you’re love for Tescos. in fact you even get given a gift to use.

The second option causes guilt, burdens and fear, never quite knowing how much works is required to pay back the free shopping.

Both payments require sanctification, challenge and discipleship, involving witnessing to other non shoppers, attracting them with the freedom of the tescos food, whilst hoping that they too chose the second payment option to be burdened by the never ending repayment option. The second option means that you feel you have to come back, the first is that you want to.

Church of the Tescos also has a community board you can put on glamorous events to promote the freedom of the food, but charging people to enter to make the food more appealing. Theres a scheme for the Tescos church volunteers to spend 0.005% of their time involved in non Tescos related activity such as helping plant trees, or litter pick the river, theres an associated press pack to go along with this, so everyone can know just how community sacrificial the church of tescos is.

So, church can be like Tescos, and maybe one of the dangers of the UK church, especially if it has tescos, or even some of the mega churches of the US as a guide then it might assume bigger space, bigger gathering, bigger advertising, all encompassing shopping under one roof is the dream. However, if Tescos trajectory from small stores, to mega stores out of town, to local stores, to home delivery model is followed, then the church that acts in the home, the local small group and community will soon replace the out of town warehouse gathering church. To be authentic Church needs to be nothing like tescos, people are suspicious of authenticity itself, if we’re becoming a nation that is realising that supermarkets are having a negative effect on not only global market, but also farmers in the UK, then modelling church on tescos should be an alarm. not a wake up call.

If people are paying people to shop and deliver, then this is where church is heading. Convenience and local is shaping shopping, local church may have lost out to mega church in some places, but local church provides something more convenient in a local community, and that it local community itself, thats where discipleship in the everyday and where church should be active. Church should be the Co-op (without the Banking fraud) – rather than Tescos.

Church as Tescos- every little helps?

Maybe the UK needs both Tescos churches and Co-op churches and both need to learn from each other, not compete.