Responding to ‘Under-construction’ – An apologetic Clergy

For those who haven’t been following, Earlier this week, Janet, mum of Harry, wrote to her local vicar about the effects on Harry of a recent book, Under construction, by Neil O Boyle, that was being read. A few days later, after seeking a copy of the book and reading it, the local vicar in our mini-series, replies: 


Dear Janet,

I really appreciated receiving your letter about how your son Harry has enjoyed the book ‘Under construction’ by Neil O Boyle. As a result of your recommendation I bought a copy, well, actually, I didn’t, I was talking to our youth leaders about it, and one of them got a free copy at a national youth conference a few months back, and like any good youthworker they hadn’t read it, and were only happy to lend it to me. So in a quiet moment between Christmas and new year, I gave it a read, from cover to cover.

Im afraid I cant share your sense of positivity about it, even though I have a feeling you were being slightly sardonic in your letter. I cant even begin to answer some of the questions you asked, because, even with an MA in Theology, I dont understand what the book is going on about half the time. I can see where you found the drawings and notes sections helpful in delving into the inner most mind thoughts of Harry (and his technical drawing skills), but a read of the text in detail caused me some consternation. I wont be giving this book back to the youth leaders, I really dont want anyone else to read it.

I have summarised my concerns, having read the whole book as follows:

The least of my concerns is that I don’t know who it is written for. It recounts sexual assault, rape, and teen suicide, and accompanies it with join the dots activities- is it even for boys like Harry? On one hand it describes abortions in detail , later in the bedroom chapter the author helpfully describes sex as being for ‘making babies’ – the kind of insight needed for 8 year olds. And the dot to dots? 

Regarding Biblical or theological reflection – the bible itself is rewritten to suit the metaphor (not just re interpreted). God is a mysterious wandering presence who moves around a metaphorical house, existing in the study, and without asking for permission laying down new floorboards, and then being left in the coridoor – at times it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. God isn’t like that, God is love, and to be followed , not to worry about if he’s stalking you under the floorboards or checking out what seedy activities you’ve been doing, and he really isn’t into dry rot. 

All the stories about sex are told are about shame and are from a girls point of view, boys don’t have shameful sex in this book, and there is no referenced to counselling or therapy and emotions that may be triggered in the reader.  Im so glad Harry didn’t react here too much, but imagine if he’d experienced abuse himself? 

If young people take the book seriously and write down their responses, this book becomes a diary of shame, judgement and guilt – and really can’t be passed around the youth group. Or left on a bookshelf in the family home. Not once does it ask a young person to write down the gifts or abilities they think God has given them. 

There are no reference to any research into the effects of social media, mental health (social media is blamed) on one occasion it takes the complex case of the Bulgar Killers and uses it to make a simple case that video games are harmful and the images stay in the mind forever, guilting video game use to child killing.   This is what happened to Harry isn’t it? He felt guilty about giving up paying grand theft auto – not because he was making a positive choice – but felt shame and guilt. 

So Janet, Im really thankful that you’ve shared with me about this book, I have some strong concerns, and quite how it can be recommended for young people, in 21st Century Britain, and by a youth organisation that is seeking to be relevant, that is trying to encourage young people into faith, beats me. Its a faith I really dont recognise in this book, maybe its American evangelicalism, that’s what it feels like, and reminds me of Moral Therapeutic Deism which we talked about when I was at college, though this feels a weird variation, that maintains the moral, but is barely therapeutic, more traumatic, and is more DIY SOS than Deism.

Im glad that you didn’t send your letter to our new curate, she’s female. I think she’s likely to explode reading this book, and she’s barely a feminist. But as a male im deeply troubled, and you know how calm I have to be in difficult situations.

You know that I am not responsible for the book, but as someone who is obviously involved in the church and the christian faith, I feel I need to apologise for the damage its already caused and even what it might do. Directly to Harry, I apologise for the view this book it portrays of guilt and shame, Harry seems already full of shame about his body, there body a good loving God gave him, he shouldn’t feel this way. I apologise for how harry might view women, in this book they are bullied or shamed for sex acts, there are far more beautiful and purposeful and contributors in society than this, and any damage to the relationship with his sister.  I apologise for the way Harry might view God, the view of a loving Father, creator, generous and love is very difficult to find, and so Im sorry. Im sorry that Harry might feel that he has to be perfect to have faith, to have sorted himself out before he can contribute in the church: Janet – your Harry is an amazing boy, loved and precious and the youth leaders adore him, we would love him to use all his amazing gifts, personality and creativity – and he doesnt need to undergo misguided deep introspection before this can happen – we love Harry for who he is.

My advice for Harry – is to read the actual bible- and fall in love with the beautiful man that is Jesus. Look at his words, his actions, and find him wondrous, mysterious and dynamic – and see how he healed the hurting and involved women, and then loved so much, and saw the world with compassion – that’s the God of the bible, and if Harry follows this example and seeks goodness, peace and love – then you will end up being so proud of your son even more. Thats the God I try and preach of, and the one that will truly transform history. Once Harry realises he is part of this great big adventure and wonder, to heal, minister and be part of a glorious kingdom of love, peace and hope – then im sure this will be transformative.

And, if Harry want to read a book about growing up, then might I suggest ‘The Man You’re meant to be, by Martin Saunders‘ – its not perfect, but, it would treat Harry like a grown up, and written like a conversation with a slightly wise friend in a cafe. Theres no shame attached here, but a self effacing and humorous look at growing up, and from a man poses the difficult questions about objectifying women, rather than shaming them for the sex acts that abusive men have performed on them.

So, Janet, thank you, I hope this response has been helpful to you, I strongly recommend you think twice about Harry reading the book all the way through, because even on the last page there’s a suggestion to let Jesus have an ‘all access pass to Harrys life’ as if Jesus is a monthly vue cinema ticket. Please gently ask Harry to stop reading it, and if he wants to talk about it, id be happy too.

Yours in love,

Reverend Smith 

2019; this was my year….

I write this on New Years eve, having just read a facebook memory from last year, which read:

There are many people who know 2019 is going to be tough, they’re waiting for an operation, having treatment, they’re waiting for a DWP assessment, or are homeless, their job is ending or their relationships are tricky. A new year might bring fear and not hope. So as the calendar changes, the new year is nearer to the thing, and Happy new year feels hollow, as that person might be hiding alot just to pretend or go along with everyone else. Please do know if this is you, you are not going through what ever it is alone, that there is hope beyond the difficulty. So, maybe we need to do ‘real’ new year, and not just do Happy new year for 2019.

Of course, the perceptive amongst you will know that this was me.

My Last piece, gives some of the detail of the year I had, and you can read this here.  So I won’t be going through the details again, but I want to look back at some of the learning, and thankfulness and be grateful for the gifts I have received this year, for I look back with pride and gratefulness.


2019 was the year I discovered what friendship looked like. My God, I am so grateful for the heroic, wonderful friends, their grace, energy, patience, knowledge, wisdom, and carrying me, but also carrying me in a way that enabled me to realise that I had agency. I love you. you know who you all are. You are many.

2019 was the year I fell in love with music, from pet shop boys, meat loaf, Steve Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, Ed Sheeran, Jazz, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan, I have sang and danced and cried. I have also developed my guitar playing a lot, and I love it.

2019 was the year I started to live alone, my own flat, my own house, and its a place of calm, peace, a place to read, to chill and its been a joy to share this space with others, the loving friends, to cook for them, and even give them space to have retreats of their own.

2019 was the  year I faced fears, faced emotional challenges, faced my past, faced the abyss, faced a number of things head on. It wasn’t pleasant, at all. Though the circumstances I forced to (marriage separation 18 months ago), I put the whole thing in the mix. Im grateful for professional counselling and the deep reflective friends.

2019 was the year Im grateful for the ongoing self awareness, books I was encouraged (forced??) to read, counselling I did, and finding myself, valuing myself through the year, valuing the bits of me I had tried to hide ( like introversion, or sensitivity) and being proud of them. 2019 was the year for becoming a new better me.

2019 was the year I had a better relationship with food, living in other peoples houses meant no free access to a fridge, understanding my own emotions and feel deeply better, meant less comfort eating. I am now vegetarian and feel so healthy.

2019 was the year my reading included books on self awareness, poverty, Youthwork, but also Paulo Coelho, books on history and other interests like Railways, it also included fiction. It may be the year that over the course of it, I developed a balance.

2019 was the year I took my own medicine I’ve given for so long, and God am I grateful.

2019 was the year I went on holiday with my son George, to Tunisia, and realised that I felt alive, happy and I splashed, swam and danced in the pool, and discovered an external body awareness and confidence a few weeks later.

2019 was the year I went on a guided retreat and discovered through it a love for the rhythm of the daily office. Yet, for the first 3 months I was doing it at someone else house, in my own, with candle, and quiet flat, its calming, beautiful and fabulous.

2019 was the year I started to use the words fabulous, glorious, wonderful, gift, joy and think about dreams, joys, beauty, life.

2019 was the year I started to do things about stuff I care about, and not just care about me, like rejoin labour, like protest about climate, like donate money to charities, like go to conferences, maybe like be vegetarian to some degree.

2019 was the year I began to love myself. Love myself for who I am, because I began to value who I am even more, head to the deep bits, discover the emotional strength I had and have. Love myself because I am actually ok. Love myself because I knew myself, love myself because I had experienced that deep love.

2019 was the year I slowed down my writing, but also started writing more poetry. I guess I had less to write about, professionally, and my energy was elsewhere, like starting a new job, like counselling, like emotional survival at times.

2019 was a year of discovery, a year of learning, a year to focus on me, a year to realise that being open and sharing is a good thing, a year to be in community.

2019 was the year I went to my first English based youth ministry conference.

2019 was the year I discovered some beautiful generous people, a year I saw even more beauty in the world. A year of gifts, received and given.

Thank you all, for being part of it, here’s to 2020!


15 point election manifesto for ‘The Youthwork Party’

Yeah, Its a stretch of the imagination, to some degree, but imagine if there was a ‘Youthwork Party’ and it was running for the election in a few weeks time.

Could you imagine what would be the 15 points in the Manifesto? Image result for youthwork

Well… take out your magic ball, your shiny lamp and imagine with me, the 10 point plan from the youthwork party:

  1. Caretakers will automatically ensure that senior youthworkers and designated staff have keys to buildings
  2. There will be an end to any mention that youthwork isnt a proper job
  3. Representations of young people in the media will be fair and dignified, not sensationalist
  4. There will be a collective ban on the universal generational terms like Millenial, Generation Z
  5. Youthworkers will inform policies that involve young people – like county lines, modern slavery, child protection, even education. 
  6. Every youth and community will be eligible for 2 hours external non managerial supervision per term
  7. There will be a scrappage scheme on Minibuses – trade in an old bus or minibus thats done over 200,000 miles (and got the chewinggum marks to prove it) and get a new one free. 
  8. DIY shops will be forced to sell not only Aluminium and wooden ladders, but also Harts ladder. 
  9. Clocks will be adjusted to youthworker time, this means that a youthworker will never be late for a meeting or session, due to poor preparation or being distracted in a conversation with a young person, time will shift to accommodate this, everyone else is deemed early or impatient.  
  10. There will be free coffee/Tea/ hot chocolate in every cafe for 
    1. Two youth workers in conversation or
    2. One youth worker with any number of young people in a conversation
  11. Youth workers will be eligible for a sabbatical (1 term off to study) for every 10 years in a role
  12. A statue of Paulo Freire will be erected in Westminster Palace gardens. 
  13. As well as long running series about health (casualty, Holby) the BBC will begin a long running series called ‘Youthie’ and follows the fictional characters who run a youthclub. 
  14. From now on a youthworker will not be the cheap or soft option compared to a police officer or social worker or teacher. 
  15. The Values ‘equality, respect for persons, voluntary participation, empowerment, informal education’ will be written into the new UK constitution. 

Would you vote for this?   click a like below if you do! 🙂

Thoughts on Liberation Theology Conference 2019; feeling theologically home

I wonder whether you have ever had the feeling of feeling theologically home?  Not being around people where theres a grating or an edge, or where its about justifying a ministry, an outcome, or even, where theology is best left for others, and only a proof reading of scripture is done.

Today I felt theologically home.

I have felt it before, and regular readers of this blog will know that I have felt this amongst the pioneer youth workers of FYT, at our national gatherings. But this was the first time i have felt this in a non youthwork related conference space. Big time.

A few notes on the outline of today, a beginning in which prayers where held an equally participated in the yurt, inside Sunderland Minster (yurts also feature at FYT, maybe theres a theme), a time of reflection and sharing. This was followed by a session by Symon Hill on the infleunce of the military in society and thinking this through theologically. A fascinating conversation.

Then Sue Richardson used liberation theology to facilitate a collective interpretation of the symbols and metaphor of the clay pot, in both the Old and new testament, the process of bringing experience to the text, and developing interpretation and trusting in God in the space to prompt and provoke was just amazing, with a number of threads of questions, inspiration moments.

After an amazing lunch, vegetarian soups, quiches and fruit

The afternoon session included a discussion from Church action on Poverty about developing church on the margins, and how this is about learning, reflection, being with, and time to share practices across the room. It feels as though this conversation is repeated often, usually emerging from all those who have sought to adhere to youth and community values, of participation and empowerment, democracy,inclusion and justice. The challenge will be how this has any traction, even collectively across so many organisations into culture shift of the church.

Following this we heard from 2 protagonists who took part in, and were arrested at the XR protests in London recently, and the daughter of one who took part in and led climate change protests in their local school.  Much of the incidents, but a stark reminder that there are causes worth being arrested for, and that it is a privilege to be able to choose to be arrested.

I left before the final Taize worship, but before this there was chance to collectively reflect on the day. The most inspiring was from a young person who passionately exclaimed that we should have the courage to do something.

Definitely with so many thoughts around my head as i drove home, so much to process, but an enduring feeling like this was was space that did provoke and challenge, that did bring people together doing some amazing things, whether protesting, whether working in communities, whether studying for ordination, whether working for charities, a deep richness of perspective, a deep and broad awareness of experience. It wasn’t that it wasn’t provoking, or challenging, but it was as if the process, and the essence behind it could be trusted. It was as if the common good, the goodness of the world is at stake and faith is the mechanism, indeed the story and drama that we participate in with others to try and make this happen. Today was about learning and reflecting on our collective lines for this.

Often a conference is rescued by its networking. Liberation conference 2019 didnt need to, there was depth in the talks, depth in the room, and yet, the breaks yielded some fascinating conversations, my introvert self didn’t pursue many, but those whom i did were of real interest, in which there was deep theological conversation, on theory, on practice, space in not too long to share and be part of a community and movement. A space to feel theologically home. When so often spiritual homelessness is felt, especially in the big get togethers. Maybe that’s it, maybe i find home in the small get togethers of reflective creative practitioners. With people for whom theological reflection is core to action, core to faith, probably no wonder i felt at home. Home in which there wasn’t an unease, and a space in which there was risk taking, invitations to genuinely participate, learning, value and reflection. Theological and theoretical homelessness might not be a bad thing, in the process of change and renewal, but always feeling like in those spaces and putting on a face can be significantly tiring. Its good to know whether theologically and spiritually, theoretically and in practice its possible to feel like the slippers are on, as is the fire and it feels home. Homelessness can be stressful, and tiring.

And as for some of the detail of the sessions, far too many to share here, subjects I hadn’t considered, subjects i seem to know only so well, and the inspiration of those who have acted. Just a brilliant, inspiring, hopeful, energising day.

Thanks to Chris Howson, for Ray Leonard who organised and promoted this, and for all the participants, new friends and community.

10 Commandments for Youth workers

And lo, as the great throng of youthworketh did gather on the plain, the sound of hail and thunder roared and a dense cloud overcame them as they camped, they were all covered. Then there was the smoke and the whole mountain shook, and the youthworketh did appoint two leaders,   managers facilitators , sorry i mean spent 2 more days developing junior leader to go upeth the mountain to represent the youthworketh to hear from the great gods about what their key instructions should be. Image result for 10 commandments

The gods of youthwork commanded the appointed ones (unnamed due to child protection and lack of consent, for they were now 2000 miles from their parents) to go up the mountain and wait for the commandments to be passed down.

After a short while, the junior leaders descendeth from the mountain and passed to the youthworketh community gathered there and gave them these commandments

We, Brew*, Jeffs and Smith, the great community of thy historic informal education have rescued thee from formality, the place of your slavery and command thee:

1. Thou shalt have no gods but youth work, though shalt not comprehend or understand what thee is

2. Thou shalt not make for thyself any form of statue or create systems of power for yourself, you are forever be commanded to empower young people and promote these

3. Thou must not misuse the name of youth work, some may call thee youth work, faith based youth work, detached youth work, centre based youth work, these will come and go, but the name youth work should remain

4. Remember to keep the notion of a day off, sometime. Just sometime, have a bloody day off. And use it well, treasure it, and dont feel guilty for having it, you may be rewarded for more should you enjoy this first one. 

5. Honour the values of your forefathers, of the great gods, of Aristotle, to promote Human flourishing, of the sacred texts to treat others better than yourselves, or from thy holy text in which we have made these things plain to you (Informal education (third edition revised and updateth 2005)) ; Respect for persons, promotion of well being, Truth, Democracy and Fairness and Equality.

6. Thou must forever more consider all experiences ‘learning opportunities’ or ‘learning experiences to reflect on’ – they are not in any ways to be termed as failures. 

7. Thou should where possible resisteth the temptation to cower away in enclaves and write reports on the darkness that swirls you, for thy great power of truth, of goodness can overcome. 


8. Thou shalt commit to build communities and networks for thyself, for it here where thy strength is held i commandeth thee to build up a collection of thee coffee shop loyalty cards for this very purpose. 

9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours mini bus (its about to disintegrate full of young people half way down the M5), thy resources and thy money, insteadeth write politeth letters to borrow and share thy resources, for thy hath provided sufficient for all the youthworketh around, for youthworketh is in the heart and mind and conversation, not in thy neighbours gold plated canoes, or thy neighbours 3 million pound buildings. Do not covet. Neither do not destroyeth thy neighbours resources when thy have undertake to borrow. 

10 Thou must not give falseth testimony to thy great stakeholders, the funders. No really. I will commandeth thee great fundeth to eventually understand the value of thy youthworketh practice, and thee has the great task to evaluate and review effectively, but thou shall not lie, no really.

And the great junior leaders sat down on the makeshift chairs that the youthworketh had laid before them. The youthworketh were stunned. They trembled at the great responsibility that they had now been given. The junior leaders did then say that a final command had been given, for all the youthworketh; ‘do not be afraid, for if you are to be obedient to these commandments, thou will realise that in conversations you will see beauty, and you will find deep satisfaction that is unmeasurable, and an pride that transcends all in the midst of purposeful relationships, this is a call that will fulfil no other, not teacher, not police, not social worker, for thee youthworker are thy great special people, thy will find beauty and significance in the small moments, be encouaraged’

And the greateth youthworkers assembly left the plain, as not only was the bar about to close, but thy holy Costa of the plain was offering free coffee, and they had papers to write.

(With apologies to anyone who thinks i murdered the original text in Exodus 20… )

*Josephine Brew wrote a book called ‘Informal education’ long before Jeffs and Smith – I referenced it here:

Full of Character (Frances Ward, 2019) – A Review – Do the characters obstruct the education on offer?

Full of Character (2019) – A review

Although there may not be a rush to get book reviews out into the public space, this book is still only just released and is 2019, writing this review has felt as though it has been on my ‘to do’ list for over 4 months. I read it when i was relaxing and basking in the sun in Tunisia, in June, and so, was fairly chilled and relaxed in reading it, indeed, my copy now has a few suncream finger prints in it, and has been well travelled.  My other perspectives that i come to this book are as a parent of an 18 and 16 year old, who have experiences both Scottish and English Education systems, as a youth and community worker for 15 years and more recently as a worker for the Durham Diocese and involved in supporting a poverty proofing schools programme.

Opening the book itself, doing so, on day 2 of the holiday (it wasnt first book on the list), the contents page that includes sections on Thankfulness, Character education, Playfulness, Fruitfulness, and Hopefulness, I am immediately intrigued as to the angle that this book is about to take, given a wade into thinking about what seems Christian Virtues and how they might relate to Education, it brings to mind Danny Brierleys attempt to join up Youth and community work Values with Christian practices in 2003 (Joined up, Su Press, 2003)  So, given the breadth of the topics this book is about to cover, I am intrigued.

Following this. I would consider the strengths of this book to be, that it does make a useful, practical attempt at times to appeal that the christian values is extols are regarded higher in the process of education in the UK. My only misgiving with the list of 12 things that have been chosen in the 13 chapters (chapter 7 is a focus on the digital age, half way through) – there is an element that all of the 12 feel a little individualist, and about a persons individual process through life, so, whilst references like Community are featured within a few chapters, this seems lacking (especially as the whole platform of the discussion within is a community of people), as do aspects of the Christian story, including Justice, Peace, and Story itself.  This aside, and Ward does say that the book could be easily extended to include others.

What Ward does do successfully, is provide an accessible, easy to read (it is easy to read) text that gives insight into the 12 aspects that she has selected. Setting the context is done through a look as the cultural situation pretty much defined by the political news, so Trump and Brexit effectively, the digital revolution, and a number of films that the characters in the book have recently watched. Again, its all a matter of perspective, but there is a sense that the overarching media is the dominant lens of culture in this book. We hear little of local contexts of towns, cities, volunteering, the positive news that is easily not taken into consideration. This does mean that there is a sense that the book is rebalancing, or articulating an alternative to fear, a fear which has been said to dominate from the news, and the view of culture which is stated. It is the same in regard to the section on the digital age, it was as if only the negatives were realised. If only one of them had read Bex Lewis book Raising children in a digital age – instead of worrying about AI…the rest of the chapter may have been different…

Frances Ward then describes that Human Flourishing is at the core of the book. This is undoubtedly welcome, it has felt like Human Flourishing has been an ongoing topic to define, for well, the dawn of time.. but its is often proclaimed as a great unifier within youth and community work across the sacred/secular mythical divide (cf Smith, Stanton, Wylie et al, 2015), and theologically this is suggested by Vanhoozer as one key aspects of the entire Christian drama (Vanhoozer, 2005, p15) ‘Following the christian way promotes human flourishing (shalom) and leads to the summum bonum, life, eternal and abundant’ – The question I continue to have, and the book doesn’t address is how much of this is an individual venture or a community one. For, whilst Ward critiques Rousseau, proponents of critical and community education have been ignored within the development of these ideas. (Giroux, Freire to name two) and yet they also propose community and human flourishing through education.

It feels like I am already criticising, and these are the aspects of the book that I appreciated the most. There are other nuggets within this book that are useful. A chapter on self forgetfulness in an age of ego proclamation – is pertinent – and i wonder how this might lead to a broader self awareness of persons in education, the systems and structures – and how a school might self forget being competitive? not laying all the responsibility with the individual child. There are others.

However. Though it was an easy read, it is accessible. I struggled to like it. The problem for me is that, whilst it is easy to read, whilst it is accessible, and whilst a number of philosophies, theories, ideas and concepts are brought to the attention of the reader in a relatively simple way. The wider premise of the book was far too irritating. And i’m not sure why, overall it was needed.

The premise of Character Education is set at a New Years eve party, a party in which 6 ‘characters’ – apologies if they are real people – gather having had a year of watching movies, the news, and being super amazing people – though none with any children, except Maddy (who had just put Emily to bed). The premise for this book is their hopes and fears and the conversation that ensued (over ‘sweet potato and bean chilli and sticky toffee pears’, p12). Much of the book is framed as if its a conversation, activities and insight that each of these 6 people have brought to it. For me it irritated.

Craig and Maddy are very much in favour of free education and Maddy went to see the headteacher who ‘looked harassed’ (the thought that her conversation was about to be noted down and written about didn’t cross Maddys self awareness, and the headteacher was tired of avocado eating middle class parents helping her with educational discourse and having to regail the latest from the national headteachers conference and Ofsted- just so Maddy could add her post university insight on character education – page 80-81)

On other occasions, Craig would go to onto google and look up a theme, Maddy would research an idea, hear a lecture (p143), then they would get excited about what they found out, and be unable to have a lovely conversation about it, because the other ‘was engrossed with Emily, planting seedlings’ (p204) . Maybe its me, but this dinner party seemed to go on all year, and the book feels like an out-working of 6 peoples privileged to access meetings, research and have the time to do this. Call me an inverted snob, but poverty doesn’t seem to feature in their lives, they don’t have to go to the public library, and none of their friends loses their job, or needs a food bank handout. Whilst they have hopes and fears, they have considerable agency. And a privilege they seem blind to. I cant imagine a group of people in areas of the north east, south wales or (pick an appropriate town) acting in this kind of way. They don’t spend a lot of time in the queue at Asda or volunteering – other places to learn.

I’m left with the thought that the characters in the book Character Education are the main parts of it that let it down. They just appear to be floating on air and have all the time in the world to share and talk about these ideas, whilst also having perfect lives with time to do so, probably between dissecting an avocado. They couldn’t be more millenial or middle class sounding if they tried.

The problem… is that all this feels completely unnecessary, and for me, what Ward proposes has some merit, in terms of values, fruitfulness and human flourishing. The characters get in the way… and this context leaves me thinking that the Character education proposed might be more middle class and academic than it need be – merely because it is framed by these 6 people who go on a self learning adventure to benefit us all. Its like Eat Pray Love – but on education at times.

There are, within some fascinating insights into aspects such as resourcefulness (not that different from agency)

It is an ongoing seeking after wisdom (p137)

Resourcefulness is stronger than resilience, in enabling more creative engagement with what challenges people of all ages (p137) – though Ward steps short of challenging a resilience narrative (something youthworkers are keen to do) – there is merit here in suggesting an alternative.  Other chapters on Truth, Fullness and flourishing combine the theological, with the sociological and psychological, and are, generally, accessible, useful, provoking and pertinent. Ward proposes thinkers from a wide range and not all academic. Its because of these good solid theoretical chapters where I wonder if the whole book could be written like this, and the platform of the 6 characters is an unnecessary distraction.

The most frustrating when we are indulged in hearing an entire lecture that Maddy once heard which forms the basis of the chapter on fullness and receive her insights of it.  I just found the tone set by the 6 people irritating throughout, and clouded my view of what were some valid accessible concepts, and some theological thinking that would be useful in creating an education system that had at its heart, not fear, numbers and outcomes, but the kind of character, values and kingdom aspiration that might be considered christian.

It was that i didn’t want to offend Craig, Maddy, Sam, Natalie, Benji and Dan, that i struggled to write this review. Its probably 18 month since their new years party, and so they can probably take the criticism now…

This book is written for parents, according to Ward. I think the problem with this, is that a countless number of parents do not have the capacity to read something like this, with 3 children, trying to work, getting dress up ready for world book day, exam stress and merely survival on the next food bank handout to consider a future of education shown to us through the lens of toffee apple eating Craig and Maddy. As a parent reading this, and having had two children now complete education (at least to 16) i would know than in my deepest desires i might have wanted an education that could look something like what is described. The reality is that academies, the extensive data collecting through multiple series of exams in 4 years, and limitations of choice, mean that reality is so far from this ideal. Yet, as i have reflected before, i might have thought that some of these ideals were possible in my own education 30 or more years ago, when at least an individual child was the focus, not school competition and organisational survival, schools run as businesses.

Back to the book, if you can cope with these 6 people, and want an accessible book that looks at aspects of a christian education that has values and principles at its heart, then this will be a good starting point for that conversation. There is enough in here for that to begin.


Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 2005

Freire, P, Horton – We make the Road by walking, 1990

Giroux H – On critical Pedagogy, 2012

Smith, Stanton, Wylie, et al – Youthwork and faith Debates, delights & Dilemnas 2015

Brierely – Joined up, SU. 2003







You can buy a copy of Frances Ward’s ‘Full of Character here:  (other book sellers are available)


12 of the inhibiting myths that prevent churches from starting to work with young people

These still kick about a bit, so maybe its worth stating them, once for all, getting them out in the open and realising not only how ridiculous some of these are, but more damaging how inhibiting they are, for churches, congregations to work with young people.

None of these are true, and if you think they are, think about what you’re trying to say about young people;

  1. The building is a barrier for young people coming into the church – no it isnt, its that people from inside the building havent created a welcoming atmosphere, or that its only open for things that young people havent created or wanted.
  2. If only someone could play a guitar, and do modern worship songs, that will bring young people in to the church. Heard this one recently, not going to respond. Might implode.
  3. No one here is young anymore, young people wont want to talk to us – actually they will if you find a way to be interested in them, and create a place that is welcoming, supportive and for them.
  4. We’ll never get young people, theyll all go to the big mega trendy church with lights and guitars. Really, all the young people in your town go there? you mean, the few christians will go, theres more than those 6 though isnt there.
  5. Therell be a safeguarding nightmare working with young people – no more so than any other group
  6. We used to have young people here but they trashed the place. Shame then that a different group of young people 30 years later are being tarred with the brush of their grandparents. Maybe reflecting on new approaches might do it
  7. Theres no material to work with young people like the ones in our town. Agreed, but the resource of being yourself, listening and asking positive questions may be all you need. Or questions like ‘were from the local church, and have no idea about working with young people, can you help us out, what would you like to happen for young people here?’
  8. Were too busy. Only if young people arent a priority.
  9. Its a job for a youthworker. Nope. See point 7.
  10. Attraction is greater than significance and meaning. Because a facade of entertainment wont eventually wear off. It’s not just millennials that crave authenticity, every young person in the history of young people does.
  11. They just need a simple message; strangely young people might be up for being challenged, involved and co creators of their faith journey. Challenge and risk are needed more than ever.
  12. We dont have the space to do it. Create an environment where people are loving and interested, and young people participate and are respected. Then the venue is irrelevant. (Unless ministry with young people is still considered as entertainment)

Theres also the ‘we dont know what they’re into… ‘ myth.. it’s as if young people are a real mystery.

Its only because I still hear these being said that I thought I’d put them together, so yes, this is unashamedly passive aggressive, I admit it. But there are two factors in play that mean that the church is needed more than ever to develop working with young people. The demise of statutory youth services, and the general acceptance that there are less church family young people in churches or staying per generation. The opportunity and determination should or could be there – but the opportunity is written off before the adventure even starts…

Church, you have the resources, the people and the connections with local communities, you can make this happen, if you really want to.