The wait is almost over

I watched one of those ‘review of the year’ programmes early this morning when my dog woke us all up at 6. I had remembered many things. But forgot about the eclipse. That rare sight. Only partial in the UK but still a rare moment in astronomical history. Footage of cars piled into fields to watch the moment of light to darkness and then slowly the light return with rays of red and golden sun blazing in the sky. 

A rare but predictable event. Once in a lifeline but also regular as clockwork (unless it’s cloudy). Already the clock ticks down for the next one, maybe in 15 years. But at that moment in April this year, a 15 year wait was over. Then it happened in less that an hour or so, and then over again. 

It’s Christmas eve and the wait is almost over. An unpredictable pregnancy became a predictable nine months of waiting. A delivery venue shifted to appease a census (though Mary neednt have gone with Joseph) . A Baby born in unfamiliar territory for Mary, though Josephs ancestral home. Then no room. No forcing of a room, Jesus birth required hospitality. Strangers from the far not received in their homeland. A homeless birth. A birth around the back. A birth not treasured. 

Their wait was almost over. Was Mary as joyous then as she had been nine months earlier? Proclaiming God’s justice and faithfulness,  now making do out the back of the house as a delivery suite. Maybe this happened often and it wasn’t a big deal. And they got on with it. No time but only to readjust and make it work. 

The wait was almost over. The baby nearly arrived. Waiting. God communicating with humanity, interrupting the flow. Disrupting the norms, yet vulnerable,  needing protection, to learn, to live and to grow. 

The wait was almost over, yet another wait was just begun. 

What would the baby do next? How will he live, what will he do? How will he be, what Mary sang about him? 

The wait is almost over, God is tantalisingly close. 

I wish and pray for you a merry Christmas. 

‘Albermarleys were dead to begin with…’ A Youthwork Christmas carol.

Albermarleys were dead to begin with’,  Image result for christmas carol

Rang the sound in bells that hung over the town. It was Christmas eve and the workers at The department of education were still hard at it, while the rest of the village gathered festivities and trees and danced upon ice and shopped and smiled, but not those education workers who did the accounts and balanced their books. At the front of the wall above the desk, on a moth ridden wall was a dusty old photo of the recognisable face of Margaret Thatcher, and in front of the workers, with head cowered low, was the latest of leaders to stand in its shadow. Its currently Justine, but used to be Govey or Ken, or even Alan, or Charles, or David or Estelle. Theyve stood in that pose. That stance.

And faced all the workers, and dreamers and thought – ‘How can I get them all to do more, and make more and get better results’, so they set out a plan, with that picture behind them, to fill jobs in the factories, and offices and workplaces, and everything else to go by the wayside. So they churned out assessments and targets, and examination boards and projects, to keep children busy and focussed and work ready. Everything about work, supplying the workplaces, children just numbers, to spend less money on but get more ready for work.

And now it was Christmas eve, in the town, and the workers were still driven, by the picture on the wall and the threat of an Ofsted. Justine was driven to do extra tomorrow, and make them all do the same.

‘But Miss’, one worker cried. ‘Its Christmas eve, do we really need to come in tomorrow? We’ll not get any data, the school are all closed, not even the pupil premium ones are open? There’ll be nothing to do?’

‘Rubbish’ Justine cried, What would Thatcher do? she thought, There was still work to do, like the data on outcomes and business plans and truancy to spin, for quiet news days and a parents to sue, for taking their kids out of school last week. And a plan to distance the government from failing academies that they set up. There was work to be done, and she was about to demand that they stay in when, again that voice from the floor said; “its a big office, and think about all the money youll save on heating it for a day, money to go on your expenses account, cant we just have one day off?’  So Justine sighed and relented and said, go on then, take the day, but youll be back here for boxing day, and youre not having a teacher day in May this year. And she looked up at the picture of those thacherite eyes and mentally apologised.

So they all left, including Justine. Well nearly, but a group of young people were standing at the door, singing Christmas carols, slighlty off key, but enthusiastic. When she opened the door, as their singing got louder and louder,  she noticed their clothing, some tattered, some battered, but scruffy, and spots on their faces and no woolly hats on a day that was frozen, but she screamed at them, saying ‘Why are you here – is there nothing else you could be doing?, Have you no homework to do, or exams to revise for or assessments to complete?’ And she looked at their cap with a fiver not much more, hey youth wheres your aspiration, you could do so much more! . The three youths stopped singing and said, but Miss, you closed our youth club, last year, in the big freeze of ’14, and theres no one to talk to and no where to go! So we’re here singin’ tryin’ makin’ a livin’, our Mams at the foodbank and we’ve got no turkey, and our families at home all wrapped in a blankey’

Justine was cold, and hardened and said to the youths, ‘Get out of my way ive no time for snowflakes, or trouble, or youths with no future’, and she stormed down the driveway to her home round the corner, leaving trails of snow dust and flustered and graceless she got to her door yet it all looked strange, see the wreath that she had on the door, in the dusk seemed to look at her funny, and it looked like a pigs face, and reminded her of someone she once knew.

To the kitchen went Justine, pouring a glass of merlot, with a chunk of fresh bread and some cheese to the fire she did go, when a knock at the window caught her attention, and she toughened again not used to commotion. For, behind the curtain came a voice she once knew, she thought it a prankster, but it was not she went phew. Though scared though she was, the voice still and gentle, and out from the curtain came a recognisable figure. All at once Justine sat upright, for she did discover, that it was no other than remainer Ken, the Clarkmeister, who said, ‘beware Justine Greening you’re about, to be visited by 3 spirits who’ll cause you to doubt, the effect of the work that you forcing on others, though cut backs and efficiency and targets all over. Be warned and ready, they’re all on their way, to meet you right here when the clock strikes eleven! Leave me, cried Justine, it cant be all true, and Ken did as she said and he left her alone, with the cheese and her bread.

Afraid did she go, upstairs in a shiver, and hid neath the bed, and dreamed in a dither. But just at eleven, as the clock it did chime, the first movement she felt in her room at the time. It was nothing she thought, as she opened her eye, and she saw a dark figure in the corner, and she asked ‘who are you? ‘

The lady went close, in her dress and with handbag, and said to Justine: ‘I am Lady Albermarle, I am the ghost of youth work past’ , ‘Lady Albermarle, ive not heard, of you, or who you are, or youthwork’, said Justine, ‘so why bother me? is it the cheese ive been eating or the youths ive been treating?’

‘Come with me’, and she held out her hand, to Justine and they moved, out the window and, up into the sky, over hedges and fields and farms to the city. ‘Where are we going, what land are we in?’ Thought Justine, as the City grew large, and dark, and grey and the smoke filled the sky, and was busy again.

With a delicate flutter they landed quite soon, near a gutter and children playing with spoons, ‘Welcome to the past Justine, this is London its 1860, and look theres Thomas Guthrie, his school is just there.’ They peered through the window at an ordinary shop, and saw grubby boys topless making shoes with a chop, of leather and cloth and threads and stitching, learning a trade, and working the kitchen. This schools for the boys, Lady kept on going, like the singers from earlier, they’re grafting and making and learning all here, theres nothing else like it, cept the one down the road, for poor boys and beggars to do work or get clothed.

Its good said Justine, ‘Im glad them so helpful, the Guthries and others, so willing and able, to solve these poor problems and make these boys stable’. ‘were not finished here yet, theres more to this story, and the ghost whisked poor justine back up and in flight, to a buiding still grey in the cool of the night. ‘not here’ said Justine, ‘I cant go in there’, for now Justine saw, all jagged and concrete, was the youth club from rotherham and the distant beat, of music and dancing and memories come back, of the stories that others would tell her in school, of the dances and chances they took, in the youth club each evening whilst she was in books. Do you remember this place? asked lady A, of course I do said Justine, ‘all my friends loved coming here, but i wasnt allowed, I had to read, and study, for I was going places, and was better than them’. Though there was one occasion I secretly went, sneaking out of my window and followed a gent, to the youth club we stumbled, and inside we fumbled, and danced till past nine, but as we got back all sweaty and silly, i tripped in the driveway and made such a racket, that trip was the last one, as i was all for it. ‘No more’ said Justine, ‘Ive had all my fill, of youthwork past and the stories that chill, I see how it gave, young people a space, to learn and to do things, and safe, but it wasnt for me, or the future I wanted, but what happened since, is this club still here? dont tell me its gone now, all housing and cleared?

‘That is all from me’, Lady Albermarle recounted, ‘from here Im all done’, as she whisked Justine clear, of streets in the ghost light and over the roofs, ‘See that place’, just there? That the YMCA, and inside I hope, is guidelines I wrote, on the welfare of youth, their education- and social and moral voluntary dedication. But thats my time over, ill hand you all back, to the house with the pig face and merlot and cheese, for soon will be time, for the clock to start ticking, the chime will be 12 and then youll be wishing, that youd been more careful in thinking of youths, for then who will find you but present day youth work, all tidy and ‘shoes’.

Flee, thought Justine, it couldnt get worse, her fears were all realised when she looked through her purse, to the photo of Graham, the gent from the youth club, the place of her childhood she never could frequent. Her Graham was gone, it gave her a shiver, to ponder the moments of joy all a dashed, when tick tock the clock went, and as Lady A said, the floorboard did rumble at 12 like large thunder. Now blinded by white light coming towards her, was all prim and proper a man in a suit, with briefcase all dapper. ‘Oh’ Said Justine – who are you? I expected much more, from the light and the thunder and its only you. Said the man, ‘I am NCS’ I come with a bluster, all flashes and bells but really just usher, for I am the ghost, of youthwork present which favours the most.  Favours the most, said Justine, I know what you mean, the achievers, and star rated and none in between? Follow me NCS and we will go places, and do things and meet people and then you will see, how your confidence grows, but for now let us go!

And the ghost of youthwork present to Justine, on tour, of projects and places and groups all a tither, for no where they landed, was overly keen, to share of their story, or how life had been. ‘Wheres fun and the music?’ said Justine, this all feels like school? and NCS winced, for this he had seen, of teachers dictated the youths to be seen. I cant see the romance, or skiving or laughter, in heres just a programme with certificates all after! for NCS cowered and took poor justine, to the room with the admin and files to be seen. Heres all our guidelines, and policy frameworks, and targets and numbers and perks, if we reach them and get all these youths, to complete all these programmes to suit, the funding requirements, for all of this costs, two grand per student and not just two cents, and thats all we charge them, with subsidies from current government.

Justine relented, she’d now seen enough. ‘But what of the youth clubs, all homely and rugged?’ for NCS laughed- ‘theyre all gone now, the one round the back, is now just a car park, flattened to make, this school even bigger for all it now takes, the children till 18 and wrap around cover, so parents can work and get child cover’. ‘Thats tragic’ cried Justine, what can we do, is there anyone around who knows what to do?

‘My time is near done’, and NCS ran, away from Justine, for he had to go, his time nearly over, he’d been caught red-handed with money to burn, the tide now shifting and he hadnt earned, respect from the youth, the troublesome ones, the scruffy or cold, the singers or sold, for he as he said was there for outcomes, and those who he knew. So Justine now wondered and wandered around, hoping for someone who’d find her and ground, this story of youthwork, which might have a future, and look who is this, coming down from the sky?

At first she did wonder for two men did she see, and behind them there stood, those youths from who were signing, that we saw right at the beginning. Oh here we go again said Justine, those youths dont leave me, but hey who are you and where will you lead me?

‘We’re Jeffs and Smith, and we’re the ghosts of youthwork future, we’re telling you know, the dreams not all over, there can be way, that wreckage you saw with the NCS suitors, its not the end, theres others who do this. You know that old pigs head, the one on your door, well Camerons his name and NCS gave, himself a good reason for splashing the cash on a programme for youths, and closing down centres and buildings galore. Some closed forever, and ripping the heart, of the youth work profession that start-ed, with things you have seen, education in shops and clubs in the towns and doing the jobs, but now for the future, the dreams havent died, of empowering youths to do what they try. And Jeffs and Smith glided, poor Justine a curveball, to local church halls and room with a sofa – ‘here you go Justine, look at this project, they’re doing the youth club with limited profit, they pay low wages, or get student placements, all so that young people arent stuck on the pavements.  And some of them go, to the outside and wander, the streets of this city in case they might flouder, upon more young people lost, or choosing to be there’ . Justine looked proud and thanked the youth leaders, who graciously smiled but then said, ‘can you hear us? look at our funding, our financial muster, we try and keep going but likely to be busted, we thought wed get funding, big society promised, but really that vanished, and all that is left is a room full of passion, of volunteers trying, is this the real action?

‘Is this it?’ – asked Justine, ‘the future not rosy, its run on a shoestring with nothing to offer?’ Its back like it used to, the shop with the old man, with youths quite bedraggled away from the structures. Oh you see it now, said Jeffs and Smith fuller, weve one place to go now, youll like it i wonder. So from there on a journey they soon did discover, they were back in their old streets with snow and ice cover.  The singers they led, from the road to a door, which opened to find, their parents and some, more young people around, a table and fire, and at one end they saw, the unmistakable figure of the worker who asked, that question before. And next to him sat, a child looking paler, the sparky but whitewashed Tony Taylor, who sat at the table next to his father, hoping for lunch for he was still starving. As the guest they all stood, and then that they saw, the worker and tony stand up near the door. ‘Lets raise up a glass, to Justine our saviour, her wages have brought us closer together; this food though it little, we dont need much more, the foodbank still helped us, fill up in the store’. But nobody noticed, that Justine was still there, with tears from her eyelids and pink in her cheeks. She ran down the back streets and into her house, and said No more, i cannot go on, ignoring the issues the youth all still face, of poverty, hopelessness, judgement and fear and no chance of housing when costs are so dear. I work them too hard, and youthworks the answer, to give them some freedom and space to cluster.

And Justine ran to her office and tore down the Thatcher, and screamed its all a lies, this work and money and capatalism, its not humane, its work and work, work. Now on its about worth, an dignity and hope, and youthwork again will funded by state, ‘I’ll go even further, ill give it a future, ill make it again, an educational venture!’ And the young boy and girls will have somewhere to go, and somewhere to learn about life and its flow, ‘we’ll make it informal, about education, not removing the need for voluntary participation’.

She ran down the street, to the house, with a turkey, and opened the door and saw all of the party, the youths who were singing and making a racket, and though taken aback, when she asked, she built them a youth club, and funded forever, the youths of the streets were happy there after.

‘And little Tony Taylor- did he die?’

No, of course not. He ate the turkey and grew up strong and became the youthworker in the town. This tales over, its run out of gas, Justine she repented and opened a class, full of young people needing more care and attention, and love and support and dedication. Youthwork is not history, the ghosts are defeated, its future is rosy, sadly,if only. Its sad but its true, this storys all fiction, though the first bits are true. Happy Christmas to all, the youthworkers in sight, the dreamers and carers and fighters for right. One we might see it, the ghosts laid to rest, and youth work is given the governments best. But young people they ignored, or sugar coated, and only acknowledged when Corbyn they voted. What now for the future, and 2018 and whats to discover of youthworks fate?


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….

Re-dramatizing Christmas

Its that most wonderful time of the year! when Michael Buble sings!

When tea towels are in short supply in schools, when donkeys get a winter task, when the story of Jesus’s birth is told and told and told. And acted out with children as narrators, actors and parents gushing, hoping that their precious doesnt forget their lines, and everyone does that cute thing.

And the mythical story of Christmas is sung, interestingly the church celebrated christmas for 300 years without appropriate carols – that might have been fun, now we sing of the stillness of Bethlehem, the meek Jesus, star of wonder, the bleak mid winter, songs that herald and worship Jesus. But is Christmas something that is told, read and sung?

The Story of Jesus is undoubtedly the greatest story ever told, but is it the actual story that is told and how is that actual story meant to be told?

If there are questions provoked by articles that Santa should be banned in churches (John Piper I am looking at you) – then the question is though the forces of commercialism thrive on the retelling of the ‘santa narrative’ which is magical, generous – is it not that the Santa narrative needs reducing, but that the church should revitalise, remythologise and reimagine the incarnation in new dramatic scenes. The church shouldnt worry about how everyone else celebrates Christmas, neither should it worry about analysis the facts of the story ( ie was it in a stable) – the true drama of Christmas is in its ongoing performance.

The question is not how is the Christmas story to be told – it is how is the Jesus story to be lived and acted – made dramatically real, dramatically magical, dramatically generous.

Yes the drama in the Jesus story is about homelessness, displacement, murder, vulnerability and obedience – it is also about a God that speaks, directs and asks tasks of those who will participate – and it was in a particular time, and place, and yet even then to rediscover the essence of the narrative is not to engage the current world in the same story. For it might be the greatest story ever told, it also needs to become the greatest drama to continually participate in. It needs to fuel the imagination in particular spaces – yes in live interactive productions- but Jesus was not consigned to history, yet was historically real. The present ness of God in the world, and yet might not of been poor, was born in reality in a situation of terror and fear.

To live the Christmas story is to re-imagine it in the new context, tell the old old story but in its reality, realise that God spoke and intercepted into human existence, and his drama is of goodness (Baltasar), a drama that will threaten the status quo, it will exist in the side streets and back alleys of the world, it will rest on those who can hear and respond in freedom to the call.

Image result for mary angel

We need not a re-imagining of Christmas for a better telling of it, but a re-imagining that causes a better performance of it.

Do Christians just worship this historical event in Jesus, and profusely thank him for it, – instead of setting out on that same journey themselves? (Rohr on St Francis of Assisi in Eager to love)