Human goodness through the pandemic, why it shouldn’t have been a surprise:

You, I and the vast majority can give ourselves a significant pat on the back. For the last 10 weeks, in the main, we did what humans do. We respond with kindness, dignity and love in a crisis.

It wasn’t extraordinary kindness, unprecedented community spirit- it is part of our DNA, our make up.An illustration of hands holding hearts

Have a think about the crisis’ that have befallen you and your communities in the past, or present – is kindness rising through it?

And on a global and national scale, catastrophes like tornados, hurricane and a murders bring out the best in people. God, even fraudsters who con people with fake baby disappearances to raise funding know this. (Shannon Matthews)

Its not unusual. Its the norm.

Its so the norm, that it isnt news.

And so what, do you say?

Well… when it comes to not only how the government have handled this, but also, how we do youthwork in the future- how does our view of humanity shape the work we do in a post covid universe?

He wasn’t writing about Covid-19, but Rutger Bregmans book Humankind (2020) has framed the last 10 weeks so very well. I will write a separate review soon, but there will be many reflections over the next few weeks on it.

Its not ususual for humans to react positively in a crisis, but why is this so routinely ignored? – well because it isnt news, its the norm.  Something so normal isnt newsworthy. The one episode where people are scared by teenagers is recalled far quicker than the 8 where they volunteer at local community events. One is shocking and newsworthy. The others, just the norm.

What happened then?

Remember in March, Boris, according to many press sources, delayed lockdown because he didn’t think people would respect the rules of them.


Because, his view of humanity is not one where people are good. Power corrupts the entitled so much, that distance from the ‘real’ world means that they dont see the goodness in others, because they themselves have relied on being manipulative to get where they are. Its no surprise Dominic Cummings had no friends in London.  People who only manipulate others dont have friends. They have business colleagues, or have people to sell to. Power does indeed corrupt.  And im saving that for another piece later this week, first the good.

Johnson and there Tories did not expect you,  or I, to act with the human goodness that we did. According to them ‘we got addicted to furlough’..mmm.. Or, realised that fellow humans were dying, got creative, determined and caring and gave fighting this virus a best shot..for the good of all. Not just ourselves. We didn’t need to love our neighbour, it was natural. for most. It happened in the Blitz, but churchillian Boris forgot this.’

Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain,

Prof Reicher – a member of the scientific pandemic influenza group on behaviours (SPI-B) – said research showed that the reason people observed lockdown was not for themselves but for the community’. (BBC website)

Our goodness was so apparent, a confusing second wave had to be invoked.

Add confusion.

Good people dont make money for the economy, they give to the NHS

They make PPE

and kindness postcards

and you tube quizzes

and fitness videos

They protect

Good people react when they think something is serious and crisis. They don’t watch on, they get involved.

100,000’s of tonnes of food distributed by churches and community groups, every day. Its so normal it doesn’t make news.

Its something more absurd and sensational makes the news. And we read and watch and get afraid. The news isnt good, it mostly describes the shocking and absurd.

We were good, it surprised Johnson.

And good people hated and were sicked by the deceit and entitlement of others as displayed by Cummings, and the entitled protecting of him by the same government. Good people. got. annoyed.

It doesnt surprise those who are close to the action. Human goodness is everywhere if we choose to see it.

As Rutger Bregman says, the reality is that as Humans we are good, friendly and sociable. Thats the reality. It goes against our nature to be bad, wicked or manipulative.

So – what post covid-19? will the Human kindness dry up?

I wonder.. is the new normal one where acts of community spirit and care dry up? no – because they are actually part of our very natures. And they will continue in their 1000, just that no one will hear of it.

The task for youth and community workers is that as a continual positive feedback loop, we have the opportunity to maintain a positive view of humanity in the future. To encourage a human kindness and goodness that is a reality.

Have you noticed how little young people actually get into trouble on the streets?  but the one incident causes reaction and gets detached youth workers there?

Part of the negative view of humanity is projecting a fear that isnt there. We might want to kick back on that. The police do it all the time., and they’re not the only ones.  Did we fear looting after 10 weeks of lockdown? possibly- why?  Because it happened once somewhere, and this made the news?  Can we have a more realistic view of humanity, one this is about human goodness and kindness?

I really hope so.

We are better than that

we are better than the press view of us all

we are better than what many people in power think of us

We are good human people. And we care and love our neighbourhoods – despite so much.

Love really does win. Its already in abundance.

Photos from: Rutger Bregman, 2020, Humankind, Bloomsbury. 

Lets give hugs a chance

Forgive me for a moment, and this is a plea and not a rant or a moan, honestly. But as a I walked around the coast this evening, in Hartlepool, I wanted to say something, to the people of this town, though it applies everywhere. As a write this, there are still less than 40 confirmed deaths of this virus in this town, of over 90,000 people. Those 40 are all one to many, all a tragedy and a loss, to every family affected.
But compared to many places we have such a low rate at the moment, and I hope this isnt because of unknown deaths or testing, but what if we, in this town, can stay the lowest infection rate, stay the town that lost the fewest, that acted in a way that respected each other, each other in the families and friendships we hold so dearly in this town, did the right thing for everyone.

And it is hard to do.

I would love to see and hug my beautiful children, but they now live in a separate house, I may not hug them for months, I have beautiful friends, and I want to share a glass of wine with them, and hug them to, and share life together. I love to travel and see the world, just like all of you. I could do all those things this week or next week or next month, but that might be the last time I do. And I would rather hug and drink wine with my children and friends for every day after all this is over, and I bet you do too.

But for now I have to appreciate everything that is beautiful within walking distance. And yes im fortunate, given the photos to have this view within 30 seconds of walking from my home. But there is other beauty.

I have seen the beauty of the couples walking, people on bikes cycling that have clearly still got years of shed dust on them, the strangers keeping physical distancing, we are all in this together, all making the absolute best of it.  This is not a moan that people arent keeping rules, but a heartfelt plea, that in this town, and maybe yours too, we have an opportunity to act compassionately to everyone, to mean that there are less funerals, less deaths, and more hugs, more drinks in the pub, more exploring, and more love in the future. We, you, and I can all make a difference, and maybe in Hartlepool, we can do this.

Lets give hugs a chance at the end of this.

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:

‘But when did we see you?’ A sermon for poverty Sunday

For those of you who are interested here is a summary of the sermon that I preached this morning at St Aidans Church, Chilton, County Durham, as part of poverty Sunday: (and yes it was a bit longer than 7 minutes)

Good morning all, today we are going to look at poverty, and thank you for inviting me to share with you, I hope to bring to you stories from a variety of perspectives to help us look at poverty.

The first is a short quote from Darren McGarvey, Darren was brought up in Pollok, Glasgow, not quite Easterhouse, but still, an area of Glasgow renowned for significant challenges. In his award winning book, he says the following:

(poverty) ‘Its the belief that the system is rigged against you, and that all attempts to resist or challenge it are futile. That the decisions that affect your life are being taken by a bunch of other people somewhere else who are deliberately trying to conceal things from you. A belief that you are excluded from taking part in the conversation about your own life. This belief is deeply held in many communities and there is a good reason for it. Its true’ (Poverty Safari, p37)

Another quote, Gustavo Gutierrez says the following

Image result for gustavo gutierrez quotes

In our reading today what does Jesus say?

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[f] you were doing it to me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.[g] 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

When we hear any of these words, we may want to ask the questions;

  • What surprises us?
  • What do we notice?
  • Whats going on?
  • What provokes us?
  • What makes us think?.. or
  • Why doesn’t it? if it doesn’t..

So – what might surprise us about this passage? For me, the following

I notice the complaint from those who gathered  who after Jesus made the separation, they said ‘But we didn’t see’ – yet all that was asked by Jesus was to do something – but they didn’t see.  Not seeing is equated with refusing.

What else might we notice in the passage. Something else. Notice the language Jesus uses. He doesn’t say that the poor are out there, some where else. The outside of the walls, ‘the other’ – He says ‘ I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger’. Jesus identifies himself in the poorest, the most vulnerable. He says, when you see the poorest, you see me. When you see, and give, and share, and respect – you give and share and respect me. It makes it the gospel of the weak.

We notice as well that, taking the whole gospel, this is not just about basic human needs, or at least not just the tangiable. Someone hungry and thirsty requires food and water (but how), but also the stranger is felt welcomed. This is about social poverty. As a youth worker, one of the most important things is to always try and talk to the young person who looks like they are on their own, they might be travelling through life on their own, and an opportunity to listen and give them time and space is often most needed.  But I was a stranger – says Jesus. A Stranger, in need of community, a stranger in need of belonging. A stranger, outcast. The whole gospel, its not about fixing, its about dignity. To blind Bartimeaus, Jesus doesnt assume that he just wants to see. Jesus asks the question; ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ – Gives the person dignity, respect, and yes is healed – and yes this healing is so key for that person at that time for their whole being. They make the possibility happen that a person can be fully human, can contribute, can have a say in their future.

It is ‘Poverty Sunday’, and in working for Communities together Durham, we think of poverty in three ways, Poverty of resources, Poverty of relationships and poverty of Identity. Now, poverty of resources might be the easiest to think about – yes its food, water, housing, money, employment and getting access to these things – as well as health care. Poverty of Relationship – is about who we are connected with, the support structures, people, family breakdown – and families do breakdown, thats life it happens, but it is who is around to support, listen and help people through these things. Poverty of Identity.;  I come from Hartlepool, which is a fabulous place to come from, and fortunately it has middlesbrough just down the road to think of itself better than (Ha), and we all have those places, whether its Ferryhill or Gilesgate, Hartlepool or wherever, its as if the ‘Nothing good can come out of Nazareth’, that Jesus heard about himself, has been an identity curse ever since.  But identity is more than town, its being uprooted and having to travel half way across the country as a refugee, its being part of a community or age that is often deriled – like a young person, or someone from the LGBT community. Bullied for being someone, and being true to yourself.

So – we might want to ask ourselves questions? like

what does poverty look like in ____________ ?

What does poverty look like in County Durham?

What is its name?

Poverty could look like a statistic, this might be one way of seeing. Here I have brought copies, you can easily get hold of them, of household population, employment, qualifications of Chilton – but you can do it for anywhere. You can see through the lens of these figures, and you can keep them because i dont need them. Being able to see, doesnt just mean that we read data from surveys. But it is one way.

One of the things the communities together Durham team do, is help churches to see, yes using some data, but also to listen, learn and gather insight into poverty, and then ask the questions, the same as we shared earlier:

  • what surprises us about poverty?
  • What have we learned?
  • what is provoking us?
  • what is really going on?

Because it might not always be the best thing to ‘respond’ by doing something practical – even if there is the urge. A compassionate urge. As a team we try and help churches to realise that there is a difference between a foodbank and a food community meal, where many people serve each other and contribute. There is a difference between a coffee morning and a place of welcome, where people are involved and participate, and not just in receipt of service. And, there is nothing wrong with these things – but how do they provoke us – if the foodbank has been growing in the last 5 years. Yet people are still living in complex poverty – what else hasnt been seen?

The first step is to see –

The second is to reflect and ask questions

Questions we also ask as a team are : How might a response promote human dignity, how might the gifts of the person be utilised, how might this response challenge injustice (as we read in our Isaiah reading) – and where is God in the response?

An additional one – is – how might the response build community – build conversation, build participation and help people be involved – like we read with Darren earlier, be involved in decision making in at least something that is with them. They are not just a user.

As a team, we would love to help you in your responses to poverty, to help you see, and help you reflect on this. Theres leaflets at the back (and for the rest of you theres our website

I then read the story of Lucy’s Flowers, which can be found in Mike Mathers book ‘ Having Nothing, possessing everything’.

after wards; i recounted a little of my experience of hearing, seeing and being alongside a young woman in the town, who shared of her situation, being homeless, and how it wasn’t just money that helped her, but support, time to meditate and have control, and also to feel like she had choice, some self determination.

Poverty is not out there, we need to see. Human dignity and poverty.

For, I was a stranger, I was naked, I was thirsty, I was in prison.

Thank you.

And that was the end of my sermon this morning.



The personal bit – i didnt share – but reflected on in the car on my way home:

But what do I know about poverty.?

I didn’t grow up on a tough estate. I cant write like Darren McGarvey can.

I went to a decent school, in the midlands. The posh bit of it. well, it wasnt bad…

I didn’t have that much of a challenging family life- though not without its issues. So, am I a fraud?

Well maybe its a realisation that at any point, a decision, a moment of conflict things can change. And though i didn’t say it today in the sermon,events that started from one year ago today, meant that i was about to need to rely on needing to stay in a friends house for 6 months with barely any money. I felt alone, confused, broken. As one friend said at the time, my whole life had fallen apart.

One year on, I count as blessings that decision and those times. I realise how friends, and not money, but care, hospitality and dignity supported and rebuilt me, from a pretty dark place.  And yes I did get a new job, underwent counselling, and now have my own new home, and I feel blessed, loved by friends, confident in who i am, at peace, and have gained so much through it all.

I am able to reflect back, and look forward, knowing how blessed i have been, grateful i am. Just one year on and still in the midst. So, poverty isn’t out there. Its so close to each one of us, and decisions I make, we make affect all of this. Sometimes we hide it well. Sometimes we don’t see it, before it hits us. I was a stranger, thirsty and hungry – and so many people gave to me.


Prosecco, Pizza and Pebbles – The FYT movement gathering 2019

The red kites soar overhead in the early hot summer sky. The sound of geese hooting from the lake, the chime of an ice cream van from a distant estate, the creaking sound of the wooden poles of the yurt holding strong in the breeze.

I am just back from the FYT movement gathering held at the same venue as last year’s, the rock UK centre near Stanwick lakes, Northamptonshire. And like last year, 2 stunning days of sunshine.

Every year is different. Yet every year includes copius amounts of love, of community, of conversation, of challenge, creativity and coffee. Cake, chocolate and this year, prosecco also featured, and pizza… Well, why not celebrate 10 years of being the FYT Streetspace community.

Leaders from within shared their stories. Leaders from within shared their learning, leaders from within shared their hopes and dreams, leaders from within led in worship, leaders from within created the culture. That made everyone a leader, everyone a participant, everyone included.




Someone new to the movement, shared the following poem, wild geese, just as the wild geese hooted on the lakes in the distance.  A poem that sums up the weekend, that sums up what the movement is about.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things. (Mary Oliver)

Sessions on developing high participation, sessions on smashing the patriarchy, sessions on developing liminal spirituality, sessions on risk, sessions on discipleship. Sessions in between the conversations. Sessions interrupting the general community. Sessions that brought mental exercise that developed the relationships, that developed the community. Prosecco and pizza set the tone, a camp fire developed it, and ending our time with home made bread, and celebration of the fruits of the community.

Someone who was new to the community shared an emotional poem, someone new to everyone on Friday contributed and felt at home to do so. Prosecco and pizza set the tone, so did the conversations, reality and honesty.

A time to ask the questions – like – what next for pioneering? what next for developing equality? what action can be taken? what might participation look like?

And pebbles that were painted to express who we are, what we contribute and what we think of the community, pebbles that caused us to think of ourselves, and.. i admit i struggled. Struggled to think of what i might contribute, and what i could paint that would make it clear. The inner child that hated art feared making a mess, so i played safe. But that was ok. We all bring ourselves the community, including the parts we dont always find comfortable. And then we hold, or held each other through it.

Its a tribe of hope and healing. A tribe of reflection, question and learning.

A tribe of depth, of reality, of respect. A tribe where humanity is prioritised. A tribe that dreams.

A tribe that inspires, A tribe that pushes, A tribe that risks.

A tribe that walks. A tribe that talks. A tribe that makes. A tribe that creates.

A tribe that doesnt have to be good, but it does love. A tribe that wants young people to head home as we head and be home too.  Wild geese, heading home.

Prosecco, Pizza and Pebbles. The FYT Movement gathering 2019.



Detached youthwork stage 1; Observation

Instead of writing a whole load of stuff on observation. I decided to make a film about it instead. See what you think.

Yes I need help with the technical bits.. but enjoy none the less…

Here it is detached youthwork stage 1 – observation

The stages stuff you’ve seen before. And I go into more in detail in Here be Dragons.

Anyway. Enjoy. Cringe or Laugh..

Are youth ministry books all saying the same thing?

The last 4 books I have read on youth ministry have started sounding like a bit of a

Image result for broken record

or reading them, has been like

Image result for groundhog day

its as if there is nothing new under the sun, or maybe with a twist that:

Image result for nothing new under the sun

Now, it could be that I read the same kind of youth ministry books, and to a large extent that might be true. However, I have also benefited from receiving a number for free, so that i can write reviews of them on this very site. So Nick Shepherd, Naomi Thompson and Chap Clark I am looking at you. But I will also add in this conversation Andy Root as well.

Heres what I mean. The only conversation in town is how to keep young people in churches. It is second to the fact there isnt any in church at all. But lets kind of go with the flow.  See what you think from the quotations below:

Naomi Thompson in her 2018 book ‘Young People and church since 1900’ writes

Young people today view their engagement with organised Christianity as a two-way transaction. They do not wish merely to serve church needs, nor do they expect to be passive consumers in accessing the youth provision on offer.” 

Nick Shepherd in his 2016 book ‘Faith generation; retaining young people and growing the church’ writes

The first area we might consider is the way i which young people move in churches from learners to deciders‘ (p156)

Chap Clark insists that: ‘Sometimes it is not a question of whether students and young people have the ability to serve, but a question of power. Adults have the power. Empowerment is a theological and sociophychological one. We need to transcend participation, and go all out for contribution. A participant is allowed to be with us, a contributor is with us on equal terms, a coworker who is taken seriously‘ (Chap Clark, Adoptive Church, 2018, p146-7)

And from a different angle, Andrew Root suggests that:

Andrew Root in ‘Faith Formation in a Secular age’ (2017) writes that faith in a secular world requires that : “study after study in youth ministry seems to define faith primarily through institutional participation. The youth with faith are those conforming to the youth group through affiliation‘ (p30)  The issue is that faith=conformity.

What all say is that participation is both essential, and yet it is not enough. All four writers identify young peoples decision making, creativity and desire to be part of the proceedings, not just a token gesture. Root and Shepherd also suggest that participating in the church structures really isn’t enough.

Young people want the church to be the place where they can be ministers in the world, and be agents of change in it. Institutional participation isn’t enough, but if this in itself isnt there well.. . Faith is to be Plausible (Shepherd), it is to involve ministry (Root) and it is about developing gifts (Root) in a place where faith can flourish (Clark).

But ultimately. I think they all say the same thing.

Its about identifying young peoples gifting, and created supportive places where young people can use these and decide how they want to minister using them. Its about moving from consumerism to contribution, and giving, or allowing young people to shape the roles they can rise to in the church, and develop faith that is risky, loving, generous and transforming.

Its great when four books say the same. Dont you think…. I mean its not as if youthwork hasnt been about participation for many a decade, has it…

It might be worth checking out this piece, on Youth participation, I wrote in in January last year, and includes Harts ladder on youth participation. ‘What role do young people have in church?’  given that this was a question posed by Danny Breirley in 2003, the same question is still being answered. We know that evidence and research is proving it, so why not any change?

Youth participation – the broken record – well it might be until its fixed…