When Ministries & Organisations close; Can we be better prepared for it?

As the snowdrops begin to open in my garden, and lightness in the day starts to get a bit longer, and the early signs of spring are in the air, there is the sense of promise, the hope for something new. And hope, and waiting and growth are key phrases within Christian ministry and organisations. There is a pining for growth, new growth, revivial is what it used to be called. That something new is awaiting, dawning and ‘moving forward’ are part of this.

But my thoughts this week have been on where I was a year ago, and where I was about 5 years ago also. This time last year, my situation was anything but growth (as in the archived posts on this site for february 2017 will reveal). This time last year I was preparing myself, and preparing staff within a youthwork organisation, and making decisions about it that would put the process in place for its closure. That post on redundancy, closure and failure is hereImage result for closing down

One year on, and i think it needs to be said. There was no preparation for closure, what it would feel like, what i needed to do, what impact it would have on staff morale, spirituality and vocation – or my own. There was no preparation for closure, it doesnt appear in the youth ministry handbook. Theres 10 secret formulas for starting youth ministry, or 10 ways to tell kids about faith, or top themes for theological ministry amongst the urban youth. What there isnt is ‘how to survive when youve had to close someone elses ‘baby’? or ‘where is God when you feel like closing is whats needed’? . In training for youth ministry, there was none of it, in the writing about youth ministry there is precious little. After all its all about Growth- or desperately avoiding closure.

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But the more I talk to people, the more i realise quite how isolating it has been for others too. And not just isolating but also very common. Yet there is silence on the subject in the seminars, conferences, and blog spaces- mostly. No one wants to talk about closing down. Because no one want to talk about it, no one wants to help others be prepared for it. For some, more than me, it might have been their own project that they had to close – the pioneering ministry- that caught local or national attention, for others they are employed to rescue something – but that something might be beyond rescue , others are deliberately appointed with no idea that closing a ministry is what they may have to do within a short period of time.

Talk of opening, developing and making new things happen is easy to have energy over- but a stark reality also exists that closing ministries is all the more likely and common in the coming weeks and months ahead. It may be that you have never had to stop, close or end a piece of work, but my haunch is that if you have had to, it took a brave decision, to do so, and one made with little support. May be it is why churches and ministries dont like dealing with the honest questions like ; who is this ministry for? and ‘who is it benefiting?’ – it is easier to keep something going, and avoid having to make difficult decisions.

I think we do a disservice to many many good youth workers and ministers by not talking and preparing them for what might be the inevitable closing down. It is all well and good ending to have something new in mind- it softens the blow somewhat, but that doesnt really prepare for the process, both organisationally, personally, professionally and spiritually for the communication, questions, interactions, politics of closing.

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For the theologically minded, the metaphor of death, of closing, is part of the redemption story. Without it, there is no life beyond it. Andrew Root talks about faith being a negation (Faith Formation in a secular age) , faith itself is about a giving up, reduction and potentially a closing. It might be suggested that Jesus tried to prepare for his own death by communicating with the disciples so they knew – but they didnt want to hear. There might a time when you know that the writing is on the wall for a club, group, church or organisation – but that others do not want to hear (or neither might you want to either). There are theological premises for closing, The churches in Revelation report card details why some churches had ‘yellow cards’ and warnings that could affect their longevity. But even though there remains a distinct possibility of closing, and what could happen to churches – actually talking about practically, and in youth ministry practice is rare.

So, if you’re about to go into youth ministry, about to start a ministry through ordination – there might be little talk in the way of closing and ending a ministry. Maybe it not something you will ever have to do. It is fair to say that if you’re in the voluntary sector, and relying on funding, or volunteers from churches, or donations – then there may come a point where this might be a reality.

A Year on, and I begin to realise the effect of all this. I realise that it causes me not to want to have to close something down again – so fearing starting something new that i have responsibility for, losing confidence in my own strategic thinking, or in wanting to let young people down. Not things i thought of at the time. And what of me spiritually, or psychologically – or the others who were part of the organisation. It could be that we become hardened with tighter resolve for next time. It could be that some have found a space to be in ministry elsewhere, or that it confirmed for others that youth ministry and its politics and the management of it wasnt for them. It might be said that when one door shuts, another opens.

When it comes to the psychological or spiritual effects of closing or ending ministries – what might be done to help prepare others. For one we need to talk about it. Why not have seminars or sessions at conferences on it, or talk about it more.

If there is Drama in the Christian life – then the tragic and comic may occur simultaneously- the tragic of others might be easy too deal with – to stand alongside anothers pain, their loss and grief – it might be our calling to do so and be pastoral (and im thinking of a funeral here) – but that drama of christian ministry may also include the tragedy and ending of ministries to which we are responsible, or part of. Fortunately in the drama, God is still the key actor, fortunately there overall drama is one of redemption, but at times that hoped for redemption in the midst of current situation feels away. But God is no less present – if anything the crisis moment is where God is more likely to reside, if the biblical narrative has anything to say. It is not the proud, but the humble who are lifted up.

Being prepared for closure, a year on I realise quite how much I wasnt prepared for this at all. I was even doing an MA in managing youthwork – and closure was barely mentioned in the module! But barely was better than none. A year on i realise that many others have the same kind of unprepared alienating experience, and are disorientated in ministry because of it. Ill happily have a conversation with you about it, or talk to emerging leaders about what this can all be like, the one reality in ministry no one wants to talk about. Lets talk about it more.

In Youth Ministry: we need to talk about post-Job recovery.

There is no easy way to talk about this. The culmination of the lack of longevity in youth ministry positions in churches (usually about 3 years), funding shortages in the public sector, the competition for funding in the voluntary sector and even the shortage of funding in voluntary denomination projects, and all the other reasons why a youth work might leave a post (see http://wp.me/p2Az40-10B,)

What this boils down to is that there is alot of turnover in the world of youthwork and ministry. And this has a detrimental effect on young people. It also has an effect on youthworkers themselves. 

There is no easy way to talk about this. Because even in situations where ‘leaving well’ has been attempted. It doesnt mean to say that there isnt some kind of recovery needed for a worker beyond a post.

I would like to think that for clergy and Ministers who leave churches, that affiliations and denominations so something to look after their previous incumbents and leaders, even if they left in a negative situation. That there is support offered, guidance or communication.

Would it shock you to realise that there is nothing in place for the out of work youthworker?  So, Not only might the youthworker be responsible for their own career path, they are also responsible for their own ‘in between jobs’ career or personal support. No, thought not.

Having heard about situations where youthworkers are bullied out of roles and jobs, even in churches, this is a shocking realisation. But even when leaving is planned and ordered, it can be difficult, because it is almost so regular, short term contracts (ie 3 years) means that leaving is an inevitability. For all what i hear about developing innovative youth ministry in the UK, i hear nothing about the dynamic support for the out of work youth workers. Or, the recovering from previous employment youthworkers.

However, this wasnt meant to be a post on the attack because of a gap in the youth work and ministry scene. Support for the previously employeds. What it was meant to be was a reflection on the recovery often needed afterwards.

Of course the reasons why you might have left a youthwork and ministry post is virtually unique. You may have been in the situation where this has been something of a personal and deliberate choice, to move to something different, for reasons of pay, vocation, location, experience or nature. However on other occasions, when personal choice is lacking in the matter the recovery can be difficult.

In a recent post in the Guardian, an anonymous contributer suggested that because of targets and cuts that they couldnt work for a local council anymore when it came to working with young people, that article is here:  I love working with young people, and that why im leaving the public sector , what this reveals is the tendency, a natural tendency in the recovery process, to swing from one sector to another in the hope that things will be different – the grass is greener tendency. When as many pointed out even in this situation, the clamber for funding in the voluntary sector means that funding and targets exist there too.

Another aspect of Job recovery is the emotional one.  There is pain in leaving. There is pain in thinking of the what ifs. There is pain in thinking about the situations and effect of negative interactions and actual bullying. There is pain in thinking that you might be responsible for causing other people to lose their jobs. There is pain in thinking that young people arent receiving a service or provision. There is also just the pain in leaving people behind, especially if you have been able to develop deep roots in a community. Recovery after a role is an emotional one, even in the best of circumstances.  And thats before the emotional effect on your family in a relocation.

In the best of circumstance, when things go well, the next role might be difficult to match up to. In a situation doesnt go well, then the next role might be hard to want to move into quickly. Fear of the unknown, fear of the same happening again.

There can be a tendency to keep on moving quickly. Especially if financial commitments require this, so not having recovery time at all, but getting stuck into something new, and something new pretty quick. This can be beneficial, it can be therapeutic. But youth work and ministry is an emotional, physical and spiritually demanding role, there will be a knock on somewhere if there are wounds previously. They might uncover themselves as stress or burnout in the next role which might bring them on quicker.

Beyond the ‘sector’ swinging. There is the all out vocation swing. It is not just that you dont want to work for the council, the charity, a church again as a youthworker. It is that you dont want to be a youth worker anymore. Recovering after being a youthworker might bring on questioning about being a youthworker at all. Of course theres always management, academia or teaching to go into… or the graveyard for christian youthworkers, the DYO role ;-). But in all seriousness, the time in recovery from a youth work role can cause serious questioning over continuing in the role at all. Yes this might be no different to other jobs, like teaching or nursing. But even if it is, it doesnt mean to say that it isnt difficult to deal with.

Whats the advice? Surround yourself with people who you can confide in about your work and ministry. Who you involve in talking about the deep stuff and also arent involved in the specifics of one situation. Yes it is the external third party supervisor type person, but it is also other youthwork friends who might also be able to understand what it might be like to have to recover from leaving youthwork and ministry posts, especially when the leaving is challenging or difficult. And get professional help if you find or afford it.

I dont think we talk about Job recovery enough in youth work and ministry. In fact i dont think we talk about job recovery at all. In work we might barely have some support for being there, supervision and networking, but afterwards when we have exited the main stage there are needs of recovery, and also needs to encourage, support and also reassure. It is no trivial thing to leave a post. It is no trivial thing to realise quite the effect of this might be, and usually we might not know it until it happens.

 

Managing in Youth Work: Reflecting Spiritually, Closure and Endings

As I write this it is Saturday afternoon (though not finished until Monday), and I have 1 week left being the Manager of a youth work organisation. The organisation itself is also about to close down during the summer. So if there was anything i would be able to reflect on right now it writing from the midst of the process of managing a personal ending in a role, whilst at the same time also managing the closure of an organisation. Obviously it would be dead easy to write this piece in a few years when things were rosy and I had moved on to bigger, greater or more fruitful youth work opportunities ( though the climate for these is pretty scarce) . But that could be ‘after the event’ hindsight, tainted by new positivity.

So this isnt that, this is writing about closure and endings in the midst of the final few weeks of an organisation and the final week in it for me.

If it was just the youthworker leaving a post, then this is quite common, say goodbye to the young people, parents, church leaders and clergy, or  young people, volunteers, sessional staff, manager and office colleagues (depending on your context) . That is difficult enough, as they stay in the same situation as we as the youth worker move on, for whatever reason. And, not making light of any situation, but it feels different to also be closing down the organisation of which im also managing, (along with the trustees). So i have had the dubious honour this week, because I’m the only person left in the office, to raise the final payment of the salaries and include my own redundancy payment. Its weird, and to others it might be odd. But in a way being a manager in a small organisation has meant just doing everything a little bit, not everything brilliantly, but trying to stay afloat by keeping the show on the road. So paying myself has been the norm (the treasurer has checked the payment- dont worry).

The other thing within small organisations of a few trustees, small managerial group and then projects and face to face workers, is that unless there is large amounts of active involvement from volunteers in the governance, to do admin, or fundraising, or publicity, then paying for this role within an organisation can be a large drain on resources. However, more than that, causing it to be the manager who is responsible for finding funding, through writing grants, communicating to donors and events (if there is resources to do such things), it also means that taking on the responsibility for these, along with the other responsibilities as a manager, comes at a price, the price of what happens when these things dont work out.  In a way assuming the responsibility for finding funding for my own role is one thing, finding funding and being responsible for others is another.

The other things to manage is also the ending.

Or at least, the process of decision making towards the closing time. For on one hand it would be hopeful till the very last day, and hope and pray, beg and plead that funding or resources arrive, so that the work of an organisation can go on, week by week. Is that blind faith? But this is also quite an ongoing stress or pressure, and not really fair on young people in groups and projects. ‘oh by the way we wont be here on monday’ . Of course even with all the spreadsheets, projections and knowledge of funding, making difficult decisions about redundancy, closure and notice is about making judgements based on time, and what is likely. Worry about funding and money can easily set in. My previous post on Hope, talked about status anxiety. This could be common in the youth work organisation, especially those for whom have too many barriers to guarantee funding from one source, or are set up with limited local knowledge or pledges of support. Making a too early decision helps people to plan ahead, to communicate with schools and partners and for employees to get new jobs. Clarity of decision making is crucial. The opposite problem might occur, a decision too far off could encourage resentment, or lack of faith. Or be seen as a ‘business’ decision, not a ‘spiritual one’. In a way, decisions about organisations and management are also about trying to respect the needs and dignity of employees, so that ending isnt a shock, neither is the effect this may have on peoples rents, families or stress. So, its intensely practical, but it is also spiritual.

There wont ever be the right time to begin the process of closing an organisation, making sure it is done with the right information to hand though is important. Assessing how the governance feel about taking risks, or making changes to innovate are key, as is the local support for the work. These are all factors in making decisions to close something.

Either way when this kind of change happens, there can be alot of managing and reacting to the Bees. The must Bees and the Mustn’t bees, the must-be”s like:

You must be excited going to a new job, or

You must be disappointed the way its ending

You must be feeling pretty rotten

That must be tough

or theres the must’nt bees

You mustnt be losing your faith over this

You mustnt be letting this affect your ministry

And what happens, is that people sort of try and read how you might be feeling about changing jobs, the ending of a project, and the upcoming change, without actually giving you chance to say exactly how. Its as if they have an idea already and you have to kind of ‘defend’ or contradict their pre supposed view. And this isnt meant to be harsh, as its natural to do this. But when in the firing line of being in the middle of it all, it can make conversation awkward. Of course, conversational support is better than none. And people can give you a wide berth, especially if they had dreams or plans for something that you were meant to be enabling to happen. Or that wide berth reflects actual lack of support, or them being awkward about not knowing what to say. It could be a difficult conversation remember. And difficult conversations about reality of ministry are hard to find in churches. arent they?  It might be that its easier to keep a distance and think ‘what a shame its happened’ but actually not have ever supported the project or venture. And deep down, we in those projects and ventures know who supports us.

So, this week, its about sorting through the piles of paperwork, its about clearing an office space, its about the final staff meal. Its about clearing the emails, closing down passworded accounts and ending the mobile phone contract. Managing the ending of an organisation, its a tough one as its only a practical task, of difficult monotony.

Someone said to me that it could be a spiritual task. And so where might i go to reflect on this spiritually and within the context of the Biblical drama?

And like a bank holiday monday, there is a therapeutic element to getting rid of the rubbish and boy does admin pile up. There are so many bits of paper with to do lists on…

There are Biblical endings. There is tension is every dramatic scene change. The ending of each age is frought with fear, promise and uncertainty. The 400 years of quiet before Christs arrival, the confusion of the disciples post resurrection, and pre crucifixion. And there are specific endings relating the old age of key people like Moses, Abraham and Joseph.

It is interesting that in Ministry Jesus commands the disciples to shake the dust off their feet whenever theyre not in a place of welcome, and to move on. Now thats not a presumption on a projects part that everyone has to like it, but reading the context and culture and being in receipt of hospitality, especially when a ministry needs it is important. For the disciples sent out, there wasnt an issue about staying, it was to find a place of welcome elsewhere. Don’t over commit in an area, move on and out. Make endings swift. Not sure how that translates in a world of rents and mortgages, of family life, schools.

Of course, all of this doesnt take into account the final ending. As Julian of Norwich said, “Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith… and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time—that ‘all manner [of] thing shall be well.‘or paraphrased; ‘All will be well in the end, and if it is not well its not the end’. The church of SS Andrew and Mary - St Julian of Norwich - geograph.org.uk - 1547398.jpg

And as i said in a previous post on ‘Hope’ – the final act of the whole drama is a hopeful one, it is not the end.

I read this this morning from the common prayer:

 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — ​and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.”

Yes, there is an imperative to end well, and sometimes that is through gritted teeth. Sometimes its to hold back the tears. Sometimes its relief, on other occasions its a mutual reality from both sides that it is time to move on. And so, Managing an ending in Youth work and ministry is hugely specific, obviously. It occurs in the midst of the lives of young people, their parents, a local community, the church leaders and congregation, and involves obviously emotions, relationships and dealing with these. Managing and attending to relationships is tricky and delicate.

A post from the heat of the fire, not that we’re buring down the office, but the heat of the moment of closing and of managing an ending is this piece, one of a number I have written on management and youth work. For the others see the ‘management’ tab in the topics.

 

Make sure you leave well! 

You love your job. You’re a youth worker. You’ve worked in a youth club, with a group of young people, in a school, church or community centre. You built the group from scratch. You developed their interests, met needs, did residential,  helped them paticipate. You’ve given of yourself, your personal emotions, you’ve connected. You’ve developed a project, made it your own.  Maybe that’s your situation. Or part of it. 

But its going to end. 

All that deep satisfaction is ending, because of funding cuts. 

Or poor management

Or a personal grievance. 

Or management issue. 

Specifically it could be that you’ve acted with young people and enabled their voice to be heard, but no one wants to hear it, or that your approach jars with expectations, or that your theology does (so it causes challenges about young people & faith & worship and methods) or that the local community make police complaints about the youth centre. Or that the council want it to close. And so with all or some of this going on, the end of all that good work is pending. And you’re angry. Upset. Feeling lost. Even bereaved and broken because of having to end and say goodbye. (Even if we know not to build connections, giving of ourselves in good youthwork involves emotions).  Ending hurts. 

But then someone, often even the person who is making the decision to close. Ie your manager says those words

Make sure you leave well!

How does leaving well feel when leaving feels a shock or painful? 

There’s no doubt it’s important to do so. For the young peoples sake and especially as they don’t take on responsibility for a person leaving them. And there may be opportunities in the future in the organisation or with the young people. It also shows maturity and professionalism. 

But whether it’s the right thing to do, doesn’t take away how difficult and awkward it can feel and be to do. Of course leaving well is not just what youthworkers have to do or unique to them. What is unique is the nature of the relationship a youthworker has with young people. It is often between the structures and based on a negotiated contract, a personal conversation.  But when it comes to it ending it isn’t often negotiated. The project ends abruptly, or the youthworker is replaced (but that doesn’t matter..well get a new one).. no this is relational work. The relationship is the source of education, of trust and guidance. 

What the youthworker had to do is leave young people well, for they are their primary ‘client’. Not the institution. 

So leaving well, in the case of policy, governance,  funding, injustice, personality clash is hard to do. But that won’t stop people saying

Make sure you leave well

Grrrr… Even if you’re hurting and pained inside. It can feel trite, lacking and sadness that ending is what you have to do. Close up shop. Leave. Stop. 

Managing endings in youth work and ministry are hard to do. From personal and organisational perspectives. Are there 5 tips to help with this, nope. Just leave well. Whatever it takes. Young people will treasure the memories and the investments you made in them. That won’t end. Leave with another memory. That’s all. I’m not sure if longer or shorter notice periods are helpful in youth work. Dragging out endings can be worse. But too quick might be too quick. 

So with gritted teeth and a reminder that in most scenarios it isn’t the young peoples fault that you are leaving. However unjust it might be… 

Just make sure you leave well!