On Storms

The sunshine had gone yesterday, a storm hit the barriers of the sea walls of Hartlepool. Waves crashed.

I used to be afraid of storms. But not anymore.

On Storms

Storms are there to help you realise what caused them,

To shift dead air,

To force change

To reveal protection.

To ride,

To use their energy,

To propel.

To change direction,

To cleanse

To uproot

To feel

To feel alive again


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.

Continual Reconstruction

A few of my friends have recently asked me whether I would do a follow up to this piece that i wrote a few years ago: Trying to survive after falling off the evangelical cliff. I think looking back on this piece, and time, part of me was in a place of trying to survive even in the current situation of that time, yet placed significance in some of that as a fall away from aspects of evangelical church, life and culture, theology and boundaries. I was surviving myself.

The piece i think a number of my friends want me to write is on the reconstruction, and to share some of the resources, some of the aspects of my own reconstruction that may in turn help others, just may, because reconstruction will need and take a number of ways, specific to each one of us. A piece on reconstruction. Because, deconstructing does seem popular at the moment, or at least, maybe that’s because I am clocking it, noting it, my own echo chamber is full of it, because it seems its where i am, and have been. But I realised, whilst soaking in the bath last night, that reconstruction is continual. We don’t ever make it, but embrace the path of searching, with its stones, litter and obstacles. Yes there have been for me certain tools and people along the way. So, friends, this isn’t that piece on reconstruction. Yet.

But this, a poem on continual reconstruction. Some of my own, some of others who’ve been desert friends.


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.



A tale of two free pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Hope Inspiring Relationships

For the best part of the last 6 years, I have had this quotation on my desk.

I originally got it when I attended two days training on Mental Health Recovery, run by Perth & Kinross council, and at the time there was alot of free training available.

As a detached youthworker, I have always found validity in learning from other disciplines and thinking as to how people are, whether it is psychology, sociology, and so, to develop an understanding of Mental Health, and its recovery was of valuable insight. It was training attended not just by other professionals, but also persons in recovery.

As a youthworker, there was much in the discussions that was of use. But it was this summary of the kind of relationships that inspire people to have Hope that struck me. And it immediately resonated with the kind of relationships that we, as youthworkers, might seek to have with young people.

I think when working on the streets, it can be difficult to see hope, let alone enable young people who might be drowning the end of their week at school in alcohol to see hope also. Yet, for every conversation might be littered with a sparkle that hope is a possibility.

For, in a way, there is much talked about ‘relationships’ in Youth work ( especially youth ministry), actually, you dont have to go far to find references to ‘building’ relationships as the crux of youth ministry practice. See for example, Pete Ward (1996), Nigel Pimlott (2008) Dean Borgman ( 1999), though some of the relationship talk is criticised by Griffiths (2011) , and Root in revisiting relational youth ministry (2007)  takes another stab at the same sort of subject.

Thinking about relationships has also permeated, though not to the same extent, within the tribe of youthwork, in 1965, Geotschius and Tash (who else) suggested that a relationship is ‘a connection between two people in which some sort of exchange takes place’ , Huw Blacker, in youthwork practice ( Jeffs and Smith) describes how relationships a purposeful, as they share information, they are opportunities to promote learning and are defined predominately by the context that they occur. So different relationships occur between young people and youthworkers depending if they occur in the church, the streets or the school.  What it seems to me, is that Youth Ministry is based upon relationships, but the details of them are lacking- its just ‘what happens’ ,  And youth work provides the details of the relationship and seeks to put it in sociological context.

I think that is why I like this above summary.

All our Youth work & Ministry is about the business of transforming, and to do this we need to inspire young people to Hope, to Dream and to seize possibilities. So, from the streets, to the cafes, to the groups, as youthworkers we dont take lightly the privilege of spending time, and building a positive relationship with a young person. We are probably inspiring hope without realising it. If developing Hopeful relationships is what is needed within mental health recovery, then it is worth developing within core youthwork practice too.

(I am thinking that ‘tolerating uncertainty’ in the future is about the short term exploring and improvisation – rather than not having faith or long term certainty)

A previous post on maintaining a hopeful perspective in youth ministry is here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-10b 











Losing Hope in Youth Ministry

Since I gave up hope I feel alot better!

This was a lyric in one of Steve Taylors songs back in the 1980’s. It was christian satire set to music, and performed with flamboyance. More details of his can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Taylor.

The Song itself pokes at the academic education system within the USA, and a humanist belief that a person can achieve and have knowledge of everything, and by doing so is able to feel alot better. The irony is not difficult to find. But this is not a post about irony, neither is it a post about humanism or the education system. I mentioned in my previous article on Drama, that an understanding of the whole christian narrative is important. not just for a young person, the story from creation to eschaton,. Not that each is needed to be explored in depth, but hey why not ( making the gospel meaningful, now theres a slogan to believe in) .  What is important within the drama is that as persons we know our place.  And that place is in the 4th act, heading towards the 5th. In the age of the church, before, and always looking before the final act.

However. What happens when we have or transmit, or dont even teach on the future, or the end times?

The temptation is that there is too much focus on the here and now. The present is wallowed in, and we become our own heroes at the end of the story. The present age is not the end. I rarely hear anything about eschatology in youth ministry, except for the cliche about starting the Bible by reading how the story ends. What i mean is that it rarely informs the resources, the conversations, or becomes key to an understanding of young people, destiny, humanity and above all hope. it barely informs our strategies for ministry if we are concerned about meeting the expectations of funders or marketers. If we give up on eschatology, we have given up on hope.

Kenda Creasy Dean says that Youth Ministry is suffering from ADD, Ascension deficit disorder. Which is a horrific play on words for a diagnosis rife amongst people, but if that kind of wording sells in youth ministry academia.. , regardless of this, the point she makes is that anxiety is rife in churches, in youth groups and in the wider world. This is backed up in the UK even by YFC’s own research recently which i reluctantly reference. Worry is everywhere, and its why helping young people theologise in the crisis moments is significant. However, what Dean also suggests is that young people have an over realised sense of Hope (Dean is writing in pre-trump context in the USA- worth remembering). Some of them are extraordinarily hopeful, despite also being in a culture of anxiety. But their hope is found on ‘God seeing them through exams’ or ‘God wont let me down’ – it might be God helping through circumstances at best – most of which is cheerful optimism, that might not last high school, let alone university.

In the same way young people get anxious, so do systems. Most research pieces on Church attendance in the west permeate a narrative that leads to status anxiety. Missiologists in describing the ‘Posts’ or secularism, modernism and christendom permeate a view that there is a new world out there, the times may be a-changing – but anxiety is systematically rife. What happens when systems are anxious? they retract. Investment on risk taking pioneer youthwork is down, investment in the young is reduced, taking risks within the church has been sidelined to ‘proving the worth of the church’.  When survival mechanisms take over, there is reduced capacity for empathy. thus it becomes harder to listen to the voices of the world, less do what isnt risk averse and protectionism, and this at the moment is rife. From fearing the EU, to immigrants, to the world ‘outside’, to fearing the future, fearing change, fearing failure, or embarrassment, or fearing closure.

Giving up talk of the future, is a rallying cry to give up the possibility of long term hope that (young) people might innocently already have, but pressures and fears created by the immediacy of the culture they are in drain it quickly away.  Kenda Dean turns to the construct of age to illustrate how youthfulness and hope and uses Jurgen Moltmans description of future hope to make the point that : ‘It is not that the future belongs to the young.. the future makes us young’. What might make us young is not age but hope. This is what Paulo Freire said:

“The main criterion for evaluating age, youth, and old age cannot be that of the calendar. No one is old just because he or she was born a long time ago or young just because he or she was born a short time ago. People are young much more as a function of how they think of the world, the availability they have for curiously giving themselves to knowledge. The search for knowledge should never make us tired, and the acquisition of it should never make us immobile and satisfied. People are young or old much more as a function of the energy and the hope that they can readily put into starting over, especially if what they have done continues to embody their dream, an ethically valid and politically necessary dream. We are young or old to the extent that we tend to accept change or not as a sign of life, rather than embrace the standstill as a sign of death.

People are young to the extent that they fight to overcome prejudice. A person would be old, even in spite of being only twenty-two, if he or she arrogantly dismissed others and the world. We gradually become old as we unconsciously begin to refuse novelty, with the argument that “in our day things were better”. The best time for the young person of twenty-two or seventy is always that he or she lives in. Only by living time as best as possible can one live it young.

Deeply living the plots presented to us by social experiences and accepting the dramatic nature of reinventing the world and pathways to youth. we grow old if we believe, as we realise the importance of what we have gained in our environment, that it is of our own merit” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the heart, p33-34)

Being Youthful is not about age, then its is about not clinging on to past glories and achievements. Being hopeful isnt not a distant dream, or having the attitude that ‘one day, someone else will rescue us‘. Neither is hopefulness found in knowing  the information about how the story will end. If I understand what performing the doctrine of eschatology might be about, then our task in church ministry and youth ministry is to perform hope. As youthworkers we might , and i hope, see signs of innocent hope in the young people we spend time with,  a church in anxiety needs to become as youthful again. But it is more than that performing hope, as Pope Benedict said:

The christian message was not only informative, but performative. That means: The Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known – it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. the one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of new life

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An example of the recent knit-work from the Hartlepool Yarners.

What enacting hope also means, is a call to improvisation. It is also in the unbridled desire to bring about change by enacting a reality that doesnt exist in the present world. Hartlepool is blessed with its hope enacting subversive knitters who parade their work along fences around the harbour and headland areas. They interject into the present world, colour, humour and bring life.

The knitters have a message of hope, and enact it out. And there are others who are doing the same in other small ways. Young people i know are performing hope in the way they volunteer and raise money for charities as they themselves want to change the world for better for others. The enacters of hope, it seems are not the church, and the church might learn from them. The church is trapped in its own anxiety loop.

Improvisation means to enter the present situation assuming there is a different game to be played in human time than the one being scripted. It is playful, it is hopeful. It is plot changing. Image may contain: outdoor

Since I gave up Hope i feel alot better, of course is ironic. Nothing can be more desperate than a loss of hope. If the transcendant beliefs of old are reducing in their half lives, and people have to make up their own or find their own stories to live by (McAdams, 1997). Finding someone to believe in is rife, the religiosity that now befells political leaders, from Farage to Trump and notably to Corbyn. From left or right, saviours are promising Hope.

To find the resources within the world to cope with the world, in short resilience. Meaning will be found in personal gains, personal goods, the present, in work and busyness, and a whole host of things that might not provide enough to be hopeful when these things start to fade away. Old age is a time when self esteem plummets. Its not just in those who are young. But if the stories that provide meaning are less accepted and told, less enacted and performed in real time. To not be the Hero of the story, should make us less anxious, it is not our job to save the world. Hope is found when we realise our place in the broader story, and that there is an end game that isnt the present game. As Youth Ministers, as church, it is our job to perform acts of hope in it, and to catch on to the hopefulness that young people themselves innocently perform as theologians in their own right. For the rest of us improvising hope might need to be deliberate.

Has youth ministry (and the church) given up on Hope? – and does it feel alot better..?


Kenda Creasy Dean Ascension deficit disorder, in The theological turn in youth Ministry, 2011

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Heart, 1997

Wells, Sam , Improvisation, 2005