The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

It’s Friday, the end of a busy week. Not only has it been a busy week for me that has required me to wear each of the different hat at different points: Chair of Governors, Head of FE, writer, soother of souls, motivator of small humans, Friend, Daughter & Daughter-in-law, Listener, Fixer of broken things, Sleep-bringer, Chief cook, List-maker, Homework-helper, Reader, Family Decision Maker, Time-keeper and Clock-watcher! It’s also been a busy week for my family with my nearly 12yr old finally beginning to take charge of his own homework schedule (but waking up at 7.10am this morning realising he’d missed a piece that needed to be in today!) and my 8yr old getting to grips with what he described as a huge writing task that his class were all doing and he would be expected to complete.

This morning was chaos, not the shouty ‘COME ON GET A MOVE ON’ kind of chaos – not this time anyway! But the kind of chaos brought on by a cocktail of the aforementioned homework crisis, my pain levels shooting up and by the 8yr old’s usual reluctance to going to school ramping up a notch or 3 (he’s still got to complete this written task that was set on Wednesday and it’s making him miserable). We all made it to where we needed to be in time, thank the Lord, but it wasn’t the smooth operation we’ve been working towards (I reckon it goes smoothly once every couple of weeks, if we’re really concentrating and only if I get up at 6.30am, which I really hate doing!).

And now I’m trying to write, my pain levels have subsided thanks to the painkillers I’ve taken and I’m sitting in a local café on the seafront. Both boys and husband are where they should be and I’m quite sure they are all on task and enjoying being with friends and colleagues!

So, I need to focus on the good things: I’ve survived a busy week, the first one for ages that I’ve worked all five days; I live in the most beautiful place in the whole world (OK, maybe I’m biased but I don’t care!); I am a multitasker and I do it well most of the time; I love what I do even when it’s difficult.

I feel hard pressed on every side

but I’m not crushed

I feel pulled to pieces but inside,

inside I know I’m not

~ Lou Fellingham’s ‘Hard Pressed’

Advertisements

2017 New Year’s Honour Role

I’ve been trying to think of a way to sum up the year and after reading a friend’s blog post about New Year Honours I thought I’d try that myself! So here are the people I would reward, in no particular order:

a) My boys: a constant source of joy and frustration, laughter and tears! The older one has just started secondary school and had a tumultuous term – another friend said to me just this morning that it’s such a big shift and we’ve definitely felt that. The younger one has been getting used to life at junior school without his big brother and that has also been a huge shift. They are fabulous and exhausting, and it is a privilege to watch and support them as they grow up.
b) My Husband: I’m very thankful that Jon supports me in all the crazy things I take on! He also helps me to sort stuff out when my brain gets too overwhelmed. In 2017 it was conversation with him that began our journey to moving church and we’ve ended the year in a very different place. There have been challenges to the year, facing them together has made them feel more surmountable.
c) Flossie Hayllar and I have been friends for a LONG time – I have taught both her children as well as been part of the same church for a short time. This year, for the first time, we have begun working together and discovered just how similar we are in many ways! She is a fab woman who has made my year end really well.
d) Julie Smith is another long-standing friend with whom I have begun working this year. In a hilarious job interview with her and Steve (see next person!) interviewing me, I had to explain just how passionate I am about schools work to these two people I’ve known for well over 10 years! It has been a pleasure to work alongside Julie and her team in encouraging girls to overcome some huge obstacles in their lives.
e) Steve Blundell, leader of Mosaic Church and another long-time friend. One of the most surprising ventures of this year has seen us change churches for the third time in three years. Steve has been amazingly gracious and encouraging of the process of finding somewhere we could all flourish when it would have been easier for him to try to persuade us to stay or to walk away from the conversation.
f) Sam Richards is the main reason why I have the job I am now doing! Sam recommended me to take on the Head of FE Studies position I have now, after she and I worked together for only a few months. She has encouraged and cheered me on professionally and I am amazed by where I find myself today!
g) James Fawcett works for Concrete Youth and as such facilitates Think Tanks on a wide range of subjects around working with young people. Another role I have had this year has been to administrate and lead the Think Tank on Young People and Mental Health which has had a huge impact on my thinking. James is something of a legend within the Think Tanks: always fostering positivity, always inspiring connections and always looking for where God is working.
h) Rachel Crowe who is the best friend anyone could ask for. There are so many things I could say about Rach, but I’ll settle for just this one: I am so very thankful that she arrived in my life more than 10 years ago and has refused to leave!
i) Lou Funnell has inspired and stretched me to think outside the box this year! We need to Skype again soon.
j) Family: a bit of a cheat to lump all my family into one but I know that both my parents and my Mum-in-Law are invaluable to us as a family. They also cheer us on and support us in so many ways it’s impossible to count: Child care, washing, encouraging, dinners, cleaning and tidying, cups of tea and/or coffee, holidays… on and on the list goes! And of course my sister, brother-in-law and niece all deserve an honour too, for being completely fabulous.

There will be more that I have left out, because that is the nature of these things! But to these and many others I have spoken with, prayed with and for, to those who have challenged me and supported me this year I thank you; from the bottom of my heart I thank you!

Children’s Ministry training

As a life long Youth Worker I have not often given too much thought to children’s ministry. I know, it’s almost shameful to admit! My interest in it began, as with many others, when I had my own children and began to look around at what my children were being taught in Sunday School and other settings in church. I put a lot of effort into encouraging my children to engage with the Bible and worship in church and at home, with varying degrees of success!

This summer I took on the leadership of the Further Education Department of CYM, a national provider of Youth and Children’s Ministry training at a variety of levels. My jurisdiction is Level 3 and below and one of the brilliant courses we offer is Equip Children’s Ministry. The course focuses on the Playwork Principles and emphasises just how children find God through playing. I had the opportunity to assess work and meet some of the students and I was blown away by their commitment to helping children, from the very littlest up, to engage with faith and God. The work these students were doing, or had done made me almost envious that my children had not had this kind of opportunities when they were very small.

So, I recommend this course for anyone who is working with children in a faith-based context, whether you are paid to do this work or work as a volunteer.

Find more details here

Or email FE.Admin@cym.ac.uk or cymoffice@bristol-baptist.ac.uk

Be quick! Deadline for applications is rapidly approaching.

Advent – darkness to light

My favourite Christmas Bible verse is ‘Those walking in darkness have seen a great light’ Isaiah 9:2 I use it on my own Christmas cards, it captures something very profound about the Christmas message for me. But I’d not thought about the relevance or applied this to the period of Advent, until I read about Lucy in Unearthly Beauty by Magadalen Smith.

For us in the northern hemisphere it’s the darkest time of year, and is characterised by a deep sense of waiting, & watching: in darkness, perhaps as much metaphorically as literally. We become people of the darkness, going about our usual business despite the night which descends and engulfs us; as people of faith we remember and relive the years of waiting for the Messiah, those dark times of holding onto the hope given by the scriptures but precious little else.

Our darkness though is punctuated by light, the lights that we display in our homes, the light that as people of faith we carry in our hearts, and the light of those cold crisp gloriously sunny winter days when anything seems possible and we remember that this too shall pass. Into our darkness Jesus breaks in, the angels light up the skies, the star guides us to his manger. The hope in our hearts bursts into the knowledge and presence of Jesus the King of Kings, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God.

As we cannot appreciate light without darkness, so we cannot know true hope if we have not known despair. This Christmas may we be people of the watching, waiting darkness, may we live with great anticipation of the Light of the World, the Messiah, he who will turn our sorrows to joy, he who will promise to never leave us nor forsake us.

The full verse from Isaiah 9:2 is this: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”

Amen and Amen

Sanctuary, Justice and the Practice of Sabbath

On Friday I was at the ‘God in the Concrete’ gathering of Think Tanks, this was a gathering of many people who are passionate about changing the world, “with coffee and cake” as one of the presentations put it, for our young people. We were challenged to recognise our power and privilege as mainly white middle class youth workers, not to stop reaching out and fighting injustice but also not to be blind to our own circumstances. We were encouraged to see ourselves as on-the-road theologians: those living, breathing, walking and talking theology right at the coal-face of all the church does and is doing, to fight injustice by loving our young people and really listening to them before being prepared to act with them. We were all stunned to hear theologian Sam Wells articulate so clearly and plainly something many of us have known without giving full credence to ourselves: ‘Being with’ is an important way of working that is gospel orientated. Or in other words, hanging out is modelling salvation. When Christians who work with young people do so by investing time and themselves, that’s where the gold is, that’s where we see lasting fruit, lasting relationships, lasting faith.

Another big encouragement for me was the way that the theme of Sanctuary was embraced and responded to so readily by many of those at the event.

This is the text I read out in our Young People and Mental Health Think Tank presentation:

Historically, places of sanctuary were those where a person could find refuge, acceptance and care for any number of different reasons. They were cities of refuge, and then later, often Monasteries. Still today you can turn up a monastery (there were more of them then than now) and ask for shelter & sanctuary and they will give you what you need. They were used by those in trouble, those with difficult decisions to make, those for whom decisions were being taken that they didn’t want to be a part of. They were places of community, protection and wisdom. Once you had entered the church/monastery building, you were under God’s protection and no one could drag you out until the matter was settled.

In today’s context we want to see the concept of sanctuary being brought back where it has been lost; sanctuary as a temporary place/time where a person takes time out, seeking the wisdom and protection of others, in order to find a solution or way forward from their present position. Young people need the church to be these places and times or even people. Young people who are struggling to find where they fit, to make decisions about their future, to get space to think about the multiple problems they are carrying, to find love and care for them in their anxiety or depression, need rest, refreshing, care, wisdom and protection; they need sanctuary.

Let’s end the loneliness epidemic that is rife amongst many people in our communities both young and old, let’s be active in drawing people in who need sanctuary.

Sanctuary means: A temporary refuge; someone who will speak on your behalf; a physical space or person; to be encircled or cocooned; a place of safety; somewhere calm and peaceful; a shelter from the storm.

It is time to bring the concept of Sanctuary back into our communities, our churches, to our work with young people. In creating Sanctuary space, either in our buildings or in our daily/weekly routines we create time to listen, time to love and support young people. We will discover injustices, we will hear about both low level struggles with mental health issues like loneliness, sadness, anger, or fluctuating self-worth as well as more complex mental health illnesses that are often triggered by trauma or neglect, the latter of which need more than most of us are qualified to deal with. This doesn’t mean we turn these people away, nor do we ask them to leave because they’ve caused too much disruption. Sanctuary, for all its connotations of calm, peace, holiness and solitude, is going to be messy, shouty, sweary and probably very painful but, Jesus was not above washing the dirtiest, messiest of disciples’ feet, why should we expect anything different?

In all this I am not advocating ‘burning out for Jesus’. One delegate at the event brought up the practice of Sabbath and it was as if he was talking directly to me! We cannot operate well, cannot offer true sanctuary without rest, without professional and personal boundaries, without our own sanctuary and Sabbath practices. Operating from a place of rest is something I’m still very much learning how to do, but it is vital to our mental/emotional/spiritual health and well-being.

We need to re-learn how to offer sanctuary, re-embrace the practice of Sabbath and discover how to fight injustice by loving and listening to our young people.

10 Tips for creating a Healthy Youth Ministry

James and I have collaborated on this post about how to create a healthy church-based youth ministry… If you haven’t come across James’ stuff before do go and take a look, he writes all sorts of interesting stuff!

Detached Youthwork - Learning from the Street

For a moment, stop and think about what it is like for a young person in the present day. If reports are to go by, then incidents and reporting of anxiety amongst young people are on the increase, as a result, young people may just have their self protection antenna switched to a firm on. But then again thats the same for most of us adults, for it is usually in our own self protection to avoid situations that are unhealthy, or damaging, if we can help it. In the recent report from the Fuller institute, 1400 churches were interviewed who had kept young people from the age of 14. One of the key findings was that young people stayed when church was a healthy place

Healthy churches are the subject of Peter Scazzeros books, it was also what Rob Bell was talking about on a recent Nomad podcast –…

View original post 961 more words

Managing Expectations: Where Do They Come From?

My friend James wrote this post that made me laugh about the expectations on youth workers and clergy in a management context. So a vicar employs a youth worker and then either s/he becomes their line manager or another member of the staff team does… What happens next? Do read James’ piece about it, if you’ve been in this position you’ll chuckle along!

The question that arose from it was ‘Where do these expectations come from? So I thought I’d reflect on some possible answers.

It’s worth noting that I’ve used the terms ‘youth worker’ and ‘clergy’ in their broadest possible meaning, in the first term I include anyone working with young people in a church context who is being managed by another member of the church staff team. Likewise the term ‘clergy’ refers to anyone leading a church who is responsible for managing a staff team in that context (regardless of whether that is a paid position or not).

One possible answer is that it’s a consequence of the ‘Youth Work Industry’: this behemoth which blows its own trumpet as the solution to the problem of ‘Teenagerhood’. If youth workers set themselves up as the answer then of course expectations will be unrealistic. Clergy expectations may well be from the marketing of the ‘Youth Work Industry’. Dealing with unrealistic expectations is a part of growing up and as far as congregational expectations go, the clergy have it far tougher than the youth worker.

My response to this would be: of course, if a youth worker sets themselves up as THE answer to the problem of the lack of young people in the church then they will be setting themselves up for some very unrealistic expectations of their own making under which they will be crushed. That’s quite a big IF though, do you know any youth workers who have suggested that what they are doing is THE answer to discipling young people and keeping them in the church? In fact, do you know any long-term youth workers who say anything other than their part is just a small piece of a much larger picture that includes how the church perceives young people, what their parents’ faith is like among other influential factors?

It’s also true that clergy expectations may stem from the marketing of the youth work industry. But that statement in itself shows us where the problem lies: the word ‘marketing’. Since when has anything actually lived up to the expectations of the advertising? James’ blog post has a graphic which compares the marketing picture of a burger to the reality of what you are served in a fast food restaurant and that’s definitely what’s happening in this statement. My parents (and my business degree!) taught me to analyse adverts, to ask myself whether what they were promising was a) likely b) really desirable! Even now I often shout at the adverts: ‘Oh yes, if you smell like that women will fall at your feet, of course they will’. OK so we might say that it’s the fault of the advertisers for making promises they can’t keep, or we do as my parents did and say let’s manage our own expectations around what wearing a certain fragrance/dress/hair colour etc might actually be able to do for us. Honestly, any clergy who really thinks employing a youth worker will be THE answer to the problem of how to keep young people in the church is fooling himself (he might also be fooling his congregation, which is an even bigger problem!).

Not only have I worked with young people for the past 20 years but I also come from youth worker stock: My Dad was a youth worker in the 70’s & 80’s and the ministers/diaconate who were his line management (such as it was) had crazy expectations around pay, so much so that Dad had to take another job for a while, until this became common knowledge and he was visited by a member of the committee to whom he was expected to explain himself. They gave him a raise.

I do wonder whether we are beginning to realise that it’s more widespread than we had previously thought. Neither is it only a problem in the church, although I do think that the long hours and peculiar working conditions usually undertaken by both clergy and youth workers exacerbates the problem (you work and worship in the same community; you have young people in your group whose parents are on the PCC/diaconate/leadership who have a direct influence on your position, or your friends might be in those positions; you can’t complain about your boss to your life group or prayer triplet; and on it goes). But we also go into marriages, jobs, friendships, churches with a set of expectations, often very unhelpful!

The fact that this isn’t only the preserve of the church I think points to the setting of unrealistic expectations being part of the human condition. You don’t have to look very far to find that much of what makes life the way it is comes down to managing either your own or other people’s expectations. And perhaps it’s that which presents an intriguing angle: we all put expectations on ourselves, and often these are MUCH more unrealistic than anything other people try to place on us!

Of course in our humanity we do tend to see everything centred around ourselves including what we might expect the church to do for me; what we might expect the youth worker to do for me and my family; also the expectations we place on ourselves as youth workers (or clergy, or parents, or human beings!) might cripple us just as much as anything else, but this is not kingdom-minded. As members of the church and followers of Jesus we all need to take responsibility for not placing these expectations on anyone, be they clergy or youth workers or life group leaders, or ourselves.

I’ll leave the last word to my Dad, who knows a thing or two about the life of a youth worker in a church:

Anyone given responsibility for any part of church life needs to develop a relationship with Minister/congregation/parents, this is especially crucial for youth workers, so the problem of ‘teenagerhood’ is seen as a whole church challenge. In supporting our youth workers we need to encourage them and pray for them not hold their feet to the fire because they have missed our expectations of them.

Ultimately, unrealistic expectations can only be countered by the whole church taking responsibility for all its flock, whether young or old, rich or poor.  There needs to be a realisation that we are in this together and not hiving off parts of the church family to ‘professional experts’.