if you want to pioneer Set your face like flint

I work with the wonderful Carolyn Dykes who has been pioneering the Network Youth Church across Cumbria. NYC is a fantastic initiative, it was way ahead of the curve, and has been trying to develop a more ecclesiological rooted model of youth work practice across the diocese for the last 7 years. Pioneers find new routes and pathways, and with the archdeacon Kevin, Carolyn has been pioneering within the structure of the established church, to create space on the ground for new forms of church with young people. In many ways she has had the hardest task of all pioneers, working within the system, and if I did #wonderfulwednesdays like my friend Gemma, Carolyn, Kevin and NYC would definitely be up there for a post.

As I said before, I often encounter people doing great stuff on the ground, but who are too close to it see how good it is. In this quiet corner of the North West I think I have uncovered a real gem in NYC. There is still a long way to go if we are to really embed a fresh approach to mission and ecclesiology, and I am really looking forward to helping NYC move forward into a new phase, but Carolyns vision and drive has been really pioneering, and I suspect really hard work! So here are a few of the things I have already gleaned as I have come alongside NYC:
– Embedding a radical approach into diocesan structures is hard work but it can be done!!! Amen can i get an amen!!!
– Holding the ecclesiological model is difficult but direct lines through the structure to episcopal oversight can be found
– even when senior leadership get it, the local context might not, so relationships and trust needs to be won and systems and permission from above can help
– The structure can help, but can become a problem, hold the values and be flexible, if good stuff happens on the ground you already some structures in place.
– The gravitational pull of traditional approaches to mission and ecclesiology is almost a cultural embedded phenomena it is strong and can easily lead to mission drift, but perhaps the structure can help act as a corrective to shift the culture towards re-imagination.

Could the 16 year old me survive today?

I wept this morning. I cried for young people who have been have been vicitimised, marginalised and oppressed by the governments response to the recession of cutting services, I cried with the young people who will continue to be the ones who suffer most as we enter economic recovery which the government wants to promote with further cuts. The latest government proposals on young people, demonstrate a society that has lost its way, a society of selfishness, greed and power.

I wept this morning as friends responded to my post on facebook about my own situation as a NEET (not in employment, education or training) 16 year old. I left home, not willingly, not out of choice but out of necessity after my father who had been sober for 5 years started to drink again. My sister helped, the state helped, I was not stigmatized, I had time to get my head together, I had time to start to find out who I really was, out of the shadow of my father, I survived, I flourished. As I write the tears start again for the young people I met this week on the streets who do not have the same opportunity I had, I see them in my minds eye and I am simply distraught at what the future holds if current government plans continue.

Out of the shadows of my childhood, I began to explore my vocation, and pathway into youthwork. Unsurprisingly I left school with no O’levels but at 17 I was accepted to do a further education City and Guilds course in Leisure and Recreation. A course I started late because it took a while to see if I could get a grant and benefit to live and study. I moved onto to do Social Care and an A level, with a student grant and working nights in a printers and the fabulous support of my sisters family who let me live in the caravan in the garden, I began to mature and come to terms with who I was. At 19 I thought I was ready, but quickly realized I needed to go to Uni if I was going to do the youth work stuff properly, and that meant I needed more grant support. At that time automatic vocational grants (the first to go) had been cut and I remember sitting around an appeals table in County Hall in Exeter explaining my case to a panel of 15 adults, and making a simple promise to come back to the county for at least a year once graduated to help other young people.

Two years later, JNC youthwork qualification in hand, I returned to my sisters garden to live in her shed (the caravan was rusted away) and make good the promise I made in County Hall. At 21 I established my first detached youth work project in Devon, I worked part time and received housing benefit that helped make ends meet. I remember the young people I worked with 23 years ago, I remember them coming to the shed (my house) to plan how to establish a youth centre for the area, I recall the youth centre that was built on the basis of these proposals, and I still hear occasional stories from my sister about the work in the town. For those of you who know me, you will be familiar with the rest of my story, my long history with Frontier Youth Trust. My first paid post working and living on a difficult estate in the Midlands as part of YFC,(which incidentally encouraged my dad to shake my hand before I left Devon as he thought I had a proper job!) It was on this estate where I met real need first hand in my neighbors and began to learn what it means to be real community from them. Leaving to work for Worth Unlimited, with a job brief to make it work or close it down, but who now do an amazing job under a great CEO in Tim Evans in so many difficult areas across the country. Then more recently into StreetSpace who now meet over 8000 young people a month on the edge a month. I recall these stories, not to say look at me but to simply ask would the 16 year old me survive today. Asking this simple question causes the tears to return again as I know the answer would be no. Tears of gratefulness to my sister’s family and to the state without who I would not have survived. So the tears of thanks turn to a weeping that flows freely for the 1000s of young people I still hear about as youth worker, who share elements of my story, or far worse circumstances, growing up in a society that has lost its way…

Character and Mode…..

Taff has moved the conversation on via his post here. He is helpful is distinguishing between the Character (eg incarnational relational, etc) and what I would call the Mode (eg youth work, youth ministry) but he calls approach. He suggests that we can indeed drop the Mode/Approach wording and focus on the Character. There is a lot to be said for this distinction between Mode and Character and certainly it is helpful as often the Character is present in lots of other Modes eg Community work, Childrens work.

I do not disagree that we do need a lot more work on the Character aspect generally across all areas of human liberation, and growing a flourishing community. So the Character is very important, BUT for me (Taff disagrees) the Character and Mode are often two sides the same coin and particularly in the case of Youth work . The way in which you approach the Mode could easily undermine the Character, the method and the message must match. The nature and context of working with young people who are in transition, growing, and changing, makes the connection of the Mode and Character vital.

However Taffs the separation of the concepts has been really helpful and I think I will play more the notions of Unfolding habitas as core to the character and how this ends up I am yet to work out.

150 words on Relational Youth Work

As Lori and I have been working on Still Meeting Them Where They’re At as follow up to my first book, I have been tweeting bits around Relational Youth Work. These have met with a bit of a response and exploration about a few relational youth work issues, that need a few more words than the 140 characters twitter allows. So to follow these conversations up I am going to start a conversation here with the first of a series of roughly a 150 word posts on the theme of Relational Youth Work, followed by Richard Davies (Taff) and Nick Shephard and then we will see how it goes.

“To reduce relational youth work to a tool to get YP into church is to miss the heartbeat of the incarnation”. I’ve become increasingly frustrated as people seem to reduce relational youth work to a tool to get young people into ‘church’, an alternative to Alpha, or the latest programme. This is compounded by the growth for outcomes based youthwork in local authorities. Both approaches can too easily undermine the intrinsic value of people, the orientation of the work becomes predicted rather than stemming from the relationship, devaluing both. Valuing humanity naturally leads to a relational approach, which was demonstrated so well by the incarnation, which in turn enables a youth work approach rooted in, emancipatory education, a discovery of equality, joint participation, and empowering of the other towards humanity, that when practiced with integrity takes us beyond the old dichotomies of kingdom and church, youth work and youth ministry etc.

moved into the neighbourhood?

Does anyone have and recent examples of where having a Youth Worker and or community worker living in the community has had a positive impact on the estates?

we are ideally looking for examples of where Housing Associations made properties available for workers who wouldn’t be eligible for their help under normal circumstances, in areas of high social need.

One of our potential projects has access to a house that their housing association is thinking about making available. It would be great if you had any clear evidence base eg reduced crime rates, quotes from councillors, recommendations from associations. We hope to compile a bit of an evidence base and produce a short report that we will make available to others seeking to move into the neighborhood.

A silent auction

In August, a group of young people from Chard will be visiting Romania, to convert a dilapidated cabin (see above) into a village pharmacy. They are traveling with Project Romania (a local charity) to Seica Mare which is twinned with Chard. You can find out more on Project Romania here

To support the project the young people have undertaken a variety of fund raising events, including a sponsored cycle (riding the equivalent of Chard to Romania), a football match, coffee morning and quiz. In the pipeline are a motorbike run, BBQ and community day.

The current fund raising activity is a Silent Auction, and local businesses have been contacted and kindly donated a host of prizes. If you would like to bid on any of amazing items you can download a form here

leave the 1 to be with the 99

It is strange how things pop up again and again, and during the podcast I did with Youthwork Magazine yesterday the story came up of the lost sheep. I have been reflecting for a few days on the story of the good Shepherd after reading it to my daughter who said it makes no sense. The beauty of the upside down kingdom is that shes right, and that is why when did some YW researchof church based youth workers, we found the majority did not feel they were being released into mission.
In the post christian story we find ourselves in, we need to realise that those in churches are working with the minority and it is now not a case of leaving the 99 to go after the one lost sheep, but leaving the one to go and be with 99, and to stay there and be and grow church in the new context.

Social media

Here we identified 4 questions or areas to discuss around Social Media
– Good Practice
– Can social media change the world
– How can encourage YP to use social media in a positive way
– Communication with young people via social media

The feedback was joined up so we will be writing up and revising our policy guidance around it. But if you want to see the pictures of the groups, they are uploaded on facebook.

Our final words of advice from the groups are:

– Should all conversations be recorded on the internet, and if so do we need to relook at all one-2-one work and safeguarding?

– Do viral clips (like KNOY 2012) work because of messages or the medium. To go viral and be engaging it either needs to be authentic or really high production quality – what’s in the middle space

– Power is being recaptured by the powerful in the online space.

Updated policies will be made available to the network soon.

There does not need to be an In(n)

Great chatting yesterday with Ben at Urban Hope. As part of his MA at Kings he was chatting with Pete about Inside Out – Outside In and Outside Out mission. Pete Ward had suggested there always had to be an In. I obviously had not been part of the conversation so am in a bit of a vacuum here but…..
There is only an in if your work is church centred rather than mission centred and much of so called incarnational mission is still hamstringed as it operates on a version of the eccelesiocentric the bridge model, ie youth work as bridge into church. For many relational youth work has become a corrupted tool (often unknowingly), used in place of the youth drop in, or programme or alpha as way to get young people into church (albeit a hipper, more relevant version). This approach is a long way from the kingdom/shalom notions of incarnational missio dei that inspired relational youth ministry. Here there is no in there is only being and becoming, equality, reciprocal, open set, unbounded, redefining and discovering what church can be. It is model of missional church inline what see of the metaphors of what church is in the bible, (see Off the Beaten Track) that collapses the idea of a bridge, to see church emerge, outside out!

The idea of having an in at all in a post christian mission context simply reinforces my last post that we are asking the wrong questions, often have the wrong start point, and how embedded the eccelesiocentric paragdigm is in our structures, thinking and imagination.