Trying To Overflow

The following quotes stood out for me as I have finalised by Engage Module 2 submission.  I know I’m cutting it fine with this one, but life has been a bit mad for the last couple of months.

“…we must also understand that spirituality on the basis of human effort alone, no matter how well-intentioned, will be little more than half-filled people trying to overflow.” (emphasis mine)
Duffy RobbinsThis Way To Youth Ministry: An Introduction To The Adventure

“Spirituality is not the latest fad but the oldest truth. Spirituality, the alert attention we give to a living God and the faithful response we make to him in community, is at the heart of our scriptures and is on display throughout the centuries of Israel and the Church. We have been at this a long time.”

Eugene PetersonSubversive Spirituality

“It would be wonderful if youth ministry were only about those great breakthrough moments of new birth and recommitment. But that is not the story of true spirituality. True spirituality is about miracles of God and pushing hard, pains of labour and moments of wonder, first steps and occasional falls. It is a great work of God, but it doesn’t always look particularly grand.”

Duffy RobbinsThis Way To Youth Ministry: An Introduction To The Adventure

Not so smart – follow-up

Some time ago I posted about trying to write-up my aims and objectives for an exercise for the Engage Course. I said at the time:

As this isn’t a maths exam I won’t be showing you my “working out”, but I will probably publish the final objectives here – if I ever settle on any long enough to type them

Well it’s almost time to submit my work, so I’ve had to type them up and print them out. So here they are, for the sake of completeness:

My overall aim as a Christian working with young people is:

  • To share the love of God and present the Good News of Jesus Christ to young people and challenge them to respond to it.

In order to achieve that aim my objectives are:

  • To be a credible and effective Christian witness as I interact with young people.
  • To value young people, taking them seriously and to develop meaningful relationships with them.
  • To encourage and support young people through the challenges they experience as they develop physically, socially and spiritually.
  • To present young people with the Gospel in a relevant way and encourage them to engage with it, question it, and respond to it.

Feel free to comment (critically or otherwise).

Unfounded Apprehension

We’ve recently had a new youth group making use of the Church Centre on Friday evenings. The group is for young people with learning difficulties/mental handicaps and they have been together for some time, but the leadership has recently changed along with the venue. The management of the group has now been taken on by the CrossLinks Centre, and a new team of group leaders has been assembled and the group is now in full flow.

The week before last was my first opportunity to meet the group. I was very apprehensive, and had little idea of what to expect. Whilst I’ve got plenty of youth work experience from the ages of 8 to 25, I’ve never had the opportunity to work with young people with learning difficulties. My apprehension wasn’t eased by the fact that all three staff on duty that night were first-timers with this group (not ideal – but circumstance dictated that’s how it would be).

I arrived early and helped to set-up the table-tennis, table-football, magnetic darts, snooker, stereo and tuck shop. Then before I knew it the group members started to arrive and the introductions began. Within minutes there were 12 new names/faces to remember, 12 new personalities to get to know and 12 very different individuals with different mental/physical/emotional difficulties. Soon the apprehension had disappeared and the fun began.

Some of the young people were very shy, and seemingly happy to stand near the corner of the room alone; others were outgoing and always trying to get the attention of others in the group; some were made good use of the equipment around the hall; others sat listening to music and chatting to each other. In some ways it was just like any other youth group – but obviously there were some very specific challenges to face:

  • Communication
  • Whilst they are all lovely, friendly people and happy to talk, most also have difficulty articulating what they want to say, or difficulty speaking clearly. In time it is possible to tune into each individual and understand what they were saying, but not before frustration on both sides.
  • Attention
  • Each of the group members requires very specific attention. Some require prolonged one-to-one attention, others like to check-in with you frequently. I found it difficult to meet everyone’s needs throughout the evening – whilst giving attention to one member, another two would try to strike up a conversation with me.
  • Affection
  • Most of the group members are incredibly affectionate: to each other, and to the leaders. If there is even a minor disagreement between them, there will be hugs and kisses, and sometimes tears as they make up. When walking around the hall or sitting chatting, it isn’t unusual for someone to hold your hand, put their arm around you, or hold onto your arm. It is completely innocent, and comes naturally to them, but my Child Protection instincts kick-in and I feel uncomfortable.
  • Sexual inquisitiveness
  • The majority are at the age where hormones are raging, and apparently it isn’t unusual for two of them to disapear to the toilets together. It’s important to have eyes in the back of your head and be aware at all times of who is in the room (or more importantly, who isn’t and why).

During the evening one of the girls was upset and it was difficult to understand the problem or to offer her any comfort. We eventually discovered that she had a stomach ache, and so she called home for someone to collect her. Unfortunately they didn’t arrive for about 30 minutes, during which time we had lots of tears and the loudest screaming I’ve ever heard. It was difficult to comfort her, and upsetting to see her in such pain and be unable to help.

Towards the end of the evening one of the boys withdrew from the group and looked upset. I had tried to talk to him but he wasn’t very forthcoming. Eventually he let on that he was upset because he was thinking about his uncle. He said that he had died and it makes him sad because he misses him. I asked him if the memories of his uncle were sad, and the biggest smile took over his face, and he said that they were all happy. We sat talking for a while and he shared stories about their holidays together, Christmas presents, birthday celebrations and the games they used to play. Then we had a quick discussion about life and death and why people die. Although it wasn’t always easy to understand him, we had a good chat, and he seemed to be ok by the end of the evening.

At the moment I’m studying Adolescent Development for the Engage Course, and it struck me during the evening that inspite of their difficulties/handicaps, these young people are all going through more or less the same adolescent process that all young people experience. It may be earlier/later/longer/shorter than usual because of their circumstances, but their bodies are developing in the same ways and their hormones are still rampaging in most cases. They are experiencing the same things, but I guess the challenges are even bigger as they are less able to cope with the changes than most.

By the end of the evening I was sad to see them go. Although the evening was packed with new challenges (not least remembering everyone’s name) I thoroughly enjoyed it. They are a pleasure to be with and I found the whole evening very rewarding.

Last week was “film night” and I was present at the start and end of the evening to set-up and pack away “the technology”. Even though I was only present for about an hour, it was great to be there, and I enjoyed seeing them again. I almost decided to stay for the whole evening (but the lure of badminton was too great). Now I can’t wait until my name appears on the rota again!

Engage: Module Two – Understanding Young People

Can it really be three months since my first Engage Day Conference? It seems like yesterday…

It’s only about 50 miles from home to CYM in Oxford – what could possibly go wrong in 50 miles? Let me tell you. As I started out it was snowing, then as I progressed it turned into heavy rain. Secondly, there are major roadworks on the A34 involving a four mile contraflow system, and of course when there’s an accident in the middle of the contraflow nobody goes anywhere. Then there were gas works on the Ring Road causing slow traffic and further delays.

When I’m driving I’m the most laid back person around. Due to a dodgy incident some years ago, I now never react to the things that seem to wind-up other drivers so much. The only thing that annoys me when driving is knowing that I’m going to be late for something. Anyway, the above factors all conspired to increase my journey time by over an hour – and no matter how well you’ve planned your journey, an increase of an hour usually results in a toilet stop or extreme discomfort. I’ll leave that there…

When I finally arrived at the Park and Ride and boarded the bus I finally had the chance to de-stress and relax for a while. Sadly, when I pressed the button to indicate that I wished to stop the driver didn’t hear it, and drove straight past the St. Clements stop and dropped me off in the City Centre instead. So I finally arrived 40 minutes late (which was 1 hour 10 minutes later than I’d originally planned).

Next time I think I might drive over on Friday night and sleep rough – it’s got to be easier in the long run. Anyway, I had intended to write about the course but once again I’m whittering on about the journey.

Once at CYM I quietly made my way to a seat and settled in quickly and the only thing I’d missed were the introductions to some of the new students. There were some familiar faces present (even if I couldn’t remember all the names) and about six new students too.

During the second module we’ll be studying:

  • adolescence and adolescent development
  • the needs of young people
  • youth culture
  • value systems and worldviews
  • faith development
  • theological approaches to adolescence

The sessions were taught by Sam Richards and although we’d been told to expect a more “academic approach” from Sam than Ben, I have to say that she did very well to make it accessible and interesting. It was a pleasant surprise because most academics I’ve had the “pleasure” of working with liked to hear the sound of their own monotonous voice and so would over-complicate things just so they had the opportunity to talk more.

Once again, the time talking to the other students during the break was particularly interesting. We weren’t discussing the session subject, but rather sharing stories of our groups, events and practices. It was also great hearing the comments from other students during the sessions, particularly the perspective of the African students during the discussion of Youth Culture.

I’ve found module one to be quite interesting, but I think the second module will be more engaging (no pun intended). Specifically, I’m looking forward to the “faith development” section.

Next module is on April 1st – who will be the fool?

Not so smart, apparently…

Back in the days when the typical household only had one TV, and family viewing was encouraged, I used to find myself watching programmes selected by others in my family. With an an older sister and a younger brother, I guess that at least added a little variety to my viewing. I don’t vividly remember any arguments about what we were going to watch, but I do vividly remember some of the programmes. One such “delight” was the Miss World contest. Bear with me here…I promise this won’t turn into a rant about the sexual objectification of women, or bikini styles of the 1960s.

Alongside the semi-naked prancing, wearing too much make-up and a fixed grin, there was an “interview” which was supposed to demonstrate the intelligence of those participating in the contest. One of the questions asked was “if you win the contest, what woudl you like to acheive during your year as Miss World?” Invariably they would respond with something like, “I’d like to find a cure for cancer, bring about world peace an an end to suffering”. I suppose you have to commend them for thinking big if nothing else.

Anyway, back to the real point. As I mentioned earlier I’m currently reflecting on my aims and objectives “as a Christian working with young people” (we can do the whole Youth Ministry vs Youthwork thing another time). I’ve never been great at writing mission statements or setting good objectives, and I recognise that it’s something I need to improve. I think I’m better at feeling these kind of things than expressing them. In my heart I know what I’ve been called to do and I know what I want to achieve – but I struggle when trying to put them on paper. [Don’t worry – I’m not asking you to write them for me.]

I’ve done some reading and made some notes, and then scribbled down a few thoughts and out of that I’m trying to craft four or five objectives. Whilst they “feel” ok as I’m writing them, whenever I try to evaluate them they seem to come up short.

[ As this isn’t a maths exam I won’t be showing you my “working out”, but I will probably publish the final objectives here – if I ever settle on any long enough to type them. ]

I remember being taught that all objectives should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed). I can see how this applies in my professional life to business plans, specific projects and applications, etc., but I’m not sure that you can apply the same method of evaluation to life-goals and long-team objectives.

Here’s one of the objectives I’ve seen expressed recently in relation to Youth Ministry:

to minister to the needs of Young People

How does that measure up using the SMART criteria?

  • Specific? nope, pretty wooly and vague
  • Measurable? nope
  • Achievable? yes, but if you can’t measure it how can you be sure you’ve achieved it?
  • Relevant? yes
  • Timed? nope

So, for the purposes of my own objectives, should I forget the SMART method completely and just express what I feel I’ve been called to do? Obviously I need to ensure that any objectives are theologically sound – otherwise I need to question my calling. Are there any other criteria I should be using? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

In the meantime, some wise words on the subject…

To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” – Anatole France

Good thoughts are no better than good dreams, unless they be executed.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” – Ursula K. LeGuin

Engage: Module One – An Introduction to Christian Youth Work

Last Saturday I attended my first Engage Day Conference at Cowley Road Methodist Church, Oxford. I’d been looking forward to it for months and was just pleased that the day had finally arrived. I didn’t think too much about what to expect – I just went along with an open mind, and open Bible and lots of enthusiasm (cos it told me to in enrolment literature).

The information I received from the Centre for Youth Ministry [CYM] advised taking the Park and Ride into Oxford. I know it sounds like the sensible thing to do – but I like to drive, and much prefer it to taking the bus. So I reluctantly boarded the bus and, as advised the CYM paperwork, I asked the driver to tell me when we arrived at St.Clements. She helpfully said, “no problem – it’s the stop at the corner before the roundabout”. Call me stupid – but when you don’t know the area, how are you supposed to know that there’s a roundabout just round the next corner? I decided not to argue and took my seat.

I sat patiently, looking out of the window and trying to remember the landmarks for future journeys, and waiting for the driver to indicate that we’d arrived at the stop “at the corner before the roundabout”. She remained silent. Thankfully, the lady sitting opposite me on the aisle had overheard my request and pointed out that “erm, I think this is St.Clements”. I thanked her and made my way to the front of the bus. The driver looked at me and acknowledged her oversight by saying, “yes – this is St.Clements”. So I got off the bus and headed off to Cowley Road.

The directions provided were excellent and I found not only the Church at the first attempt, but even the correct door. I was greeted by Simon “thingy” (I’m not good with names) and directed to the main worship/teaching area upstairs. There were a number of chairs set-out in front of a screen and whiteboard, and on some of the chairs were packs of plasticine [shudder]. I grabbed a cup of “black coffee with milk” and introduced myself to some of the other students.

There are 12 people on the course from various parts of the UK (London, Bedford, Southampton & Swansea) and two from Uganda; we represent a number of different denominations (Baptist, Anglican, Seventh Day Adventist and “tambourine bashers”) and have anything between 15 years and six months youth work/ministry experience.

The tutor for the day was Ben Holloway of Oxford Youth Works. He had a friendly and engaging style and encouraged us to make good use of the plasticine. He drew out his life tree, and life map – and revealed that he’s dyslexic – and that when he doesn’t know how to spell a word, he’ll just say the word and draw a squiggle on the board. When he was drawing out his life map he revealed something rather shocking – not the fact that he used to be a professional musician, nor his experiences with pot, but that he’s the same age as me(!). I’d figured he was much older than that (if you ever get to see this – sorry Ben).

Simon explained the admin side of things (poorly – by his own admission) and then Ben explained the Module, the Workbook and the additional requirements. We covered four main areas during the day:

  • What is Christian Youth Work
  • What is Youth Work
  • History of Christian Youth Work
  • Brief History of the Youth Service
  • Applied Theology and Reflection

I found both the teaching, and the time talking to the other students, really useful. I’ve made good progress so far on the workbook and have started some additional reading. I’ve written the first entry in my Course Diary, and am keeping a separate personal journal to aid with my reflection. I’ll be back in Oxford early in the New Year for Module Two.