Category: support life

All the stuff needed to support life – theology, church, youthwork

I can only imagine


I got the opportunity to see the film called “I can only imagine” in a the cinema this week. I can only imagine is a faith film, its entire reason for existing it build up the faith of the viewer. I hadn’t seen many faith films but I was open to see what it was about. It was sold to me as the movie about why the guy had written a famous song. I have watched a number of documentaries which deal with one song or one artistic life, (Glen Campbell: The Rhinestone Cowboy comes to mind), but for this movie I didn’t know the song the film was dealing with.

Watching the movie, the acting was solid, and the story was reasonable. The film felt coherent with moments of comedy and moments of darkness beings solidly balanced. I felt the film was enjoyable without living with me afterwords. It showed relations in families are not easy, and that living without success is a hard slog. As I watched I wondered who is this film for? People who knew the song, was the answer, but this is a limited audience not including me. But it should be me. I knew christian music of the Era. I am inside Christianity and know a wee bit about Christian music of the Era contained in the film, but the film didn’t really affect me.

The problem with a faith film is if I am not asking the question the film answers (why was a song written?), how does the film build up my faith. Any type of testimony speaks of God’s reconciliation, the message that Christianity carries, humans can be reconciled to God, is a good one. The problem was the film wasn’t content with this message. As a bio pic of very successful band detailing a song which sold millions of copies, the film ended with the story of reconciliation with God of the father, the father mending his relationship with his son and then reconciled, his son was successful (writing a song and selling millions of records). That story of sucess does not build up my faith, nor does it speak of how I think of God.

There was a moment in the movie where the father, played by Dennis Quaid, says

“Dreams don’t pay the bills. Nothing good comes from them. All it does is keeping you from knowing what is real”

What is real is being honest about our experience and film details real life well, but it says that worship music is space where we can be real. The film hints at the moment that Contemporary Christian Music stopped being about music which was similar to normal music but had christian lyrics, music as entertainment, (perhaps best exampled in the history of Tooth & Nail Records) to becoming music as worship. The moment where DC Talk, Newsboys and PFR were having records simultaneously released in “normal” shops and also in the “christian music” shops to the moment were the Newsboys were issuing worship records to christian shops only. There is a story to be told around that time, but this film only hints at this issue.

As I watched the movie I wanted it speak more and to explore the story more. Like a trailer I had seen for a small film that mixes up real life, intermingles it with religious life, it seems to say something about faith and real life that was missing. “Parallel Love“.

I was thinking of what it means to struggle outwith the Christian world as a christian artist, the movie that tells the story of Daniel Smith and the Danielson Famile from a while ago.

Danielson: a Family Movie from JL Aronson on Vimeo.
In many ways the faith based film sector does not speak outside of itself. This was this a story well told and solidly acted. But did its target market go outside of faith community, did it even go outside of American Christianity, that is debatable.

So I left the cinema thinking. The film was ok, and if you like the song, the film is something that is decent and tells a story you may be interested in.

How long is enough?

Two recent stories have caused me to consider how long is enough?

1 – “Three years after a sex scandal involving Billy Graham’s grandson Tullian Tchividjian, Fortress Press is bringing his book Jesus + Nothing = Everything back to print.

2 One of Nicola Sturgeon’s new ministers has lost her job before even being confirmed by Parliament over blog posts deemed “offensive and inappropriate”. Gillian Martin, named as a junior education minister on Wednesday, wrote about “hairy knuckled, lipstick-wearing transgender laydees” in a 2007 post.

The forgiveness being given in one story after 3 years contradicts the outcry to the second story. I am not involved with their situation so it is easy for me to forgive, or conversely it is easy to condemn their past action and hold their views as stationary. But I find myself thinking…
How long is long enough to hold people to account?
Can people really change?
Are Christians more likely to give forgiveness?
Is forgiveness given to easily within the Christian community?

Apologies requires two parts, the first person to say “I am sorry” the second person to say “I accept”.
Being the first person to apologise is tough. I do not like that I am human and this means I am changeable and fallible (often). Life changes. I have changed. But I am constantly here. I am not a journey, as that implies my views are always changing and if I do not change then I am not journeying. I am here and have experienced life as best I can. I wondered what I would do in each situation, would I apologise and mean the apology.

It also needs the other, the second person. The other includes whoever was directly affected by these actions. The politician was talking about others in her blog, and the Bookman convinced others that what he was doing was correct. You cannot apologise if you do not know what you are apologising for. Perhaps an apology will make things ok with who they were wronging. Perhaps this represents an acknowledgement that what they did was wrong and a commitment to do the future differently. I don’t know an apology would demonstrate a changed belief, at a basic level by not having affairs or not writing blogs they would demonstrate a change. It is challenging to forgive but it is what I am called to do.

So how long is enough? What do people have to do to be forgiven? Perhaps the third person the in the situation needs thought about. The third person is wider society. We ask both people to hold office (in church and in parliament), we then hold both to an additional standard of behaviour. Where there is abuse of power or the possibility of this behaviour we say “NO” to appointment. We judge the situation and the person as we see fit. We are comfortable with the operation of a public court system where people are tried publicly, although the public most times were not offended against. But the legal system is not as important as social media and the court of public opinion. The both are guilty. Apologies may have been said, but still I judge them. I am uncomfortable with the three years in case one, as I do not think it is long enough. I am also uncomfortable with 11-year-old blogs being used as an example of the politicians views. But this doesn’t tell me anything about the people; it doesn’t tell me whether they have changed, or whether they have unrepentant carried on. I judge them based on the worst part of their existence that we know about. I was criticising Donald Trump recently, when an American youth worker told his story of asking the Trump organisation for help to make a good night for a group of young people. He was asked to Trump tower in New York and surprisingly, ended up meeting with Donald Trump. Come the night and the Trump organisation really did a great job in making the night awesome, going above and beyond for the young people. While I am not a supporter of President Trumps policies or presidential reign, neither was the American youth worker, I am aware that the picture is more complex than I see. Humans act as humans, frustratingly inconsistent.

Films for youth work


On the plane to Australia I had the chance to catch a few films, including the recent film “Sing street“. The film centres on a group of young people being young people in Ireland, during the nineteen eighties.

As I watched this I thought this is a great film. Then I wondered if this would be a great film to use in a youth work setting. I think so, and at the end of the film I started a small list of films that say something about being young that I would show a group of 12-15 year olds.

the list currently is.
Gregory’s Girl 1981
E.T. 1982
The Breakfast club 1985
Clueless 1995
Romeo & Juliet 1996
10 things I hate about you 1999
Ping Pong 2002
Napoleon Dynamite 2004
Pitch Perfect 2012
Sing Street 2016

What should I add or take away?

Is the quality of Youth Ministry generally going down dramatically? 10 questions for Mike Pilvatchi.

Soul Survivor promo

So recently the world of youth ministry, (well the readers of youth work magazine) were rocked by the following bit of an interview with Mike Pilvatchi in the magazine. In answer to the question “What shifts have you noticed among youth workers over the last 25 years?” Mr Pilvatchi who is the leader of Soul Survivor, Watford, and the Soul Survivor week long bible festival summer events, answered…

Generally, the quality of youth workers has gone down dramatically. I love the Anglican Church but lots of our best youth leaders are now getting ordained and I begged the Archbishop – I went and saw him, and asked: “Please could you establish a diaconate for youth leaders?” We’ve just got to raise the profile of that, otherwise it’s like you do youth work for three years until you’ve practiced with the little people and then you do the proper ministry. We’ve got to break that.

Honestly, loads of youth leaders don’t even know what they believe. And they’re petrified of looking at certain issues – especially sex and sexuality. The numbers of youth leaders after we did a series of talks on sex and relationships who said: “Thank you for doing that because we can’t talk about it”. Really? I asked this years’ Soul61s, which is our discipleship year – there are 25 of them and they’re the ones that raised £6,000 each to spend ten months with us so they’re pretty committed – I asked them back in January: “How many of you have never talked about sex and sexuality in your youth group?” Half put their hands up. Half!

Mr Pilvatchi goes on to lament the lack of bible teaching in the early days of Soul Survivior, wishing they had less funny stories, and more bible stories. Concluding with the observation that the church now has a biblically illiterate generation. You can read the interview here. The sense I get is this is a big questions on the end of a promo interview for a book, I am not sure Mr Pilvatchi had time to consider his answers as if this was the subject of the interview. But I think this is an observation which needs to be considered seriously. I wonder if this is true for Scotland, and specifically for the Church of Scotland.

So as I have been involved in youth ministry for 25 years this year (I know I don’t look old enough!), and as this is National Youth Work week 2016,  I thought it would be good to consider this issue a bit more. th achieve this consideration I am writing 3 blog posts on the topic. This is post one entitled – 10 questions for Mike Pilvatchi.

10 questions for Mike Pilvatchi (a series of questions to try and tease out a bit more of what this is all about.)
1 – What is the point of youth ministry?
Looking at the answers in the interview, I am guessing you consider the point of youth ministry is primarily christian education i.e. to teach bible stories and principles to young people. But I think I need to check that assumption with you.

2 – Why do workers move on from youth ministry to ordination?
What are the issues that being a youth worker poses, that becoming a full time Rev. answers? What is stopping quality people from working in youth ministry long term? Have you seen where this is an instinctive move from youth work to work with all people within a congregation, and as such can viewed as an extension of an existing ministry rather than a change from a lesser ministry to proper ministry? What does it mean for a worker who hasn’t been ordained after 25 years?

3 – Would a diaconate solution solve these issues?
Within the Church of Scotland, the diaconate is a small and little known ministry of the church (unless you are a keen observer of such things). Would appointing youth ministry professionals to this ministry status really answer the issues raised by question 2?

4- What needs to be put in place to support and improve youth ministry as a whole?
Not all youth ministry exists within the anglican church, or christian education so while the Diaconate solution may work in that context, the issue raised needs a bigger structural response. With Oasis College in London recently stopping new entries to under & post degree level courses, what new structures are needed to support youth ministry generally?

5 – If the quality of youth workers has gone down dramatically, was it always high or is this a regression to the normal level?
I wasn’t around in the 50’s or 60’s, but I have read some of the literature of the time, I am curious to know if you think the youth ministry of the 60’s was better than the youth ministry of 80’s, and if they were both better than youth ministry in the 00’s, this would establish if this is a steady decline or if the identified decline is an unexpected drop off.

6 – How do you judge quality?
You seem be talking about the quality of person available, (as a youth worker still working within youth ministry for 25 years, I already have a healthy view of my own limited skill set!), then later you lament the practices of the current workers in talking about sex with teenagers or doing bible teaching. I am unclear if you are talking about people or practices primarily, (although I realise they are inherently linked).

7 – What data are you measuring this criteria against?
How do you judge if something is better now than it was a while ago, usually you would look for an evidence base of some sort, so I am also interested to consider what evidence or data sources you would point to when making this judgement about worker quality?

8 – You were invited to comment upon youth workers, what other things do you consider influence youth workers and how would you consider these influencing others have shifted over the last 25 years?
No youth worker is an island, so in thinking about the quality of youth worker, how much strength or affect would you ascribe to developments in parenting, childrens ministry, education policy, theological thinking, the professionalisation of youth ministry, cultural changes, social changes, economic changes, government policy, and other factors that all influence and shape youth ministry?

9 – Sex and sexuality is an interesting focus, why choose it?
Within the church of Scotland, there are ongoing discussions, that have resulted in sex and sexuality being something to discuss very carefully (going so far as to prevent ministers from commenting upon sex and sexuality debates for a period of time.) The Church of Scotland is and has changed its position on this and various ways forward are being discussed and put in place by the CofS nationally. Given this is a live issue where church ideas are/can be controversial, a reticence to lead discussions on the topic would be understandable. Within such a context of whole church review is it fair to consider sex and sexuality as the primary example then of quality youth work?

10 – What shifts within youth ministry have been positive over the last 25 years?
I don’t believe you are inherently negative about youth ministry, what are the good things you have seen as it has developed and changed in the last 25 years?

meeting people. considering #people in #meetings

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Over the last few days, Monday and Tuesday, I have been involved in two similar efforts be two different organisations. Both efforts tried get a similar outcome while using two different processes. The aim of this post is to try and consider both processes and critically engage with them. I am not trying to comment upon the content of both conversations as this is not public information, and it is not my place to reveal that content.

Effort 1 – Format
Effort 1 was on behalf of the Church of Scotland, the effort was to answer the challenge given by General Assembly 2016 to the Mission and Discipleship Council.
Instruct the Council to report to the General Assembly of 2017 its initial outline of a proposed theme(s) for the following five years from 2018 onwards to focus the worship, witness and work of the Church on every level throughout the Church of Scotland’s parishes, congregations and communities.
The process used was to widely invite representative stakeholders from the Church of Scotland to a one-day conference. This conference would enable conversation and an emerging set of themes to answer the challenge.  The conference was well attended (around 50 people) and seemed to have good participation.

The format used was a form of the World Café method. Having read about world cafe as a method within my academic research I was keen to see it in action. At a basic level it is a way to get allow large groups to divide into smaller groups and allow for the group to split up and form new groups regularly. Functionally a volunteer “Host” stays at each table in order to anchor the conversation at that table and allow others to join in and build upon the previous conversation strands.

Effort 1-Reflection
When I say a “form of “above, my brief reading of world cafe had informed me that the world cafe method works with tables of 4 people and 20-minute conversation sessions therefore it should be short and sharp chats. The format we used yesterday was tables of 6 with 50 minute sessions which surprised me as going about 5 people seems a non-negotiable for the world café people.

Our facilitators facilitated us. The facilitating seemed a bit awkward during the introducing to the world café and the presentation of the café etiquette, although I wonder if it was just me, it felt hesitant and unsure, rather than calm, confident and paced. During the introduction section there was a deliberate and conscious repetition of words like “purposeful” I wondered about why this was emphasised, I guessed it was an attempt to emphasise that we as participants had made a participation agreement with ourselves and everyone else in the process, but at the time I heard it as a warning rather than an encouragement to participate

In the conversation groups there were times when I felt they had got too large to keep focused. The questions in section two were too big. The conversation times were too long. In one group there was a couple of times where the conversation seemed to draw to a close naturally or conversely go too far down side alleys. When we came to the third session as a group we started by sitting in silence as trying to sum up the wide ranging conversations all six of us had been party too was overwhelming for all of us. This seemed to have a detaching effect. There was a dissonance between the conversations we had and the way we were attempting to summarise and reflect back.

I had to leave before the final session so I am conscious I have only a broken form of the model to reflect upon. I am not sure it worked well to achieve the aims of the day. I think it did allow for lots of different conversations to happen and I am positive about that although I wonder where these conversations go after the day. I am also hopeful for the results which will come from the day. I left with a feeling of dissonance, of being unsatisfied.

Effort 1 -future development
The facilitators will write up a report which will go the Mission and Discipleship Council. The Mission and Discipleship Council will then report back to General Assembly 2017 on these themes.
This is a reasonably clean method of getting a result with participation and consultation with stakeholders in a defined timescale.

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Effort 2 -format
Effort 2 was in response to an open request from the primary school my children go to. The school sent a letter inviting parents to a consultation upon a set of values for the school. The session was attended by 4 parents who all contributed.

The format was in 2 stages the head teacher introducing the context from a policy and educational background which was motivating this development and the second section was the parents discussing and working on a vision statement for the school and motto, aims and objectives which would support this vision and an initial list of supporting values. This section was unstructured. (I am unsure if a larger attendance would have been handled in a different way.)

Effort 2 -reflection
The slideshow introduction was helpful in clarifying what was wanted as an outcome.

There was a lack of guidance as to how to go about the task of writing vision statement for a school. This was the first consultation in the process and as such we (the parents) didn’t have a guiding foundation to work from. That stumped us for a few minutes, the head teacher waiting with us in the struggling to work out a way forward without imposing or suggesting a method. for a process which was absent. as soon as the group took control to get the job done it was done quickly with agreement and contributions from all. (thankfully amongst us was a parent who had a background in facilitating meetings within large multinational companies. Our wee group flew with skilful facilitation, producing a solid set of answers for the Head teacher to work with.
 
It was notable that half the group had a professional background in business where achieving tasks within timescales is a key skill. This maybe a key skill but I am not sure we got to actually converse about the issues before getting to the task. I felt that was an absence from this effort.

I felt like this had something substantial and that we got something achieved as we walked out the door

Effort 2 -future development

The group asked the head teacher to take forward the future development in a specific way. The head teacher accepted that, and outlined a larger process that would now take place including, a full consultation with all other stakeholders of the school, including a wider internet survey open to all parents, as such the process has a long way to run.  In some ways that is frustrating as our effort maybe amended beyond recognition when actually it is ready to go tomorrow should it be wished. as the facilitator at effort on emphasised “Hold your ideas lightly during this process.”

Curiosity
It has been an interesting two days and the contrast between the methods significant.  One is big and varied and felt too long, the other is small, focused and fast. I really enjoyed the space of effort 1’s big conversations are fabulous, and effort 2’s tightly packed let’s get this done now attitude.

For the positives effort 1 left me with a dissonance between conversation and outputs while effort 2’s brevity and ability to reach a quick conclusion may turn out to be pyrrhic in the long term.

The highly guided form of world café method seemed to not give the outputs the focus it needed while the method of an absence of guidance seems dangerous while the outcome is possibly as important and long lasting as a school vision statement could be. As methods for working with groups to achieve specific outcomes I am not sure I would want to use either of them again in the forms they were presented over the past two days.

I wonder how I will feel about both efforts in May 2017 as the results from both are made public and put into action.

A brief reminder – Youth Ministry and Everyday Life, IASYM Biennial European Conference 2016, Amsterdam #IASYM2016

This is a review of a recent academic conference I attended for researchers in Youth Ministry, (In general Youth Ministry means the way the church works with young people). It is a long read at 2500 words.

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Recently, I attended the Biennial European Conference of the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry (also known as IASYM) in Amsterdam. (Yes, I did buy Tulips for my wife!)

I wanted to get down on paper some stuff from the event for future reference so this is it. apologies to anyone who’s paper or thought I miss represent. My fault for not understanding properly!

Day one
We started in a protestant church on one of Amsterdam’s many canals. It was a magnificent building and location to start from.

We started with a liturgical moment. I am constantly interested by the ecumenical nature of these gatherings. With, Reformed and Catholic and sometimes Eastern branches of Christianity represented in one moment these are always interesting, causing questions of what is normal, acceptable and of worthy. (So far all good). One of my favourite parts was when a friend from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland leaned over and asked “Is this song in Latin?”

Professor Marcel Barnard of the Protestant Theological University, Amsterdam, delivered the first keynote of the conference Youth ministry in Everyday Life. I loved his turn of phrase where he described youth ministry when leaving behind ecclesiastical basis would find itself “nestled in the fault of everyday life.” And he diagnosed the reformed tradition as “noise rather than distinction”. Slightly harsh point, but beautifully made. His main metaphor based around the Netherlands constant fight against being flooded. That means the land needed both protection (in the form of dykes) and also to use the power of the water. A system of simultaneously both resisting and utilising the threat. For Barnard the key point was how do we achieve this balance point, going too far one way or the other cannot adequately deal with the issue, which Barnard tied into youth ministries response to the secularisation of society.

We had two further sessions on the evening of day 1. Tim Leeson had a session on Theological Explorations Around Identity, as Shaped by Popular Culture. In this session Lesson considered society using the mimetic theory of Rene Girard, the concept of the collapse of structure and the overwhelming tyranny of choice leaving us with a society that renders young people into the space of Tillich’s nonbeing. The paper suggested that Popular culture is the new structure, giving a sense of community. For Leeson this analysis led to a radical suggestion that the aim of the youth minister/worker was about personal faith, as they develop their own personal faith they step forward in peace (which is that faith.) This sidesteps youth ministry as a ministry to others as much as it is a ministry to the self. This view has a number of questions attached to it. Not least what does this mean in an era of accountability and measuring outcomes, as youth work (and youth ministry) seeks to professionalise. While it seems strange to deal with the internal private faith of the worker rather than the defensive, public, “its all about the kids.” I like the honesty of this move, I think it can be liberational in terms of refocusing what we do as youth ministry outwit previous touchstones of Christian Education or evangelism. Youth Ministry becomes about living out life in a Godly way and in the way providing more significant care for the young people based on this internal change.

This session was back to back with a session by Dickson Ogidi Lived religion in Christian Youth Ministry: A pragmatic African reflection. Ogidi presented some of his research into youth ministry in Nigeria. The presentation wrestled with a basic disconnect between the identity of person X – who on Sunday is the church going religious leader, involved in teaching the young people at church, and on Monday is a business man whose faith doesn’t impact their life. Ogidi picks up the idea of christian caregiving as a key aspect of lived religion, if this lived caregiving expression is absent from christian youth ministry then the youth ministry is irrelevant to the lives of the young people. (Caregiving is defined as actions which engage with a pragmatic, social meeting of needs of the young person). This picked up on Lesson’s thoughts about the role of the personal faith development of the youth minister. For Ogidi the answer lies in the youth minister making use of reflective practice methods.

These sessions made me think about move to professionalism that Professional Youth Work has made. Both the sessions questioned how youth ministry affects the lives of the youth minister, and suggest that the space for improvement and response is within a coherent professional response to the “ministry” they practice, perhaps this is an echoing of that professionalism move?
While I like the professionalism move, I see danger inherent to this professionalism of youth ministry. One of the key aspects of christian youth ministry is its reliance and strength in volunteerism. Volunteerism does not automatically preclude being professional. Just as being professionalism does not automatically act as an introduction to the cult of the expert, and by default, a learned helplessness of others. I think this stuff is dangerous ground that needs a lot of carful and deliberate actions, but the flip side is that these risks can bring us to a space of an engaged and switched on volunteer base. (I agree with Andrew Root that one of the failures of the reformation was in its lack of ability to bring about its promise of the priesthood of all believers into reality. Instead we got another class of priests.)

Day Two
Started with a form of worship led by one of the students at PthU. It was mostly sung with calls and responses, I really liked that, it was very good.

The morning continued with two sessions, first Anita Cloete spoke about Films as a site of meaning making: A Practical Theological reflection. I found this session hard to engage with. I blame jetlag.

Then onto Mark Montgomery’s session Youth Ministry and the everyday life of church. His session was based on an autobiographic theological reflection and some initial research. Mark questioned if youth ministry is a pillar of the church rather than pioneer of the church? This struck me as important as many early voices in youth work/ youth ministry are now either involved in denominational churches as minister or priest, and/or emerging church as church planters/missional people. Montgomery gave the opinion that Youth Ministry is now the most powerful structure of the church. It is a bold claim, and I am not sure how much I agree with that, but the evidence within the CofE seems persuasive. The session did make me question the role of youth ministry as an ordained ministry within the church. What would an ordained youth ministry look like for the church. Would the church hierarchy accept youth ministry ordination as defensive move to buy a few more years of the existing church power structure (arguably what the Church of Scotland’s Youth Assembly has done for the CofS head office) and if youth ministry ordination was used this way, could it herald a different way of being church? (a move that arguably the Church of Scotland’s Youth Assembly has not achieved, yet.)

Our second Keynote of the conference came from Sarah Dunlop Paradigms for mission: London Youth Ministers, reporting on an AHRC funded research into some London megachurches and social engagement. Interesting study, using missional paradigms to provide analysis of the churches and their way of working. For me the key question was why these massive churches with thousands of members seemed to have such a tough time getting alongside the young people of the local estates, while attracting hundreds of students from around the greater London area to come to their services. This division seemed to be present in all the case studies Dunlop reported on. A lack of young people living geographically close to the church location, and plethora of students and young adults coming in from miles away to church. This session led me to reflect on my experience working in a small church in the west end of Glasgow. Every year various students would come to our church to try it out, they would try the other churches until they found a home in one of the churches utilising a form or worship similar to the case study churches. These churches were deliberately opened geographically very close to the church I worked at, but had a large gathered student congregation based mostly on contemporary worship music.

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In the afternoon we visited 2 churches. One was a church ran by the Sant’Egidio movement in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. Sant’Egidio is a Roman Catholic Public Lay Association which sprung up from a group of young people after Vatican 2 in the late 1960’s. It reminded me a lot of the Salvation Army only with less uniform and much more ornate church furniture. http://www.santegidio.org/ The movement is based on prayer, a welcome for the poor and working for peace.
The second church was a Presbyterian church with possibly the largest glass bowl font thing in the world. It was very big and beautiful, and led to lots of speculation as to how to fill it with water, and how to empty it! We then had a wonder around east Amsterdam, before heading back for our final session for the day.

Stephie the-Mertens presented on The (Theological) Language of Young People and Organizers in New Ecclesial Movements. The presentation looked at how the Franciscans had carefully considered and challenged their own use of theological language within their work with young people. The response to this consideration was carefully and deliberately making small changes which would allow all young people to participate and engage fully with what was going on. Empowering the attending young people to be welcome and invited within the theological language and actions of the weekend. I loved the simplicity of this approach and how it worked. Very simple yet very effective.

A brief child friendly europop interlude.

Day 3
Started with worship which was based on Songs from the Wild Goose Resource Group which was a nice thing, and the use of a singing bowl.

Andrew Root opened the mornings sessions with the third conference keynote, Faith-Formation in a Secular Age. Root took Charles Taylors Secular Age analysis, to question if current youth ministry faith formation programmes, (such as sticky faith and others), are philosophically dealing with the right problem. For Root keeping young people in the church is not the real problem, the real problem is around the plausibility of belief in the first place. This change of problem allows for different questions, and different ways to support faith. This really pivoted some of the themes of the conference. In particular the anxiety of church being a main motivator of Youth Ministry, of Youth Ministry being a supportive block to the power of the church as it exists rather than youth ministry being how the church engages where the everyday lives of young people are, and seeking to join God in the work the Trinity is doing to change things in that space. The value of Christianity is in the rejection of the commodification of young people within the church.

I then went to hear Mark Scanlon speak about Ambiguous Ecclesiology: Exploring the church in conversation with youth leaders, young people and the youth groups they form together. On the way there I passed the venue for Jouko Porkka‘s session Religious Orientation and Prejudice: Does Believing in Christ Enhance Tolerance or Racism? As Mark’s room filled up and people were struggling for seats, I sat there I thought “you know I should go hear Joukka’s paper, he had a small but interesting group of academics in his session”. So I gave my seat to someone else and went to Porkka’s session. The paper provided a glimpse into the confirmation programme of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church. This programme takes in 85% of 15 year olds in Finland, and in part this formed some of the results of the larger research study by the International Network for Research and Development of Confirmation and Christian Youth Work. It was a fascinating session and posed the questions for me around the way the Church of Scotland practices baptism and further the way the church engages with confirmation for Scottish young people. In light of the morning session it was also interesting seeing how confirmation was then followed by a huge drop off of involvement of church life for the confirmation group. Perhaps this is something around a feeling of “now I have faith, I will go live it out.”

František Štěch presented Nova et Vetera! Who are “Youth” in Youth Ministry? Štěch’s paper is a move to work out what “youth” is and place that understanding of youth within a systematic theology framework for research. In practice separating youth from a conception of a time period, bringing youth into a theological workspace where youth is not left behind when you become older, it is still a part of the human being. The question I wanted to ask was if we experience life in this state of being, not becoming, how does this then apply to faith? Should faith be a process of being, rather than becoming in faith? The outworking of the answers to this may change the perceptions that effect the way the church, both in forms of youth workers and hierarchy, deals with young people.

The final session I went to on day three was David Bailey Living amongst the fragments of a coherent theology. Youth ministry, worship and everyday life. Bailey presented some analysis of Christian worship songs based on trying to read the meaning behind the songs. For Bailey there is a disconnect between the songs and ordinary life. More than this, there is a disconnect between the songs theological shorthand and the knowledge of the young people who are singing the songs. In this understanding, the songs act as icons. The young person may not be able to open up whats behind the icon. To solve this Bailey suggests that the role of the youth worker is as storytellers of the story behind the songs. I liked the icon idea as religious icons are also full of fragments of theology should you know where to look. (Although it should be noted Bailey used icon in the smart phone sense rather than the classical religious icon sense.) All through this session I asked myself if this fragmentation is a bad thing? How many people actually practically live with fragments of theology as our everyday understanding of God, and is a coherent systematic theology something to be aimed for? For the young person dealing with all this, I guess it is an issue if the role of youth workers as dialogue partner, (Oi, Youth worker, what’s all this nonsense about?), maybe missing as the worker presumes knowledge from the young person and therefore does not engage deliberately with this task.

icons

 

day four. (yup the last day)
Worship on day 4 was the liturgical moment I didn’t get, but that’s ok.

Reggie Nel gave us the final keynote Everyday life, everyday connections? Theological reflections on a qualitative comparative research project on marginalised youth in South Africa and specific Nordic countries. Nel’s paper challenged youth ministry research to position itself within the stream of youth studies research, developing cross discipline links. For Nel this was already being done by young people, and the research he reported on. The two thoughts which occurred to me during this session were 1 does the church, and by extension youth ministry want to formally contribute to the secularising project which is youth work? (and would youth work represented in youth studies actually allow us too contribute?) 2 Do the churches have the right people in post to represent views at policy level?

The final session of the conference was by Margunn Serigstad Dahle presenting on Worldview Formation and the Disney Universe: A Case Study on Media Engagement in Youth Ministry.
Dahles’ paper outlined the media effects on society and young people, media is dominant and speaks values to young people, and Disney is the prime example of this. The response Dahle favours to this issue is the development of a skill of double listening to these values. Being able to build up the espoused values when they align with the Christian values of the worker and to challenge content when the expoused values challenges the workers’ values. I enjoyed this session Dahle was an excellent presenter. I did feel like Dahle had missed a step and a valuable dialogue partner for the worker and the young person that is provided in the resource of the disney fan community.

It convicted me that I hadn’t tried to convert my master project into an article or two yet. Also I did worry that as we sat a chatted in the discussion afterwards I was coming across as a “know it all” as I answered all the questions of my conversation shoulder buddies, I need to improve at that.

Anyway a good conference which was filled with questions and good sessions.

The Return of youth work. (Social and Economic Value of Youth Work in Scotland Report)

cover Hall Aitken Youthlink Report

YouthLink Scotland yesterday hosted the YouthWork Expo. A day dedicated to “highlight and celebrate the contribution youth work makes to society, individuals and to the realisation of the programme for government”.

The lead claim in the press release is

A new study by Hall Aitken published today has put the value of youth work at around £656 million, with a return of £7 for every £1 of public cash spent

which then featured in several Scottish newspapers including the Herald in Glasgow, The Scotsman in Edinburgh, (see picture below), the national and other news outlets.
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What was striking about this coverage is the certainty with which the claim is made spend £1 of public money and you get the worth of £7 back. I believe there is a value to youth work, but something around the 7 to 1 figure make me curious. How do you get the 7 to 1 figure, and how certain is that number? The reason for asking is that this figure will be significant to securing youth work funding from the Scottish Government in the future.

The quote contained in the report is

The total value of youth work in Scotland is probably at least £656 million – a return of £7 for every £1 of public cash

(Hall Aitken, 2016, p7)
please note – Probably is the key word here, not the at least they put in italics. This claim isn’t solid. Secondly it is primary referring to public spending. Public spending is term used for the cash spent by government so this figure is based on government cash invested in youth work.

How do you get the 7 to 1 number?
You find out how much it money it costs to do youth work in Scotland, add the value of all the volunteering hours across Scotland, multiply this by a SORI number, then divide by the money cost to get your return.

Fortunately YouthLink Scotland has the figures for how much it costs to do youth work in Scotland thanks to research into the youth work spending of Local Government bodies. The youth work budget of local authorities was £35.5million wth an additional 4.73million from external sources. And local authority youth work uses 2683 volunteers delivering 20,077 hours of youth work.
Hall Aitken specify that these figures came from YouthLink but I couldn’t find the documents or figures on the YouthLink website. It is important to note that only 28 of the 32 Scottish local authorities provided information towards this data.

That gives us a total of £40million youth work spend by local authorities.

Next you try to cost the youth work of voluntary youth work organisations across Scotland.
By using the figures from the National Voluntary Youth Work Organisations Scotland report (NVYWOS). We see there are a total of 3551 youth workers in paid and part-time employment, with a support staff of 315, and a total number of youth work volunteers as 73,004 providing 12.8million volunteering hours per year.
– It is important to point out this survey only covers national agencies linked to YouthLink Scotland (YouthLink, 2012, p8), not local independent projects.
– Also not every agency responded. The 73,004 figure for volunteers is from subset of these national agencies. 29/33 respondees (YouthLink, 2012, p5). The 12.8million figure came from 26/33 responds
– Further CLD workers in Scotland were excluded as Youth work not the main focus of the CLD provider that employs them (Hall Aitken, 2016, p41)

There are 3850 paid staff in voluntary organisations. The report assumes 2000 of these employees are FTE (full time equivalent) with an average salary and employment cost total of £25,000

Add this to the local government total and we have a new total of £90million spend on youth work in Scotland.

The Local government spending figure is reasonably solid. I suspect the problem is the voluntary agency staffing figure. It is low in terms of not including any costs associated with accommodation, training or resources for the youth workers. Also I suspect that the figures would be increased by the missing agencies and local governments actually filling out the form and giving the data. Depending which agency or local government body it is that could substantially increase this figure. Also I suspect the spend by local youth agencies (not national agencies) is also significant but not included here.

The Second number you need for this calculation is how many volunteering hours support youth work across Scotland. Looking at the data gathered above that is 12.8million hours annually. In Youth Link Scotland in the NVYWOS values each volunteer hour at £10 so do the sum and you come out with a value of £128million.

The total cost to do Scottish youth work of £218million (£90m + £128m).

I dislike this figure significantly. I like the idea of a replacement costing for insurance purposes, (if all youth workers were stolen today, what would it cost to replace the entirety of youth work from scratch including paying everyone instead of volunteers?), but that replacement value is not the actual cost of youth work in Scotland today. It does not value or reflect the gift that is volunteering. I think it is wrong to say volunteering is a cost based on replacing volunteers with sessional workers. Philosophically if someone gives you a gift, you cannot count it as a cost to you to accept that gift, that just nuts. Yes count the admin, training, supervision costs, but there is doubt that figure comes to £10 per hour of youth work. Add to this ignoring vibrant and significant local youth work projects and agencies from this figure, that is a practical decision, (how do you gather that data easily?) but also a significant omission.

How solid is this £218million number? as a replacement cost for Scottish youth work probable, as an actual cost of Scottish youth work, we are building on sand not rock.

The next figure you need is a SORI number. SORI stands for Social Return on Investment. At a basic level, (my own viewpoint) this is how much money you can say you get back for the money you spend. So how do you find this number, Well you engage in a piece of research based on the SORI research methodology

The key question it asks is “what is the impact of this” rather than “did it meet its goals”. Inputs include cash spend and other resources, with volunteer time being particularly relevant to youth work. The results or outcomes are explored from the perspectives of all stakeholders – including beneficiaries and anyone who could experience negative outcomes (such as the neighbours of a new noisy youth music venue)

Unfortunately Hall Aitken are not able to do this. “This study is too limited to use original research to explore this so we have relied on reviewing existing studies.” To do this Hall Aitken reviewed 20 other SORI studies. They rejected some as not being relevant to Scotland leaving the 11 studies they detail within the report. (Aitken Hall, 2016, p43,) They assess that a study in Sunderland which details a social value return on every pound of youth work spend at £3.56 (Hall Aitken, 2016, p41) and an Irish study which gives an economic return of £2.22 (Hall Aitken, 2016, p41) are particularly relevant to Scotland although the researchers provide no reasoning as to why these studies are relevant to the Scottish youth work context in order to make the comparison.

This gives a SORI number of around £3 to every £1 spent.

This figure is the most troubling. The problems are rooted in the lack of research to find this number. It all hangs on this number. We have to look to YouthLink Scotland and what they commissioned Hall Aitken to do, questioning why was this central piece of the puzzle not researched? This is a significant piece of research, with high level governmental backing, launched at a large conference with newspaper coverage, yet the researches are saying the study is limited and unable to research the actual number for Scottish youth work (Hall Aitken, 2016, p8). Later in the report Hall Aitken start a section by saying,

In a larger scale and better-resourced research programme we would aim to …

If YouthLink Scotland aren’t listening other readers of the report will pick up on this. I guess the number would be in the range specified, but given this document is all about the value of Scottish youth work to the Scottish economy to not have done the research to enable us to know the number seems unhelpful.

We have to use the best guess at 3

The Calculation is
1. you add your actual cost to the volunteer cost
2. multiply this new figure by your SORI number
3. then divide this number by the actual cost number and that’s your figure

(90,000,000 + 128,000,000) x3 = 656,000,000
656,000,000 / 90,000,000 = 7.29 which is rounded down to 7

giving you

The total value of youth work in Scotland is probably at least £656 million – a return of £7 for every £1 of public cash

(Hall Aitken, 2016, p7)

yet leaving us with some problems.
The figures are probables turned into definite by the press release and news coverage. thats inaccurate. I think this is the wrong way to portrait youth work in scotland. If we want to put out a figure which reflects the benefit of youth work in Scotland, we need to research and find the full picture of Scottish youth work. Here we are basing our work on incomplete data from local government and national voluntary agencies then estimating the effects of this incomplete data with an educated guess number. Thats good not enough to turn a probable into a definite.

The costing of the volunteer hours is a significant issue in this number. Turning a benefit someone gives you into a cost is move I am not sure I am comfortable with, philosophically or practically. If the benefits of volunteering are accounted for in the SORI number then it should cancel itself out in both the cost and benefit column. If you remove from both sides this looks a very different calculation.

The headline quote from Hall Aitken and the YouthLink press release counts the whole £90million cost of youth work as public spending (Public means Government spending). How can this be when they specify Local Government funds youth work at £35 million of the £90million? (they fundraise the other £5million from external sources). Why is this 7 to 1 return crouched in public spending language? I don’t think that is accurate, and misrepresents the role of the voluntary agencies and their majority role in Scottish youth work provision.

Sunday Schools and Government Inspections. #politics #religion

Sunday_school_at_the_Baptist_church_which_is_not_on_company_property_and_was_built_by_the_miners._Lejunior,_Harlan..._-_NARA_-_541341

There has been some discussion over the English Department of Education policy for Out-of-school education settings: The policy is part of the UK Governments counter extremism policy. You can read the call for responses to the policy which includes the policy proposal and some questions the Government are wondering about here. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/480133/out_of_school_education_settings_call_for_evidence.pdf

What is this policy about?

That’s a great question. It’s a policy which fits with the UK Governments wider PREVENT strategy, (that’s a policy to tackle terrorism and extremism). As part of that the government is going to “work to reduce the risk that children and young people are exposed to harm and extremist views in out-of-school education settings “ (p6).

Why target out-of –school education situations

Well schools are regulated, and harmful practices are ways to get the school closed or teacher involved barred from working with children and young people, and out-of–school provision is not (p6).

And they are dangerous?

The government is saying OFSTED (the English schools inspection body) and Local Government bodies are making the case that they need to be checked out. Highlighting concerns over the Health & safety of premises, also “There have been reports of unsuitable teaching materials being used, and evidence that no suitability checks are being conducted on staff to ensure children are safe” (p6). The make an example of the so-called Trojan schools in Birmingham, UK.

That sounds Bad. What are unsuitable teaching materials?

While discussing good out-of-school settings they say:

We want these settings to continue to provide children with learning opportunities whilst putting in place a system which enables intervention in those cases where out-of-school settings fail to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. It is right to expect children to be in a safe environment and somewhere which does not teach children views which undermine our fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs (p7).

So an unsuitable teaching material would be something which is undermining our fundamental British values. Democracy, the rule of Law, Individual Liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. Do we get to vote on those fundamentals are the British fundamentals, or are they just decided for us and put into law by the government?

They are decided for us by the government. In a very democratic way which we should respect.

Quite. So okay I think what we do at our thing like Sunday school just about gets through, how does the policy work when and if it comes into practice.

As you are in Scotland and it is a policy for England, you do nothing.

What if I live in England. (this is on the world-wide web, and some people in England could be on the internet).
Two options.
1 – go rogue. (I will refrain from outlining the consequences of this, but suffice to say that would be viewed dimly.)
2 – the government will make a way for you to register your out of school setting.

Every Sunday school setting ?

When referring to out-of-school education settings, we mean any institution providing tuition, training or instruction to children aged under 19 in England that is not a school, college, 16-19 academy or registered childcare provider.

(p6)
So that includes churches Sunday schools.

Hold on all of them? that sounds like the state is going to register all Sunday school style events and all Sunday school style event staff in England.

Not quite

we propose to focus resources on where children receive intensive tuition, instruction or training out-of-school, which are closer in nature to other regulated settings and which potentially have greater impact on children, and might pose a greater risk to children (p10)

further

Intensive Education could be considered anything which entails an individual child attending a setting for more than between 6 to 8 hours a week, bearing in mind that this could be over an hour every day after school or on one or both days of the weekend … [or] might establish themselves to provide ‘intensive’ education but less frequently, or for a fixed period of time, for example during school holidays or in the run up to exams (p10).

(check the first few minutes of this house of lords video where Lord Nash assures Lord Storey that Sunday Schools are anticipated as being under the time limit, as are one-off residential events.)

So closer in nature to a school type education model, and over 8 hours a week per child. Phew, I think I am safe.

Phew indeed.

So whay are people so upset.

Well on Thursday, this man, The head of OFSTED, said that every religious learning setting in England would need to be registered, (at around 11.22 on the video).  This would seem to contradict the Lords comment above. Although this ambiguity is perhaps indicative of the fact this is proposed policy, not enacted yet. If he is right though, the Sunday schools of any church in England would be registered and also could be a target for inspection by OFSTED, the results could be their staff could be barred from working with children or the entire thing shut down. of course OFSTED may also find them to be Outstanding and commend them on their practice.

yes it could be ok I suppose, but I am not sure i like the idea of the government have a register of people who believe things, is there anything we can do about it.

YES – these people want you to write to your MP and ask them calmly and politely to go and listen to the debate in parliament about it. As I live in Scotland and my MP cannot vote in this matter I am not going to write to mine about it.

Ok. But doesn’t it concern you at all?

Not really. The church where I help with youth work is registered with the government as a licence entertainment venue for concerts, and for gift aid already. All leaders with children & youth work are registered through child protection systems with the governments child protection check system. Registering that we have a Sunday school and who the staff are is not really an issue as the government already has access to all that information. Also I think this type of move fits into the ongoing narrative within Scottish youth work of the professionalization of the youth work staff. Youth work staff are encouraged to voluntarily become members of the CLD Standards Council for Scotland.

Where it does raise some issues for me is around how much of the youth work I do within the church which is learning (i.e. similar in nature to school based learning) and secondly How I feel about being externally validated / approved for this work. That is something to think about, not be feared I would guess. What should a Sunday morning event for young people look like in nature and is an educational lens the best way to view this work?

The curious absence of teenage body theology for Christian youth work

BODY PART

It struck me today that there is very little work within christian faith based youth work literature which dealt with the changing bodies of young people. While there is a helpful focus on body image, as youth work which is focused on 12-16 year olds primarily sees the best and worst of body changes for the young people we work with! The absence of considering the changes inherent within a teenage body has a knock on effect for the way we think, consider and write about God, (theology). There has to be some thought and work done on this, as any theology which engages with young people has to be able to reconcile “being made in the image of God” and the seemingly randomness of a voice dropping which radically alters their communication with people. It has to consider the awkward phase where you accidentally knock things over as your limbs are longer than your body remembers, asking how does that inform and help us reflect upon our knowledge of God?

Perhaps someone has done this and I have just missed it, (this is very possible, there are so many words, and so little time!) I know Pope John Paul II had his theology of the body, but I suspect it missed the focus on the change of the body which the teenage life throws significantly in our face. His considerations of the anthropology start with humans created (adult) male and female in the garden of Eden. You could see the loss of innocence after eating the apple, (hold on, we are naked!) as the entirety of puberty, but I think that would be trying too hard to fit it in.

Have you read anything like this? I assume it is out there as someone intelligent will have thought of this before and worked on it?

On “How Will Our Children Have Faith?” a resource from @churchscotland

learn-how-will-our-children-have-faith-lola-flexen
(Click photo to learn more)

On Saturday I had my first read through of the newest of the Learn series of publications from the Church of Scotland, titled “How Will Our Children Have Faith?”.

‘How Will Our Children Have Faith?’ is a short discussion guide which explores the reasons for working with children and young people. It also works through developing a successful model in each local church setting.

It is encouraging churches to stop asking the “How?” questions of children and youth work, instead ask “why?”. What follows are some general and hopefully constructive thoughts and opinions based on my first read through.

General thoughts.

– I am glad this exists. I think a small approachable resource material for youth workers and children workers is necessary within the Church of Scotland and is useful.  It does feel quite small.  The first thing I noticed about the publication was its size. It is a pamphlet, (12pages), as opposed to a booklet, (The booklet on eldership is 72pages). Does the role of working with children and young people on behalf of the church require less exploration than being part of the church management system?

– I wonder why is a pamphlet exploring “why” we do youth work in churches, is titled with a “how” question? I realise that it maybe a reference to Westerhoff’s 1976 book “Will Our Children Have Faith”, one of the classic critiques of Christian education, but this book isn’t referenced or pointed to in anyway.

– This text is for childrens work and youth work specialities, the absence of the voice of the Young People’s Development Worker employed by the Church of Scotland is strange. Likewise there is a lack of young people’s voice.

– There isn’t a lack of resources which deal with children and youth work, yet there is no recommended further reading for any of the sections.

Chapter one is an attempt to get provide a biblical basis to the question why we work with young people written by Barbra McDade of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland.

– I like a lot of what she says. I like the biblical basis of “family” and “body”, questioning of what it means that be a family, to worship inter generationally. I have for years wondered what would change if instead of having family services, we had church for everyone. Family service implies talking down to the level of the children, for the sake of the children. Church for everyone asks very different questions and reveals a very different way of thinking.

– I felt there was a missed opportunities to to examine what it means to become a child of God, McDade refers to this and then doesn’t go anywhere with it, also opening a thought about the practice of baptism, asking deep questions of a denominational sacrament that is primarily, within the Church of Scotland, practiced with young children. Yet this line of thought doesn’t get developed, which is unfortunate as the discussion about the practice of baptism has been recently illuminated by Bård Nordheim’s 2014 book, Practicising Baptism. This issue could have allowed this publication to be sited and engaged within a wider active conversation.

Chapter two suggests that the needs of children and young people can be indentified statistically using the Church of Scotland’s “statistics for mission” data analysis, arguing that statistics should provide a direct link to any work you want to do with YP and children while also ensuring that duplication of services is avoided.

– I like the idea of using the stats to inform mission. But wonder if people will surrender to stats rather than keen observations and local knowledge.

– the text is very short.

Chapter three helps us to consider the importance for reflection, evaluation and wise feedback on current work and future plans, these skills are also useful while establishing what the needs of the children and young people are. This should also be spiritual, including prayer and seeking Gods face.

-I felt the explaination of the importance place that reflection and evaluation inhabits was too short. I would have preferred maybe a briefer introduction, and an expanded guide to the questions provided.

Chapter 4 is a practical chapter providing a way to develop a successful strategy.

– Part 4 is the part I had real trouble with. It seems a bit strange that in trying not to be a “how to guide”, it finishes on a note of “go write a 3 year strategy” and while your there, work out what your training and development needs are. (How do you write a 3 year strategy for a churches youth work? Well, you just write a 3 year strategy for youth work.) There seems a lack of how the “why” corresponds to the concrete “how”.

concluding thoughts

A couple of days after reading I am still glad it has been written. I think this is a useful resource in what it is trying to do and I am looking forward to facilitating conversations within my local church on its points over the next month or so. I think a lot of the strength of this material will be due to the way conversations are facilitated.

(If you want me to come and facilitate the discussions upon this material, drop me a line. and we will see what we can do. scott(at)schlep(dot)co(dot)uk)