Category: church

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.

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.

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

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(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)

A weekly service?

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Do we do church too often?

Recently I was thinking about why I really enjoy concerts. At the Barenaked ladies gig I looked around as a lot for people were singing along with almost every song, from the oldest song to the newest. As I did this I wondered about the whole idea of going to something and wanting to participate. Wanting to partake in something bigger. (there are many better people to read on the links between big concerts/nightclubs and religious experiences than myself, thankfully.)

While thinking about this I wondered about how we learn to cross the road, it is through the small boring repetition of crossing roads everyday with our parents that we learn this skill and it comes naturally. (a practice I am currently going through with my children.) In the context of the concert it is the small daily practices of listening to the CD, nodding, humming, and singing along, which makes these songs something we own and live with. It is a practice of nurturing and embodying what we believe, until when faced with the question what would you do if you had a million dollars?, you answer without missing a beat, “If I had a million dollars, I’d by you a green dress, but not a green dress that’s cruel.” or finish an answer with “…and Hello to Jason Issacs” or whatever embodiment of the daily practice is appropriate.

I wonder if by placing a church service at the centre of the community of faith and then making its rhythm as regular as weekly, we have given permission for the abdication of the personal daily disciplines. The daily practices of bible reading, praying. The Barenaked Ladies come to Glasgow once every 1-2 years and I wonder if part of what makes the yearly concerts good less to do with the skill of the band and are the personal time and discipline put into learning, retaining and embedding the knowledge of in this case the songs. (Again, I don’t want to get caught up in a discussion of are festivals like spring harvest, autumn soul or creation good for the local church better minds have and will discuss this.)

Does church do its congregation a disservice by meeting on a weekly basis? How would the church change if we only met once a quarter? I think i already know that’s not the answer, but I wonder if this is the cause of an issue that needs some thought. I wonder if the regularity of church services have devalued the church event itself. Or I wonder if a weekly church service isn’t enough to get to the level of the boring regular repetition, as within the crossing the road example. I am not sure.

(PS I am pretty sure that Bigger and Better minds than Mine have already tackled this and will have written great books on this issue but that I just haven’t found/read them yet…)

Feedback to my session and questions from others at the celtic IASYM colloquium. #cIASYMc2015

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After my session on Wednesday the group had a wide-ranging 30mins discussion throwing about some of the topics of my talk, here are some of the notes I took of that discussion the session was on play within christian faith-based youth work as resistance to the socioeconomic commodification of young people (or something like that.) A big thank you to everyone who took part in the discussion, I found it very valuable. Anyway here’s the notes –

How and where does youth work discuss outcomes vs outputs?
– resistance – is youth work selling young people?

What is a good life?
– how do we judge what is a successful life for the young people we work with?
– economic view of young people contrasts with a life of purpose and fulfilment.
— How do we teach to young people, when the two agendas seem at odds?
— Within youth work what change do we want?

Could Social Pedagogy be a fruitful avenue for investigation?

Play can be misread as hedonism, buying out of the system, which is ultimately a hollow experience.

What is the difference between productivity and commodification?

Viewing young people with instrumental value vs viewing young people with intrinsic value.

Bringing back sabbath and eucharist to youth work.

Are there Post Christendom readings of the book of Romans that feeds into the topic.

Notes taken by Charis Robertson - thanks Charis
Notes taken by Charis Robertson – thanks Charis

There were 5 other session through out the conference some questions which the other sessions raised for me included –

Do we try to supply a fully formed theology when actually young people live with a fractured, unsystematic theology?

How self-perpetuating is youth ministry, as young people become too old to come as young people they move to planning groups to ensure the event stays true to their memory? (youth ministry as tradition reinforcement).
How do we encourage change in young people’s christian faith experience?

How much youth work is dealing with the issues of the parents & community?

Who are the invisible young people within my context. Where could I learn to see or work with them?

Invest in relationship, create a culture, allow an encounter. (the simple things…)
The ethics of praying for young people and issues of their consent?

How do we tell a good story without controlling it?
How do we ask good questions without controlling the question?
How do we record young people’s movement, growth and change in ways that are significant? (How does this change our relationship with funders?)

Ask volunteers to physically picture what play looks like.

Criticism of Youth Ministry by Christian Youth Work helps to clarifying the difference between the two approaches.
– can this be heard by Youth Ministry or is it too close for comfort?
– does faith need defending? has faith ever been helped by an attack/defence apologetics conversation?

Digitally native needs to be assumed as digitally naive. (just because the stuff is there does not mean we know how to use it well.) Who teaches us this skill or are we left to our own devices, literally?

Thoughts from the Celtic IASYM colloquium. #colloquium

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I went to the inaugural Celtic IASYM colloquium on Wednesday and Thursday this week. It was generally good, and I enjoyed being there, so here are some thoughts on the event.

Venue.
It was held in a halls of residence for students at Belfast’s Queens university. So it was basic accommodation, but that’s fine. It had wi-fi, power and was warm, single rooms with thick enough walls so you cannot hear the person next door is always a bonus. (of course I mean for those who have to sleep in room joining mine, I am not the lightest on my feet!)

Attendance.
Around 20 practitioners from churchy youth work turned up and that was good number of people form a variety of backgrounds, roles and viewpoints. Maybe another 10 would be useful to round it out.

Sessions.
There were six sessions over the two days some were 30/30 sessions, with 30mins presentation and 30 discussion and questions. Others sessions were 60/30 sessions with 1hr presentations and 30mins discussions. A third form of session was 30/30/30 with two 30mins presentations and 30mins discussion. I felt the 30/30 sessions felt sharp.  The 30/30/30 sessions also felt right. Of the two 60/30 sessions one felt very long the other felt a wee bit long. In future I would drop the 60/30 sessions I don’t think the event needed that length of presentation. I thought most of the sessions were good and I thought was caused to reflect on my own practice and youth work as part of being there. There was one presentation I didn’t get a lot from but i don’t know that was as yet.

Session discussions.
The dominant themes in conversation were what is church? Yet I felt there was a significant underlying theme of the space between youth ministry and youth work. There were some dominant figure in discussion, and I think that possibly skewed the chat onto the related topics.

I wonder if the discussions needed a bit more steering to discussing the presentation and asking questions/responses of the presenters rather than the general sharing of the groups mind. I don’t know if this is right but I was struck that very few questions were asked of the presenters after their presentation.

Food.
Food was good and plentiful.

Timings.
I felt that there was time for possibly two more presentations without it feeling busy. this could be achieved by giving 45mins for lunch and cutting the 60/30 sessions to 30/30 sessions. and 15 minutes extra on the finishing time would have been fine I think.

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All in all it was fine I think. well done to Graeme and gramme for putting it together.

Hi, My Name is scott. Today I want to talk about…

Last night, I was getting ready for bed when I had something approximating an epiphany. It was a thought that popped into my head and made sense of something I had been thinking about

“what does the Scottish Government policy document say about this?”

I admit that not often have the words epiphany, Scottish Government and Policy document met in a sentence but there you go. I cannot control my epiphanies.

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This thought was important as I am taking part in a couple of small gatherings over the next few weeks. On Wednesday and Thursday I am at the inaugural IASYM Celtic Colloquium gathering in Belfast. This is a gathering of churchy youth work type people to discuss practice etc. The aim is to gather those who are about masters level or thinking doing a masters and have a mix of full papers, outline papers, and subject explorations for those thinking of starting something. I am first on the programme. That is right “headlining” the first morning. Looking the world of socio-economics, Christin Faith Based youth work (anything to push up the word count(!)) and Play. It has been interesting how much this new study has come out of my masters study when I have started preparing for this thing. Anyway two days in Belfast, it should be fun.

YWS NANO SCOTLAND_1
Secondly on saturday the 12th of September I am doing something on at the Youth Work Summit Nano Scotland. Which is a snappy title kinda. I will be talking about volunteering and my own experience trying to put into conversation how my thoughts and feeling about volunteering changed from being a volunteer – to being a part time worker – to being a full time worker – to being a part time worker – to being a volunteer again. I have hit upon some great stats on church volunteering.
“In England and Wales, 31% of the population contribute 87% of the total hours volunteered, and a more concentrated 7.6% of the population provide 49% of hours volunteered (Mohan, 2011). This “civic core” is a generally middle-aged, well-educated, religious, owner- occupying section of the British middle class, who dominate civic participation.”
Jings 50% of all volunteering in England and Wales is done by 8% of the population. Thats bonkers.
I also am planning to introduce the world premier of “the curve of awesomeness and goodness” which is a lovely thing to see and work with. Anyway tickets still available from he website above if you do christian based youth work type stuff and fancy being at what looks like it could be a fun day.

N.B. No word on which headlining slot I will be getting. I am hoping for the prestigious post lunch slot (Snoozetime) or the equally prestigious pre lunch time (hurryuplunchissoontime) but don’t think i have the weight to carry off either of those slots so who knows.

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“We will consider it” Youth ministers in the Church of Scotland. #ga2015

Over the past few days, the Church of Scotland may have decided to do something significant. At General Assembly 2015, (its annual big church meeting), the church decided to consider whether those involved in youth work and youth ministry for the Church of Scotland should be regarded as official ministries of the church.

Good. I like this recognition that youth work and youth ministry can contribute towards the life and health of the church. By giving considering giving parity to Youth Ministry, the work with young people on behalf of the Church of Scotland becomes a valuable partner and tool for the existing ministries.

It is a great opportunity to ask the question “what do we want the work with young people on behalf of the church to look like?” Is it a space for conversation and dreaming. At the heart of the conversation will be issues such as proper support and oversight from ministries council, the possibility of a process of discernment before employment and a provision of training for youth ministry from the colleges that train ministers for the Church of Scotland.

I do hope for a wider consideration of issues such as what is the difference between youth work and youth ministry. (Can the CofS work out what Youth Ministry is and can be when the theorists don’t agree?) Further is official Youth Ministers actually a thing the church wants to embrace. Do we really want to have age defined ministers, and do youth workers want to become ministers and ministry staff?

As someone who volunteers carrying out youth work and youth ministry on behalf of the Church of Scotland, I honestly don’t know but I look forward to the discussion.

Clearspace cinema programme for this week coming.

This work I am working with Greyfriars church Lanark on their holiday club, Zefi’s Zoo. We have 125 children over the week, I am mostly dealing with the primary 6&7’s.

In the afternoons we convert the church into a family cinema. Each afternoon we will be showing a free movie. The movie is for everyone in the community, and not just those who are at the club in the morning. Bring your whole family! Doors open at 2:15pm for a 2:30pm start each day.

The movies planned for this week are:

Monday 7th – Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs 2
Tuesday 8th – Furry Vengeance
Wednesday 9th – The Lion King
Thursday 10th – Smurfs 2
Friday 11th – Frozen

If you are free over the week and fancy watching a film on a big screen with 100 other people drop in.

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