My Youth Work Story So Far – Part 1
Posted on October 25, 2018
I’m starting a blog series on my attempts (this year and next) to begin some youth work practice in Long Gully. Long Gully has been my neighbourhood for the last 14 years. You can read about my thoughts on Long Gully here, and here, and here…and I’m happy to chat your ear off about it for as long as you’ll let me buy you coffees.
Why Would You Read This?
Why write a blog series? Good question. And why would you even want to read it? Most of the time I think blogs are a pretentious show of shallow thinking. Many of my blog posts are. Their very publishing space (the internet) immediately shoots them way above the grounding intelligence of an actual PLACE. I’ve always been suspicious of them for that reason. Yet, I’ve also benefited from so many blogs: at the moment I particular enjoy Karina’s, Michael’s, DWSIG’s, Stephen’s, James’, and Tony’s, which will betray my obsessions and blind spots.
And, writing is how I think. I don’t do it enough. I know my thinking is becoming shallow and spotty when I look at my personal journal and see that, in October, I have written three entries.
So, given the embryonic nature of my youth work efforts in Long Gully lately, and the need to think deeply about them, writing is a good way to go. I don’t expect many people to read these: I’m writing mainly for myself, and for the other youth workers who are Christians. But I hope you find something of interest here.
I’m not sure that’s enough justification for a blog series, but it’ll have to do.
Where do we start? I don’t easily live in the present; I live in the past and future. So, the first two posts will be about the story so far, and where I imagine we are going.
The Seeds That Grew
Tracing personal history
Back to where I all began, which must start with not I – those before me. I could start with my culture or nation, but I’ll start with my family. My great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents were/are all Christians, with a strong passion for the learning and discipleship of the young in their family. So, I grew up with an embedded experience of faith: I watched my grandparents as they parented my adopted auntie and dealt patiently with the death of 3 of their children. I accompanied my dad as he visited a friend with schizophrenia who lived in a caravan park, and watched him become an activist on the council of my high school. I chuckled at, then admired, my mum as she sat and listened to countless single parents, recovering addicts, and took on a foster-child. All the while I took part in the person-shaping rituals of the Anglican church.
I was primed for the youth discipleship community that I encountered at church in my mid-teens. What do I mean by “discipleship community”? I mean a youth ministry for whom entertainment of young people was faith-lite, representing a refusal to trust young people with the challenge, joy, and captivating person of Jesus. I mean a youth ministry who modelled reaching out to those who are rejected, despised and lonely, and expected Christian youth people like me to also do so, and which attempted to do all of this as a community “on the road”, as Mark’s Gospel puts it.
Along the road, Kylie and I met in this discipleship community, and recognised in each other the same desire to live out the calling to serve young people. So we did what made sense and got married – it’s made more sense as the years go on. Not that I am saying it’s always easy; but that to thrive and flourish, a marriage needs a purpose beyond the affection between two people.
I’ve done plenty of work with young people over the years, some easily identified as “youth work”, others less so:
- being a youth pastor (ie. leading the youth programs at a church)
- leading camps
- leading Christian youth groups
- doing outreach work in a high school
- being house-parent to 3 homeless young men
- teaching in a high school
- learning youth work in a South African township
- running an outdoor youth development program, and then one with hip-hop dance and art
- being a chaplain, then student wellbeing co-ordinator, at a secondary college.
A Brief Aside
A creative tension
In all of these things, I often experience what I would name as a “creative tension”. On one end of the tension, the desire to work with young people for whom faith and the church are foreign worlds, and young people whose families and communities are in a perpetual state of struggle. On the other end of the tension, the desire to see the vision of Jesus (the ‘kingdom of God’ in biblical language) be made a reality in all the dimensions of our world, including in the individual lives of the young people I work with. This is a common tension for many Christians in all kinds of work.
Now, I can hear some of you hollering, “Prosyletiser!”, because Australian culture has a negative response to the idea that one reality could be seen as the true reality for all of us. But that is exactly what Christianity is on about – that the person, vision, community, and spirit of Jesus Christ be made real and active in our souls, bodies, communities, even the very earth we walk on. The reality of Jesus is incredibly expansive, and it looks different in each life and place, and I definitely don’t have my head around it, but it is the truest reality nonetheless.
But I say it’s a tension for me, because it really is. The Jesus part of the tension is always challenging me to a deeper, and more Christ-like, understanding and practice of the youth work part. The youth work part is always challenging me to recognise when the Jesus part is becoming dogmatic or narrow.
Let’s Go On…
What Dave did do next?
While I was running the youth development program, I was invited to help establish Praxis, a Christian youth work diploma course. I did this for 8 years, and it was a powerful time of learning for me and many others. But towards the end of this 8 years, after I had finished up with the youth development program. I felt the need to get back to grass-roots youth work.
I quit Praxis, and then wondered what to do next. I did not want to join a welfare agency, where full-time work is pretty much the norm and the professionalisation and compartmentalisation of youth work is well-advanced.* So, I did what I usually do when I’m trying to begin something: get involved somewhere, anywhere. Next instalment coming soon.
*Some people do well in this environment, and I admire them for their tenacity.