The next step in my youth work journey: back to school
Posted on September 20, 2019
// This is the next instalment in a slowly-moving blog series about my youth work journey. Last time, I wrote about my ancestry, leading onto my church-based youth ministry, teenage foster care, and overseas youth work. Kylie and I then moved to Bendigo in 2005, and initiated a missional community based in Long Gully.
There is not a lot of reflection in these blogs – I am just trying to get the events clear in my mind. //
From 2008 – 2016
From 2008 I was running a youth development program with Urban Seed (a Christian NGO that is now defunct but you can read about it here), collaborating on this with local school schools, and with local legends Hip Hop for Youth. At the same time, I was training Christian youth workers through Praxis. This time was incredibly stimulating for me, but as they say with all good things, they must end.
I had finished the youth development role in 2014ish (can’t remember), and was trundling along with Praxis, but the drive to connect with actual young people has never left me. I did what I always did in these situations – just do something. At the start of 2016, I asked Eaglehawk Secondary College if I could volunteer in some way; I ended up in the school garden, working alongside boys (mainly) who needed a break from the classroom. And their teachers possibly needed a break from them too!
Chaplaincy and school-based youth work
The chaplain at the school soon after, and the school asked me to step into the breach part-time in September of 2016. Chaplaincy was never something I’d thought of doing: I have some philosophical issues with it, and there are also quite practical and employment-related problems as well. But this school is in my community, and I knew the young people, parents and teachers. It was a good fit, and hadn’t I wanted to connect more with young people? I jumped in. I also worked part-time in Long Gully as a Christian community worker, funded by individual donors, and started to wind up my time at Praxis.
This started 18 months of working as a chaplain and then as a school-based youth worker. I loved the chaplain role, but unfortunately it was to be short-lived, as the school decided it wanted a full-time worker. We parted amicably at the end of 2016. I was at a loss. What was the next step? The school offered me 1 day a week work as a youth support worker, but I found this quite frustrating in terms of continuity. Instead, I ended up doing a sometimes bewildering array of jobs: community work in Long Gully, tutoring at the local university, and freelance writing/researching. All this while getting started on a PhD. At the start of 2017, I got a call for help from the school: their co-ordinator had to go on leave. Could I work part-time to fill this role? Back I went, at first as an acting co-rdinator, and then as a 1-day per week youth worker (again!) once the co-ordinator returned. Something had to give.
Through all this time, I was still searching for a way to connect with young people in my neighbourhood. School-based chaplains and youth workers do great work, but they (and I, at the time) work within a bureaucracy that is sometimes helpful, sometimes not. I find the restrictions on friendships with young people in that system overly tight.1 I kept thinking: what can I do that is more relational, more communal, more organic in nature? I farted around with this question, trying to keep a bunch of income sources in the air. I took action in mid-2018: quit the school, quit the uni, and focussed on the local community work, study, and supplementing the bank account with freelance writing.
Revisiting the church youth group
In this time, a friend of mine and I had begun walking the Long Gully neighbourhood; we prayed, talked, thought, and chatted with local young people about what we could do with young people. Although my friend decided not to be involved further, this time was essential for helping me to sort through the options for youth work in Long Gully. Particularly, I wanted to do something that was explicitly Christian (though what that looked like in practice was, and to some extent, still is contingent). I decided that the best way to proceed at this time was a participatory church youth group, intentionally focussed on young people who were not in our church.
How my team and I proceeded will be the next post.
- “Friendships” with young people is a red flag in most professional youth work thinking; it hints at an inappropriate relationship. Space does not permit, but suffice to say that I do not mean to say that I pretend young people are my peers. Rather that any relational practice (social work, youth work etc) involves friendship of some description, with its attendant demands, loyalties, boundaries etc. ↩