Thursday, May 28, 2015

Different Story... "It's Not Rocket Science!"

   Every young person has a story and every young persons story is worth hearing. This is true whether they live on 'struggle street' [thanks SBS for the hatchet job on TV] or are happily comfortable in a loving and secure family with plenty to look forward to educationally and in life [and anyone somewhere else in the story of their lives]. What then is youth ministry about in our Australian contemporary context today? For too many churches I know, younger people left along with their families in the 1970s or there's one family left or there are collection of survivors with kids who participated in something that made a difference and they are still engaged and happy to see activity and a community of other young people joining in a group or a program alongside their congregation.
   Some people are quite conservative theologically and the world makes sense through the values and ethos of the faith community they are part of, some are in a community that has embraced questioning and 'grey' and are caught between cultures but OK enough to make what space they can for their church, in busy lives and some are uncomfortable but this is what they've known and they hang in there with a few highlights along the way [including the great enjoyment their kids get from being part of a small Youth Group or program].
   A few volunteers or one and in some cases a person paid for a few part time hours a week are too often given the discipling responsibility for the young people in the groups/programs and this may have a mix of a few 'church kids' and/or a few kids from the local community whose families are not [or maybe used to be] involved. They kept coming after Kids Club or liked what they experienced at SRE or a lunchtime program at the local school.

In very many of these places, the "haunting questions" for youth ministry are worth facing up to:

Does youth ministry matter?
Do our practices of youth ministry reflect Christ?
Do existing “models and practices” reflect the church’s best theological work?
Do they accomplish what we imagine?
Do they bear any relationship to the church?
Do our practices of youth ministry shape Christians?
How long can we keep this up?

Can we do better?
["OMG: Youth Ministry Handbook" Kenda Creasy Dean et al]

   How many people cobble together a story or reflection for 30mins to present a 'Devotions' at Youth Group? How many, even those who design a curriculum and put heaps of energy into resourcing and visualising that OR find clips, questions and appreciative inquiry methods for exploring faith, actually find a way to address the more immediate question... "what the hell does any of this have to do with me, mean for me or ask of me?" and for many "did I ask you to share any of this with me?"
   How many understand that it's the quality of the relationships made and what they are built on that sustains a community. It's a gathering around shared values and the stories that give us identity which will ultimately go the long haul... It's absolutely true that these things can be both shaped by a community and learnt by it's participants. What if the whole thing is hollow in the middle?
   What is our story? How is it a story of hope? Who does it invite us to be and to be in relationship with? How is that articulated and lived as ethos and values? How is the invitation made for people to make their journey with us in that story? These are the questions of a community trying to understand the world and the local community it's part of... Do we see children and young people [and their families] in our local community as people we are called to seek reconciliation and renewal alongside or are they the object of our 'mission...' Is God's answer to these questions different to ours?
   The "it's not rocket science!" is about simplifying our questions... "who is God calling us to be at this time and in this place?" that can't be a self centred answer.
   God is active in the world and we are beginning to understand something of the importance of answering this question in the current context because God is simply not only active in our four walls on Sunday. If the central feature of our community and the sole focus of our efforts is attendance at worship [especially that some other people have curated, or worse still only one person] then we are in serious trouble.

“If you want to change a society, you have to tell an alternative story”
writes Austrian Philosopher and Roman Catholic Priest, Ivan Illich

It's not easy... 5 things... essentials... do's and don't's... dynamic... 'why milennials are leaving your church' or any of that rubbish, written for a different context anyhow...

For anything to change “someone has to start acting differently, encouraging others to behave differently” We need to foster our imagination but also move to action and in “Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading” Heifitz and Linsky explain “adaptive change stimulates resistance because it challenges people’s habits, beliefs and values.” Yes, that's actually our model... 
   “Adaptive leadership is having the guts and heart to learn new ways to bring needed deep transformation of culture in an organization or people and is generally done by the people with the problem.”  Heifitz & Linsky again and one example of how we struggle with this is when voices on the edge of our community or who don't quite fit who 'we are' don't get heard. We miss out! 
   "The Church’s experience is shifting from a stable and secure world toward a huge, open-ended question. If one word characterizes people’s experiences of this, it is uncertainty" writes Alan Roxburgh in “Crossing The Bridge” in 2001. I'm saying 'it doesn't have to be anxiety' and sharing stories of hope is one way to counter that, stories of places 'having a go.' Even places where I wouldn't necessarily do what they are doing, but the relationships are built on a genuine invitation to be 'followers of Jesus Christ.'
   If I had to break it down I'd say I'm more keen on a community that seeks to serve it's world and invites others to express their 'following' by sharing God's love through that... however challenging. I think listening and discerning how people can serve the hurts and hopes of those around them is a deeply spiritual practice [not just a community organising principle] and whether a few key projects emerge or some individual or huddled action, then people will have stories to tell, stories they've lived AND a reason to worship and celebrate, to lament, to seek forgiveness and a reason to come on Sunday or Wednesday night for pot luck dinner, or Saturday for the working bee or Thursday morning to make soup or... In this space children, young people and their families will be invited to share of themselves and to participate in changing the world... they'll be challenged to rise to God's invitation and to prioritise what that takes, but they'll be energised by what it means!! Maybe...
   In the meantime I'm going to search for stories, to spend hours in preparation, to get tired trying to understand my audience, to try to be as honest and vulnerable as I can manage, to laugh, to cry, to listen, to get cranky, to bugger things up, to not be perfect, to try to report what I see and to wonder why I bother... then a person will share a fragment of their amazing story and I'll encourage us all to do it all again...


Monday, May 25, 2015

UCA Combined Youth Event Term 2!!

   I know it's Starstruck, but...

'dave' drummer in National Park, Newcastle

   I don't know Gabriel Argiris [drummer from the band 'dave'] but I have heard him play and he's pretty good!! The Newcastle Herald featured a story on him springing from it's 'Topics' page. He lives at Bar Beach in Newcastle but lots of locals complained when he practiced for his band, so the young bloke takes his kit to National Park in Cooks Hill, alongside the outer netball courts adjacent to Oval No5 and therefore outside No2 Sportsground.
   Yesterday we had two rugby grades play rain delayed matches and at first I thought our hip hop supporter grew from last year had brought their boom box to the game, but no, the lone drummer was busy practicing on the grass in the park outside. He's pretty good, it's just quite a surreal juxtaposition. I think he played for about an hour as parents brought kids to the swings, skaters used the outer courts for fun and the weather got decidedly cool and cloudy!!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Memorable Late Show Moment #4 The Aussie Bands

Faster Louders List of clips [that could be found] of Aussie acts on Letterman!!

It's one of those weekends...

Wet weather Friday is followed up by the annual Rugby Wanderers v Slime bout at No2 Sportsground being called off due to wet weather!! Instead I can spend the arvo chatting to those who turn up to the alternative 'social training event' at SJ's at Hamilton. Of all the matches to be delayed!! Family dinner tonight plus delayed viewing of Tahs v Crusaders on return!!

Tomorrow I was to have been journeying to Bunnan in between Merriwa and Scone, for Lunch/Reflection/Discussion that isn't going ahead. Instead maybe Jesmond Park UC... in theory a weekend of work while the girls are away BUT now staring at computer vs driving all over the Hunter.

You'd love to catch up on sleep on such a weekend except the dog was crazy with the girls away and a piece of bread roll left outside [causing him to want to go in and out of the house six times between 6-8am this morning]! Idiot!! Only matched by the chainsaw stumping three bottle brush trees across the road!! At least I've had a rock cake and got the papers!! So, here I am reflective, sorting what work to catch up on ahead of this afternoon's training run!!

Inevitably I am thinking today about future as my brain slows down to adjust to a different 2 day schedule than expected!! My role as Youth Ministry Development Worker in the UCA in the Hunter winds up at the end of this year, having extended three years limited to a fourth year. What next?

There are possibilities but the wheels of these things always turn excruciatingly slowly, limited by the fact that whatever I do we will be staying local as a family. So there are opportunities but the list has an end. This could mean all local opportunities go a different way and I either only pick up a temporary 'supply' or need to find another job.

But seriously, genuine sense of call, knowing it has been right to be in and around the Hunter over the years I've been 'back' with lots of family and life reasons, it's been good to be in the role I've had including inside knowledge in a completely different context to my previous time in the Hunter.

What's the go...
Offering Leadership in an established congregation to make space for people's hopes and talents
Reshaping offered Leadership with space and permission to discern and explore new things alongside
Experimenting with something new [ a pilot project] although his doesn't exist...
Consulting, trialling, educating, networking and facilitating, resourcing established and/or new things
Change agent, resourcing, educating mission role by any name

Youth Worker, Minister, Educator, Leader... there all and have always been just labels to me. It's interesting to still meet people who wonder what a Youth Worker would do as a congregational Minister. It's as if 'Youth Worker' has been understood as being paid to run games nights when I can't recall the last time some work with a Leader or Team or Committee within a congregation has been 'just' about the young people. This work is always about the mission and ministry of the whole congregation, even when it's pointing out that what's happening with young people currently really doesn't represent that... I have always been engaged in traditional Sunday worship, committees, projects, Elders etc albeit empowered to 'rock the boat'...

Resourcing people, means taking a/c of where they are as well as where they hope to be or where you believe God is inviting them to be...

Yes, the creative media, music related, visual, film driven, hand written, adapted, experiential worship I enjoy creating is a bit edgy or loud for older folks BUT that's because my current role is about challenging, moving, resourcing. I know how to do and am regularly offering tradition, on a weekly basis now for the last 3.5 years for example, if reshaped for the 21st C with visuals or inviting an 'experience' not just the familiar. It's true that for twenty years at least I knew this was not my call in an ordained sense and that advocacy for younger people, space for their faith exploration and attempting to create a future for things has been my call [and would continue to be as far as I can tell]. Then the church said something different about 'ordination' based on our lived experience [whether people remember that or not]. It has evolved and I'm up for any setting... uniquely placed with sense of history and tradition, energy for change and skills in engaging in the wider community, ready to flex those muscles in one place OR to help people do that in their local place... while they help me work out how you do it all well!!
   At the same time, if places aren't looking to the future and only understand the 'Ministers' role as specialist, leader, preacher, pastoral carer and keeper of things the same... then that community are missing an opportunity that is being shouted at them by God... it's always about inviting people on a journey and making space for unusual travelling companions and those 'outside' the current group...
   We seem to spend a lot of time these days focused on what we can't do!!
I hear 'the rules' quoted often, usually in short hand limiting misinterpreted ways... e.g. "a Presbytery can't tell congregations what to do..." sure... but interrelated councils is about both the extent but also the limits of each spheres freedom and response-ability. "Someone has to act differently to encourage others to behave differently". It's time for honesty and plain speaking because God is in action in the world, no doubt, so the invitations to participate will come, it's about being ready to explore.
   For example, in a cluster or set of 'linked' congregations it is possible for a Presbytery to build a relationship with that area through what it is responsible for... mission plans, consultations, placements, reviews and resourcing... tell stories, reflect things back, 'turn up the heat' sometimes [see any adaptive challenge textbook], withhold approvals, meet over meals and commit to processes together [even participating in the real meetings in the car park can help].
   You don't have to talk about or threaten building closures and sales... you just need to tell stories about alternative futures and work together on prayerful choices and then BE helpful, resourcing and permission giving to help people head into the plan. Rules create boundaries but also permission and if the rules don't fit you shape something suitable and give permission for that without trashing the rules. You document, tell the story and evaluate.
   You can tell a congregation what you won't do. You can invite people to see examples where a ministry agent has been able to shape a redefined role around listening, discerning and inviting a community of faith into new action or new stories and outline what's on offer to assist. You can report observations back, be open about your own mistakes or missed opportunities and shift from metaphors of 'home' or oasis to 'roads' or 'journey.'
   You can also withdraw from helping at all. Communication, transparency, honesty and keeping an eye on a 'K of G' ethos are all fuel for this kind of relationship!! Most churches are not sufficiently connected to their local community in ways they know what it means to be 'good neighbour' in 2015 and so any opportunities taken up will be a breath of fresh air...
OK, rambling... as usual... with permission to contradict myself completely at any time...

Imagine starting out as a the local Leader with a community of faith...
- 12 months getting to know people, places, habits, traditions... how things are done
- Find the good coffee locally and the best food place that isn't too popular
e.g. 'Six Degrees; at Queens Wharf Newcastle
A sad demise for BWP but, nice breakfast options, nice coffee, a table looking out at the Harbour and in the morning you might be one of  half a dozen customers or groups. The music isn't loud, the staff are great and there's enough coins in the meter to do 90mins or 120mins work. Free wifi. Stay long enough to do a second coffee and biscuit. I've gotten hours of creative or grunt work done, in the sun, quietly, without being bothered by anyone... I hope it does get busy at other times so it stays open...
- Listen to everything and everyone, searching for 'grounded questions'
- Include more people in planning and leading worship
- Build new music collaborations
- Think about a missional decision making task group structure within the existing power systems that transform them from within
- Have food and meetings with everyone
- Visit the hell out of people early to get to know their hopes, expectations but also what they bring
- Start new things rather than investing all change or focus on Sunday mornings
- Get a good website and engage in social media
- Be honest
- Seek reliable feedback
- Report observations, check understandings
- Tell stories, find metaphors, encourage the search for ethos not corporate plans
- Meet people on the journey, not by creating church as 'home'
- Be a 'community organiser'
- Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Golf, Rugby, Newsagent, Barber, Shops, Police, Community Service Agencies and people, other churches leaders and people, Schools, NCLS, Council, MPs, Business leaders, indigenous groups and leaders, Funeral Directors, existing Community Events/Markets etc

Ok, thanks for the start wet weekend... who knows!

Postscript is rugby is on tomorrow so I have done work today that would have been done then...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Memorable Late Show Moments #2 "Are Those Your Drums"

Movies so far in 2015!!

   I love stories and especially films [though I have a well documented dispute with film length for which I blame Steve Spielberg... 98 to 107 mins is all a film requires 2hrs+ is overdoing it!!]

The Water Diviner
Kingman the Secret Service
American Sniper
St Vincent
Avengers Age of Ultron
Pitch Perfect 2
Mad Max Fury Road

So, a mixed start to the year and of all those Mad Max was spectacular but St Vincent was an expected gem from Bill Murray!! A cracking sentimental story!! Selma was so moving and important and the rest signify hours of recreation, imagination and 'time out' well spent!!

Bring on:
Terminator Genysis
Mission Impossible Rogue Nation
The Man from UNCLE
Star Wars the Force Awakens

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Always food for thought...

Thanks Mike Riddell, for this description I return to again and again to be reminded of why I bother...

"The essence of the church has always been mission.
It is created by mission, renewed by mission, and participates in mission.
That mission belongs to God, and the church has stakes in it only insofar as it shares the life of God through Christ. To take part in God's mission to the world is to become a conductor of the divine energy which has been unleashed through the tearing open of the Trinity.
Apart from involvement in mission, the church becomes a tawdry relic; a dusty museum of religion, suitable for tourists and historians, but little else.
The creeping temptation of the church is to believe that it is an end in itself.
Power, wealth, security and the desire for continuity dog the life of the established church as they do any other institution.
The characteristics of the God made known in Jesus - love, vulnerability, redemptive suffering, service - are not nearly so attractive.
So it is that theology and praxis must continually struggle against the tendency to coopt God to the agenda of the church, rather than shape the church according to the will of God.
Such is the history of the people of God, who attempt to follow the moving pillar of fire.

God will not be contained. The attempt to construct boxes for the divine presence is doomed to tragedy. Those who invest their lives in such misguided pursuits will be left with splinters and the distant laugh of the Spirit. God is God or even better, God is who God will be.
It is no denial of the centrality of Christ to say that we are still finding out who God will be. Christian faith is not a deposit of information, but a relationship with the partner who is constantly luring and dancing in the direction of the horizon.
Many groups have assumed that they know the mind and intent of God, and been made to look silly as they clutch their supposed certainties while God moves on."

"Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post Christian West"

Mike Riddell p174 1998