It was the end of a day of lectures and I was about to make the 65 mile journey home, which usually takes around two hours, when Google Maps refused to work. No matter how many times I restarted the app, checked that my mobile data and location was on, it didn't know where I was, let alone how to take me home. Thankfully, after a year of going back and forth every fortnight, I was confident enough without Google Maps to direct me. There are one or two junctions that I'm never quite sure about, but it's usually the way I think it is, before I start second guessing myself. So, on I drove, for the first time since starting this degree course 13 months ago, without Google Maps. I could do it, and did do it, but the maps displayed on my phone provide somewhat of a security blanket.
I have two teddy bears, both called Looby. My parents tell me that I was given one when I was born, and because the once-pink teddy and I were so inseparable, my parents bought a look-alike. My parents used to wash one whilst I slept with the other. It was only when I was around 7 years old that I realised there were two Looby's! I'm now almost twenty, I don't need a teddy, let alone two, to sleep. However, like Google Maps on a motorway, a teddy acts as a security blanket; a sense of home, of comfort. My Loobys are well-travelled, and at least one has been to New Zealand, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, as well as many cities, towns and homes in England. Who knows how long they will continue to sit on my bed, or be packed away in suitcases on my travels. Not for long, I would think, since as you can see by the pictures, the Loobys are falling apart. I don't need them anymore, but they provide security.
I think that the disciples had something that brought them security too....
Matthew 4:18-2218 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”[a] 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
When Jesus called the disciples, they were fishing. Jesus told them to put their nets down and follow him. Put down your teddy, turn off your Google maps.
When Jesus had died and returned again, he found the disciples fishing (John 21:3-14). Once Jesus had gone from their everyday, thing they returned to was fishing, this sense of security, the thing they knew.
I'm not suggesting you never use a Sat-Nav again, and you throw away anything that makes you think of home, anything that brings you comfort and security. But it made me wonder what thing in life, in struggles, in chaos brings me comfort and security. Perhaps a habit, a possession, a thought pattern. If Jesus told me to put it down and follow him, what would my response be?
I wrote this poem in March but never widely shared it. I thought that World Mental Health Day was as good a time as any. It's okay to let the mask slip, to let the smile fade. It's okay to talk to a friend about it, and it's very very very okay to not be okay.
Sometimes my mind feels like it’s all tangled, and nobody can ever untangle it for me. It’s dark and it’s heavy and it’s hopeless.
But it always gets lighter, and it always untangles. Some days I can still do my to-do list with a tangled mind, and other days I really have to push myself. But some days I have coffee with a friend, or I go to counselling, and I can feel the knots being untangled. Or sometimes I go to the gym, and I can feel the knots untangling with every step on the treadmill. Sometimes I bake, sometimes I draw, some times I paint, sometimes I write, and I can feel the knots untangling with every whisk, with every line, with every stroke, with every word. But other times I self destruct and the knots get tighter. Or other times I close the door and say, “sorry, I can’t come tonight!” and the knots get tighter. But I’m learning, and that’s okay.
Today, World Mental Health Day, I want to tell you to look after yourself. Have coffee with a friend, go to counselling, run, bake, draw, paint, write, watch a feel-good film, eat well and drink plenty of water. Get the sleep your body needs. And if you’re still not okay, that’s still okay. Reach out.
They say that comparison is the thief of joy. Boy, are they right.
There are more people than I can count on my fingers that are making announcements recently, whether they’re close friends, mutual friends, or influencers I follow online. Announcements of pregnancies, engagements, new house, new job, book publication, or the launch of a massive conference or project fill my timeline. And in comes that small but mighty voice that says, “and what are you doing?”
“The same old” I reply
The voice needn’t reply; I’m already deep in the pool of comparison, thinking everybody is doing something new and exciting and I’m just watching it happen.
When I finally put my perspective goggles on, I see that actually I’ve already done a lot of traveling. I went on three mission trip before the age of 16, one of which was by myself. I’ve already done my GCSEs and A-Levels, and I’m already in Year 2 of Uni. I’ve already learnt to drive. I’ve already left home and I’ve already got a ‘new job’, which just so happens to be the one I’ve wanted since I was 15.
And I’m not yet twenty.
Without perspective goggles, being in a season of no announcements can be difficult, especially in a digital age. Nobody goes on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to say, “I have no news!” People post the highlights; the holidays, the productive work-meeting, the massive youth conference, the parties.
You very rarely see Christians who have a large online following tweet, “I led a small group tonight. Hardly anyone came and nothing happened. I’m not sure what message anyone went home with. Clearing up the mess left now, but God is still good”. No, what you see is, “I led a brilliant small group tonight! More people than we’ve ever had with such an inspiring, life-changing, powerful message. Can’t wait for next week!”
When I ask youth leaders how things are going, they often respond with statistics of how many young people came to faith at their last big gathering. I’m the same; when people ask how the drop-in youth cafe I lead is going, my answers are statistics, not adjectives. I tell them how many young people we have coming now and I tell them about how many are now coming to Church from this youth cafe.
I wonder whether Jesus would have social media, and if He would, what he would post. In many stories we read in The Bible, Jesus actually tells people not to share the story of what just happened (Luke 8:56, Matthew 16:20, Mark 7:36). I think that if He did post, his statuses would reflect the Father.
The Bible is full of great stories of breakthrough and miracles, that nowadays would make perfect Instagram captions. But the Bible doesn’t tell you every second of every day of the ‘big characters’. So much of Joseph’s life, and Moses’s and Elijah’s and even Jesus’s life is missing from the Bible. I don’t think every day was an announcement day. Perhaps there were some days that they or we would read as monotonous. Days of just walking, days of warning people of the same prophecy with no breakthrough, days of studying, days of fishing, days of manual work.
In a season of no announcements, God is no less powerful or at work.
A season of no announcements is not a signal to put down tools and find something else to do. A season of no announcements may actually be the opposite.
A friend sent me this quote recently, and I feel it sums up a season of no announcements perfectly.
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
At the weekend, I was away with Church in beautiful Stafford. I was co-leading the children and youth meetings, whilst the adults had separate meetings each day. We played games, did colouring and drawing, created dramas and crafts, and we looked at how the Bible teaches hope, grace and what it means to be Christ-like. On Sunday, we taught the children a bible verse:
“We all show the Lord’s glory and we are changed to be like him” 2 Corinthians 3:18
To learn this verse, we decided to write a word on each of their hands. They then stood in order with their hands up and we repeated the verse together. Slowly, we asked the children to put a hand behind their back, until we were left with no more hand-prompts.
We had planned to show the adults our verse in the feedback all age service later that day. One of the youngest children had gone home before this service, so I stepped in to have the words “we all” on my hands. I went to grab a pen from a different room, and came back to where the other co-leader and I were standing. She asked if I wanted help, but I had already started writing. Once I was done and explained that I’m ambidextrous so can do it myself, she laughed and said that it would be backwards. It took me a few seconds of starring at my hands that said “we” on my left, and “all” on my right to work out how it was backwards. Then I thought, ‘if I’ve done mine backwards, does that mean I had done all the children’s backwards too?’ Once it clicked, I too laughed realising that Id have to cross over my hands to make it work, and said that this was the epitome of stubbornness.
This got me thinking about us being stubborn in our relationship with God. I wonder whether already you relate? Had I just slowed down and not begun writing until I was back to my colleague and friend, then perhaps she would have reminded me which way round the words go before I got dark blue ink on my hands. Had I accepted help when it was offered, it would have meant the sentence made sense without me crossing my hands over! Sometimes, God asks us “do you want help?” Or he puts people in place to help us, but we’ve already gone ahead and we get it so wrong that it doesn’t make sense.
Society has an image in its head of what a beautiful woman looks like. Although some advocates - Megan Crabbe, Hannah Witton, Asos and Nike to name a few- are beginning to change this, the majority of society and the media says that beautiful women have a flat belly and a thigh gap.
I joined the gym in January this year, as it seems many others did. Apparently, 12% of gym members join in January, and half of those quit within six months.
Whenever I mention to people that I go to the gym, it’s usually followed by a response along the line of, “but why? There’s nothing to you”.
I go to the gym not to lose weight, but to gain mental strength. Sure, some of routines in the studio are to make lifting and carrying things when setting up for Youth groups a little easier, but that’s as far as it goes. I go to the gym because when you exercise, you release endorphins (feel-good hormones). I go with the goal to run just 1K. So when I end up running, 2, 3, or even 6 last week, I come home feeling like I’ve achieved something. I don’t go to the gym to be a size smaller. There certainly is something to me; strength.
When I joined the gym, I told myself that I would only go a maximum of twice a week; one of those times could be using machines and doing classes, and the other time had to be swimming or using the steam room. Becoming a member of a gym was a risky choice because it was during a season that I was struggling with body confidence, and so I needed accountability. I told a friend my rule, and still nine months later she reminds me not to over-do it at the gym, and when I’m feeling low she suggests that I ‘run it off’.
A Person, Not a Piglet
That season was a bit of a blur. I had the image of Dakota Johnson and thought that she’s pretty-skinny, whereas I was ‘ugly-skinny’. When people said things like, “there’s nothing to you”, in my mind they were saying, “you’re ugly-skinny”. Of course nobody meant it in that way, they never do. So I was both wanting to put on weight and eat foods and exercise in ways that would help that, as well as being worried about changing the body I have, that society says is ‘right’. I began to be anxious when I ate around people I didn’t know well, because I thought they were thinking that I was eating too much or too fast or not the right things.
A couple of months ago I was sat at my soft-office (my bed) and I had a ‘stomach-flop’. Just because of the jeans I was wearing, the amount I had eaten, the way I was sitting, but nonetheless, my stomach was not flat. And for the first time in what felt like a lifetime, I was not upset, but I celebrated. This was growth. This was a sign of me looking after my body as if it was my friend. I wrote in my journal that day, “dear little stomach flop, you can stay. Dear world, swap ‘you look thin’ for ‘you look healthy’ if you mean it as a compliment. And please stop offering me the last biscuit to ‘fatten me up’, I’m a person, not a piglet’.
I’m a Tent Masterpiece
It look a lot of prayers, time, pushing past insecurity, going to a women’s curry night and a church bring and share lunch even when I didn’t want to, to realise that my body is a gift from God. It’s a masterpiece. It’s also a tent. In Corinthians, Paul says that “these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade”. They’re just the ‘thing’ to carry us through to the next life, yet so much thinking is put into making sure my ‘tent’ is ‘perfect’, whatever that means. Sure, there are still some days that I view the wrong thing on Instagram and compare myself. There are still some days that nothing fits me right, even after four wardrobe changes. There are still days when I hear there’s going to be another Church lunch and my immediate thought is, “urgh, how can I get out of this one?” But those days a lessening and lessening, because I’m growing and blooming.
Mental Health Taboo
I tell these stories to hopefully encourage you in some ways. The taboo of mental health is something I grapple with, probably more so since being involved in church ministry. A lot of the time I see it as a weakness, and so I cover it up. But imagine if every leader in whatever setting always hid their struggle. You’d think that you were the only one to ever battle anything, and that God only uses those who are strong and together. Sure, something I’ve battled with aren’t ready to be shared with the wider world just yet, and that’s okay. I share them with a small group of people that care for me and will journey with me, but not yet from a platform. And that’s okay. But what isn’t okay is thinking that those you look up to, those that lead you, those that you are around don’t struggle. I share this with you because I’m a student youth worker that is growing and blooming, but journeying and struggling along the way too.
Here are some links to statistics, phrases, quotes and people that I’ve mentioned:
Nike uses a ‘plus-size’ mannequin
Asos want to “give our customers the confidence to be whoever they want to be. So we take our responsibilities seriously when it comes to protecting their mental health, wellbeing and body confidence”
Exercise releases endorphins
Your body is a tent
September is here, and with it brings new beginnings; a time, a concept, a feeling that I love. New beginnings bring me so much hope and motivation. I'm a firm believer that you can have a new beginning in any moment; a new week, a new month, when starting a new adventure or simply just in a new breath.
Something happens; heartache to joy
A new beginning.
But there's something about September, my birthday, and January that inspires me to challenge myself, better myself and reassess myself.
I used to find goals and resolutions very pressurising. I'd make a list of "I will's" and "I won't's" but I'd feel disappointed with myself when I remembered the forgotten resolution, or I'd put myself on such a tightrope to achieve that I'd fall off.
When I started university last September, we were asked to complete 'Personal Development Plans' which outline our personal, ministerial, professional, academic, theological and community-related goals. My sheet was very vague and bare; two or three word answers in half of the boxes. I felt like this was a way to put myself back on that impossible tightrope, so my sheet stayed bare. A year later and I'm in a different place. Any of my tutors reading this will be pleased to know that my Personal Development Plan will be complete this year!
Some of my goals this year
I'd like to read all of Psalm and The New Testament this year. Recently, I've been sat in a Church service when someone has read out a parable or proverb and I've thought, "wow, I didn't know that was there".
This summer I've been able to go to lots of seminars, worship sessions and festivals that have really blessed and fed me, something I feel I haven't got a lot of in the last year. I'm reminded of the quote, "you can't pour from an empty cup" and so this year I'd like to make time to be fed spiritually, whether that's traveling to a conference, or it's watching a seminar from my laptop at home.
I'd like to paint more, draw more, write more, create.
There are areas in my personal life that I'd like to not just grow in, but blossom in. Some are very little changes of habit that will be easy and simple to follow through with, but others will take a few deep breaths and 'cheerleaders' around me to even begin thinking about.
This time, this new beginning, all goals, from simplistic to giants, are written with the peace of knowing that it's okay to have a new beginning on the first of September, and need another one on the second.
This week I went to my sixth Soul Survivor. I picked my friend up at 6:50am and we began our 115 mile journey up to Peterborough, arriving in good timing at 9:10! The roads were kind to us! We wanted to make the most of being at Soul Survivor, as we were only there for the day, so once we picked up our wristbands, we headed to a seminar titled ‘Overcoming Failure and Disappointment’. Throughout the rest of the day, we went to two other seminars; ‘Holy Disruption’ which was about looking after the planet, and ‘Life According to Love Island’, which was about sex and relationships. We ate yummy food from the Food Stalls, got rained on a couple of times, bought Soul Survivor merchandise, caught up with friends we saw along the way, and went to the Big Top for worship and the main talks.
In the evening main meeting, I began typing on my notes. My friend asked me if I’m writing a blog post, and I replied, “maybe, I just can’t get the words out”. She asked what I had so far, and I read out “old songs, new songs, big top, same God”. I had something stirring in my mind that I wanted to get down, it just took me a while to figure out what that was. Eventually, between getting up on our feet to do the Macarena with ten thousand others - much to my friend’s dismay - and loudly singing along to ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber, I got there.
A lot has changed since the first time I went, when I was just 13. To start with, we’re in a different part of the country, in a different Big Top, surrounded by different people, singing different worship songs. ‘Freedom Generation’ and ‘God’s Great Dance Floor’ have been replaced by ‘Raise a Hallelujah’ and ‘What a Beautiful Name’.
When I first arrived at Soul Survivor, and for many times after, I was so lost. I was in so much pain, really struggling with my mental health. I don’t know how many times my Youth Minister had me crying on her through ministry time! Through those painful times in The Big Top, I’ve met God. The most memorable time was when Justin Welby, the Arch Bishop of Canterbury was on stage and he said, “there are some young people in here tonight that need to know that they are precious. That is your name”. I’m sure this spoke to many people there that night, but for me, the significance lies in that my youth minister had just written and drawn the exact same thing in my journal not a few seconds before he said it. “He calls you precious, that is your name”.
Over the years, I’ve made close friends, and laughed so much with them that it hurt. One year, me and six other girls my age shared a tent. We decided it would be more fun if we didn’t use the pods provided, because we’d be closer, even though the youth leaders warned us we’d be cold. We were very cold, but we couldn’t have youth leaders being right, so we slept close together under our fairy lights from home, freezing cold, for four nights. We laughed until the youth leaders got tired of telling us to be quiet (and maybe for a little bit after that), we sang “last request” at midnight (I don’t know why…), we cried together, and came up with so many inside jokes that I don’t really fully understand to this day.
One year, my first year as a leader, I cooked for 18 people! Never again! I applaud anyone who caters at Soul Survivor. I’m not sure there was one night that I didn’t forget to add a main ingredient, or planned the timings well. Thank you Jesus for supportive and encouraging colleagues and line managers!
I look back at all the memories - too many to share in one blog post - and I see a theme running throughout: God’s faithfulness.
So much has changed about Soul Survivor. Throughout the months between each festival, I’ve changed too. The first time I went, I was just about to go into Year 9. The final year I went, I’m doing my dream job, about to go into second year of university! I still struggle, but unlike the first time I visited Soul Survivor, I have a cheerleading team around me that know, and that help me rise again. The things I grappled with at thirteen are the things I’m still working through now. Friendship circles, interests, and where I live have changed! So much has changed, but God hasn’t. Through the highs and lows of Soul Survivor and everything in between, He is the same. Yesterday, today and forever. He was there every time I cried until my eyes felt like sandpaper. He was there every time I jumped and danced with joy. He was there as I was led and discipled, and as I led and discipled other youth people. He was there when I broke my toe (another story for another day), when my friends and I sung and giggled in a tent, when we ate, when we served, when we worshipped, and for the few hours per night that we were quiet and slept. When I stood in the Big Top for the final time on Monday, I worshipped the same God as when I first stood in the Big Top in Shepton Mallet all those years ago. Different songs, different place, same God.
"the only thing that has really changed since 2016 is our eyesight"
The candles were lit, the fairy lights were strung, acoustic worship was being sung. I stood amongst friends, amongst friends of friends, and amongst brothers and sisters in Christ, in one of the oldest Church buildings in the City.
As we sung “so I’ll stand, with arms high and heart abandoned”, I could feel tears start to gather in my eyes, and was really honest with God that I have nothing else to try, nothing else to give. I prayed, “I wish I could just stay here, in your house of love and safety and grace”.
Then I was convicted by God in a way I don’t think I ever have been before.
It’s funny, isn’t it, that when we pray for patience, God gives us the opportunity to be patient with someone and it’s difficult. Or we pray for provision but then God gives us the option to use that £5 we found on the floor for a coffee on the way to work for ourselves, or for the homeless we just passed. Or we pray for God to make us more like Him & to convict us, but when He does… ouch.
Firmly, yet with such peace, I felt God say, “I invite you to dwell in my house of love and safety and grace, but you always leave kicking and screaming”.
After we sat to listen to a short sermon, we sang some more. As we were singing the lyrics, “'Cause Your goodness is running after, it's running after me, with my life laid down, I'm surrendered now, I give You everything”
I felt God continue, “… but I’m never going to stop running after you to bring you home”.
I love that we have a God that convicts, not condemns. It’s a bit like a father teaching his child to ride a bike. When the child falls off, the dad doesn’t say, “why can’t you get this right? I’ve taught you, now do it!” It won’t matter if the child keeps falling off the bike. It won’t matter if the child never gets it. The father won’t lose his temper and eventually snap. The father won’t lose hope and say, “you’ll never get it, let’s just give up” and walk off for you to wipe the tears away yourself.
But he scoops the child up, wipes away any tears, puts the child back on the bike and says, “It’s okay, let’s try again together. You got it wrong, but that doesn’t change my love for you”.
I had an image that night of a daughter being picked up by her dad, but she doesn’t want to be picked up. She’s kicking, punching and screaming to be put down. She doesn’t know that in her dad’s arms is where she needs to be, in the arms of safety and love.
I love that we have a God that will never stop running after us, never stop pursuing us and taking us home. You can scream, kick, punch, run, cry. He’ll always come after you.
He is not a God of condemnation, but a God of conviction and love.
One Sunday morning, I observed the empty first two pews at Church. There were about 40 people in the congregation that morning, all of whom had chosen to sit somewhere else other than the front two pews. It made me wonder why, and it made me examine myself as to why I don’t either.
I did research the way that all good researchers get information - I put two questions out on instagram stories and twitter. Firstly, ‘do you sit on the front row of Church?’ and secondly, ‘why/why not?’. The majority answer to the first question was "no", here are a couple of reasons why not.
Fear of Being Watched
Many people replied “because I feel like everyone’s looking at me”.
If you get your phone out, to write notes or otherwise, everyone can see you. If you fidget, everyone can see you. If you’re not doing the actions to Our God is a Great Big God, or if you’re doing them half-heartedly by not reaching up high at ‘higher than a sky-scraper’ and doing a limbo at ‘and he’s deeper than a submarine’, then everyone can see you. Or worse, if you are going full Doug Horley during the actions, every one can see you. If you fall asleep… everyone can see you! But isn't it interesting that for many people, Church is a place that they feel looked at, judged perhaps, inconspicuous...
Not only did the responders feel like they were being watched by the people behind them, but the preacher too. I can’t speak for everyone who’s ever led from the front, but generally, if I make eye contact with you, I haven’t processed who you are or what you’re doing, with a couple of exceptions. The first exception is that if, for example, the majority of people were on their phone, then my brain would probably clock that. Or if the majority of people were talking to one another, my brain would probably clock that too. The second exception is that there are one or two people I’ll look at in the congregation because I know they’ll be smiling back at me or nodding along. If you’re not one of those few people I look out to for a push of support, and you and other people around you aren't doing anything distracting not doing anything, then I more than likely won’t notice, and I mean that with love. My brain just doesn’t clock it, I’m thinking of what I’m saying next, or the props that I’m using, or that I need to remember to finish with a prayer.
Fear of sitting in the seats of the superior
Many people seem to think that the front row is reserved for the preacher, the leader, the worship team, anyone who steps up onto stage. Many people seem to think that sitting on the front row means sitting in the seats of the superior.
I hate to break it to you, but that’s not how the Kingdom of God works. There is no hierarchy system with God. He doesn’t tell people to form an orderly queue with the people in leadership at the front, and the women and children at the back. Remember, Jesus healed the woman with the haemorrhage, Jairus's daughter (Jairus was a leader of a synagogue) and a Centurions slave.
By sitting at the front, you’re not stealing the seats of the superior, because they aren’t ‘superior’. Sure, they are serving that morning and have a responsibility, spiritually as well as physically, but they are not more worthy of experiencing God than you are - “for all have fallen short on the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) They’re probably just sitting there because it’s easier and faster to get up on stage from the front. Also, I don’t know about the shape and size of your church, but there’s plenty of space for all of the leadership team plus a few families on the front two pews of my church.
Fear of Changing the Culture
As a young person, my friends and I would always sit on the very back row. Nobody else dared to sit there, because it was ’The Youth Row’. You knew you were no longer a child anymore when you got to sit on The Youth Row.
I’ve observed that many Churches have these cultures. For example, the Youth sit on the back row, the students all group together on the third row, the parents with babies sit on the other side of the back row so they can get out of the room easily, but not be confused with The Young People.
In the responses I got, I think there’s a fear in changing the culture of the group you belong to, or the culture of the church. It seems that if your people group - family, child, teen, young adult, student, elderly, single - never sit on the front row, why would you sit somewhere else? Especially in the place that nobody sits?
I often fear raising my hands in worship. It’s silly really, I know that, but it just isn’t the culture of my Church. I would be perfectly comfortable jumping, dancing, raising my arms in worship, but only if everyone else around me is doing the same. I have been known to go right to the back of church when a song that I really feel the Spirit moving in, and I can move around and lift my hands, because I feel more comfortable at the back, where nobody can see me. This links to fear of changing the culture, and fear of being watched. If I won’t raise my hand in worship whilst sitting on the forth row on the side - my usual space - you can bet I won’t be doing it on the first. But perhaps I should. Perhaps it would encourage other people to let go in worship if I were standing at the front with ‘arms high and heart abandoned’.
On a sillier note, I recently showed my young people a comedy video, in which a man names different hand-raises, and now, in worship, they’ll make notes of what action people are doing and tell me “I saw the village people action!”
I understand that many people are far more comfortable sat where they are, not at the front... I am one of those people! Perhaps you have a baby and you’d feel more comfortable knowing that you can dash out if they start crying. But know that there’s space for you at the front if and when you feel comfortable to move. Perhaps you have anxiety. I don’t mean that you, like most of the congregation, are a bit nervous about it, but I mean that just the thought of being at the front makes your palms sweaty and your legs stiff, and breathing faster. But know that there’s space for you at the front if and when you feel comfortable to move there.
As I challenge myself, I challenge you this Sunday to sit on the front row of Church. Face the fear of being watched, because realistically, nobody is. Face the fear of siting in the seats of the superior, because realistically, that’s not how the Kingdom of God works. Face the fear of changing the culture. Drag a friend along with you, sit at the front, raise your hands if that’s how you engage in worship, have a party when Our God is A great Big God is sung, fidget to your hearts content.
If after this blog post you need some counteractive arguments, or some satire, check out this list of 9 reasons not to sit in the front row http://aprilfiet.com/my-thoughts/10-reasons-sit-front-pew-church
I have been in my job - student youth worker of a Baptist Church - for one year today. What a joy. What a celebration.
If you’ve read my blog post, 'settled', or know me outside of the internet, you’ll know that I found the beginnings really difficult. Back in September when I’d remove myself from the office to have a private-cry in the bathroom because I just didn’t know if I could do it anymore, the idea of writing this ‘first anniversary’ blog post seemed impossible. However, I had some really good ‘cheerleaders’ around me, and a deep knowledge that this is where I’m meant to be, so this is where I’ll stay, and I’m very glad that I did.
I’ve been reflecting on the highlights and the lowlights of the past year; a difficult blog post to write because the highlights are so specific to an individual I’ve worked with, and it doesn’t feel right to use that special moment with a young person as content, and the lowlights are still slowly but surely working themselves out, and are not yet ready to be written out into something for more than just ‘the nearest and dearest’ to see. Regardless, here are the highlights of my first year, albeit sometimes a little vague.
Growing in confidence
The area I most wanted to grow in over this year was confidence. I knew I was capable of leading from the stage, and meeting new young people, but I was just too scared to do it. I worried about getting it wrong so I avoided it. I think, and I hope, now when I’m doing All Age Talks from the front of Church, and I’m going into schools, I not only feel so much more confident than I did last year, but I look confident too. The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given in the youth-work-world is ‘fake it until you make it’. I’ve learnt that this doesn’t include when you feel mentally exhausted and like you’ve got to put on a happy mask, but in situations you don't feel confident, and you’re put into a new situation, fake it until you make it. Stride into it as if you know what you’re doing, and as if you’ve done it a billion times before, and eventually even you’ll start to believe it.
Youth House Group
In September I launched a Youth House Group, and I think it’s my favourite group out of the four that I’m involved in. It feels like something I’ve 'birthed', so I suppose there’s an ownership about it, but I also really have a heart for discipleship. I’m all about seeing young people experience God. To go from just a 1 in faith, to a 2, or maybe a 7 to an 8. I’m also really passionate about talking about the awkward conversations church sometimes likes to shy away from, as well as the everyday-teenager issues. I feel that Youth House Group really does this. I’m very relational and conversational in my youth work, which is the essence of Youth House Group. There are quite a few highlights of the year that comes inside Youth House Group; doing Youth Alpha, getting to know the young people better, using my creativity and passion of writing as I make the sessions.
A couple of months ago, one Sunday morning, we were looking at Psalm 25 with the young people and we asked them to rewrite it in a modern-day version inspired by something that means a lot to them, or something that protects them. Although arguably blasphemous (blame the resource book, not me) it brought tears to my eyes and has to be one of the highlights of this year. There's been lots of times throughout this year where I've felt really encouraged, loved and affirmed. The alternative Psalm 25 below sums up the love I've felt over the last year.
“The Lord is my Becca, I shall not have hot chocolate deprivation. He lets me rest on sofas, he leads me through youth house group, he gives me warmth inside. He leads me through Alpha for the good of his name. Even if I get stuck in the toilet [I don’t know either, honestly], I can always hear the laughter. Your smelly sticks [she means incense sticks] and fireplace comfort me. You prepare hot chocolate for me in front of my friends. You give me my mug and fill it to overflowing. Surely your goodness and welcoming will be with me all my life, I will live in the prayer room [where we have Youth] forever."
A funny one to be on the list, since children’s work isn’t in my job title and it’s not at all my calling. I’ve learnt so much from the toddlers, from their parents, and the other volunteers. Even though the time I spend at Toddler Group each week count towards my weekly hours, it feels like a break. I come to toddler group and sit with a three year old, squeezing and rolling play-dough, and having a conversation about sequin dinosaurs.
The church I work in holds a ‘prayer space’ on the first Wednesday evening of every month, and over the last year I’ve facilitated a couple. My favourite one was based around a pilgrimage in which, around the room, we went over mountains, past a stream, through a forest and finished at a village. I was pleased with how it looked, and I was pleased that it achieved what it was meant to; enable people to reflect, rest and journey.
Girls Support Girls
As I said before, I’m passionate about the awkward conversations churches often shy away from. Awkward conversations with young people don’t phase me, and I think it’s because I wasn’t taught a lot of sex/relationship/menstruation/what-the-heck-is-happening-education, drugs, alcohol, at school or at youth groups. So, around September, I decided to make an addition to the women’s toilets, pictured below. It’s a strange highlight, but it’s something I’m proud of doing because I’m so ready to end period-poverty, and end the taboo around periods. It feels like something so massively outside of my job role, yet also something so integral to it. It’s also really funny when twelve year olds come up to me at Youth Cafe saying “guess what we’ve just found in the toilets?!” And giggly hand me a tampon, for me to say “ah you found them! Yeah I put them there!”
Mental health wobbles made worse by not using the people around me that love me and care for me, not letting people in, overloading myself.... although, it's through these lowlights that lessons have been learnt and I've felt so incredibly wrapped up in people's love, and felt the abundance of God's grace.
I was ill for a week in February, and being a person that rarely gets ill, it sucked. To be fair, I journaled through the week and it makes quite a comical read in hindsight.
Long story short, I drove 60 miles to uni, was almost sick in a lecture, ran out, had a lie-down on a sofa in the common room at uni whilst I decided if I was okay enough to stay, cried down the phone to a friend/work-colleauge, saying I don’t want to let anyone down and that I felt so ill. Drove 60 miles home, stopping for mints and malt loaf at a service station as it was the only thing I could stomach, slept the rest of the day. Wednesday I mainly slept, watched a bit of Netflix, and when I realised I had run out of medicine and food, I cried as I put clothes over my pyjamas. Thursday, for some reason, I thought I was well enough to go back to work. I did toddler group, cried because I felt like I had let people down and was having a bit of a crisis that Church wouldn’t have hired me if they knew my struggles. Slept all of Friday.
Wait, what am I doing here?
This question usually hits me on a random Sunday morning service. It’s just a niggle in my brain that I need to learn to switch off. I notice that I have come alone, and that I’m sat alone, and that in an hour or so I’ll go home alone. I notice that I’m tired, and then a couple more lies creep in, just for good measure.
The highlights of the year far outweigh the lowlights. I feel like I've been Youth Worker far longer than just 1 year, in the most wonderful and positive way.
here's to many more highlights over the upcoming years