Monday, 5 April 2010

A Year In Words... Part 2

Upon commencing my new role as 'Youth Worker' for The Boathouse Project in Blackpool - working across the Churches of St. Mary, St. Peter and Holy Trinity, I lived between my Dad's house in Preston and my home in Wallasey. Furthermore, I continued to run the 3rd Wallasey Cub Scouts at Emmanuel Church in New Brighton until August 2009. This mean that I spent the majority of my time on the M55, the M6, the M58 and the M57. I also become very familiar with the Mersey Tunnels. I was commuting between Wallasey and Blackpool roughly three times a week. Needless to say, this was quite a stressful time (and extremely irritating if I forgot something!).

My first 'job' in Blackpool was to take over the running of an already established Youth Club at Holy Trinity Church. The group consisted of about 12 young people (rather small, in comparison to the 80 young people attending Emmanuel Church each week). In all honesty, I found it very difficult to build relationships with these youngsters; this continued for several weeks without improvement. I spent a lot of time in prayerful thought regarding this and finally I made a decision; I decided that the only way forward for myself and the young people was to close this group - and reopen a different type of youth club on another day. We reopened the youth club - under the name of Fuse - on a Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, the Cubs in Wallasey were busy completing their 'Outdoor Challenge' badge and getting ready for Summer Camp at Bramhope Scout and Activity Centre in West Yorkshire. Admittedly, I was gradually losing my interest in running this group as I had my mind set on greater climbs in Blackpool. Despite this, the World War II themed camp was thoroughly successful and included various days out; Eurkea Children's Museum, Flamingo Land and swimming. However, once we got to the end of this camp... I knew I was able to take The Boathouse Project to a different level.

The 'Youth' side of The Boathouse Project; now operating under the name of 'The Boathouse Youth' (Original, I thought!) is a provider of positive activities for young people on 6 evenings a week. We provide centre based youth work, detached youth work and residential experiences five times a year. I have a wonderful team of approximately 14 volunteers with whom I work alongside in providing services to approximate 100 young people a week. Our centre based youth work includes 6 youth groups; offering skills, active sports and chill-out sessions. Our detached youth work includes; sessions in the local schools, providing games and activities in the local parks and walking the streets during the evenings. And, our residential experiences this year will include; Canal Boating (already completed), Borwick Hall Outdoor Activity Centre, Camping and a holiday to London. We are working with the bottom 3% most deprived young people in the United Kingdom. Many of these young people witness domestic violence, the effects of drug and alcohol abuse and experience neglect on a daily basis. The Boathouse Project offers places to go, people to see and things to do. More than that, we offer people the chance to come and know Christ and how He really can change lives.

So, all in all, I think that 2009 was one of the most eventful years of my life. We're not 4 months into 2010....... And I am sure that what we have already achieved will get bigger and bigger!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A Year In Words Part 1 ...

1st January 2009 at 8:30am and my Alarm Clock sounded on my mobile phone. After a quick shower and getting my uniform on I got into the car and headed to my job at Staples in Birkenhead as their newly appointed Copy & Print Centre Specialist. A menially proud moment in my life with an upgrade from "Store Associate" and a pay-rise of £2.05 an hour. I enjoyed my job at Staples - especially the people with whom I worked - but somehow I felt as though it didn't quite exercise the talents that I wanted it to. After 4 years of working for the company, at the same store, I was struggling to be enthusiastic about my job and, although my sale achievements were often applauded  I never really tried. However, outside of my job at Staples there was something that my mind was far more focussed on - my voluntary work.

On Sunday 4th January I initiated a newly formed "Youth Alpha" course at my Church for 15 members of the Youth Club that met every Monday night. Youth Alpha met on Sunday evenings and following the evening service we would enjoy a meal together and look at various different topics relating to the Christian faith. One of the first things that I mentioned to the group of young people was that, by the end of the 12 weeks course, they would become the closest group of friends imaginable.

Meanwhile the Youth Club I ran on a Monday night was attracting almost 100 youngsters and the Cub Pack was running very smoothly. I spent 3 or 4 nights a week doing voluntary work - some of closest friends and family admired what I did but continued to inform me that "Being a volunteer doesn't pay the bills". How wrong they were to soon become.

During the February half-term I took 20 youngsters away on a Canal Holiday for 8 days. Perhaps one of the most challenging but enjoyable experiences of my life. With extreme mixed emotions from the leaders and young people it became very hard to keep spirits high. Homesickness seemed to be prevailing and bringing a downer on the whole holiday. During the week I asked the youngsters to keep detail records of their feelings and experiences.  Moreover, they also kept a video diary and conducted interviews with each other. I am pleased to say that - to my relief - it appears that this was one of the best holidays they've ever had. We arrived back on a Saturday. I was back behind the Copy & Print Centre Counter at 8:00am Monday morning.

March - on reflection, was the month that would change my entire life. At the time, I was completely unaware that March would be the last month of my "normal" life routine, ever. However, it couldn't have been a better month! With the Youth Alpha course in full flow, the children being a regular presence at Church it was time for us to take them away. Firstly, for a day and then 7 days later for the full weekend! Our day out was spent at Aerial Extreme in Knowsley - suspended 60ft above the ground and required to complete a severe obstacle course we talked about how important faith was. Our weekend away was spent on the Canals where we spent the weekend discussing the Holy Spirit. We also talked about how life, and particularly, life with Christ can be very similar to a Canal Boat experience. There are ups and downs (just like in the locks) twists and turns (just like in the water) and sometimes we get off the boat and walk... but we know that we can always get back on it when we need to (forgivness). When I returned that evening and was sitting with one of the team in the Church having a coffee and de-brief I came across a copy of the Church Times and went straight to the jobs page...

On Friday, April 3rd I had an interview at Holy Trinity Church in Blackpool for the post of "Youth Worker" covering three Churches in South Shore. I arrived early at the Church and didn't want to appear too eager and so I waited in the car. When I finally started to walk across the car-park I was amazed at how calm and relaxed I felt, not a bit nervous. Despite this, when I entered the office I didn't speak a word apart from "Coffee, no sugar, please". I was then lead into the interview room where three Clergy proceeded to question me about my life, my gifts and my abilities with young people. As I drove back from Blackpool I was hoping that the phone would ring to give me a decision (however, it appears one of the applicants had been ill and I had to wait for her to be interviewed  before I could be told!). I went into Staples at 8:00am on Monday morning with my mobile phone in my pocket. At 12:03 my phone rang... I knelt down behind the counter and hid in a cupboard to answer the call. It was Rev. David O'Brien. He asked me how I was and then said "Would you like to come and work for us in Blackpool?". My answer was an immediate yes. But, for some reason, all I could  think about was leaving behind my Church in Wallasey.

That night, Monday 6th April, I had my Youth Club at Emmanuel Church. About 20 minutes into the session I pooled all the youngsters together and told them my news. I can distinctly remember looking around the room at the faces of shock and amazement. Unfortunately, by the end of the month the Youth Club had closed and I felt as though I had just left a building burning as I walked away from it. Monday 27th April 2009 was our last evening together as Cross Infusion Youth Club.

Tuesday 6th May - Day 1 of my new job...

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The True Meaning of Christmas

Year after year we hear Christians complaining and griping that 'Christmas isn't what it used to be', that it has become far too comericalised and consequently we have moved further and further away from the true meaning of Christmas. Perhaps now would be a good time to take a glance upon your fireplace or window-sill where the Christmas cards you have recieved from all your friends and relatives sit - how many of them have a 'religious' theme? I would estimate less than fifty percent. With that presumption it seems almost shameful that we are celebrating the biggest event in world history - when the Word became flesh - and yet, we have started to ignore it and create Christmas into our own humanised festival: has Christmas simply become winter? Do young boys and girls walk the streets knocking on doors to sing 'We wish you a Merry Christmas', do we decorate our Christmas trees with colourful lights and decorations and, do we buy presents for our loved ones so that we can share in their happiness just because, it's winter? Somehow, I think not.

I think that the reason people don't think about Christmas from a faith-based point of view anymore is because they don't know how to. Do people know that the tinsel we wrap around the tree is a symbol of God's love around the world? Do people know that the lights represent the Light of the World - Jesus Christ? Do people know that mince pies are a symbol of the manger that Jesus was placed into as a baby or that the gifts we exchange are a sign of what the wise men did? Perhaps they don't know.

The reason that God sent his only Son to this earth, in the form of a most vulnerable baby, was because he knew that Jesus Christ would save us from all the things that we have done wrong in the past, are doing wrong in the present and will do wrong in the future. He came, because he loved us. The true meaning of Christmas is about remembering how much God loves us - and what better way to do that than to love one another? Rather than us mourning about what Christmas 'is not' anymore - let us rejoice and celebrate in what it has become! All of the things that we do at Christmas time are done out of love for our family and our friends - and we love, because he first loved us.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Passion of the Christ

Over recent weeks I have been increasingly involved in my local Church of England school in Blackpool. Standing in front of a group of Year 9 inquisitve teenagers talking to them about The Baptism of Christ and Temptations in the 21st Century from a Christian perspective is something that has challenged me far more than I expected. It has required that I am ready to be 'put on the spot' by spontaneous questions and random outbursts - needless to say, preparation has been the key! Asides from making me realise just how much I want to be a teacher it forced me to come across a subject that I have never really looked very far into: The Crucifixion of Christ.

As part of my research into this subject I watch Mel Gibson's version of The Passion of the Christ - on YouTube. The sound had been dubbed with a version of Amazing Grace however, the voices and sound effects were still very audible. As I sat there and watched this unbearable torture of the man by whom I live my life my eyes widened, my mouth became dry and I could hear my heart beat. I was overwhelmed. For the first time in my life, the sudden realisation of what happened to Christ on that day became apparent. Once the video had ended it took a few moments for me to gather my composure - the information I had expected to gain, ready for Period 5's class with 9SY, had been surpassed by an incredible personal gain. In the words of one of the greatest hymns ever written I pondered the question "How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?". Moreover, why did Jesus die? And, why did him dying save us from our Sins? Regularly, in Church we hear people say to us that "Jesus dying paid the penalty for our Sin. It set us free!" but I have never really understood why?

I did some research and chose books off my shelf by David Watson, Michele Guinness and other Christian authors. However, it was in the words of Nicky Gumble's book Question of Life that I found my most satisifying and simplistic answer. Allow me to share with you his words:
This image comes from a law court. Two people went through school and university together and developed a close friendship. Life went on and they went their different ways and lost contact. One went on to become a judge, while the other one went down and down and ended up a criminal. One day the criminal appeared before the judge. He had committed a crime to which he pleaded guilty. The judge recognised his old friends, and faced a dilemma. He was a judge so he had to be just; he couldn't let the man off. On the other hand, he didn't want to punish the man, because he loved him. So he told his friend that he would fine him the correct penalty for the offence. That is justice. Then he came down from his position as judge and he wrote a cheque for the amount of the fine. He gave it to his friend, saying that he would pay the penalty for him. That is love.

The first time I read this out someone raised their hand and mentioned that it was an inaccurate account as a Judge of Law would not be allowed to pass sentence for somebody he knew. However, going beyond the practical points, it does give a wonderful illustration of what it meant for Jesus to die. "Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends". (John 15:13) In the same way that the Judge stood down from his position and paid the cheque to his friend, Jesus laid down his life and paid the penalty for our sin.

The most touching and emotional part of the video clip, for me, came at the end and in particular in the final words of Jesus before he bowed down his head and died "Father, into your hands, I place my spirit". Whilst hanging there on the cross, with three nails through his arms and feet, having been whipped and humilated by nakedness he set aside his pain and commended himself to his Father; not with fear but with faith. Perhaps more of us need to set aside our fears and our pains of life - and commit ourselves to God.

Saturday, 17 October 2009


I have recently submitted a funding application to take a group of 20 young people on four week-long residentials experiences: Canal Boating, Camping, Outward Bounds and a holiday to London. One of the questions asked on the form is "How will your funding application help reduce the causes of poverty and improve the quality of life for these youngsters?'. I struggled to think of answer for the questions. My initial thought was 'Well, I'm taking the kids away, they'll have a fab time... but then they're going to come back into their every day lives - hanging around the arcades and other such dignified pastimes.'

After much deliberation, contemplation and basic brain-racking it hit me! It all boils down to respect. I want to demonstrate to these children that there is far more to life than they find in South Blackpool - there is a world out there! The language that these children speak, their attitude to life and the way they behave is because they don't have any respect - for themselves.

If we can encourage these young people to develop a level of respect for themselves, then everything else will fit into place afterwards. Why do they throw litter? Because they have no respect for the place where they live and therefore, no respect for themselves. Why do they swear? Because they don't care what people think about them because, they have no respect for themselves. Why do they bunk off school? Because they're not interested in an education - once again, a lack of respect for themselves. All of these things, and more, are what contribute towards a society of poverty and deprevation. A person who has respect for themselves and believes in themselves will care about where they live, they will care about what people think of them and they will care about their education. If we can help these children to develop respect for themselves then, slowly but surely, generations will escape the downward spiral of poverty they find themselves in.

So there you have it - my theory of deprevation. If people realised just how much they are really worth, they would never be prepared to settle for anything less, even again!

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Thing I've Learnt

When I was young we moved around quite a lot as a family (that is my Mum and I). It wasn't until I was about 12 years old when we finally settled somewhere. Even then, at 15 we moved again. The distances weren't particularly far apart, in fact usually it was the same town. This is significant because, it always meant that essentially I was always around the same people. However, on the 3rd April 2009 I had an interview for a job in Blackpool; a job of which I am now 4 months into. Needless to say, this meant a move away from my friends, my family and my Church. No longer would I have the comfort of a Grandparent around the corner, or friends to whom I could just "drop-in". The door of life had opened and it was a big scary place ahead.

However, despite the initial fears and concerns - which, by the grace of God, are all now well overcome - I feel settled in Blackpool. I am thankful for the opportunities that have arisen to me through my faith. In my interview they asked me why I felt I was suitable for the job. I answered that I felt I had two primary gifts; both of which were God given. The first, is the ability to work with young people. The second, is the power of the Holy Spirit. Individually, I told them, these gifts were very strong. Together, the possibilities were endless.

The evidence for this is apparent by the successes that have been created through the work of God through me in Wallasey and in Blackpool.

Essentially, I have learnt that when we do things for other people in the name of Christ and for God they will be extremely successful. It is only when we do things for ourselves and ourselves alone that we begin to fail.