Hayley James

sustaining youth workers - community

by mjjames20/08/2009

so on monday i got back from week b of soul survivor. having never been before i was throughly impressed by everything they had going on, especially the way everything was focused on young people. one of the great things i also loved was the provision they made for youth workers, the soulnet stream (http://www.soulsurvivor.com/soulnet) gave a great time for us youth workers to meet together, gain inspiration and teaching and mostly support and encourage one another.

over the last few weeks i have been thinking about how we as youth workers sustain ourselves during our ministry and i don't just mean in the spiritual sense. it has been over a year since i have left university where i studied youth work and therefore it has therefore been over a year since i have had regular contact with a group of youth workers, sharing similar views, passions and difficulties. what i have become aware of over the last few weeks and was brought home to me at soul survivor is the importance of having this. of meeting with like minded people, being able to share positive stories, seek guidance in difficult situations and think through some of the theory and practice of youth work.

a number of my uni friends were at ss with their youth groups and it was amazing just to take some time to catch up and just chat about youth work. what we all recognised was how much we missed just being able to sit and talk about our ministry and our roles. something i so often took for granted whilst being in uni. and now i have left, i often find that youth work can be a lonely and isolating ministry. whilst many of my friends support what i am doing, few of them understand what it is about and why youth work is so important to me. and at times all i really need is to be with people who are on the same wavelength and have some understanding of what my life is all about.

i think that part of what sustaining ourselves in youth work requires, is that space where we can meet with others who are involved with similar things to us and that share similar passions. sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in the doing, that we neglect the other areas that shape our ministry and it is only when we suddendly have a need or there is a break in our routine that we recognise the holes in our approach. soul survivor was something of this for me. over the last few months i have been feeling a sense of disastisfaction and yet i couldn't figure out what it was or why i was feeling it. being with other youth workers highlighted what that disastisfaction was. i missed the sense of community of meeting with other youth workers and the space to think, explore and discuss youth work. soulnet provided that. meeting with my friends did this too. both have raised the need that i have (and many youth workers share) to been in community with others in the same ministry. to be able to have that small bit of space where i can truely be hayley the youth worker and people not think i am weird or misunderstand what my life is all about.

i often reflect on the average life of a youth worker (approx. 3 years) and am saddened that many wonderful youth workers end up burnt out and broken (i already know far too many) and i am determined not to allow that to happen to me. i also hope that what i write may also help prevent this happening to others. therefore in the first on this series of sustaining youth workers i am writing from my personal experience and recommend finding a group of people with whom you can talk and share regualarly. i'm not sure how this works out practically, especially when we live in such a global society, but creating a space where you can think through your work, explore new ideas and gain inspiration and support is essential. i sometimes think that being a youth worker is like speaking a different language to those around us and sometimes we just need to be with people who speak that language too. sometimes we all need to be able to speak in our native tounge.

my friends and i realised this by being together, and whilst we didn't come up with any solutions, we all left with a promise to be more communicative and seek opportunities where we can meet up and chat together. i still have a lot more thought to do around this area, but i am 100% sure that this kind of community is something i need to develop in my life, for the sake of my sanity and for the good of my young people. i'll keep you updated on my progress

picture source: soulnet 2010 retreat flyer

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