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Braving the world of youth

by
03 July 2015

Jeremy Clines reads about working even where dragons be

Martin Williams

Conflict:detail of Lawrence Lee's stained glass symbolising the dangers facing adolescents, from a window on the nave's "man side" in Coventry Cathedral, from the cathedral's highly illustrated The Stained Glass of Coventry Cathedral: Its making and meaning, about this pioneering essay in modern glass on a grand scale; edited by Richard Chamberlaine-Brothers (£8 from the cathedral shop or www.coventrycathedral.org.uk). Below: Lamb with Flag and Cross by Keith New from a nave window on the "God side", also from the book

Conflict:detail of Lawrence Lee's stained glass symbolising the dangers facing adolescents, from a window on the nave's "man side" in Coventry Cathedral, from the cathedral's highly illustrated The Stained Glass of Coventry Cathedral: Its making and meaning, about this pioneering essay in modern glass on a grand scale; edited by Richard Chamberlaine-Brothers (£8 from the cathedral shop or www.coventrycathedral.org.uk). Below: Lamb with Flag and Cross by Keith New from a nave window on the "God side", also from the book

Christian Youth Work in Theory  and Practice: A handbook
Sally Nash and Jo Whitehead, editors
SCM Press £25
(978-0-334-04643-1)
Church Times Bookshop special price £20

 

Here Be Dragons: Youth work and mission off the map
Richard and Lorimer Passmore
Frontier Youth Trust £14
(978-0-9927570-0-7)

 

THE book Christian Youth Work in Theory and Practice uses a wide variety of voices from around the world to define contemporary youth-work theory and practice. Some contributors act as chapter authors, and others as chapter responders. Here Be Dragons looks at how its authors' long-term example of detached youth work can be interpreted and named as "symbiotic youth work", with an analysis of its theory and practice, and plenty of advice on how to use such an approach. These two books are both committed to relating youth work in practice to youth work in theory, and vice versa. The differences in approach, style, and format result in starkly different reading experiences.

Sally Nash and Jo Whitehead as editors have helped capture thought and experience in a presentable and digestible way. The A handbook moniker is fully merited, in part because of the diverse authorship. Another valuable feature is the useful quantity of references, not just for each chapter author, but for the chapter responder. All of this, combined with a subject and scripture index, makes for an ease of navigation for the reader and an immediate sense of the related literature. Between chapter and response sit "questions for reflection", which have a depth and breadth that compel the reader to stop and contemplate a panoply of theological ideas, such as: would Joseph, son of Jacob, have benefited from a youth worker; do your own notions of youth work and the Kingdom of God correlate; and is your practice more at risk of under-involvement or over-involvement?

Topics range across a wide spectrum from "ethical dilemmas", "education and the curriculum", and "leadership and management" at one end, to "mission", "spiritual practices", and "theological inquiry" at the other end. Both these and the mid-spectrum attention on inclusivity, adolescent identity, youth culture, and reflective practice mean this is a must-have volume for any youth worker starting out, student of youth ministry, or experienced practitioner looking for a handy contemporary summary.

Proponents of detached youth work or those pondering taking an "off-the-map" approach to youth ministry will welcome the thoroughly analysed and instructional narrative born out of the decades-long experiences of the Passmores, their co-contributors, and the countless people they have worked with. The honest warning of "dragons" in the domain and detailing of the risks of heading "off-piste" are covered in depth.

The level of advice, for instance, reaches to whom to leave your number with when going into dangerous places and what steps that nominated person is to take before phoning the police (including driving around the area looking for you). There is, throughout, a "wise narrator" speaking to the reader as "you", which will suit some tastes better than others.

The abundance of ideas, experiences, and theological reflection justify the book's endeavour to articulate a definition of "symbiotic youth work": an approach to detached youth work, taken by the authors, which requires the spiritual transformation of the youth workers just as much as the youth.

The substance of the book is not equalled by the publisher's house style. Further judicious editing and improvements to layout would reduce the intensity and density of exploring the volume. The simple things of narrower margins, and a reduction in many and various types of lists would have reduced my distraction and encouraged me to note only how enriching youth work can be when spiritual vulnerability is put at the centre.

 

The Revd Dr Jeremy Clines is the Anglican Chaplain at the University of Sheffield.

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