Canaan Project’s calendar is very much in sync with the academic year. So much of what we do is based in schools – 2 schools, specifically – where we run lunch time provision for young women in Year 7 to Year 11, and so much of the work we do in schools feeds the rest of our provision.
The summer is normally a quiet time for us at Canaan; we’re either sunning ourselves away on annual leave (just for the record – I didn’t, I burnt myself to strawberry colour instead) or we’ve got a hot afternoon date with Baker Ross or Hobby Craft trying to get our materials for the next term together. It’s fair to say the summer is relaxed. This summer, though, is my first summer at Canaan Project in management, and this summer for me has been a little different – I’ve found myself spending my slightly quieter working days reflecting on our achievements, our challenges and our opportunities.
Today, as I sit here writing this, that cracker of a verse from Revelation comes to mind:
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” – Revelation 21:4 (NIV)
Now when I say I’ve been reflecting on our challenges, I feel the need to say that (thankfully!) there’s not been any death, but there has been some mourning and crying. I’ve come to realise again, not just as a youth worker in my own right, but now that I’m managing a team – we stand on the front line of life with young people, and that means that sometimes we are hit with their mourning, their tears and their pain. It can be easy sometimes to view the personal circumstances of young people as something clinical – something we can categorise as a child protection issue or something that we can compress into a referral form – but it’s not. It’s real life, and it’s messy – it’s a life that we enter into in our capacity as youth workers to advocate, to listen, to nurture.
What I’m trying to say is, the summer isn’t just a time to go through the cupboards and store rooms and throw out the manky cooking ingredients or throw away the (not-so) brilliant artwork from an after-school session that surprisingly no-one claimed; it’s a time to lay down the stuff from the year that has passed, and leave it at the Cross of Christ and to prepare for the year to come.
The thing is, I know that for every celebration that we share with the young women, there will be a sadness to match it. Yet it is what we do with this sadness that counts; it’s what we do with ourselves in all of this that counts. So here are my recommendations for your own preparations for September, regardless of whether your calendar splits into terms and half-terms or not –
- Remember your celebrations
I’m a staunch activist for joy. Thankfully, I work with some incredible people who appreciate my slightly wacky sense of humor and approach to life, and who enjoy a cup of tea (or 4) and a chocolate biscuit during a meeting. I love that I can come to work and laugh, and that there are spaces in each day where we can reflect and appreciate the goodness from it. After each of our sessions, the staff and volunteer team debrief and evaluate what happened – and it’s supposed to be the key time to raise any safeguarding concerns or worries about any of the young women. Whenever I induct a new volunteer or staff member, I always tell them that this is also a time for celebrations; share the joke that the young woman told that made you laugh, tell us the story from their day that warmed your heart. Remember these treasures – they keep the joy flickering away.
- Talk about it
Hopefully your workplace or placement is decent enough to offer you supervision in your role as youth worker – are you using it? Talking about the difficult conversations and heartbreaking situations you come across takes away some of their power, and allows someone else to hold you as you work in and through that situation. Talk about the things you mourn for; the things you cry for; the things you feel that deep pain about. You aren’t a robot – and you don’t work with them, either (although Robot Worker sounds like a pretty cool job).
- Go away for a bit
It turns out, no matter how important you might think you are, your organisation or church will carry on while you’re not around. If you’ve got even a slice of annual leave left to take – take it. Don’t waste those precious rest days because there’s “too much to do” or “I need to be here” (Managers, I’m looking at you for this one). Value yourself enough as much as you value the young people you work with and give yourself a break.
- Prepare for what’s to come
I can’t guarantee that this next year will be as easy or as difficult as the one you’ve just come through – but what I can guarantee is that with the right support and headspace, you can get through it. Make sure you’ve got the people and the resources and the time to make the best of what will come your way this year – good or bad – and you can absolutely smash it.
Oh, such a simple and Christian cliché – the Church’s equivalent to “a cup of tea can fix everything”, right? Well, you let me know when a teabag ever resurrected anyone from the grave. You let me know when a teabag listened and cared enough to provide in the darkest hour – or provided you with enough joy to get through it. We worship and serve a God who is present, who listens, and who cares enough to want to listen to us. When was the last time you caught up with Him?
September beckons. Admin beckons. Session plans and team meetings beckon. But remember this – whilst we might not quite be in the place where the old order of things has truly passed away, they are in the process of passing – and in that, hope beckons too.