Sacred-Secular Youth Work
Most of the youth work we're involved in is a sacred–secular mix, whether that's working in churches, on the streets, in schools or clubs... because it's a secular–sacred world we live in. Sometimes stereotyping and misunderstanding on both sides of sacred and secular put up barriers to the simple truth that all good youth work is heading for the same goal – young people reaching their full potential.
A while back, I took up an open invitation to an interactive discussion at the University of Durham on the place of spirituality in youth work. Not the place of denomination, religion or faith but of spirituality, a sense of something other than ourselves which connects us to deeper experiences of ourselves and others.
"Being spiritual ... is to allow the self to be open to relationships, experiences and realities outside the ordinary frame of life, or to admit that there are more dimensions to life than time and space. At the core of spirituality is the encounter with the other, some other, be it God, nature, a tree, the seas, some other person or the core of our own being." G. Bouma, Australian Soul*
Talking about spirituality for a few hours might seem a bit incidental to the hard core problems that we're up against: huge reduction in funding and projects closing all over the place; more than a million young people unemployed; a dramatic rise in mental health problems; those who know about these things using phrases like 'a lost generation'. But in times such as these, it's is even more important to take a holistic approach, which encourages an awareness of all the resources people have to draw on – from each other, themselves and elsewhere (including 'the other') to build resilience, hope and open up conversations about what is means to be fully human.
Being in the same time and place as colleagues on a similar journey is always re-energising. Despite the common purpose, there was challenge, debate and disagreement and I came away even more convinced that the rights and responsibilities of young people need to include the right to explore spirituality in whichever way makes sense to them, as part of their personal and social development. But there is no mention of spirituality in Positive for Youth although 'faith groups' are commended for the part they play in youth service provision (and being asked to plug some - any - of the holes left by the decimation of open access youth services across the country). And having previously been included, just this year 'spiritual development' has been removed from the National Occupational Standards for Youth Work.
However, Network members are also telling me about conversations happening in many different contexts (some very difficult) across communities, with statutory agencies, schools, local authorities, church and community groups – people trying to make sure that some kind of services are built up again, in different ways maybe, through partnership, collaboration and finding the common ground.
It's encouraging that the working group who organised the event (an influential and talented bunch of academics and practitioners – all passionate about youth and community work) are going to continue to develop this dialogue to further raise awareness, including a simple and short outline paper explaining the nature of spirituality, its relevance to work with young people and its place in the education, training and professional development of youth and community workers. There's also a group looking at the place of spirituality in outdoor education/youth work. We're in the loop, so will keep you posted on developments.
Meanwhile, read this excellent paper from Phil Daughtry, explaining 'sacred' and 'secular', the value of partnerships across the youth sector – voluntary, faith based and statutory and taking that conversation and those relationships forward. And if you haven't already seen it, Andy Burns' (CEO of east to west, Network member) blogpost about working in partnership.
If you have experiences, thoughts or resources to share, please get in touch.
Dr Phil Daughtry is Head of Youth Work at Tabor, Adelaide, Australia. His speciality is the spiritual & professional formation of new youth workers & the dialogue between Christian spirituality & contemporary society and professional life.
*Taken from Phil's report
† Image by Daniel Mohr
'I' in this article is Rachel Shackleton, Spurgeons Network Manager