(Dis)abilities? Wellness, children and young people, and the church

(Dis)abilities? Wellness, children and young people, and the church

NEWS YOUTH AND COMMUNITY

In April, SSCM held its first training day conference for children’s and youth workers. It focused on issues faced by children and young people with physical and mental health needs and disabilities.

The day gave insight into Scottish government policy, particularly GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) and how this applies to church activity, and considered how to offer a more welcoming, connected and inclusive church.

Educational psychologist Fiona Williams explored the wellbeing of young people in Scotland, focusing on external factors which contribute to their exclusion from society. Fiona then considered the psychological issues which face young people, discussing the importance of developing resilience. The church has clear opportunities to contribute to friendships, positive values, and other factors that improve the mental wellbeing of young people by taking an interest in their lives.

Later, we were led in worship by Matthew Goode, a blind teenager with cerebral palsy. With the help of his family, Matthew demonstrated multi-sensory worship in a truly unique way.

The day was very informative and encouraging for leaders who were looking to improve the accessibility and acceptance of young people and children with additional support needs.

Find out more about our courses for children’s and youth workers.

Experience the new Community Work taster course, in Perth in autumn 2017

Experience the new Community Work taster course, in Perth in autumn 2017

NEWS YOUTH AND COMMUNITY

What is it?
An entire course on Community Capacity-Building that is being delivered as a taster unit.

Who is it for?
Ideal for anyone in a voluntary or employed role in church or community-based work, this HNC taster course allows you to learn with less travel.

What will it do?
It will guide and develop your practice in a variety of church and community-based settings.  It also counts as one of the 9 units of the HNC in Working with Communities.

How long does it take?
The taster course takes 7 weeks, on Tuesday evenings from the end of August to October 2017.

How much does it cost?
The cost for the taster unit is £225. There may be a small bursary available to cover part of the cost.

Where will it take place?
The course will take place at Perth North Church of Scotland, 209 High Street, Perth, PH1 5PB.

Contact Brodie McGregor to find out more.

Photo credit: Kenny Lam/Visit Scotland
How a Community Work HNC can help your church

How a Community Work HNC can help your church

YOUTH AND COMMUNITY

Lorna McIntosh was the driving force behind an HNC in Working with Communities in St John’s Church, Linlithgow. Why did she do it? Lorna explains, “We had some young people here who had no plans to go on to do further education, but who nevertheless wanted to grow their insight and faith. I presented the HNC as a solution. It was part-time, one year’s duration, and practice based. I knew that not everyone who took the course would become employed as a youth worker but I’ve noticed that it has brought about real progression.”

I ask about Lorna’s own background. “I was at RBS but I gave it up as I had always been involved in youth work and I had a real desire to “do it properly”. I completed a BA in Youth Work and Applied Theology at International Christian College. When I suggested the HNC, they did it because they trusted me, perhaps more than because they had a burning desire to do it”. She smiles. It’s clear that helping young people develop has been a great source of joy for her.

How did the young people fare on their course?
“Some did better on paper than others. Kieran is a youth worker with Linlithgow Young People’s Project (LYPP). Rachel has used it to find a place in nursery education. Cat is working on the missionary ship Logos Hope with OM and David is a part-time volunteer at St Michaels’s day care. Not everyone moved on: Cameron continued in catering, and he also volunteers with LYPP.
St John’s wanted to invest in these young people to help them in the process of finding God’s plan. In Linlithgow, we have great schools and plenty of focused young people. It makes it less easy for those who don’t feel a huge drive to study. We encouraged them not to judge themselves too harshly if they didn’t enjoy the written aspect. To us, their time studying for the HNC was a space to grow, think, reflect and communicate. For example, David was very quiet, but in a small group he gained the ability to speak up.
The fact that the qualification is generic and locally taught was useful: the HNC came to us, as it were. The course was developed and taught by professionals like Graeme McMeekin, Stewart Cutler and Diane McWilliam, and I was happy to help out with some teaching too.”

What would you like to do differently if you did it again?
“I think we would support the young people more. Although it is not university, the course is a bit like university in that people are left to their own devices regarding study. At school they’d be monitored and urged along. This was more of an adult experience where the motivation to study comes from the student. Also at the end of the course there was still quite a bit of study and papers to complete. I think we’d have tried to avoid that by monitoring progress.
We would also have spent longer linking what you learn with the life you lead. The spiritual formation was valuable and it could have been an even greater part of the course. For example, we’d perhaps have started the day with prayer and a Bible reading. It’s perhaps counter to what I have said earlier but, because it was a local course, some experiences that were not local, like a visit outside our community, would have been good.
So to sum up, maybe, because the course is good for people who have not found their way, some ‘guided encouragement’ would be appropriate!”, Lorna laughs. There is clearly a balancing act going on between letting the young people find their way and encouraging them to step up a level.

How do you feel at the end of the day?
“I am glad we did it. Certain things we would do differently. For example, the course was fairly hands-off, and we would support the young people more.
Yet the results were what we hoped for: we invested in our young people and they are better for it.”

If you would like to discuss the possibility of hosting a similar HNC course in your church, town or community, please contact our Academic Dean, Brodie McGregor.

Experience the new HNC taster course in Central Scotland
Who is it for? Ideal for anyone in a voluntary or employed role in church or community-based work, our HNC taster course allows you to learn with less travel.
What is it? An entire teaching unit on community capacity-building that is being delivered as a taster.
What does it do? Informs and develops your practice in a variety of church and community-based work.  It also counts as one of the 9 units of the HNC in Working with Communities.
Where will it take place? The course takes place in Perth.
How long does it take? The taster course takes 7 weeks, on Tuesday evenings between the end of August and October 2017.
Contact Brodie McGregor to find out more.

 

Mission at St John’s Linlithgow

Mission at St John’s Linlithgow

CHANGING CHURCH IN SCOTLAND YOUTH AND COMMUNITY

Andy and David were both called to serve: we meet up at their outreach centre, 183 High Street, Linlithgow. I ask them about different generations in mission. How was it then, how it is now?

“I am not the older one, am I?” David says in mock dismay. “You have three children”, fires back Andy, a youth worker in his 20s. “But they are only wee!” his Pastor replies. “Wee! One is 19!” says Andy – and they collapse in laughter.

We are sitting in what was once a shop, now filled with comfortable sofas and bright cushions, right in the middle of the community. Momentarily it seems that the older man is younger than the younger one. David, the Community Outreach Pastor at St John’s Church, is a big chap with a beard and an irresistible sense of humour. Andy, younger, very direct, very focused, with a busy diary.

Andy is a student at the Scottish School of Christian Mission, studying for a BA(Hons) in Theology (Youth and Community). He has just been invited to work in a full-time employed post with St John’s. He can often be found at Linlithgow Young People’s Project. LYPP is a busy, community-based inter-church youth project which involves working face-to-face with young people and developing outreach projects. On the other hand, David’s life journey has taken him to Bible college and out again; a period as a prison officer; then working with homeless people; returning to International Christian College to complete his degree 23 years after starting it and, finally, to become Community Outreach Pastor at St John’s.

I ask them about their calling. David responds,“It was not just one call. Every one of the changes in my career felt like a calling, yet in many ways the process felt more like progression. God moves you along as you fulfil the purposes he has for you. Every step of the way, I knew I was needed in the community and God wanted me to work there. The path I took has led me from being someone who was slightly naive to someone who was better equipped to serve”.

Andy goes on, “I too feel I have been rewarded with more as I have done more. I have a sense that discipline and obedience – to God’s plan for me – is important. I sometimes feel like David before he fights Goliath. Yet the steps laid out for me seemed so obvious and right, I have to obey.”

“I had an experience while I was working in York during my gap year. I was 17 at the time, and a woman I met there, Emma Stark, prophesied that I would become a leader of leaders and I must go back to the drawing board and think about what God wanted me to do. I remember her words: she said that, if I worked hard at this, I would have, ’A heart for this nation I never had before’.”

David interjects “How does that feel?” and Andy replies, “Quite frustrating sometimes. I have worked full-time then part-time to study theology. Sometimes I feel I have not progressed fast enough, but if I had not experienced this turning point, I do not know what I would have done”.

David reflects, “Progression and call are not exactly the same thing…” Andy says, “the more I have done, the more I have been rewarded.”

I ask about the practical purpose of study. David admits that sometimes, when he was younger, he felt study was not practical enough for him. “I enjoyed modules on church planting, probably because I was actively seeking out practical hands-on experience, but the real benefits of study came when I started to teach people. It brought a huge positive impact on my preaching. I think I understood scripture at a far deeper level and I was better equipped for pastoral ministry”.

Andy says, “I agree with David”. The serious young man brightens when he talks about feeling ‘liberated’ through study. “I and some of my fellow youth workers have moved into a flat in our community. At the same time I am studying how Jesus moved in his community. I have been thinking about Matthew 22”. Andy refers to verse 8: ‘Then he said to his servants, ‘the wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find’. Andy continues, “This shows how inclusive God is and that is how I must be, too.” David remarks with a smile that since the Holy Trinity is itself community and that we are drawn into that community by the love of God, so Andy living in community is a metaphor or allegory of the same. David says, “Personal faith goes out of the window in this light. The call to being a Christian is a call to the community of God”.

By this time I have given up on finding any generational gulf between them. If anything, they are, though years apart in terms of life experience, walking side by side on the same path. I ask them, what are the greatest challenges you face now?

David says, “Steering the church the way God wants it to go. Bringing the Kingdom, making disciples. Being in the community, not trying to force talking about Jesus into every situation, but trying to help them get more out of their time on earth. Keeping hope, and faith, strong.”

Andy responds, “Changing the culture of young people here in Linlithgow to be inclusive and welcoming. Christians can be a clique and the church in Scotland needs radical change. We need to revitalise the church while still caring for it”.

Find out more about the study options at SSCM.

Dis-abilities? Wellness, children and young people, and the church.

Dis-abilities? Wellness, children and young people, and the church.

Children YOUTH AND COMMUNITY

How do we support children and young people who have a spectrum of physical and mental health needs and disabilities? This is a challenge faced by many of those involved in delivering youth and community work through churches and Christian organisations.

We have organised a training day that will provide an opportunity to look at some specific issues faced by children and young people with physical and mental health needs and disabilities. It will also explain the Scottish legislative framework and explore how we might offer a more welcoming and inclusive church environment for such children, young people and their families. Understanding the language of ‘wellbeing’ and GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) from the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 will help you to engage with colleagues and partners from social services and other bodies that have a role in supporting children and young people in their communities. You will leave with practical ideas for making the environments in which you meet children and young people more welcoming and supportive.

The morning sessions will be led by Fiona Williams, who works as an Educational Psychologist for Glasgow City Council Education Services. She will speak in two sessions:
* Getting It Right For Every Child and young person in Scotland: the potential contribution of church workers
* Psychological issues facing young people: what can I do?

Afternoon seminars will include the following topics:
* The language- and communication-friendly church
* The socially- and emotionally-friendly church
* The accessible church
* Supporting those with mental health issues

We want to encourage you to bring a team of staff and volunteers from your church, and so we are offering a three for the price of two policy on the tickets.

We will be running this event on Friday 28th April from 10am – 4pm at Stirling Baptist Church, 67 Murray Place, Stirling FK8 1AU (the planned event in Glasgow on 29th April has been postponed).

Lunch and refreshments are included in the conference ticket price.

Book now.

Residential Youth Work – 125 years ago and now!

Residential Youth Work – 125 years ago and now!

SOCIAL JUSTICE YOUTH AND COMMUNITY

Have you heard of the ‘Fresh Air Fortnight’?  Recently, our business manager has been going through the old archives of the organisations that formed the Glasgow United Evangelistic Association (GUEA), of which the BTI (Bible Training Institute), which after various iterations became SSCM, was one.

BTI was launched in 1892, and was “not intended to compete with the various theological halls where students are trained for the ministry, but for the practical instruction of Christian workers, both men and women, so as to qualify them for efficient service in the home or foreign field.”  The formation of BTI followed as a natural progression from the children’s and youth work that had been carried out for the preceding two decades.  This included ‘The Children’s Sabbath Dinner’ which commenced in 1874 and the ‘Glasgow Poor Children’s Fresh Air Fortnight’ started in 1884.

Fresh Air Fortnight

The Fresh Air Fortnight was established in 1884, during Queen Victoria’s reign, only 4 years after school attendance for 5-10 year olds was made compulsory.  In an age when almost all the homes in Glasgow were lit by candles, oil or gas and all heating was produced by burning fossil fuels in an open fire, the pollution levels were high.  It is no wonder then that in the 1890 funding appeal the GUEA wrote: “Those of you who live in Glasgow, live in comfortable homes, in healthy parts of the city, or in its suburbs; and yet it is necessary for your health that you go for a month or two in summer to the coast or country.  If you require this change, how much more do those poor children – living, many of them, in unhealthy localities and in hovels not worthy of the name of home – need, at least, a fortnight where they can be out of sight of Glasgow’s smoke and breathe the pure air of the country”.

In 1889, 3,531 children travelled to country villages (many of which have radically urbanised since then) such as Chryston, East Kilbride, Garelochead and Houston for at least a fortnight.  This investment of £2,073 (approximately £250,000 in today’s terms, never mind the bundles of clothing, hats and boots) was viewed as an act of social justice, not merely a holiday for free.  Even then, they realised that the Victorian urban smog was a factor in early deaths and therefore giving the children access to fresh air had health benefits that could potentially lengthen their lives.

Without access to fresh air, the children, over 600 or which living in single parent families or kinship carers, were being condemned to an early death.  Those involved in donating, volunteering or hosting the children were doing so either out of a sense of justice or as a response to their Christian beliefs.   They believed that these ‘poor children’ did not deserve to be condemned to early death sentence and therefore this was a very practical response to Jesus’ command to love one another, and by the time of the First World War had become so established that they owned 12 properties for the purpose.

Residentials today

Over 125 years later, the context is quite different.  Pollution may still exist in Glasgow, but this is vastly reduced in comparison to the 1880s.  The average family does not tend to go on a holiday from Glasgow to East Kilbride, but rather those families who can afford it will travel abroad to Western Europe or beyond.  Likewise, charities such as ‘Cash for Kids’ have replaced the ‘Fresh Air Fortnight’ as being the local charity of choice in the local media.

Despite this there are still Christian agencies providing residential experiences for young people.  Changes in legislation, in attitudes towards residential experiences and to the welfare system mean that there is not a need for the ‘Fresh Air Fortnight’ as it was originally conceived, But the original rationale is still there.

I will offer a snapshot of three local organisations that provide residential experiences for young people that otherwise would not be able to afford it: Junction 12, local YMCAs and theGKExperience.

Junction 12 is a charity based in the east end of Glasgow that works with young people who live in areas of social deprivation.  It “aims to establish and develop caring, nurturing relationships with 10-18 year olds in the east end of Glasgow and to enable them to make positive and healthy choices in every area of their lives” (www.junction12.org.uk).  In order to do this, a key feature of their work is to arrange residential experiences for the young people.  These include Easter camps, summer holidays and weekend camps, all of which are run in connection with SU Scotland.  These residential experiences provide the fresh air experience, however they do much more through providing activities and games where they learn social skills in a fun way as well as having the chance to hear the Christian message.

Charities such as Junction 12 work in similar areas of deprivation as the Fresh Air Fortnight and take young people to similar areas of the countryside not far from Glasgow.  The style of residential more closely resembles that of the 1910s rather than 1880s, as they tend to go away to centres rather than family homes and have a very structured timetable.  Likewise the inclusion of a specific Christian message would also more closely like that of the 1910s.

Whilst local YMCAs work with young people from a similar background, they are more likely to provide overseas residential experiences. These allow young people to explore the world and broaden their thinking about how things are done in other places.  In order to prove their validity to those who may doubt their worth, these residentials tend to be themed focussing on areas like leadership skills or being an effective board member.

This approach to residentials is similar to the Fresh Air Fortnight only in that it provide a residential experience that is on par with those from a middle-class background.  Saying that, the emphasis on the empowerment of young people and their ability to equip with skills that could be transformative for later life, are elements that were lacking in the approach 125 years ago.

Working with young people over a sustained period of time in their local settings and then allowing the outdoor residential and wilderness experience to help them to thrive, is the model which underpins the work of theGKexperience.  The young people come from areas such as Ruchazie, Blackhill and Milton in Glasgow which again would be classed as areas of multiple deprivation.  Young people love the outdoor experience even if it is a bit scary – it helps them to bond, to trust and to thrive. As young people share their experiences, they do not just try out new things but also experience community in a more profound way.  TheGKexperience approach provides a similar wilderness experience as those of the Fresh Air Fortnight and having that community experience is one that would resemble the homely feel of the family home.

Whilst I have tried to emphasise some of the potential differences of these three organisations, it should be noted that some of these are slightly artificial.  Whilst each model is different, each has its merits and their value can be seen in the lives of the young people who return enthused, invigorated and energised.

Graeme McMeekin
Vice-Principal

Preparing for Adoption

Preparing for Adoption

THOUGHTS YOUTH AND COMMUNITY

For those who know me well, you will know that I am part of a church that has recently welcomed adopted children into its midst.  The charity Home for Good (launched by the Evangelical Alliance) has labelled this Sunday ‘Adoption Sunday’.  Therefore this post aims to provide a theological rationale for why Christians might be involved in adoption and how churches can prepare for welcoming adopted children into the wider church family.

There are many reasons why children may enter our care system. For some it may be due to the death of parents, for others they may be the victims of abuse, and for others the birth parents or other family members may not have the skills or ability to provide a safe environment.  In any of these cases, the child is essentially orphaned (often translated in the Bible as fatherless) as there is no-one deemed able to provide the appropriate environment of safety, care and wellbeing for the child.

Throughout both testaments in our scriptures we see the care of widows and orphans as a recurring theme.  These include:

  • Their care as a form of religion that is acceptable to God (James 1:27)
  • Looking after orphans as a reason to be respected by others (Job 29:12 & 31:6-8)
  • We are commanded not to take advantage of them (Exodus 22:22) but rather to provide for them (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), defend them and uphold their cause (Psalm 82:3)

In addition, we are given an image of God as a father of the fatherless (Psalm 68:5) who sustains them (Psalm 146:9 & 10:14).  Likewise, we are also given examples of people like Mordecai whom, “when [Esther’s] father and mother died, Mordecai had raised her as if she were his own daughter.” (Esther 2:7)

Given such an emphasis, you might assume that adoption is endorsed, if not encouraged, within the scriptures.  However, this is not necessarily the case.  Within the Jewish tradition, legal adoption, the legal process by which adoptive parents become as if the child was born to them as birth parents, is not recognised[1].  Such a legal process is thought to separate the children from their genetic familial ties, whereas Jewish law states that that the status of birth parents is permanent.  In contrast long-term fostering, which still acknowledges biological parenthood but enables others to be the primary caregiver, is both recognised and honoured and may even be classed as “special, sacred, a manifestation of holiness, and covenantal.[2]

Whilst the Christian and Jewish traditions are clearly linked and share a number of similarities, Christians take a different approach.  If we read the birth accounts in the gospels, the most extensive of which are in Matthew and Luke, we encounter Mary who “was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18).  Joseph is told to take Mary as his wife and to take on all the parental rights and responsibilities of the child (Jesus), including naming him and raising him as his own.  In essence, Joseph adopts Jesus.

Also in the New Testament, we ourselves are given the designation of children of God[3] with all the associated rights and responsibilities[4] as if we are born of God[5].  Given this, Christians might be expected to have some empathy with those who are adopted and to care for them, in much the same way as those who are Jewish are expected to have empathy for foreigners in their land as they were once foreigners exiled in other lands.

Due to our own adopted status and being followers of Jesus, Christians have good grounds to both endorse and encourage adoption, but the question begs how we might do this practically in our congregations.  The following are a number of suggestions from the experience of one congregation, to which many more could be added:

  1. Release the adoptive parents from other responsibilities

It may be obvious to state that adoptive parents are going through significant life adjustments; in practice the rest of the congregation also needs to adapt in order to release the adoptive parents from other responsibilities.  Even before the children arrive, the new parents have a lot of their time taken up with preparation groups, meetings (e.g. with social workers, health professionals, educational professionals, foster parents and perhaps even birth parents) and even decorating bedrooms etc.  Therefore it is important to speak with them well in advance of any adoption and be realistic about what Church responsibilities need to be taken on by others at the different stages of the adoption process.

  1. Offer practical support

Throughout the process there are lots of opportunities to offer practical support; however the prospective adoptive parents may be too shy or reserved to ask.  In adoption, children might arrive with an array of toys and clothes, whilst others could arrive with virtually nothing.  As a result, such practical support might include financial support, providing second hand furniture, clothes or toys, assistance in decorating or building flat-packed furniture, or even providing a haven with a cup of tea.  As each situation is very different, it is worthwhile the church asking someone who is close to the family to be a liaison for them in order to establish what is needed and then on their behalf mobilise others.

  1. Avoid the tilted heads and cheesy grins

The church may have known about, and been praying for, the family’s adoption journey for many months, if not years.  Therefore the church shares in the joys of the forming of this new family, but this needs to be done sensitively.  It is often inappropriate to make announcements from the pulpit welcoming this new adopted family as this may make the family feel more awkward (especially if they are not used to attending church).  Likewise, there is a tendency for members of the congregation to stare at the family with their heads tilted to one side and a cheesy grin (often accompanied with a silent ‘Awww’).  Whilst in one sense the family may be delighted that the church are sharing in this journey, it can also make them feel very self-conscious.

  1. Flexibility in children’s work

Children who are adopted may come from a range of backgrounds and have just undergone significant trauma, even if it is simply in moving from foster care to new adoptive parents.  Such trauma can mean that their social, emotional or cognitive skills might not be at the same level as their age peers.  As most churches divide their children’s work into different age categories, this means that the child might not actually be at the same stage as others their age and flexibility needs to be exercised.  After some time with the children, the adoptive parents will have a sense of what they can cope with or not and therefore it is worth asking them which level may be best for the children, if indeed it is appropriate for them to participate at all.

  1. Don’t expect to the family to regularly attend

Having journeyed with the adoptive parents on the adoption journey, there is an implicit expectation for the family to attend regularly at church.  Whilst the family may wish to, there may be a host of reasons why this may not be helpful.  It may be that the children are not used to large gatherings such as church.  The children may have social, emotional or behavioural challenges which might mean they are a distraction to others.  If a parent is employed during the week then the weekends become a very precious time to be spent bonding with the child and church services may not be conducive to this.

  1. Pray for them

Adoption is a significant life change for parents and children alike and can be a trying and difficult time.  It is important then that the congregation is encouraged to pray for them privately and, if appropriate, in prayer meetings.

These are just some suggestions in order to start the thought process. This Adoption Sunday, it is worth asking what changes your church has to make in order to welcome adoptive families into your midst.

Graeme McMeekin
Vice-Principal

[1] Broyde, M J, ‘Adoption, Personal Status, and Jewish Law’ in Jackson TP (Ed.), 2005 The Morality of Adoption: Social-Psychological Theological, and Legal perspectives. Cambridge: Eerdmaans. p129
[2] Broyde, 2005: 139
[3] John 1:12; Romans 8:14-19 & 9:8; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1-2
[4] Galatians 4:5-7; Romans 8: 14-19
[5] 1 John 3:9

Identity formation for all ages?

Identity formation for all ages?

CHANGING CHURCH IN SCOTLAND YOUTH AND COMMUNITY

Identity formation is considered one of the key elements of youth work.  As young people progress on the journey from dependence to interdependence, they are engaged in a process of trying to either find or establish their identity.  Whether this identity is ingrained in their very nature or something established by their social circumstances is an often debated subject. But it is unlikely that this is an either/or discussion, as both nature and nurture are likely to be determinants in the process.  There can be no doubt that our social circumstances do influence our perception of ourselves and how others perceive us, whether this is where we live, our family, our experiences, etc.

The reason why we associate identity formation with young people is probably due to the influence of Erik Erikson’s work on developmental psychology.  Erikson argued that humans (particularly in Western culture) develop through eight stages in a somewhat linear fashion.  He argues that during this period of adolescence we attempt to find our own identity, struggle with social interactions, and grapple with moral issues.  If we do not successfully negotiate this stage, then we will experience some form of role confusion.  The youth worker often has a key role to play in this process of assisting the young person to understand themselves, whether this be providing opportunities to form new interests such as sports or music, assisting in spiritual formation, work around sexual identity, or engaging in political discussions.

However, we should not just limit identity formation to an adolescent process.  Our identity is constantly changing.  Some of this change is caused by a change in our social circumstances.  Marriage, parenthood, illness/disability, commencement of studies, retirement or moving house may result in us becoming a spouse, a parent, disabled, a student, a pensioner or a migrant.  Each of these will affect our perception of ourselves and the perception others have of us.

Likewise, it is not just our social circumstances that result in a continual identity formation. Our values and beliefs are also constantly changing.  As we interact with the world around us – whether through what we watch on TV, the people we meet, or the things we read – our values and beliefs change as we interpret the information and form our opinions.  This is not a new phenomenon and some interpreters claim that this is what Jesus was referring to when he said “The eye is the lamp of the body.” (Matt 6:22 NET).  Nonetheless, it can provide for interesting situations, for example when you meet up with someone for the first time in a long time and both of you have a perspective of one another which is rooted in who you each used to be, and rather than taking into account how values, attitudes and opinions have changed in that time.

The early Christians had a similar experience.  David Horrell, in his book Solitarity and Difference[1], studies how the early followers of Jesus created a group or social identity, which is their outworking of a change in identity through an encounter with the Christian gospel.  He notes that “the identity of a group according to social identity theory has cognitive, emotional, and evaluative dimensions, and is further defined by ‘norms’ that stipulate ‘a range of acceptable (and unacceptable) attitudes and behaviours’ for members of the group.  Moreover, distinctions drawn between ingroup and outgroup members serve to enhance a positive – and necessarily comparative – sense of group identity.” (p92)

For these early followers, they embarked on a process of forming a group identity that was to some extent distinct from the Jewish, Greco-Roman and other cultures from which they came from, but which at the same time was not hostile to them.  An example of this can be seen in Romans, where Paul addresses the Jewish Christians in chapters 1-7 (see 2:17) highlighting that they are children of Abraham through faith, not by obedience to law which is not open to the non-Jewish followers of Jesus.  And then in chapters 9-13 he appears to address the Christians who do not come from a Jewish background, highlighting the rich heritage of the Jewish faith and their interaction with YHWH (God) (e.g. 9:4-5).

For Christians today, we still wrestle with this concept of identity formation and how we continue to be shaped by the Christian gospel.  Our Christian identity and associated values,should not be static, but should be constantly transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2).  Such a continual renewal should result in our reflection on our theology (our understanding of God and how He interacts with the world) and either cause us to revise our theological positions or re-affirm them anew.  Theological reflection is therefore a response to our continual encountering of the Christian message and should both shape our identity and our practice.

Likewise, the other features of our identity will affect how we engage and respond to the Christian message.  Whether we are a spouse, a parent, disabled, a student, a pensioner or a migrant will affect how we both interpret scripture and the Christian message, as well as how we practice it in our worship, mission and discipleship.  Therefore, no single model of church is likely to suit everyone and there is a need to create space for a variety of ways of worshipping, doing mission and discipling each other.  The question for us as a church is how we might facilitate and equip people for this.

Graeme McMeekin
Vice Principal

A number of programmes are commencing over the next few months.  If you would like to know more, please complete our online Intent to Study enquiry form, stating which course or programme you are interested in. You can also call the office on 0141 552 4040.  Courses/Programmes starting in the next few months include:

[1] Horrell DG (2005), Solidarity and Difference: A Contemporary Reading of Paul’s Ethics, London: T&T Clark

Pam Mellstrom appointed as Youth and Community Work Programme Manager

Pam Mellstrom appointed as Youth and Community Work Programme Manager

NEWS YOUTH AND COMMUNITY

In response to high levels of student demand for our new courses, SSCM has appointed Pam Mellstrom as Youth and Community Work Programme Manager. Working alongside the school’s Vice-Principal Graeme McMeekin, Pam will be responsible for the oversight and management of all student placements and tutoring for the new BA(Hons) in Theology (Youth and Community). She will also oversee and manage our SQA-accredited courses, which currently include an HNC in Working with Communities, an HNC in Childhood Practice (which is suitable for those involved in children’s and family ministry in churches), and a PDA in Youth Work.

Pam currently works as Project Manager for Linlithgow Young People’s Project, a community based youth project in Linlithgow. She has a BA in Educational Studies from Strathclyde University and a BA in Informal and Community Education from YMCA George Williams College. She has previously worked as a placement mentor / supervisor on the BA(Hons) in Youth and Community Work in Applied Theology offered by International Christian College, and as a tutor for SSCM on our HNC Working with Communities course and for YMCA George Williams College.

Pam lives with her husband Phill and two children in Falkirk and has been an active part of St John’s Church in Linlithgow for the past 15 years, where she is part of the wider teaching team.

Pam said “The youth work sector in Scotland has seen many changes in the past decade and needs youth work practitioners who are well trained, experienced and have the skills to work with young people in both church and community settings. The Youth and Community work degree and SQA qualifications are designed to equip students to meet all of these demands and I am delighted to be joining the team.”

Graeme McMeekin, the college’s Vice-Principal, said “Pam’s appointment is a great addition to the Youth and Community work staff team and adds a wealth of experience and knowledge to the programme. Her experience as a practitioner, manager and leader in youth work in Scotland provides a rich resource for students to learn from.”

Richard Tiplady, SSCM Principal, added “We are delighted that the levels of demand for and applications to the Youth and Community work degree, which is delivered on behalf of Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, have required us to create this new post. Pam’s experience in managing and overseeing youth and community work practice in a Christian context will be invaluable in helping us to provide a first-class educational and training experience for all our students”.

Teaching Children or Teaching Children?

Teaching Children or Teaching Children?

Children YOUTH AND COMMUNITY

I have a confession to make. Over the last couple of years I have undergone a conversion experience.  This should not be a surprise, because as Christians we should always be going through a process of conversion and change to be more Christlike. But, if we are honest with ourselves, after turning to Christ we tend to go through a rapid process of change and conversion which over time seems to slow down and in many cases comes to a halt.  This particular conversion experience is noteworthy for me because it relates to the role of children in the Church and is a lesson I should have learned a long time ago.

When I started in youth work, I was a passionate advocate that young people should be active participants in the Church, not just in the sense of having a sense of belonging but also in the sense of being part of the decision-making, influencing the direction of the Church and being involved in the various ministries of the Church – praying for people, leading services, etc.  However, whilst I had a firm commitment to this level of participation for the young people (roughly defined as 11+), I had a contrasting view about children (under 11s).  My view of children was more like the ’empty vessel’ approach, that children were not active contributors but rather empty vessels to be filled with biblical knowledge at an age-appropriate level.

These differing and somewhat contrasting views make no sense.  I am not sure what effect I thought that puberty, or the transition to Secondary School, would have that would transform these children from passive recipients of ministry into active contributors to the life and worship of the Church.

  • Are these children not also made in the image of God and demonstrating something of who He is (Gen 1:27)?
  • Are these children not supposed to be our role models (Matt 18:2-3)?
  • In the Bible, are we not given the example of Eli, who having just been weaned, was “serving the Lord under the supervision of Eli the priest” (1 Samuel 2:11)?

In many of our churches we do not provide opportunities for children to minister/serve, but rather we are often scrambling around looking for volunteers who can serve them, and such volunteers are often destined to do this by running programmes in a separate hall away from the rest of the congregation.

For most of us as adults, this has suited us.  It means that we can worship in a passive way during our church services, sitting quietly during prayers, sitting listening to sermons, and only speaking when singing a hymn or saying a piece of liturgy where we simply say/sing what is prescribed for us.  If as part of our worship together we engage children as active contributors and worshippers, asking them for their testimonies of what God is doing, etc, or their interpretation on particular passages, then maybe the children can be teaching us rather than assuming that we need to be teaching children.

In my local church, we are in what may be considered an enviable situation. In the next couple of months it is anticipated that we may have more children than adults attending our church on a Sunday morning.  In this situation, where more people are leaving the service than are staying, we may need to re-think how we arrange our services and so consider our children as ‘teaching children’ rather than teaching children elsewhere.

At SSCM, we have a commitment to supporting work with children and are developing a number of new programmes.  From September 2016, we are planning to offer an HNC in Childhood Practice.  This programme can be taken either over one year (attending classes all day on a Thursday) or over two years (attending Thursday mornings only) and is suited for anyone who is either currently working with or in the future hopes to work with children, either as a career or as a volunteer.  For more information, please complete our ‘Intent to Study’ form, stating you are interested in the HNC in Childhood Practice, or call the office on 0141 552 4040.