stewart cutler christian youth work development

There are times when you stumble across something really quite special.

In the middle of a break on the Isle of Skye, Avril and I rounded a corner on a single track road in  and instantly recognised a wooden house which was featured on the TV show Grand Designs.  I’m going to try to explain what happened next…

house

The house is stunning but our attention was drawn to the small studio behind the main house and the sign on the fence… Single Track Art & Espresso.  It was that time of the day when a coffee seems like the best idea in the world but art and coffee in a brilliantly designed building…  what’s not to like?

single track 2

As we entered the cafe we immediately felt really welcome.  It’s hard to explain why.  The space is relaxed with a counter to sit at around two sides and four tables together in the centre of the room.  There are no separate tables so the people who were there, both locals and tourists, were chatting about where to go, what to see and where they had come from.  Indi, the owner/barista, was making coffee and drawing people gently into the conversation.

Single Track(Photo from https://www.facebook.com/SingleTrackSkye)

People were just leaving when we arrived.  We were guided through the menu of coffee, hot chocolate (no ordinary chocolate!) and teas.  Tea was only added to the menu when the tea shop along the road decided not to open.  Complementary not competition was the motivation here.

We ordered a flat white for me and a hot chocolate with chilli and stuff for Avril and cake.  As Indi made our drinks she told us that Single Track had only been open for a couple of weeks.  It was an experiment that had grown organically out of a couple of gatherings of friends and wondering how this space could add something special to an already special place.  Artisan coffee and chocolate was the answer.

A young couple arrived and ordered takeaway coffee, just at the time the bank was due.  In island communities the bank comes to you, in a van, with a man in a suit and everything.

The bank and the couple left leaving us to chat more with Indi about art, coffee and Moleskine notebooks.  She’s a big fan of my favourite notebooks so we chatted about evernote, the mobile app which can link to your notebook using smart stickers.  Anyone who has a Moleskine catalogue as part of the reading material in a cafe has life sussed as far as I’m concerned!

The drinks were fantastic and the view…

single track 1

Well, the view is something else.

We chatted and drank and looked out the window and chatted some more.  Then we left with cakes.  The bank coming had interrupted the cake serving but it really didn’t matter.  We would be back.  We tweeted @singletrackskye to say so.

In fact we ended up back the very next day.  It was the first thing we said in the morning… ‘Let’s go back there today.’

But why?  Sure, the coffee is better than great and the hot chocolate is pretty special, but why drive 12 miles for a drink?  Because we weren’t going there for the drinks, or even the cakes.

We were going for the community.

I’m still trying to work out what it is about this small space that is so special.  It could be the design, the view, the cups, the art, the coffee, the host, the way the tables encourage conversation or allow you just to stare out the window, the Moleskine notebooks, pencils and pens, the yellow chairs…

Perhaps it’s just the sum of its parts.

I think it is more likely that all of this is deliberate.  Creating this kind of community is never accidental.  It takes work, persistence, design and vision.  And it works.

Single Track Art & Espresso is more than a coffee shop.  It’s a community centre that brings together the local people of Skye and those who come to this amazing island to visit.  It creates a space where everyone is part of the same community for a while, where stories of travels are encouraged, where advice is shared and coffee and hot chocolate are elevated to the same artistic expression as the paintings on the wall.

It is special.

Go there.  And tell Indi we sent you.

https://www.facebook.com/SingleTrackSkye

 

 

 

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Pilots Worship Pack Lost and Found

 

I’m delighted to see the new Pilots Worship Pack: Lost and Found, which Soo and I wrote, is about to be sent out into the wild. It’s a pack with 4 sessions which help young people to explore the idea of Lost and Found along with some resources for a worship service led by young people.  The resource comes from Pilots but would be suitable for use with any groups of children and young people.

I’ll post the details of where you can get a copy as soon as it is available.

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When people ask you what good the church does… point them to WEvolution, a charity helping to encourage self-reliant groups:

WEvolution works alongside people, particularly women, who are on low incomes or are unemployed and are determined to improve their lives and those of their families. We bring them together in Self-Reliant Groups (SRGs). These are small groups of 5 to 10 women who develop strong bonds of trust and friendship, save small amounts of money together, learn skills and support each other to create opportunities for themselves. These are often through starting up micro-businesses to earn an income and improve their livelihoods.

WEvolution’s Self-Reliant Groups (SRGs) are the first of their kind in the UK and inspire change, pride and enterprise in local communities.

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Our work is built upon three key elements:

We believe that people, regardless of where they live and their circumstances, want financial stability for themselves and their families and can be very enterprising in their determination to achieve this.

We hold that when people come together in small groups where there is trust, friendships and collective striving towards common goals, they have a greater chance to turn their lives around.

We are convinced that women have a special contribution to make to our society and economy and empowering them is key to addressing a number of issues including child poverty and health inequalities.

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Does church maintain the status quo?  We talk a good game about transformation and renewal but are we organisationally set up to avoid it?

Broken Rhythms

This isn’t a new question for me.

I remember thinking about it when I was training for youth work at Jordanhill in 1991.  Apparently other people had been thinking about organisational inertia it for longer than that because there were books written about it.

In youth work this questions appears in the guise of ‘Do we train young people to be good, middle class, well mannered high achievers?’ or ‘Do we just want young people to be like us?’.

There is some really interesting stuff around at the moment about how we might work with young people to develop an authentic expression of church with no expectation that they should or would even want to worship and gather in community in the same way we might.

There is another aspect to this question… Does the church maintain the political and social status quo?

I remember sitting in a Church of Scotland General Assembly where someone suggested a change.  The Principle Clerk stood up and stated that such a change would require an Act of Parliament.  The clear implication taken was that this would be too difficult and the proposer should sit down and shut up.  Which they did.  This is just one fairly extreme example but in many ways all of our decision making processes mitigate against change.  We consult widely, we need broad agreement, we take ages to change.

These can all be good things.  Taking time prevents lurching from one position to another, making snap decisions and encourage reflection and consultation.  It gives time for discussion, consideration and prayer.  These ‘safeguards’ prevent the loudest voice winning out, include a wide range of people in the process and hopefully listen to what God might be saying to the church.

They can also kill enthusiasm, limit growth and stifle innovation.

What really baffles me is when the church seems to be in agreement about the need for change but is completely unable to make that change happen.  Perhaps it is be cause too many things would need to change all at once.  Perhaps it is because we don’t have a clear idea what that change would actually look like.  Perhaps it is because we aren’t training people to be creative, risk taking leaders.

The recent Church Growth Research from the Church of England seems to paint a clear picture of the recipe for growth:

Church Growth

 

 

I’ve managed to get myself nominated to be on a United Reformed Church task group considering 20-40s.  It would seem to be ‘money where your mouth is’ time.

So, what do we need to do to become the kind of church that people in the 20-40s would engage in?  What might that kind of church look like?  What are the things that really stop people engaging with church?  Are they big philosophical issues?  Are they relational?  Are they about time and energy?

Answers on postcard, Facebook comment, tweet, email, text or more preferably over a coffee… 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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YA2014 PCard f CropSo… here are my first keynotes from URC Youth Assembly 2014.

As always, your thoughts, comments and observations are welcome…

Here are the pdfs

URCYA14 Keynote 1

“When the world was dark…” Spill the Beans

“Exile is…” comes from Rob Bell’s book Jesus Wants to Save Christians.

URCYA14 Keynote 2

“Open Arms” by Elbow

“And they asked Jesus…” Spill the Beans

“Vine grower…” Spill the Beans

URCYA14 Keynote 3

“exile is not always the darkest corner of the earth. Sometimes it is lush and plentiful, sometimes it is full of life…” Carola PerlaGibbin House

 

 

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333040_344499155563013_960489688_oOver the past few days I’ve been thinking about men.  A lot. That’s not something I do very often.  It’s also something that people in churches don’t do enough of.

This consideration of the male of the species was as part of my training for ministry and was hugely challenging.

To get us thinking we looked through a copy of The Metro and highlighted all the stories that were ‘about men’.  They were, perhaps unsurprisingly, almost completely negative.  Stories of violence and crime, cry babies and deadbeat dads, sexual and emotional disfunction and of course six pages of sport.

Men are bombarded with contradicting messages about what it means to be ‘a real man’.  The loveable rogue or criminal scum.  The protector or lout.  Compassionate and caring or soft and wimpy.

We considered some archetypes from Moore and Gillette:

We wondered which types ministers are expected to be and how much of what we have seen and experienced is the shadow sides of these ideals.  We wondered about how the move away, quite rightly, from associating the language of war and violence with faith in hymns about soldiers and armies and swords and victories has affected and perhaps feminised faith and the church?  How do we see Jesus?  As a strong man, used to felling trees and working wood, well able to survive 40 days alone in a wilderness?  Or as gentle, meek and mild?  And are those two stereotypes incompatible?

We wondered if men are trying to attain these images of masculinity without really understanding what they are trying to be, or why?

We grappled with our indoor, risk averse, cosseted society where boys only exposure to danger is on an xbox.

We explored the differences between male and female networking and support structures and asked questions around what pastoral care looks like for men who hide their emotions or find themselves coming out of a long term relationship with few friends who they feel they can talk to.

Most of all we wondered why church wasn’t dangerous anymore and what impact that has on men’s faith?

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“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Nelson MandelaLong Walk to Freedom

Nelson Mandela, the man whose long walk to freedom transformed the evil apartheid system of South Africa, has died.

I will never forget the day I was lucky enough to be at Wembley Stadium with my friend Derek in 1990 to hear Nelson Mandela speak just two months after he was released from prison.  It was a day that shaped my life.

We watched him from high in the back of the stands off to the right of the stage.  We had spent the day watching some of the best bands on the planet but none came close to the charismatic presence of Madiba.

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An astonishing man who rejected hate and embraced forgiveness. May he rest in peace and may we pursue his dream of a world where all are valued and equal.

 

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