Tagged: youth work

Feb 19

Supporting LGBT Young People with Faith

In January my wife Sara and I had the great privilege of leading a training session for chaplains working in Further Education (FE) Colleges across the Bath and Wells Diocese. The question they asked us to cover was a great question – how can we better support LGBT young people who have a faith? A few people have asked for the content of our session, so this is a very condensed version of our ten recommendations for chaplains.

Listening is the role of any chaplain, but it is particularly important when it comes to LGBT young people. Let them tell their story. Listen without agenda, bias or judgement. Ask them what they need from you – don’t assume you know even if you’ve worked with LGBT young people before. We are all different, and what this young person needs from you may be completely unique. Being heard is often a healing act in itself for LGBT people, who are often made to listen to the views of others on their sexuality and identity.

It’s important not to use what is often referred to as ‘heteronormative’ language (defined in the Oxford dictionary as ‘denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation’). For example, if you’re working with a female young person don’t assume they’ll have a male partner. It’s also really important to challenge homophobic behaviour and language, even what may be seen as harmless joking or ‘banter’ by others. Challenging this educates the young people you are with, but it also communicates you are a safe person to speak to about gender and sexuality issues. Ensure you educate yourself about pronouns and correct terminology, particularly when working with transgender young people. Ask them what pronouns they prefer – he/she/they.

In most faith communities there’s an understanding that we all land in slightly different places when it comes to theological issues, particularly secondary as opposed to primary issues. In youth work, a key principle has always been to journey with and walk alongside young people as they find their way and discover things for themselves, rather than indoctrinating them or creating copies of ourselves! We may give our opinions when asked but we don’t enforce our worldview onto someone, or indeed any viewpoint about a specific theological issue. It’s exactly the same when working with LGBT young people. Walk with them, equip them, resource them, but don’t assume they’ll end up in the same place as you theologically – whatever viewpoint you currently hold on this issue.

One of the many gifts the LGBT community has to give to the church, and in fact this is true of any minority group, is the unique perspective and experience they have on the world and the church. They look at things through a unique lens, and give us the opportunity to see things in a new way. For example, with some of our straight married friends, we love the way our same sex relationship allows them to reflect on aspects of their relationship, that they normally wouldn’t reflect on. We often give the example of how in our early married life we were free from assigning household tasks in accordance with gender stereotypes. Instead we assigned them based on gifting and availablity, and in doing this we enabled some of our straight friends to see they could do the same! This is a trivial example but there are much larger ones – we have so much to learn from every minority group and if you are truly listening and in relationship with LGBT young people you will learn lots of exciting and life changing things!

Whilst being hurt by church is not an experience that’s exclusive to the LGBT community, it is a common one. For LGBT people, church can often feel like a very unsafe, non-affirming and even hostile place where you are vulnerable to prejudice and at risk of being on the receiving end of discrimination and judgement. Don’t push a young person to be part of a faith community if that’s not what they want or are ready for, or unless you can guarantee their safety and protection. Have a wide definition of church – know that a young person can experience church in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of places. It’s worth saying too that church can be a positive place and there are some amazing churches that are fully inclusive and fully affirming. You might need to help a young person to do their research if they’re looking for an affirming faith community.

When I was about 15 I had some amazing youth leaders who recognised some of where my gifts were starting to show themselves. They took risks with me and let me preach, teach, lead small groups and be involved in lots of exciting ways. The chances they gave me helped me learn more about myself, more about the person God had made me to be and the things he was calling me to do. However if I’d have been known at that time as gay, I wouldn’t have been given those opportunities. Lots of churches at the moment seem to find it acceptable to ‘welcome’ LGBT people, but to restrict and limit their involvement and participation. This is very damaging to LGBT people as they are held back from being all they are called to be, but it also damages the church as needed gifts and talents are withheld from the church and wider community. They are welcomed as guests, rather than included and involved as family members. This isn’t going to change quickly! Things are moving, but whilst that happens there is an army of young, gifted LGBT people who are called to all kinds of spiritual gifts – worship leaders, small group hosts, youth workers, preachers etc, who are simply stopped from exercising these gifts if they are in non-affirming churches. Therefore if you have any opportunity as an FE chaplain to empower and enable a young LGBT person to try something out, to be involved, to lead, let them do it!

Speak out where you can on behalf of LGBT young people. Better still, take their voices with you. LGBT people are often restricted from leadership meetings or any structure or system which has the power to effect change, especially young LGBT people. Think about ways in which you can help their voice to be heard and listened to. The times my wife and I have felt the most loved by those around us, is when they have stood up for us, spoken out on our behalf, challenged prejudice and discrimination, risked their own relationships and hurt with us as we have felt hurt.

Sexuality and gender are complex issues. They involve long and often difficult journeys. It may take time for a young person to find an identity they feel comfortable with, to settle or decide on language or pronouns. Give them time, be prepared for the long term as well as the short term. Understand that young people will shift and change in their views, understanding and expression as they grow older.

What does it look like to be a holy, LGBT Christian? To be set apart, purified and counter cultural? This is an exciting question, and it’s a question the church isn’t often prepared to help LGBT people answer, as they’re only just starting to figure out you can be fully gay and fully Christian! Don’t feel you can’t challenge a young person about their behaviour – there are ways to explore sexuality that honour God and please him, and there are ways to explore sexuality that are destructive and unhelpful. When I’d come to the resolution that I was gay and that God was ok with it, I remember desperately searching for books, internet articles, anything that would tell me ‘what the rules are’! Sexually yes, but in other ways too. Until there are more books written, until we talk about this in church, until churches actually teach and guide people and provide LGBT role models in leadership positions who can help young people figure this stuff out, it will always be tricky and new ground for young people to explore. Don’t be afraid to ask the awkward questions and have the difficult conversations, you’ll find LGBT young people are actually yearning for someone they can speak to about the tough stuff.

Being LGBT, young and Christian can be difficult, but it can also be amazing. Don’t assume it’s a problem for a young person, or something they see as negative or difficult, they might be fine with it! Show them that their sexuality is a strength, that it’s part of who God made them to be. With it they can go places others cannot go, reach people others cannot reach, and see things in a unique way unlike anyone else.

(These recommendations come with a few disclaimers! I am no expert – I’m drawing on my own experience as a gay, married Christian with over fifteen years of youth work experience. Therefore these are opinions, and you’re welcome to disagree with them. I’m aware that issues transgender young people face have not been covered in detail here, nor issues young Muslim or Jewish young people face. For that I highly recommend and


Jun 22

Youthwork Summit 2015

I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Youthwork Summit on Re:verse – a spoken word poetry project for young people I run. Here’s my talk, with two of our young poets giving some amazing performances…


Mar 03

Talk from The Table – ‘What is Paradox?’

It was a great privilege to be involved in ‘The Table’, an event co-curated by CYM (Institute for Children, Youth and Mission, FYT (Frontier Youth Trust) and CMS (Church Mission Society). The Table is a series of events aimed at pioneer youth and community workers, of which this was the first. We explored the idea of ‘Tensions Around The Table’ – things we often find clashing and contradicting and how to find balance in all that uncomfortable tension. I gave a short lecture on what paradox is, which you can listen to below. We’ve got another event coming up in April, where we’ll be exploring how to create church with young people. You can find out more about that here.


Sep 03

Welcome to The Table

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 11.42.34The Table is a space for pioneering youth and community workers to gather together for conversation, sustenance and learning. It’s being curated by CYM (Institute for Children, Youth and Mission), FYT (Frontier Youth Trust)’s StreetSpace community and CMS (Church Mission Society).

Using creative and participative processes, we want to learn from each other, dream new dreams and explore some of the specific issues related to working in pioneering contexts. We hope it will be a place where theory and practice collide, where ideas can be discussed openly and rooted back into the every day.

We’ll be running a series of events throughout the year, kicking off with ‘Tensions Around the Table’ on Monday 13th October, 10am – 4pm at Bristol CYM. Tickets are £15 (plus a small booking fee) which includes lunch, and are available to buy here –

Youth and community work has always been at the forefront of pioneer practice. Tensions Around the Table aims to facilitate conversations to keep pushing effective and inclusive pioneer practice and thinking forward.

Jonny Baker (CMS), Richard Passmore (FYT), Sian Hancock (CYM), Jo Dolby (CYM) and many others will be helping us to explore the many things we have to hold in tension in pioneering practice. How do we respect the existing tradition but pioneer away from it? How can we plan and organize but remain spontaneous and flexible? Is our work about revolution or socialization? We’ll be looking at the role paradox plays in pioneering practice, the tensions that arise within it as well as unpacking the paradox of being a young person. We will develop a creative space to explore how these paradoxes and tensions can be imaginatively rooted into practice.

The Table is a place where all are welcome, where grace is more important that manners and where no one voice is louder than another. It is an open table with a place set for you. Come and join us!


Sep 29

The Shell

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given, is that ideas you have now, are not always for now. Sometimes an idea needs time to grow, evolve, develop. It needs to be pruned and refined. It needs to be pulled apart and criticized by people who love you and understand the context of the idea. I love ideas. I have them all the time. Sometimes I have so many ideas they drive me insane. I am thankful for my ‘ideas’ notebook, which is filled with projects, dreams, film ideas and book plans. Some of those ideas have been done, some of them will get done and some of them may never happen. Ideas are fun.

I want to tell you about one idea, because it’s an idea I would like to be refined and pruned. It’s one of those ideas that won’t leave me alone, and I think that even though it’s kind of a big one, one day it might actually happen. It’s shaped from all the different parts of me – my experience as a youth worker, my love of art, film and creativity, my desire to see as many people as possible come to know and love God in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them…and my weird obsession with abandoned buildings and large empty industrial spaces (I once cried in the Turbine Hall in the Tate Gallery in London because it was so beautiful. It was empty). So here goes, drum roll please, introducing…The Shell.

( Read more )


Sep 19

Nottingham YFC Promotional Film

Nottingham YFC Promotional Film from Jo Dolby on Vimeo.


Jun 08

Grace and Justice

I saw this image today and it’s added to some recent thoughts I’ve had about grace and justice. Sometimes I really struggle with how those two things sit together. On one hand God is so outrageously and consistently loving and gracious. We see this displayed so powerfully in the cross and in his relentless pursuit of us. But on the other hand God loves justice and the bible mentions justice a lot. God is just and he will one day bring justice in full and make everything right.

I find the same tension in how I treat others. When someone does something wrong, I feel a strong emotional reaction that they should face justice for it, that they should be made to pay for what they’ve done because that’s what justice is.

Except of course, if that someone is me.

So often we crave, thirst and fight for justice, for everyone except those we have wronged. We want to dish out justice, but we actually don’t want to receive it. We say we want justice, but do we really? Have we really thought about what might happen if we actually saw justice?

It’s important to say that sometimes we think justice and punishment are the same thing, but they are really not. True, Godly justice will restore, make things right, replace some of what’s been taken. In the Old Testament justice is often linked to the Jewish idea of Shalom – wholeness, peace, everything as it should be. In the justice system restorative justice seeks to do just that – restoration in both victim and offender, replacing some of what’s been taken away. Punishment is not about restoration, it’s just about taking more away. It is about vengeance and it achieves nothing.

During my degree placement I worked in a Young Offender’s Institute with the Chaplaincy Team. What I heard, saw and experienced in those few months I will never forget. It completely threw my concept of forgiveness, justice, punishment and well just about everything. I remember my first week of cell visits in the isolation block, and walking towards the cell of one young man, aged 15 who I was told by the chaplain accompanying me had been convicted of sexually abusing several boys between the ages of 5 – 8. My mind instantly filled with thoughts about what a monster this kid must be and how glad I was that he was in prison where he belonged, paying for what he had done. As I walked into his cell and spent half an hour with him, I was ashamed by what I had previously thought. I met not a monster, but a polite, normal, funny, friendly young man whose only complaint was that the chaplaincy hadn’t brought him a bible yet. He had encountered God powerfully at a chapel service, given his life to God and was now desperate to learn more about what it meant to follow Jesus.

As I walked back to the chaplaincy, I was told horrific stories about this young man’s life. The abuse he had suffered was abuse that I could not fathom or even imagine, abuse so horrific the damage that had been done physically to him had involved reconstructive surgery. I began to see that what he had done to these little boys was just normal to him and that he had no idea of what he had actually done. I was filled with compassion for him and I longed to see him helped and restored. As I remembered my earlier thoughts, I escaped to the toilet and sobbed. The point I want to make is about judgement. I made a judgement based on the information I had but that information was incomplete. A judge in a court case makes a judgement on the information that is provided by the prosecution and defence. Sometimes a wrong judgement can be made if the information is false, incomplete or unavailable. The information we have on any person, situation or event, will ALWAYS be incomplete. So how can we make a judgement? To judge correctly you would need to know everything, and there is only one person who knows everything and therefore one person that is qualified to make judgements. That person is not me, or you. It is God and God alone. It’s easy to see why Jesus told us not to judge.

In Matthew 18 Jesus tells the story of the Unforgiving Servant. In it, a King is owed money by one of his servants. It’s a huge debt, one that could probably never be repaid. The words used in the passage are the highest Greek numeral that existed in the language and the word for the largest amount of money. It would be like saying he owed him zillions of pounds! The King begins to order the man to be sold into slavery with his family – an acceptable solution at the time but still something that wouldn’t even come close to paying the debt. But after the servant begs for mercy, the King not only relents from selling him into slavery, he actually forgets the debt. Wipes it clean. Then the servant goes out and bumps into another servant who owes him a relatively tiny amount of money. Instead of showing the grace that’s been shown to him, he locks the other servant up until he can repay the money. The king hears, is obviously outraged and actually hands him over to be tortured until he can pay the money back.

It’s such a challenging story. When we have been the recipients of such incredible and overwhelming grace, how can we not show this to others? How can we demand justice if we’ve been released from facing it ourselves?

Earlier on in Matthew 5:7, Jesus says “happy are those who show mercy, for they will be shown mercy”. It’s like a mirror effect, that pops up at other times throughout the bible. Like in Luke 7 when Jesus explains to Simon that someone who has been forgiven a lot, will love a lot. When you have received grace, you show grace, when you receive love, you show love. When you’ve been given mercy, you give mercy. When someone has refused to give up on you, you refuse to give up on others. Sometimes half the problem is that we have no idea what God has done for us. We forget it and become detached from it. Just like the servant had somehow become detached from the mercy that had been shown to him. If only he could have made the link! When we’re in a place of wanting to dish out punishment, sometimes it’s good to take ourselves back to the place where we were spared punishment – the cross. ‘Laying something at the foot of the cross’ makes sense here. When we remember the cross, when we really feel what it means, nothing else even matters.

When I’m tempted to make a judgement, I remember it’s God alone who is qualified to make judgements.

When I struggle to show grace to someone, I remember the grace that’s been shown to me.

When I want to give up on someone, I remember the God who never gives up on me.

When I don’t want to forgive the inexcusable in someone else, I remember how God has forgiven the inexcusable in me.

When I’m not prepared to pay the price for something that I’ve done wrong, I remember the price that’s been paid for me.

After all that…justice and punishment don’t seem so important anymore.


Jan 01

About 180

At the grand old age of 19, I moved to Bath to begin a degree in youth work and set up a project for Bath Youth for Christ with the aim of reaching and working with the skate community. What followed was seven amazing years of ups and downs, lessons learned, God doing way beyond anything I could have asked or imagined and most importantly…young people being transformed. The project came to a close in August 2011 and this page is a space for the project to be remembered through pictures, stories and film. Scroll down to read it all or have a look at the ‘in this section’ menu on the right hand side. Enjoy!


Dec 10

The Beginning

I was 15 years old, expressing my views rather loudly as normal at my youth group.

That week I had been skateboarding on Nottingham city centre’s Market Square with my friends as usual. Two policemen had approached our group and informed us that we were not allowed to skateboard here, and if we continued, our boards would be confiscated. I told the policeman I would stop skateboarding if he told the mountain bikers across the other side of the square to stop cycling. He told me it ‘wasn’t the same’ and refused to continue the conversation.

Later that day we went to a church car park, only to be greeted by a big sign saying ‘no skateboarders’. Not even ‘no skateboarding’, but ‘no skateboarders’. I was really angry. More than just a little bit angry. It wasn’t about not being able to skateboard where I wanted, it was about people’s attitudes and prejudice towards skaters, towards young people who were ‘a bit different’, it was about people’s irrational fear of subcultures. It was about a church that was supposed to love young people, but instead put up signs to keep them away.

My rant became a preach, as I told my friends about the Jesus I knew, who didn’t just love subcultures and marginalized people, but who actually made a conscious and deliberate effort to seek out those people. The Jesus who stepped into peoples boats, who went to all the places no one would go, who got into trouble because of who he hung out with and what he said.

Then came the idea.

A project, run by Christians, not just to include subcultures, but to actually work with them.

It was a great idea. But I couldn’t do it. You see I wasn’t good enough. I was one those ‘annoying’ kids in the youth group. The one who did lots of stupid things and distracted others, the one who questioned everything, the one who was always too honest, about everything. The one who had been through a lot of bad stuff. The one who the youth workers breathed a sigh of relief about when I didn’t show up.

Two years passed, and I was half way through A levels I was failing. My tutor suggested I explored other avenues, my teachers said I wouldn’t amount to anything because I couldn’t focus and apply myself. I had to leave, or they would have made me leave. Which to be honest, was fair enough. Most of the time I turned up stoned, and when I was there I was arrogant, distracting and sarcastic. I lived a double life of being a Christian who went to church on Sundays, but failed miserably to put anything I believed into practice during the week.

Suddenly, glandular fever hit. All I could do was lie in bed and think. I thought about me, I thought about God, I thought about my life. I thought about where I was headed. And I thought about that day, at youth group, about that idea. I thought about those skaters, on the market square, rejected by the church. And I knew I had to make my choice.

I left Nottingham at 17 to take a gap year with the only organisation who accepted year out volunteers under 18 with no money. I was placed with a church, and a Youth for Christ centre. Within six weeks I knew youth work was my calling. I gave up skateboarding, but skateboarders remained burned on my heart. I couldn’t avoid them. I kept thinking about that idea. Someone should do that I thought. But not me, because people like me don’t do stuff like that. I’m not good enough.

I did a second gap year, and during my second year, the national director of Youth for Christ at the time, Roy Crowne, came to speak at an event in our city. We had dinner with him, and I told him about my idea. I got excited as he thought it was good, and said ‘you should do it’. He asked me whether I’d ever written my idea down.

That night I poured my heart out onto a piece of A4. The project would be called ‘One Eighty’. It would provide young people with great skate facilities, but most importantly, it would allow young people the opportunity to turn their lives around, to change their minds, to move from a life without God to a life with God, to ‘One Eighty’.

That night as I slept, I dreamt of a skate event, that I was running.

I saw a set of double doors, with glass windows.

Beyond the glass windows was a massive group of skaters, queuing down some steps, onto the road, waiting to get in. To this skate event, to the first ever ‘One Eighty’.

The next day I marched into the venue and told Roy about the idea. I expected him to take my idea and make it happen, but what he said in response definitely surprised me. He vaguely glanced at the piece of paper I had spent nearly all night working on. And he just said one sentence, and walked off, which I will never forget. “You better get on with it then. Because if you don’t do it, then no one will”.

I had another choice to make.

More time passed, and now I was nineteen years old. I had arrived for my first day at work at Bath Youth for Christ, as their new ‘Skate Outreach Worker’. My job was to turn this idea into reality, to make One Eighty happen, as my placement as part of my youth work degree. I had no qualifications. I was a teenager. I still wasn’t very good at being a Christian during the week. All I had was a desk, and a chair. That was it. No money, no team, no resources, nothing. A broken, unqualified, insecure, lonely teenager, full of pain and questions and anger and fear.

I did a survey of local skaters, to find out their views and needs. I spent time at the skate park getting to know people. I introduced myself at the skate shops. I wrote a business plan. I worked out how much money we would need. There was a lot of zeros. I told the trustees what I wanted to do. They were amazing, and were up for giving it a go. We agreed to hold a test event, where we could try the ramps we wanted to buy, and see whether the need was really there. If there were more than 100 people, then we would go ahead and launch One Eighty as a project.

The launch event date arrived. We had a great venue, we had the ramps hired, we had the volunteers, we had a logo, we had the press coming, we had a great DJ, we had the local skate team coming to give a demo, we had everything. One hour until we opened, and everything went wrong. The DJ was stuck in traffic, the people bringing the ramps were lost, I had forgotten about five hundred things. Half an hour to go and everything arrived, we just about got it all up and running in time.

Five minutes to go and I remembered that I hadn’t put up the signs on the front door. We hadn’t arrived through the front door where the young people would be arriving, we had entered with the equipment through a side door. I walked very quickly with the signs in my hand, and as I approached the entrance my heart leaped out of my chest, and I dropped the signs on the floor.

I saw a set of double doors, with glass windows.

Beyond the glass windows was a massive group of skaters, queuing down some steps, onto the road, waiting to get in. To this skate event, to the first ever ‘One Eighty’.

My dream just came true. That had never happened before. We saw 400 young people come through the door that day. It was absolute chaos. I loved every second of it. I wasn’t sure, but I think there was a need for a skate project. I think there was a need for ‘One Eighty’.


Dec 10

About Graff

Graff was a youth project that developed from the skate project (see 180) as young people who were into skating were very often also into graffiti.

We worked in partnership with the local council, Youth Offending Team and council youth service to deliver a weekly project that gave young people a safe and legal space to develop their skills as artists. As a result of the project graffiti statistics in the city reduced massively and we were able to divert young people from illegal graffiti into legal art.

This page is a space to share stories, photos, films, policies and other useful information from the project.