Long before Scandinavian dramas were all the rage, Youthwork magazine ran its very own. If you were being generous, you could say that without Bjorn Argen, there’d be no Sarah Lund. But it’s unlikely anyone would be that generous. Instead, simply enjoy the ‘comedy’ throwback that is Bjorn for Youth Work. Read the intro/disclaimer here, or catch up with part one, here, and part two here.
3: With no young people, no money and no support, Swedish volunteer youth worker Bjorn Argen begins to doubt his calling.
There’s an old saying back home that goes along these lines: ‘don’t yell ‘hello’ while you are still immersed in the river.’ It never really meant anything to me before. It does now.
I’ve been here for just over two months now. Living with Jesper is great, although the neighbours don’t seem to believe that we are brothers, and working at his health club is also fun. Despite all their strange ways, I like the English people, and especially their television, which often revolves around fat former pop stars doing ridiculous things for money. However, on the other hand, I must admit that I am also finding some things hard.
The church I’ve found myself in is so dead that it makes Tutankhamen look like a party animal. It’s full (or rather, a quarter-full) of aging, petty, stuck-in-the-muds who are far more interested in their own squabbles and grudges than even thinking about helping the wider community. It’s a bit like the EU in that respect. And don’t even get me started on the minister – a man with all the charisma, energy and preaching ability of a flaked almond. This place stinks. Yet, my friend, I’m sure that God has called me here.
Of all things, he has called me to do youth work here. Which is a problem when there aren’t any young people. I’ve asked around, and the last time they had anyone under-18 in this church was four years ago – and they only came in to rob the place. Nobody here has a clue about teenagers; some of the old ladies even seem to think that I am one. On three separate occasions now I’ve been asked if I’d like to earn some extra pocket money by serving coffee for something called ‘Over-65s Fellowship’. Of course, if I left, they could probably just rename the church that.
It became clear to me very early that if I wanted help and advice on starting a youth group, I’d need to go elsewhere. I found a website listing the other churches in Harley Newtown, decided to skip over The Righteous Church of Elvis, and settled on Harley Baptist (which, I know, sounds like a motorbike cleaning service). One very helpful phone call later, I’d arranged to meet their youth worker, Paul, for lunch.
Initially, meeting Paul was quite an upsetting experience, and not just because he insisted on calling me Benny. It turned out that he was the ‘Youth Pastor’ at the church, and one of three full-timers working with young people. With over a hundred young people actually.
‘Could I have a few of them?’ I asked. I was sure he wouldn’t miss two or three.
He laughed, presuming this to be a joke, and continued a rather insensitive monologue about how easy youth work in this town seemed to be.
‘Easy for you perhaps,’ I interrupted, ‘but I’ve got no funding, no young people, and no support.’
‘Have you got a venue?’ he asked, sitting in the palatial comfort of a club room decked out with video games systems and a plasma TV screen.
My mind’s eye flashed to the dusty old crypt back at the church, then to the abandoned scout hut out the back, then briefly to the previous night’s Fat Celebrity Pet Hairdressing Club. ‘Not really,’ I replied.
‘Well before you can hold a meeting Benny, you’ve got to have somewhere to meet.’
This was a good point, and I instantly wondered why I hadn’t thought of it. ‘There’s an old scout hut,’ I said, ‘but I’m not sure it’s habitable.’
‘Then that’s your first job,’ mumbled Paul, through a mouthful of a cheeseburger, probably bought on church expenses. ‘Sort out your venue, and then start thinking about the young people. No-one’s going to want to come to a youth group that isn’t there. Unless of course, you’ve got a virtual youth group on your website like we do, but I don’t suppose you’ve got the kind of cash required.’
I thought for a moment about ramming the rest of the cheeseburger down his throat, but calmed myself. I should not have been getting jealous of this man, with his plasma screen, virtual youth group and big cheeseburgers; my poverty is not his fault (and re-reading that last bit, I may have painted him in a slightly worse light than he deserves; the cheeseburger really wasn’t that big). So I said goodbye to Paul, and Paul said goodbye to Benny, and I went back to have a look at the scout hut.
Which is where I’m writing to you from now. Having just sat in the best-resourced youth centre outside of a young offenders institution, I’m now squatting on an upturned bucket in a room with no floor, let alone seating. The place is messier than a student’s bedroom. In the last hour I’ve counted no fewer than four different species of rodents, including what I believe to be an entirely new one. The windows are all broken; the walls are daubed with offensive graffiti; and there’s a hideous smell about the place that I can only describe as ‘cheesy dog’.
It needs a total makeover if it’s ever going to even resemble a youth group club room. But I don’t have any money, or any help, or any young people for that matter. And I would make some sort of start on my own, except that I’m supposed to start work in half an hour. So being realistic, I just don’t think it’s going to be possible to make this place fit for human habitation. I need to find somewhere else. But I can’t think of anywhere remotely suitable.
I’ve got to be honest – at the moment I feel lower than a manic-depressive Limbo dancer. I’m seriously considering giving this up before it’s begun. Which leads me back to that old proverb. I’m still in the river all right – I’m practically drowning in it. There’s no way I can yell ‘hello’; and there’s no-one around to yell it to anyway. Perhaps I should just yell ‘goodbye’ to this place instead, and go and join the Baptists. Apparently they love a good river.
Say a prayer for me buddy,
Bjorn Argen is a volunteer youth worker based in Harley Newtown, in the North Midlands. Not really.