Like a high speed train loaded with explosives and Denzel Washington, Bjorn for Youth Work is now hurtling towards its thrilling conclusion. Ish. If you’re just joining us, start here.
9: It’s here – and it’s really small! Niceness in the Newtown™
Two members of my youth group. Four local Goths. Scary twin children. A Norwegian worship leader whose only widely popular song is ‘Jesus loves a squirrel’. And me – a slightly clueless, increasingly cynical, fish-out-of-water with unmanageable hair. It was hardly the A-team. For that matter, it was hardly the D-team. B.A. Baracus would have pitied the fool who tried to pull this bunch together.
Yet that was my task. Niceness in the Newtown™ – our weeklong social action and evangelism mission to Harley – was ready to begin. We’d barely planned, we certainly hadn’t trained, and few of us even knew what we were supposed to be doing. We were a little bit like management consultants in that respect. All these obstacles needed to be overcome, and though I hoped that God might help, I felt the first morning would be essential.
The ten of us gathered together at St Eric’s early on Monday, where there were some immediate positives. I’d asked everyone to bring different equipment, and was pleased to see an array of cleaning products, garden tools and small weapons, which my new gothic-themed friends insisted were purely for ‘self-defence and chopping vegetables’. In addition, in reaction to the vicar’s rejection of their funding request, Tommy and Dave had pooled their collective pocket money to buy special ‘Stop me, I’m being nice’ t-shirts for the whole team. And as a nice touch, on the back there was an up arrow and the words ‘I’m with omniscient’.
Morten led worship beautifully, putting self-indulgence to one side and sticking to British songs almost exclusively. Only once did he veer off into his own songbook, and to be fair to him, we all loved doing the squirrel actions. Then it was down to me to inspire the troops, with some uplifting words that would propel them into Harley full of joy and good deeds. This I did very successfully, largely because I just repeated word-for-word a talk that Michael Versace had used the previous week at Charismatics in the Capital. Then, we split off into two packs – I took the Goths to do some gardening (never thought I’d get to use that phrase), and Morten took Tommy, Dave and the Brannigan twins to pick litter in the high street.
We spent the rest of that day, and indeed that week, helping startled people. Mainly, we focused on the marginalised – the elderly, the poor; the homeless – because we kind-of figured that was who Jesus would have spent time with if he’d only had a week. In the mornings we got together to pray and to sing, and in the afternoons we went out and got our hands dirty. We cleaned up gardens, painted fences, and… got attacked by dogs. Now I’m not saying that what we were doing was original, but it really seemed to make an impact.
So much so, that on the third afternoon, I found myself being approached by three pensioners wielding garden tools. Normally, this might have concerned me, but on this occasion, I knew better. They wanted to join us – to assist us as we cleared out their allotments – to help us as we helped them. The other group had a similar experience: Morten told me that their band of street litter pickers had grown to a small army by midweek. If these aren’t an example of the church in action, and being relevant, I don’t know what is.
And it got better. On the Friday night, we’d hastily organised our ‘evangelistic response evening’ at the church. We’d had to – people kept coming up to us and asking us if we were doing some sort of get-together. So we did. Morten discovered that the Goths, in addition to their love of lurking and dressing like chimney sweeps, were also an accomplished four-piece hard rock band, brilliantly called The Goths. They would provide the music. Dave would tell the story of his conversion, which would cater for the evangelistic part. And I’d sort out drinks and nibbles.
I’m not sure how, but we packed out the church. 200 people, from elderly allotment owners, through homeless people, to the kind of cool, young funky people I normally cross the street to avoid, filled St Eric’s like it was 1899. And the band played, and Dave spoke, and the people nibbled. And at the end of it, two people decided that they’d rather like to become Christians.
Now we may not have planned it properly. We may not really have even thought it through. But somehow, one young person’s idea, a couple of Scandinavians and a lot of prayer added up to something. The Goth boys, who were never given a musical opportunity in their old youth group, have decided to join us. The nine-year-old Brannigan twins, who’d never even been close to a church, are begging to be let in too. From nowhere, we have our youth group.
The good news doesn’t stop there. This past week has done more for the church’s image in Harley than a hundred church fetes or Easter leaflet drops could ever do. We’ve demonstrated that Christianity is about three-dimensional living, about doing as well as saying. And most exciting of all – two teenage girls became Christians. Two young people made the decision to follow Jesus, and that matters. That’s what I’m here for.
I love it when a plan comes together.
Bjorn Argen is a volunteer youth worker based in Harley Newtown, in the North Midlands. *Not really