So we near the end of this republishing of the Bjorn for Youth Work legend. Having read it back, I’ve been really surprised at how well – in my humble and utterly biased but usually quite self-effacing opinion – it stands up. If you’re just joining us, start here.
11: Two momentous changes hit Bjorn on his return from retreat.
Have you ever been to a social gathering and wondered, ‘if I went home, would anybody actually notice?’ That’s kind of how I feel right now. My doctor sent me on a week’s holiday because I was in danger of burning out, and I reluctantly went. And then in that very week, the youth group I’d been dutifully plodding along with for nearly a year decided to burst into life. Now don’t get me wrong – that’s something I’ve been praying would happen for months – it’s just a bit of a kick in the teeth that it happened without me.
My suspicions were first aroused when I went to the church on Saturday afternoon to return my tent. There was a group of young people I’d never seen before sitting on the steps of St Eric’s. Initially, I was worried that they might be squatters, but then I spotted Dave, sandwiched right in the middle of them.
‘Hey Bjorn,’ he called to me. ‘Come and meet the guys.’
I looked at ‘the guys’. One had a chain attached to his nose, which was also attached to his ear. Another had pink hair.
‘Hey guys,’ I waved nervously.
‘I met them last weekend outside Dixons,’ Dave explained. ‘This is Clare, Josh, and Bobo.’
Bobo – the one with the weird nose/ear/necklace thing – nodded at me. No one explained why he’d been given the name of a performing monkey.
I offered a courteous ‘hey’ and took my tent inside. From bitter experience, I presumed my next steps would involve fumbling around in the darkness for a light switch, hitting my head on candelabrum, and getting a lungful of mustiness. Instead, the lights were already on, and plenty of people were home. Who most of them were though, was beyond me.
At the back of the church I found Tommy, playing Jenga with another group of older teenagers who I didn’t recognise. There appeared to be something wrong with his eyes, but I couldn’t quite place what it was. In one of the pews, the two girls who became Christians at Niceness in the Newtown™ were reading from the same Bible. Right at the front of the church, the group of Goths from the Baptist church down the road, who’d helped us on the same mission, were carving something into the altar. Including Dave and Bobo, there were 15 young people in the church. Now what were 15 teenagers doing in St Eric’s on a Saturday afternoon?
I dumped the tent, walked back out and took Dave to one side. I wanted to know what was going on.
‘Dave,’ I whispered, ‘where have all these young people come from?’
‘They want to join the youth group,’ beamed Dave. ‘Me and Tommy went out for a walk last weekend and we met them in the high street.’
‘All of them? Even Bobo?’
‘Yes – and then we invited them to come to the church.’
‘And they came? But how on earth did you convince them to…’
‘We prayed – just like you always tell us to. Tommy and I did an all-night prayer marathon the night before. We went through about 12 cans of Red Bull each, but we managed to stay up the whole night, although Tommy can’t blink anymore. Then the next morning, we went out to invite people to the group, and they were just really responsive. Oh, and by the way Bjorn, I meant to say, the vicar’s looking for you. Says it’s important.’
And then he trotted back to his mission field, leaving me, the supposed youth leader, on my own, feeling like an alien in my own youth group. What did all this mean, I wondered? I leave the group for a week and it explodes. Should I have taken a longer holiday?
I crept up the gravel of the vicarage driveway, trying hard not to alert the vicar’s big dog to my presence. The man himself was in the garden, uprooting the prettiest plants and plopping them into pots. He smiled warmly when he saw me approaching. Strange, I thought, he’d never done that before.
‘Hello Bjorn’, he beamed. ‘Good to see you.’ He NEVER said that.
‘You wanted to see me, Reverend?’ I asked, keeping an eye out for big dogs. ‘Is it about the youth group?’
‘We have a youth group? Oh, well done old boy. But no, I wanted to let you know that I’m moving on from my post.’
I was stunned. The doddery old fool was actually leaving?
‘I can’t believe it,’ I said, ‘how will the church cope without your magnificent leadership?’
‘I know, I know,’ he replied. ‘But this one’s come right from the top of the diocese. Apparently Harley Newtown is becoming one of the big areas for young families, so they’ve restructured, and I’m moving to St Ethel’s, Roxwell.’
Lucky them, I thought. ‘Lucky them,’ I said.
‘Anyway, the vicar of St Ethel’s is a much younger man – apparently he’s done wonders with the youth and young adults over there – and they think he’s better suited to Harley.’
‘Well, you seem quite happy about it,’ I said.
‘Of course I am – it’s a much bigger vicarage. Plus, I’m taking the garden with me.’ And he wasn’t joking – he’d even rolled up the lawn.
As I wandered away (alright, ran for my life from the rabid Alsatian that had smelled blood) I pondered the implications of this double whammy. The church was getting a new, fresh, young vicar with a passion for youth, and was filling up rapidly with young people through no fault of mine. Would anybody at the party miss me if I went home now?
So, I guess this comes as something of a shock to you, but I’m seriously considering giving it all up. Living in someone else’s flat and sweating it out in a health club are bearable troubles, but if on top of that God doesn’t have a role for me here anymore, that changes the picture. Suddenly Stockholm seems to be singing to me again, although that could be because I’ve got an Abba album on as I write. Buddy, if you have some wisdom to offer right now, I could really do with hearing it.
Bjorn Argen is a volunteer youth worker based in Harley Newtown, in the North Midlands. *Not really.