Tag Archive: Service


AMDG

Adolescence, the phase of life which marks the transition between childhood and adulthood, has officially been extended – at least according to UK Policy Makers – from 10-24.  This takes into account earlier puberty and a delayed transition into adulthood.  According to  Laurence Steinberg, in the western world adolescence is now three times longer than in the 19th Century and twice as long as in the 1950’s.  So this new official ruling means in the UK, statutory care for care leavers is now extended to the age of  24. Children in ‘care’, usually provided by foster parents,  leave home at the age of 16-18 and have a more abrupt transition into independent life.

The human infant is a helpless creature at birth, virtually immobile and unlike other primates,  cannot even hold on to or cling to his mother. Seventy-five percent of our brain develops after birth,  as is described in David Brooks fascinating book, ‘The Social Animal‘. We require years of development before we can care for ourselves, well into adolescence.  If for whatever reason a mother or father can’t provide this and the government needs to step in, statutory care involves support with housing, health, education, employment and many other things that a family would usually offer support with.

The age at which puberty begins is fairly simple to understand the physical changes that happen are easily observed. It seems that the body changes earlier in societies with better nutrition and health. So the recognizable biological indicators of the onset of puberty often occur around 10.  However, adolescence encompasses elements of biological growth and major social role transitions, both of which have changed in the past century.As regards social role transitions, the digital age has unleashed unprecedented social forces, which are affecting health and wellbeing across these years. So this expanded and more inclusive definition of adolescence is essential for the framing of laws, social policies, and service systems that are developmentally appropriate. The end of adolescence is more difficult to detect, and can have dangerous consequences – you may think because someone is in their late 20’s this is an adult where you a really dealing with someone who still a little child, but they mask it very well.  In religious life, someone can be in their 60’s but you suddenly realise that their behaviour at times is still adolescent.

These changes are important for all institutions to understand, particularly those institutions that need to recruit new members.  In the Catholic Church we joke about confirmation as being ‘the sacrament of exit’,  and often we go all ‘starry-eyed’ about young people, throw a lot of money at pastoral initiatives that have a limited success rate. We often also shut our eyes to the dark side of adolescence, or what Bill Plotkin calls patho-adolescence.  Religious orders that are facing a crisis in attracting novices, often operate out of models of vocation promotion that still are targeting school or college leavers. It usually isn’t even on their radar in our very utilitarian- education factories. However I think the real rich picking grounds now are in the late 20’s /early 30’s when the first career is coming to an end, a re-evaluation is happening hard-earned earned wisdom is starting to sprout.

Which is why I think we have a lot to learn from the Mormons.  I really admire the way that they prepare their young people to be self-sufficient. As a community, it seems that they have painfully had to realise the importance of self-reliance and I think they transmit that brilliantly to their youngsters.  I have only worked with the Mormons through a visionary friend of mine, Brian Grim.  I asked Brian last year what he would say to the Pope, when he next met him and he thought about it and said,  ‘Wouldn’t it be great if every young Catholic was invited to serve a period of mission like young Mormons do?” ‘ Brian has had a fascinating experience of mission himself and an amazing faith-story. The website ‘Faith Counts’ has a series called ‘Holy Envy’ asking different Christians what their tradition could learn from one of the other groups of Christians.  Brian has just written a piece about this and I recommend reading it if you have the time – click here .  He goes on to say,

It’s not just the time young adults spend serving a mission and the lives they impact that makes a difference. It’s also the years of spiritual, financial, and psychological preparation supported by friends, family and congregations that make a difference. This all adds to the spiritual and temporal strength of the LDS Church itself.

It’s not that Catholics don’t have mission programs. They do – FOCUS Missionaries (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and Maryknoll Mission Volunteers to name a few. The difference is that serving a mission tends to be the exception for Catholics rather than the rule.

 

Historic Day in Manchester

AMDG

David Cameron visits NuneatonTwo important things happened yesterday in Manchester which offer a contrast that maybe worth reflecting on.  The Prime Minister gave his speech about his vision of ‘ a land of opportunity for all’, whilst just down the road (to be precise Oxford Rd)  we are opening the first student-run foodbank in the country (link to BBC website).   All around Manchester you can see the Conservative Party banners – with their conference slogan proclaiming ‘For Hard Working People‘.  The implication is that we are not the party of scroungers, lazy welfare dependent – ‘feckless’ poor.  The embarrassing truth is that according to foodbank usage statistics (collated by the excellent Trussell Trust), the crisis food provision is increasingly being used by the ‘working poor‘.   The sad fact is that many hard working people seem to be getting poorer, especially those not protected by proper contracts.

The Conservative Party seem to have a schizophrenic relationship with Foodbanks, on one hand they are held up as being a great example of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ on the other hand there is considerable embarrassment about the incredible growth of the foodbank network.  This is embarrassing for the government as it makes visible what was hidden before, food poverty.   Food Poverty is something that teachers have noticed as alarming levels of students arrive at school with empty stomachs, here in Central Manchester we have the highest indices of child poverty in the country.  It was sad to see a meeting between MP’s and foodbank managers was cancelled this week here in Manchester for lack of interest by the Conservative MP’s.  We also had the same problem attracting Catholic Mp’s to speak to the students – none were interested in coming. Last year at the Labour conference a few Mp’s came – including the impressive Jim Murphy, who still came and talked to the students even though he had lost his voice.

Even if the government wasn’t interested – the media were – this report went out nationwide on ITV yesterday

l_arche_logo_with_titleExciting news from Manchester is that L’arche are opening a new community in Manchester.  The leader of the group, Kevin Coogan, came and gave a fascinating and engaging talk about his experience with L’arche and his passion for living with adults with learning disabilities.  He explained how L’arche, set up by the Canadian Catholic Jean Vanier, had pioneered the model of ‘care in the community’ in the 50’s and 60’s when those with serious mental or physical disability had been confined to large institutions and kept out of sight and mind.

He was so honest and open about the challenges of living with people who had often been abandoned at birth, confined to institutions which may have provided a safe but often not a caring environment.  So the psychological damage of  this experience created another level of difficulties. The power of L’arche is that these people become friends.  And it was fascinating to me to hear how an emotional co-dependence can actually be healing rather than destructive or limiting.  The Community is being part funded by the local authority as they are providing a quality of care for vulnerable adults that is unlikely to be matched. But that relationship has a very interesting tension – for instance where do you draw the lines between a true life-giving healing relationship and safe professional distance.

C_71_article_1492290_image_list_image_list_item_0_image

Kevin Coogan and his brother Steve raising money for L’arche

A fascinating example Kevin gave was his experience of going on holiday with his wife and kids and bringing two community members with them.  From a faith perspective this is a wonderful and inclusive act of generosity, an unforgettable experience that is priceless.  As a priest I am often grateful for the hospitality of being received into families whether for dinner or a brief break.  However from the cold hard gaze of the local authority – often the funding agency – it would be tempting to be cynical and say, this is a sneaky way of subsidising a family holiday.  Of course this is open to abuse, but when you see the compassion and the generosity with which they are received into the family environment you have to applaud the vision behind this, and bemoan the short-sightedness of the limited vision that comes from a cynical administrative approach.  It was a meeting that has left me much to ponder!