Centre for Research

The latest in youth work research in the UK

A Stormzy in the youth work teacup?

By rachel.warwick@youthscape.co.uk

I’m sitting here writing this listening to the new Stormzy album, ‘Gang Signs and Prayer’. I’m sure you have heard of it in the Christian world because a semi-popular member of the music industry has proclaimed a faith – at least he has a couple of songs that you could use in church if you wanted. We Christians love to stake a claim! But it’s the whole album that I think is interesting and points to something bigger and entirely more poignant than a couple of beautiful hymns.

Its tempting to think for a moment that when we work with young people, we work with a homogenous group. Our behaviour, at least, suggests this - we employ strategies and produce reports both locally and nationally that we think encapsulate a way of working or thinking that will change or help us ‘retain’ or get more, ‘evangelise’ young people.  Often these arise out of a fear that we are ‘losing young people’. The result is we feel we need to capture or retain them like some crazy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang type child catchers. But these strategies. These are important and have their place, but don’t necessarily appreciate where the young people are, their experience and their context, they rarely truly listen to young people.

Young people in 2017 are more complex and more diverse than we want them to be. They are more complex and diverse than is helpful for our strategies! Young people pick up and put down faith, as and when it suits them. Young people are exposed to multiple cultures and a variety of experiences on a daily basis. At a click of a button, as well as in their classroom or street, they encounter friends from around the world with a host of different worldviews. Culturally they have a menu of options to play with, of which we are but one option: fries with that? The Christian view that you hold, which in the main, in this country will be a white middle class Christian worldview, like a Christendom hangover, is the one that we represent. They will pick you up and put you down, and they will pick up and put down your presentation of faith as quickly as they double tap their momentary like/amusement of an Instagram post. They are swiping through cultures like watching silent clips on their Facebook stream, they layer them like they layer their favourite pictures, maybe with an additional personalized note scrawled on top. This leads to a new picture a new post, a new whole new culture that we have never seen before, which in and of its self is momentary swiped past ‘hearted’ by a few and then gone, a faded memory.  

This leads me back to Stormzy, someone as comfortable with drive by shootings, selling drugs, aggressive swearing and wrestling with depression and mental health issues as being ‘blinded by God’s grace’. Stormzy is layering the cultures, refining his Instagram post, to produce something new, something individual. This is more than an album it’s a snap shot of young people’s approach in London in 2017.

What does this mean for our work with young people? I’m not going to hide behind ‘it’s complex’… I don’t think it is, but I do think it’s hard. It comes back to the age old ‘relational’ work with young people. Which means we can’t treat whole groups like one relationship. We must break down the whole to the individuals and we should learn from the Other and be prepare to be changed by it. We need to be aware of our own bias our own world view and we need to listen to the Other as we draw alongside and whisper about Gods meta narrative in the micro narrative sitting next to us.

Go and listen to Stormzy, it’s beautiful.