I've been working in the children and young people's team since 2005 and I still remember the day I was interviewed. A beautiful sunny day in a really big dark room with a grandfather clock. But it's one of the interview questions that has really stuck with me – how are you going to work to explore spirituality with young Quakers?
My response was based on what I feel is the most important value in youth work. That you meet the young person where they are at and walk alongside them to understand their experiences, their thoughts and their feelings. In that walk you might share a little of yourself but the focus is on that young person and where they are at.
Walking alongside young Quakers
I was recently challenged to reflect on how well I was living this out. I'd noticed Rowan was struggling. So I found a moment where we could go for a walk and said I'd noticed how unhappy they looked and I wondered if they were ok. It turned out that they were not comfortable with the gender other people saw them as having. It made me pause.
How many other young Quakers were in this place? Had we been alongside them on their journey or had we missed their story? If I'm honest with myself, we had not been proactive in providing a safe space for them. We had worked on the assumption that they or their parents would tell us. What a big assumption and one that was based on my identity and my experiences.
Identity and wellbeing
In that moment, I realised I had privilege. How I felt as a woman was how people saw me, my identity was recognised and accepted by each person in my community. I have never experienced someone questioning the legitimacy of either my gender or orientation. I haven't had to think about how my family or my peers would respond to a change in how they saw my identity.
Identity, how we see ourselves and how others respond is so central to our wellbeing. As a youth worker wellbeing is central to nurturing wholeness and to do that I have to meet each young person in the place that they find themselves.
"In working with young people… do not try to call them back to where they were, and do not try to call them to where you are, as beautiful as that place might seem to you. You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have ever been before." [i]
On 10 November at the Quaker Youth Work Conference in Birmingham, those involved in running events for young Quakers will gather to explore this. Adult volunteers and facilitators will have the space to think about ways to create a safe space for young people who experience inner conflict about their gender and consider how to meet them where they are at.