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Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Deacon on Social Services Sunday


Social Services Sunday and Christine, a Vocational Deacon, gave the sermon for us - sharing reflections on her calling and her daily work with the most troubled of children.


Readings:  Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The gospel reading this morning asks us to imagine a fertile world
where seeds and weeds
look so much alike
and grow so closely together
that the owner will have to wait until they are fully grown
before he can separate the weeds from crop.
It seems that this is a world where it takes time for things to grow
and for truth and value to become clear.
If we are to learn anything  -
it may be that we are not to judge by appearances
and, above all, not rush into judgement
It reminds us
that there may be a lot more going on than we can see on the surface.
Deeper yet,
there is the sense of a greater purpose
and sustaining presence,
which I think we may discern as love

I work as a counsellor for traumatised and troubled children. 
My task each day
 is to listen to the confusion, the fear and the anger of children struggling to make sense of their
world.
A world that has been turned upside down
by the actions and decisions of others.
Often by the same people who are expected
to love and care for them:
expected to keep them safe;
to help them flourish, and become all that God created them to be. 

This is not a place for judgement!
My task is to give focussed attention and love
and to pray
when they leave
that these fragile plants survive despite a hostile environment.

So many of the decisions that affect our children
are made by others:
parents, families, caregivers, teachers, social workers, police, lawyers, judges and politicians.
Against the noise of these competing voices
it is not surprising that the voice of the child
is, so often, lost.
Children speak with many voices.
Which should we listen to and act on?
Do we listen to the voice of love
that continues to love despite years of abuse;
or to the voice of fantasy
that believes things are going to be different now;
or to the voice of trust
that believes because you are who you are,
you will do right by me and you will see what I need.

My task as counsellor
is to listen attentively and faithfully to the voices that speak out of
heartbreak, pain, fear, anger, frustration, confusion, hopelessness. 

To be honest, at times,
I ask myself, who in their right mind would choose to sit alongside such anguish
hour after hour, day after day, year after year?
These are feelings we often shy away from
and want to put in the 'too hard basket'
as they remind me of my own feelings of inadequacy.

All I can say is that it is God driven
I can only make sense of it through my calling to the Diaconate.
This journey began many years ago
when I explored what it means to be called by God
and found in the Diaconate
There was a call to always work alongside others.
Not to lead; not to assist;
but always to work and walk alongside.

I began as an industrial Chaplain  and trauma counsellor.
I soon realised God wanted more.
This led to acceptance into the diaconate and a degree in theology.
Again I thought this is where it would end,
only to find myself being asked to work with traumatised and abused children and their families.
Feeling woefully inadequate I gained a masters degree in counselling, specialising in working
with children.

But always working alongside -
 alongside Bishops, alongside Priests, alongside Servers
and in my daily work alongside Social Workers, alongside Families
and alongside children.
Children broken and torn apart by things beyond their control.
To me this means always being part of a team,
never a one person band wanting to do it all myself.
 Knowing this keeps me from stepping into a space where others need to be. 

Working this way brings moments of delight
when I see others stepping up
when I see the the smile of change
And I see them becoming what God meant them to be.

But working this way can also bring heart breaking pain
because we seem to struggle against impossible odds.
Nevertheless,
and so much hangs on that 'nevertheless' -
my job as therapist is to hold onto hope,
and help these young people endure and survive despite the odds.  
A hope that only God can give

Try to imagine what hope means in various situations:
  
When a child's evidence is not believed in court;
 
 When a 10 year old girl,
traumatised by years of neglect and abuse,
faces her 5th temporary placement because there is nowhere for her to go;

   When a caregiver's heart, good intentions, and patience
have been worn away by lack of support and understanding
of the difficulties she was taking on;

  When a social worker says "I have no choice the court has ruled that he goes back";
 
 When a mother learns for the first time that her child has suffered years of abuse by a trusted
friend of the family

When, yet again, a little girls mother, fails to turn up for an access visit after many promises
 
 When a terrified 7yr old sits on the couch waiting for an hour before the mental health team can
come to help her mother calm down;
  
When a lawyer's argument results in a child being placed back in the family home where little or
no change has occurred and they are likely to be uplifted again in 6 months;
  
When lack of funding means a child may wait over a year before they have a cognitive
assessment that will allow their school to apply for a few hours of assisted learning in the
classroom.

The list goes on, highlighting human need and suffering on many levels:
lack of understanding; lack of vision; lack of funding and resources;
conflicting human rights and ethical dilemmas.

So where does that leave us as followers of Jesus Christ,
our most radical agent of social change?

We all share in a world where
good and bad,
joy and sorrow,
what is and what may be
seem to coexist and be intertwined;
a world where God's purpose is not yet clear
 but where, nonetheless,
a sense of love and hope may still shine through. 

We work with that hope;
all of us;
caught up in the mystery
of being the many faces of love. 

As Paul famously reminded the believers in Corinth:

"Now faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love."  (1Cor: 13:13)



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