New Awakenings

I caught the end of a fascinating interview on the radio recently. A young man described his training in the fields of business and information technology. He never had a problem securing employment, but found after some years his work wasn’t really fulfilling.

His mental health began to suffer and he was invited to join a group to discuss feelings around anxiety and depression. This experience of being in a group opened a whole new world to him. He said he never knew other people struggled with these things and he found himself alongside a whole variety of people from all walks of life and people felt safe to share all sorts of struggles and vulnerabilities.

It prompted a thought in his head about retraining and changing career, so he did some training in counselling and group facilitation and went to work for a charity called ‘Soar.’ ‘Soar’ go into schools and sports clubs around Ireland to discuss mental health.

The pandemic has had quite an impact on so many of us as we were cut off from friends and family in terms of direct contact. The whole model of work has changed, from being almost exclusively office based to a hybrid model combining working from home with occasional days and meetings in an office setting.

He described the powerful experience of being invited into a secondary school where gangs had been formed and were at war with one another. The principal was at their wits end and invited Soar to come and do some workshops. He described a very hostile atmosphere as he led his first session. He invited people to raise their hands if they had struggled with their body image, if they had ever experienced bullying online or felt misunderstood by their parents. A sizeable proportion of the group were raising their hands to the questions he was asking and he discussed some strategies for dealing with these things. At the end of the class, he invited questions or comments and a rather terrifying looking girl with lots of piercings began to speak. She acknowledged being the leader of one of the gangs and spoke about how this gave her a sense of meaning and purpose. She also said it was the first time anyone had ever come into the school to talk about stuff she was struggling with. She spoke about going through a hard time at home and how this had meant she had picked fights and looked for people to take out her aggression on. She made an apology to the whole room and asked for their forgiveness and understanding.

It was like the whole atmosphere in the room instantly changed and melted. The young man leading the session watched as the class ended and these teenagers, who had been so hostile and aggressive, went out of the room together with arms in arms and talking and laughing together.

He spoke of how this kind of experience made his work worthwhile and positive and of the importance of creating these safe spaces for troubled people to talk in our society. He had set up another initiative called ‘Dancing in the Dark’ based on an experience he had in Australia where he had done some research and training.

Many people had spoken of the value and joy they found through dancing and yet it was an activity many lacked confidence to try. They felt awkward and unattractive and were fearful of making a fool of themselves in public.

He set up these weekly sessions in a venue in Dublin where for one hour the lights were turned down and the music turned up and people just went to dance and enjoy themselves. Nobody misbehaved or abused the situation and many people didn’t know if anyone else was on the dance floor. They just danced and headed away home before the lights came back on again. There was something about the combination of the therapeutic value of music, the freedom to dance and exercise and to do it anonymously that provided a winning formula.

The young people taking part in the pilot programme were so enthusiastic about the benefits.

It takes a lot of courage to change direction and open ourselves up to new opportunities and possibilities. I loved the way this young man had experienced something so powerful and helpful in his own life through a group situation that he wanted to offer that option to others. He wanted to unlock the possibilities within so many young people and give them tools to deal with the pressures and struggles they are experiencing.

So often there are parallels in the life of faith. Many people are closed to it simply because they have never been exposed to it before. I remember the transformative effect it had on my own life to start attending a teenage Bible study in my secondary school. It was like opening up a whole new world to read the Bible in this way and seek to apply its truth to my life, to discover my place in the world and that there was a God who loved me.

Could you be the vital link in someone’s life by, perhaps, inviting them to a church service, a Bible study or course that might be happening in your local church? Could taking up an invitation yourself lead to a whole new direction of travel as it did for the young man who spoke so powerfully in the interview?

We commend to your prayers the family of Ken Kelly whose funeral service takes place on Thursday 12th January at 1pm in Church. We also ask for your prayers for Jean Crawford who is recovering from surgery in hospital in Dublin following a fall over Christmas. We also look forward to the forthcoming ‘Reconnect’ worship concert in the church hall on Friday 20th January at 7.30 pm in aid of the St. Finnian’s Uganda Project. There is no admission charge, but donations are welcome and we know how vital the work of Fields of Life is in Uganda and throughout East Africa helping to provide education and clean water and essential aid during the pandemic. Maybe an event like this might open our hearts in a new and living way to the love of God for each one of us.

A new ‘Sanctuary’ course will begin at 8 pm on Wednesday 1st February in the Coffee Bar in the church hall. It provides a safe space to talk about and look at the subject of our mental health through the experience shared on video by those who have experienced challenges. You’d be really welcome to come and give it a try over a cup of tea or coffee. Why not being a friend?

Looking forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,


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