In the midst of lockdown many student workers have found themselves furloughed. This has proven to be a time of both challenge and encouragement for those in this position who are involved in student ministry. Here Sam, student worker at Ivy Church (Manchester), shares his reflections and experiences on Furlough.
Lockdown and furlough can be summarised for me in one word: grief.
I am in a situation that is maybe quite unique right now, where I am finishing my contract as a student worker at the end of June and moving city. What should have been one final flurry, a final opportunity to cement culture and values into the student community; instead has been an anticlimactic standstill. Finishing well has become something completely unexpected and if I'm honest still remains largely unknown. It feels like I have been robbed of the goodbyes both to work and friendships with the students that I would have had; much the same as those students graduating this year.
It was initially very disappointing to be furloughed.
Lockdown presents the church with new challenges to overcome in reaching out to people and doing community well; I was excited to take on the challenge from a student work perspective. Upon being furloughed, my mind shut off. I found it difficult to divorce thinking about reaching out to people, particularly students, and my job. Since I am not allowed to do my job, the wrapping up of student work and goodbyes were brought forward 3 months; the effects of which I am still processing.
However, it has been so encouraging to see students from our church have taken initiative and responsibility for their faith and growth. I was delighted to hear that the student small groups were continuing to meet, even though they were all back home with their parents. They also decided to take things one step further and formed groups of three to pray for each other and study the Bible every day.
For some students in our community, it is a key time early on in their faith, and having this continued community presence is crucial for them. My goal as a student worker is to help prepare them to flourish within the university context and beyond. Often the fruit of that work is not seen until they leave university for the working world, but this situation has given me a first-hand look at how mature our students have become in their faith.
There have been many challenges to this time though. Some I have already mentioned. Saying goodbye before I felt emotionally prepared to. Trying to switch off, because the lines between work and encouraging/mentoring students is too blurred. Structuring my time when there is nothing on the to-do list. It is actually really hard to get out of bed each day as a result. Most strikingly, it has been a battle to find an outlet for my faith. Without a clear and obvious focus I have felt too insular and as a result a bit stagnant. This may be a result of grief too, but everything feels a bit flat. That is tough when there is such a presence of church online, you feel you should be more active than ever, when in fact I feel less motivated than ever.
"I feel I am slowly peeling back layers of misplaced identity and coming back to the relationship I received at first. It is painful but necessary."
But in light of this, I'm learning at the moment that perhaps I wrapped too much of my identity and faith in student work. When that focus is removed what remains of my faith? How do I re-orientate myself? Do I need student work for my faith to feel active and alive?
These questions are too big to tackle in a small blog post, but I will say that God is faithful and is kindly revealing to me what it looks like to follow him day to day in an authentic relationship, based on who I am not what I do for Him. In amongst the grief, I feel I am slowly peeling back layers of misplaced identity and coming back to the relationship I received at first. It is painful but necessary.