Five things I have learned during 2016

By CEO, Tim Fawssett

What started out as an end of year blog reporting what The Feast has been up to for the last twelve months, has morphed into a personal reflection on what has been a momentous year for our world, from my perspective in this special little charity.  So here goes – 5 things I have leant.

1. The world is more divided

Like so many others, I found many developments this year to be frustrating, depressing and simply heart-breaking. While I do not hold to a view that things naturally improve over time, this year saw plenty of evidence of a rise in division, prejudice and fear. Major political outcomes in the UK and US, racism, immigration, homelessness and poverty, wars and extremism, changes to moral ‘norms’ – there were lots of winners and losers, but the end result I believe is our communities are more fractured and so ultimately we all suffer.

But even worse than being divided is the realisation of how isolated we have becoming in our own bubbles – including me!  This is fed by the mainstream and social media we consume, where we live, the friends we keep and of course our colour, culture and faith.  I struggle with how some bubbles are happy and healthy, while others are oppressed, ignored or avoided.

I suppose these events continue to highlight the need for The Feast, but a big part of me wishes this was not the case.

2. Young people are our future

It is a cliche, but I have realised afresh that it really is true.  Young people are shaping the future right now, as they are ahead of us adults in so many areas like technology, spending patterns, moral and social trends, educational and careers, image and fashion, and the big wide world of marketing.  Often we parents, youth workers, teachers and leaders think we influence them, and we do to a great extent, but I am coming to think that we would really benefit from listening to and learning from them a whole lot more.

For example, when it comes to our divided societies, todays young people have very different perspectives to older generations.  They go to school with, watch youtube videos of, play sport with, Snapchat with, listen to music from and have friendships with peers of different cultures and faiths.  It is their norm, whether we like it or not.  And yet our places of worship, youthwork organisations, schools, media and politicians lag behind this reality.

Wonderfully we know that young people want to help, by supporting change, as we shared from Moseley School at the end of this term.

3. Change needs to be from the ground up

I have grown painfully disillusioned over the years with institutions like the media and politics, as I have witnessed their shortcomings in helping society change for the better. They have an important and often misunderstood role to play, but it is not only the few with power, money, authority or the loudest microphone that make the greatest differences.

Wherever we stand, it cannot be denied that the masses rose up this year, voted, and ushered in seismic change on the political landscapes in Europe and North America. Power was with the people. However I do not just mean democracy, which can still leave many of us feeling our voice will not be heard.  Instead, this year I have seen incidents where an individual has had an awakening, and shared this with their friends, family or community.  One person, changing others, who change others.

One young girl told us – “I have learned how to respect other people’s opinions and how to have conflict in a conversation without it causing a problem.  I have taught my sister and parents how to do this as well.”

At The Feast we have a little phrase – #wearethefeast – which captures our hope to see a growing movement of individuals who choose to be different, to confront fear and division, and to learn how to live well with others who are different to themselves.  Maybe one day The Feast will not be needed, as more and more people join together from the ground up, to bring change that will benefit whole societies.

4. The Feast is all about people

2015 was a difficult year in many respects, as we said goodbye to some wonderful staff and needed to rebuild and reshape our team.  Now, when 2017 kicks off, we will have a staff team of 14 people across our four UK locations, with a further two or three more to join over coming months.  Most of these are only employed 1 or 2 days a week, some in partnership roles with their own organisation or place of worship, and only four are full-time at this stage. And on top of these we have those who volunteer and humbly serve The Feast without any pay – who are equally vital members of each of our regional teams.

What has been an absolute delight over the year has been to join so many people on their journey, and to work together on this shared project of helping build more vibrant and positive communities with young people.  Yet is is not enough to be just an organisation or an employer, as I fear we can never be perfect at this.  What The Feast is becoming however is a community, or maybe even a family, with all the crazy good and bad things this brings.

While we strive to help young people to live well with difference, the last few years have taught us that it is also vital that we grapple with the need to live well with our colleagues too. I confess this is hard and I fail often, but we press on in learning together, teaching each other, listening and honestly and respectfully sharing, and the outcome is incredible.

5. God so loved the world

Finally, as a Christian and as I approach the celebration of Christmas, I am drawn again to a verse in the Bible that starts with the phrase “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16).  One of the Christian teachings that underpins The Feast is Jesus’ call to love our neighbour, even in such a radical way as he taught in the story of the Good Samaritan.  I am immeasurably grateful to my “Good Muslim” neighbours for opening my eyes up to what this passage meant.

But personally, I am eager to thank and praise God for the love he had for us, the world, first. We all stuff up and make mistakes, and there are a billion reasons to loose hope in humanity, and this Christmas I am trying to fathom the enormity of my creator’s love. My faith teaches me that at Christmas we remember that God came to earth in the form of a tiny baby, as a gift to humanity, because of love. Even at my age, I still cannot get my head around such incredible gesture – but I do know I want to live everyday more inspired and empowered by it, to serve my neighbours and community, no matter who they are!

So to those celebrating this Christmas, I wish you a blessed and sacred season with your family and friends.  And to our colleagues and friends of other faiths, we wish you a restful and peaceful holiday season.

I cannot wait to see all that unfolds in 2017.  Maybe you too might join the team and say #wearethefeast.