Approaching The Dating Topic With Some Help From Plato

Approaching the topic of dating in the Youth Group can be a snake pit of misconstrued ideals, worldly concepts and our own sporadic histories. We need to fundamentally challenge the build up on nonsense that’s sewn into the fabric of Western Society before we can get anywhere.

Our modern, 21st-century view of dating can be summed up in these five immortal words: “snag the best you can!”

This clearly has more to do with you than the one you want to go out with. You, sir or madam, are a certain build, a certain character, a certain group of personalities, a certain hairline, a certain waistline and a certain punchline. Put all those characteristics into the magical food processor of life, and out pops a concoction with a very specific formula that only certain suitors will drink.

Effectively, this ranks potential partners into a devastating hierarchical pyramid. The PHD supermodel at the top, and the receding, skinny ginger (myself) at the bottom buried under a foot of peat. A young person learns very quickly how high on that pyramid to aim – and then they stick there. Anyone above that level becomes ‘out of their league’ therefore ‘out of bounds’ and ‘not worth the effort.’

This means they start looking for the wrong things in a partner from the get-go and they lead this search with a stupid and an immensely low view of human value.

Plato’s Guide To Dating

This is the exact opposite of the eminent, classical philosopher Plato. One of Plato’s key theories was, ‘you should always allow your lover to change you.’

The way this works out in practice is that rather than looking for someone ‘just like you’ or ‘at your level’ or ‘in your league,’ you instead look for someone who possesses characteristics that you want but do not have. You aim for the stars!

Your lover should be more than you. By virtue of being with you, they will help you develop those characteristics that you want in yourself. They should help you become more than you already are and drive you to being a better person. You should always reach beyond your ‘league.’

We need to teach our young people to value personal growth in relationships, and to seek the best in people in a way that draws the best out of themselves. This means what the world values in a mate, is fundamentally flawed and bankrupt as you might not want those things for yourself!

It Worked For Me… Kinda

I met my wife at Uni. She was four years older than me, a poet, and an incredibly smart philosophy student with some history in modelling. She was totally beyond my reach. Yet by the grace of God, we ended up together, despite my best efforts to trash it.

After we’d known each other for a month she asked me directly, ‘Are you interested in me?’ And I – subscribing of course to the ‘not in my league’ formula – lied through my buckteeth. ‘No, no, no! Of course not. We’re just friends!’ Little did I know how much that would break her heart, and how close we came to utter disaster. Salvaged only by her  fierce tenacity and my simple ineptitude. Eight years later, I still wake up dumbfounded.

So aim above, don’t aim below. Don’t settle for ‘the trick is to aim for the 2nd prettiest.’ Don’t believe all the nonsense that the media feeds you about what you deserve and what makes people compatible. Reach for the stars and do not settle.

Keep A High Standard

Teach young people to have a really high standard for a partner, and to no allow themselves to settle for anything less.

Of course, this will also take some serious soul searching and consistent teaching about what human values are the most long-lasting and valuable – but you were doing that anyway weren’t you?

This will take more time and more self-improvement and more confidence on their part. This will take more waiting and more self-control and self restraint. Yet this is the only way to a happy partnership that really grows a couple and develops individuals.

Thank you Plato, you dog.

13 Pertinent Youth Work Quotes

A simple collection of quotes and sayings from the wise, pertinent in some way to our youth work. Enjoy.

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Persevering and Pushing Through In Youth work

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 09.28.50Guest post by Bex Baillie. A Youth Specialist at Trinity Network and Theology student at Bristol Bible College. Full bio below and check out her blog here.


Perseverance plays a big role in every generation of faith. If we stretch our minds back, we can see how our Youth Workers committed endless hours to supporting us, pushing through the tough times with little response in return. The art of persistence is a beautiful thing. It’s exercise for our hearts, and it helps to stretch our imaginations into new ways of thinking. Most of all, it’s a massive test of our faith.

‘Find out what God’s doing and join in.’

I love this motto! It’s a good saying to keep you grounded. Who says it has to be our original thought or creative new way of connecting with the young people? God is already there, doing great things in their lives. As the world’s greatest Youth Worker, He is their constant supporter and encourager, pushing them to think about what they believe and why.

Sometimes, maybe it’s best for us to take a step back, shadow what God is doing and then simply join in. While this might sound a bit vague at first, let’s look at our own lives for a moment. Have a think about the times we may have plowed ahead with our own great ideas – without watching out for God – and then finally given up after hitting a dead end. By tuning into God’s work, we can stay on the right track and follow the Master.

An Attitude For Perseverance

In all that we do, I don’t doubt that we have the intention to see young people grow in their faith and stick at church, but sometimes I wonder if our actions say otherwise.

If we want to produce healthy fruit that will last, it needs to grow from a well-rooted tree. While we may be well-rooted in our faith – and in many other ways – sometimes our attitude toward our work begins to lag. If we express flakiness towards our jobs or the young people, we shouldn’t expect it not to affect them. Even our attitudes teach young people. Part of perseverance is sticking at it and being committed to your plans. This means that the young people will be your priority when they need to be. When you are the best example of dedication, the young people will see it and adopt it as their own way of living.

Don’t feel like it is all up to you though, we are just one cog in a very big operation. We might be able to plant a seed in the young people’s lives; we can talk about God, tell stories and testimonies, provide pizza and give chunks of thoughtful advice here and there. Ultimately however, it will be God who will see that seed grow.

Don’t feel the pressure to complete His job and have each of your young people ‘fixed’. You have the wonderful role of Youth Worker, but you’re not God.

Perseverance For Long Lasting Ministry

Persistence. Staying Power. Tenacity. It’s not the art of proving your point, or finishing the ‘job’ for the sake of it. We want something that is long lasting, a ministry that will stand the test. Colossians 1:11 leads us to pray for “…not the grim strength of gritting your teeth, but the glory-strength God gives.” If we live by this sort of perseverance, our energy will be long-lasting and enjoyable!

In all the many ways that we attempt to strengthen our projects or clubs, we must remember that there is no quick-fix trick to success. As youth workers, we are all trialing different approaches all the time. Sometimes our ideas will take off and – BAM! – we’ve got it. Other times, we will have to ditch a plan and start again. Remember to stay on track with God, following His trail as you work with young people. Stick with it, and be glad that one day your fruit tree will blossom.

Galatians 6:9 says, “So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up or quit.”


Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 09.28.50Bex is a Youth Specialist working for Trinity Network Churches in North Bristol. Alongside her job, she is studying for a Degree in Theology, Ministry and Mission at Bristol Baptist Bible College.

Bex’s heart is in mentoring and inspiring young people. The favourite part of her job is meeting with young people over a Costa and tackling life’s big questions. In fact, the most likely place to find Bex is in Costa, with a Latte and slice of cake, scribbling down bits of wisdom from books, or typing out the next blog.

With a real sweet tooth, Bex loves to bake and trial new recipes. To burn off those extra calories, she loves to do park runs and go walking in the Peak District

Check out Bex’s blog here.




11 Lists That Successful Youth Workers Keep.

I love a good list. Numbers, bullet points, colour coordination and, of course, subheadings. Lists are nectar to the analytical soul! They’re also invaluable if you run Youth Work projects. Here’s a random bunch of my favourites gleaned from talking to amazing youth work practitioners. If you don’t already keep some of these – you might want to think about them.

1. Contacts

Adhering strictly to data protection law, keeping lists of contacts is a must. Keeping a check on young people that you come into contact with, and their parents; Growing a donors and prayer partners database; Friendly teachers and council staff; and finally other practitioners that you can partner with in the work that you do.

2. Goals

I outline a list of about ten specific goals for my projects to accomplish every year. These are broad brush, optimistic yet achievable, and enthusiastic yet measurable.

3. Values

Broader than goals, is a list of values. A short, succinct but specific list of ideals that you can measure all your projects and activities against is very helpful. This takes your theology and ethics and nails them to the door of everything that you do.

4. Tasks

Every morning I lay out a list of tasks need to be accomplished the following day. These are action and communication based, very practical and very specific. I also have a larger task list that includes all my major one-off projects throughout the entire year.

5. Project Bucket List

I have crazy ideas every day that I know I cannot accomplish immediately. These go into my project bucket list. Not only is this a great resource for ideas later, but it has allowed me to always drive the vision forwards.

6. Promises

There are easily hundreds of specific promises made in scripture. At the beginning of a year or a season, I like to go through these and ask God to bring some of them particularly to mind that might be pertinent to the year ahead. I keep these in a handy promises list that can be stuck up above my desk.

7. Prayer Journal

This is a simple two column list of prayers asked and prayers answered. Sometimes this includes lists of people that I’m praying for, or specific projects which have particular needs. I’m always amazed at the prayers answered part by the end of the season.

8. Creative Ideas & Tools

Youth conferences, training days, books, magazines and blogs are full of ridiculously creative ideas and tools. I copy and paste as many of these as possible into a creative ideas list to dip into throughout the entire year of events and clubs.

9. Expenses

If you don’t already, it is really important to keep track of your expenses. I’m good at tracking them, but I’m rubbish at claiming them! I always get to them, but rather later than I mean to. Keeping a clear track of expenses helps you understand your handle on stewardship, as well as God’s provision.

10. Icebreakers

Almost every single thing that I do requires an icebreaker to get people talking independently and sharing together. It’s always worth having access to an icebreaker list. I’ll make things easier: here is one ready made for you!

11. Holidays

Okay, not so much list as much as a properly planned calendar, but if you make a list at the beginning of the year which includes all your major projects and school dates, then you should be able to work out your entire year of holidays too! If you’ve been in youth work for more than a couple of years then you’ll know exactly why I’m saying that. Get them listed and get them booked!

Enjoy, everybody – and lists ahoy!

7 Ways To Lead People Older Than You – on

A wee while back, I was approached to write a couple of articles of by it’s founder Joel Preston. The whole site is full of quality articles and I would heartily recommend it to you.

The first of my articles went up online, and you can read it here. It’s a simple set of tools used to evaluate objectively your ministry projects. I hope that it’s helpful!

Phenomenology, Faith and Young People

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 20.03.58Guest post by Katie Gough. Freelance writer, published poet and independent philosopher. Katie has been involved in Youth Work – across three countries – for nearly a decade. Read more at


Concrete and Abstract – What’s The Difference?

When you were five years old, your mother was your mother because of her smell, the feel of her hand in yours, the familiarity of her shape, her voice, and her constant attention. The bond between you was tangible in many ways. She was the immediate physical experience of love.

Perhaps now, you’ve grown up. In your mind, your mother is your mother because she gave birth to you and took care of you and suffered long nights caring for you when you were ill. She is your mother because you carry her DNA inside you, and maybe you show some of her physical traits. She is where you came from.

The difference between these two recognitions is profound. One is very concrete and experiential and the other is abstract, assessing and stacking up ideas and reasons. As we grow, our minds move from being bound by concrete things to being able to grasp and work with more flexible abstract concepts.

We use both of these methods throughout our lives in order to perceive our surroundings and their meaning to us. We grow, not out of the concrete, experiential side of our selves, but beyond it such that we can now grasp a wider, deeper world than we did in the first years of our lives. If our whole selves were made to commune with God, then the more elemental ways we perceived as children are not less valid, only incomplete.

Are We Holding Back the Development of Our Young People?

Christian teachings often indicate that we are to leave behind the more physical parts of ourselves in our quest to become holy. Our direct, concrete childhood experiences are devalued, replaced by abstract teaching (peppered with real-life stories to keep everyone’s attention), and finally ‘relegated to youth work’. We essentially throw a large portion of our spiritual growth away and never expect to look at it again.

In youth work however, we are expected to use concrete examples and methods in our attempts to reach young people with the gospel. While the experiences and learning of childhood may not be seen as respectable or advanced, we accept that they are a necessary tool in teaching young people. Thus, we simplify things down rather than opening them up, shying away from questions or content that might be difficult enough to ‘put young people off’. There are even (dare we admit it) a variety of things we avoid because we still don’t know how to answer them ourselves.

The underlying message of this approach has a knock-on effect in our youth work worldview and the attitudes we pass on to our young people. In the end, we deign to teach youth in a childish way because we think they are too distracted, rebellious and/or lazy to tackle the big stuff. But young people feel this — that we make concessions, that we don’t respect how we are teaching them, that we are holding back and trying not to scare them off. They know when older people are filling space, even while they enjoy that space for what it is.

This age group is right at the cusp of abstract thought, spending much of their time and mental energy becoming facile with its application in their every day life. As the rest of the world begins to open out into a wide vista of abstract opportunity and difficulty, why do we continue to portray faith safely, with foolproof, concrete simplicity? Can we blame them if faith suddenly begins to seem a bit childish and limited? A small, immobile, inflexible, uncomplicated faith. A pandering and… easy belief. Not relevant.

Approaching the Abstract.

When I was about 12, there was a question burning away my insides. Something in a sermon or my Bible had sparked it and I couldn’t shake it. How could one possibly know the difference between God’s voice and Satan’s? I felt that I could tell, but I had no reasons for it. What if I was wrong? How could I speak with God and know the answer was  really His? My uncertainty threw the truth of my entire relationship with God into question. I needed to know.

One Sunday, I asked every Christian adult I knew even a little, which wasn’t many. They all looked at me with trapped, blank eyes. So I was left alone, mired in fear, my spiritual mast swinging with indecision.

The entrance of abstract thought into my world had defeated my ability to engage with my faith — and no one knew. I was left entirely alone by those who were supposed to be my spiritual elders and mentors.


Embracing the Challenge of the Abstract.

If our whole selves were made to commune with God, then the more elemental ways we perceived as children are not less valid, only incomplete. Young people need to grow, not out of the concrete, experiential side of themselves, but beyond it so that they can grasp a wider, deeper world than they did in the first years of their lives.

As young people learn to assimilate and apply the abstract everywhere else in life, are we communicating to them that the answers to a very messy world are as simple as they looked when they were children?

Our youth need to be able to meet an abstractly complex world with a more abstractly complex faith. We could be leading them by the hand, showing them how this new, abstract language enriches and broadens the old and familiar one, encouraging it to grow solidly — and in relationship with — their faith.

We need to show them how big the world of faith gets as they grow older.

Are You Ready to Roll Up Your Sleeves?

As youth workers, we have a responsibility to meet young people relevantly and with the kind of care that asks and sees where they are at. As they learn to embrace and use abstract thought, we need to give them opportunities and tools that allow them to try their hand at marrying their whole experience of life to this unfamiliar piece.

Let’s face it: these are fast-maturing young adults, and they care for a challenge more than we dare to think. We need to get down into the nitty gritty ourselves, find the crux of the issues we teach, and lead our young people’s feet onto the crossroads — there to experience for themselves that the abstract is as real and as spiritual as the concrete, and worth getting messy with.

As followers of Christ, we have to allow God to be bigger than what we can teach about him — even in front of young people. Their entire conceptual framework is re-working itself in front of us, and we need to acknowledge that our concepts about God grow with us beyond the concrete experience we all began with. Then we have to be ready to roll up our sleeves and partner with our youth to make that growth happen. We are, by example, a bridge to maturity in the faith


About Katie

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 20.03.58Katie is a Californian writer and artist living in North Wales. She writes poetry, articles and creative fiction of all kinds, for all sorts of uses.

She has a degree in Philosophy from Calvin College and adores puzzling out the universe. She is always up on her toes, reaching for the next question and internalising everything she sees, reads, hears, or experiences – and is ready to apply where appropriate!

Katie is married to a full time Youth Worker, and has been involved in a wide range of Youth Work projects for a number of years across Britain and America.

You can always find Katie with a big cup of tea and a ball of wool, knitting happily in a corner while pondering the depths of the universe and mentally mapping out her next short story.

Things Introverts In Your Youth Club HATE

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 17.34.22Guest comics By Chloe Perrin. Volunteer Youth Worker, Musical Theatre Tutor and Youth Charity Trustee.

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Podcast: What’s wrong with youth events, really?

A short few thoughts on why flat-pack events can be a bit awkward for young people – and your youth work strategies.

A couple of related posts that might be of interest:

Do We Really NEED Another Youth Event?

The Youth Church Experiment

Our Youth Work Is 10 Years Out Of Date

Youthwork Around The Globe: Hungary – with Rob Trenkmann

image1-1In this new series, Youth Work Hacks interview experienced youthworkers from around the globe – starting here with Rob Trenkmann in Hungary.


  1. Where are you based?

My wife, son, and I live and serve in Western Hungary. We serve with Josiah Venture, a missionary team in Central and Eastern Europe committed to equipping young leaders to fulfill Christ’s commission through the local church.


  1. What unique challenges do you face?

One thing unique to our context is the spiritual landscape of Hungary. Hungary is formerly very religious. 90% of the country claimed to be Protestant during the Reformation, but then the country swung back to Catholicism during the counter-reformation. Now, many young people are suspicious of all religion. People often wonder if we’re part of a cult or a sect, and it’s hard for them to hear the gospel amidst all of the ‘noise’ of their distant spiritual heritage.


  1. What shape and format do your youth work projects most often take?

We focus on fruit in four key areas: evangelism, discipleship, leadership training, and healthy, reproducing churches. All of this is part of the disciple-making process. We partner with local churches for evangelistic camps, student discipleship, and both small and large group training for young leaders – all rooted in the life and model of Jesus.


  1. What do you enjoy most and what are you most proud of?

Two things: First, a couple of years ago I was part of rewriting a youth ministry training resource called Walk26 that is based on a chronological study of the life and strategy of Jesus. We’ve translated this into more than a dozen languages, and I love getting to meet with our local leaders and go through a section of this every month. It’s amazing to see the clarity and focus that a Jesus-shaped strategy brings.


Second, our teammates have done an incredible job of reaching lost people in our country. For guys, they’ve set up a church-based evangelistic soccer league that has 25-35 guys attached to it who hear the gospel every week. For girls, we have multiple unsaved girls reading the Bible on their own and coming together every week to discuss it. I’m thrilled about how the gospel is working it’s way into their hearts.


  1. What is your most valuable local resource?

At the risk of being simplistic—people! The gospel is designed to spread when the ‘Word becomes flesh.’ Anytime I see a young Hungarian leader captured by the dream and design of disciple-making, I know they will be part of changing this country for Jesus.


  1. How often do you meet up with other youth workers? How easy or difficult is that and how valuable do you find it?

We’re blessed—we’re part of an organization that has 350 workers throughout Central and Eastern Europe (half of whom are nationals) that are all focused on the next generation. We gather parts of our team twice a year—once in the fall for our annual training conference (which I lead) and once in the spring for a care and equipping conference. Those times are extremely valuable for us, and we always come away with renewed vision and excitement.


  1. Tell us a story about something significant that has happened.

I get most excited about multiplication—when students begin to make disciples of other students. The first year we were here, a young man came to our church who didn’t yet know Jesus. He came because another student invited him. He was so startled by the hope and joy he saw that he started to read the gospel of John and decided to follow Jesus. Sometime later, at a camp, he came up to me just bursting with excitement, because he had just prayed with another student to receive Christ. Now he’s often sharing Christ with others around him, including his family. I love it when students get a vision for sharing Christ with other students, and discipling them.


  1. What gets you through difficult or stressful times in your ministry?

The last four years have easily been the hardest of my life. (I’ve written about them here and here.) For one long stretch, each of us were struggling with life-altering health challenges at the same time. It tested our marriage, our family, and our faith. We’ve been tempted to give up and quit. But, we know God called us here, and he hasn’t released us from our calling. And whenever we take a day and fast and pray, He’s very faithful to remind us of our calling and give us the strength to continue. Through it, He reminds us that His work of pruning and refining is very real—and always good.


Changing Youth Work Jobs – Bx Belshaw

10959624_10152950259560339_8592406335069859636_nGuest post by Bx Belshaw. Full time, experienced Church-based Youth and Families worker. A great story of change, challenge and and courage as she moved from her first full time ministry position into a new job.

Christmas season in a new church – and for me a new church denomination – is always a time of intense questioning. Do you have an advent liturgy? Is there a Christmas Day service? What happens on Christmas eve, at Christingles, and at carol services? Do you send Christmas cards or make donations? Where does the Christmas tree go? What is a nave arch? The list is endless! However, the Christmas season in a new position helps you get to grips with your new church context like no other. Even as I write this at the start of advent I am aware of how right my choice was to move on from me previous youth work job.

This time last year I was living in Wales, just over two years into a post that was growing, and mostly in unexpected areas. When I had arrived there had been no youth, children’s and families’ worker, so I had started from scratch and tried to build on what I saw God doing in the area. I had made some amazing friends, met some amazing colleague’s and made some wonderful contacts. I was feeling comfortable and happy spiritually, in work and with my social life.

When I decided it was time to move on, you should have heard the cries of ‘no, you can’t, you’ve not been here long enough, there’s more for you to do.’ Largely this came from my young people, and ecumenical colleagues. One of the reasons I knew it was right to leave was because the leadership in my church didn’t put up the same arguments. I paint a rosy picture of my last youth work post, but alongside the triumphs I had felt there were many struggles and power plays that had left me feeling warn and bitter.

I asked many questions of myself as I went to move on. Was I leaving before the time that God had appointed? Was I leaving for the right reasons? I decided that one way to help with that was to apply for new jobs and tell my church that I was moving on. I also applied for further training, but sadly it was not my time. I doubted whether what I was doing was right, but I had itchy feet and was on the move.

Getting Going

So I applied for other jobs similar to the one which I was doing. The application process – although time consuming and sometimes difficult – was a joy. I gave me an opportunity to think back over successes and mistakes that had happened in my ministry and left me with the sense that I had achieved so much. It was a clarifying moment. I was moving on for the right reasons and I was not moving on because I had failed!

The job that I am now in had a fantastic application pack, which gave plenty of information about the church, the area, and the expectations of the post. This was really helpful. One of the struggles with applying for a new church position is that many of the application packs I received were not helpful or clear. My poor mother spent three hours formatting one form just so I could open it on my computer. I found sometimes it was helpful to email back places to clarify things like wage, hours, and interview dates – hoping it made me seem enthusiastic and not to annoying, but also helping me get the right information.


As a bizarre person I don’t mind interviews so much. I find it’s easier to bounce off other people – which an interview situation gives the go ahead for.

In the interviews for the job I took, I found the church friendly, welcoming and honest. They showed us around, tried to give us a glimpse of the role, the whole church and how two interact. Part of the process was to give a five-minute presentation on forgiveness as if you were giving it to school years 7-9. I took giant blue flippers, (which they have never let me live down) and thankfully I stood out for all the right reasons, making sure that I had read the task and understood it fully beforehand. This was not something that all the other applicants had done.

My other two tips: take a breath before answering question, it gives you that space to think; and have at least one question to ask them. For me, as I was moving denominations, I wanted to know what preaching opportunities I would have.

Finding Support

I briefly spoke of my Mother who is an integral part of my amazing support network. She spent many hours proof reading every application I sent. She was one of many people who prayed with me, chatted with me, and sat with me as I wrote yet another form, or groaned about how there wasn’t a standardized form all churches used that you could then send off to all the possible jobs. (Inputting qualifications is just tedious!)

It was my support network who sat around me on holiday when I received the voicemail after my interview for my current post (which I really wanted), and it was they who listened to it first to see if it gave away any clues to what their response would be.

We are Polar Explorers

I was invited to join them for their summer holiday club (Scripture Unions’s Polar Explorers) before I started. This gave me the opportunity to see them in action, meet the rest of the staff team and see more clearly how the church operated and how I might fit in. I was – and still am – adventuring into the unknown.

Sometimes I still think that I have done the wrong thing, and question whether I am really supposed to be here. Usually these fears are put to rest quickly as – I imagine – there will always be doubts in all Christian ministry.

It’s been terrifying and exhilarating, and in it all I’ve held John Wesley’s words in the back of my head:

‘I am no longer my own, but yours…

let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,…

you are mine and I am yours. So be it.’

To sum up…

  • If you’re thinking about moving on, try making some small steps and fill in some applications, what the worst that could happen?
  • Go to interviews till you find the right fit – they may say no, but you can also say no.
  • Find support! Chat and pray it through with others and get them to proofread and screen your calls.
  • Remember that you belong first to God, and He has the plans for your work and life in His hands.


About Bx

10959624_10152950259560339_8592406335069859636_nRebecca Belshaw (aka Bx!) is 24 and works for a church where she has a ridiculously long job title summed up as ‘the person who looks after those who can run.’ Bx loves living by the sea, camping and dragging people out geocaching.

She is passionate about preaching and talking to groups, although you will often find her sat behind the tech desk.

Bx has a BA in theology from Cliff College and enjoys encouraging all people in expressing their love for Christ through their talents and gifting.