How would you define holiness?

I remember a house I stayed in during my GCSE year. I had travelled to Paris with my dad to visit some missionary friends living on the outskirts of the city, in order to improve my French ahead of the exams (mais oui monsieur!). They lived in possibly the biggest town house I have ever been in, a house so large that you couldn’t reach the ends of it and maintenance was nigh-on impossible; it was falling apart in the most romantic and beautiful kind of way. It was in this house that I really understood for the first time how God could dwell in a place; this house was holy and sacred, in some way. I’m not sure why, and I can’t put my finger on what I felt, but I loved the house, and to be in it was to be on holy ground.

I also remember meeting Mark Yaconelli in 2011, at the Youth Work Summit. He was the headline speaker for the early day and main event, and we were in the car on the way there. Our esteemed driver managed to get lost, and we ended up driving round and round Manchester’s one-way system, in an attempt to make it to the church he was speaking at. Given that we were running late, and that he was the main event, it would have been understandable if Mark had been a little stressed. But he wasn’t. At one point we were penned in by bollards – literally trapped. Mark leaned over, looked at the bollards for a while, and said, completely innocently: ‘What’s the funny word you Brits use for those things? Is it “boll-ocks”?’

For me – Mark Yaconelli (sorry to embarrass him) is a holy man. Fully present, full of childlike wonder, and the only man to get up on the Youth Work Summit stage and disco dance in a gold sparkly jacket. So if anyone can spot holiness when he sees it, it’s probably him. He tells the story of searching for a holy man he had heard about (our cover star, Father Louis Vitale), and the lessons he learned from him.

We’d also like to introduce someone else to you this month. His name is Jarrod Mckenna, and he might be the most interesting youth worker you’ve never heard of. His work sees him plastered over international news in nothing but his pants, and welcoming immigrants on the shores of Australia - have a read for yourself. He’ll be at this year’s Youth Work Summit on the 19th and 20th June in Tonbridge. Come along and meet him for yourself. 

IF YOU’RE READING THIS AT THE SUMMIT… Hello and welcome to this very special edition of Premier Youthwork! You’ll find the programme and everything else you need to know on page 4 of the printed magazine. Have a fantastic day, and we hope you enjoy the magazine!  

Your young people may never get to meet Jarrod Mckenna, or Mark Yaconelli for that matter. They probably won’t be able to fly out to El Centro to meet Father Louis Vitale. They won’t get to visit the big house in Paris. What they do have is you, and the setting in which you meet. The question then is: how do we become more holy, and make our youth groups holy spaces and places? Mark Yaconelli shares some of the hallmarks of holiness through his story, but the truth is that holiness is difficult to define – you just know it when you see it, in the people you meet. And often it’s people who look, smell, and sound a lot like Jesus. Thankfully, we are not alone in our pursuit of holiness. Amazingly, ridiculously, gloriously, God, ‘decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his son’ (Romans 8:29). We may be all our young people have got, and may not feel holy in the slightest - but God is able to work wonderfully in and through us, and often despite us. Thank heavens for that.

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