How a West Yorkshire skateboarding ministry is taking the fast track
Andy Milne is a Church Army Evangelist who since 2003 has been working as a youth evangelist in Bradford. Now 32, he has been a keen skateboarder since his teens, and almost as soon as he arrived in this part of West Yorkshire, where 29% of the population is aged under 19, he got to know some of the local skaters.
“I was walking to the shops one night,” he says, “and a couple of lads who had seen me on my board stopped me and invited me to come out skating with them and it all started from there. Skateboarding really does help break down barriers with these young people.”
Skateboarding is not the only tool in his kit, but it has proved to be one of the best. Today, his youth church, Sorted, is described as a thriving fresh expression of church. It attracts up to 60 young people a week and six volunteer helpers in an area where social deprivation is widespread with one-parent families, crime and unemployment all higher than the national average.
Andy is clear about his response: “Young people need new expressions of church and worship they can relate to and with which they feel comfortable.”
The essence of Sorted is to teach young people more about the virtues of love, justice, forgiveness and respect, empowering them to become leaders for their peer group and their neighbourhood. There are sessions for young people on Monday, Tuesday and Friday evenings meeting for discussion, Bible study, prayer and activities.
Sorted is also an integral part of the BD10 partnership formed with Bradford Council and youth services to respond to the needs of young people growing up in challenging family circumstances. Andy and his team work faithfully with these young people and maintain the commitment, energy, humility and conscientious leadership required to turn a vision into a tangible and lasting ministry that is beginning to bear fruit.
Recently eight young people aged between 13 and 17 were baptised in a birthing pool in Trinity Church, Idle by the Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Rev David James who says: “Andy has brought a strong sense of commitment and purpose to the work with young people in this area and has a high profile with local schools and the estates of Bradford.
“He has recruited a team of local people who work to build relationships and lay the foundations for being able to talk about God in a way that is relevant to the lives of young people.”
The work is making a real difference in the lives of young people like 15-year-old Matty Ambrose who says: “I met Andy through a school club and since then I’ve been attending the youth church he set up. A big boost to my faith this year was going to Soul Survivor and since then I’ve even been doing a bit of preaching.
“I think the best way to go about your life is to find God and follow him. It means you’ve got someone who is there for you all the time. People seem to think religion is just about going to church, but it’s a lot more than that – it’s about having fun.”
The Chaplain at Immanuel Christian Community College where Andy leads a lunchtime and an after-school club says the work is crucial to the spiritual development of young people. He describes one girl who was at the top of the schools ‘at risk’ register as now having “found a real home” at Sorted.
Andy is delighted that the results from his cutting edge ministry are now being seen. “So often work like this is very long term and the outcomes are not always obvious or immediate, so it is great to have this sort of encouragement and affirmation,” he says.
His work has the backing of his bishop and a formal review of the work of Sorted concluded that it is “uniquely placed to be an interface between the Christian community and local young people … if it wasn’t for this project the young people of Bradford 10 would have little or no exposure to the Gospel.”
Andy feels that many people just don’t understand skaters and as a result the skaters themselves feel that society doesn’t much like them. Andy comments: “You don’t need to skateboard yourself to be able to relate to skaters, but you need to be willing to listen to them about what is important in their word. It’s about stepping out in faith to help young people to worship and serve God in a way they can understand and relate to.”
With the possibility of skateboarding being included in the 2012 Olympics, Phil Williams, the national director of Christian Surfers UK and the chairman of the Skate Ministry Leaders’ Network sees the importance of a ministry like Andy’s. Speaking to The Church Times, he said: “The number of skaters in this country is just monstrous, and the nearest most of them will ever get to the church is the car park.”
How ready is your church to find out what is going on with skaters in your area and even consider the potential of opening up your car park for them?
To support ministries like Andy’s call Church Army on 0208 309 3519 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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