As Andy says: “Skateboarding has a culture of encouragement which is a great leveller – people are always helping each other to improve their skills. This makes it a place where it is easy to have conversations with young people and find out what makes them tick, and what it is they want to know about life.
“Years ago we were given some space and a Portakabin by the local school every Friday evening. These were very basic facilities and we said to the young people we knew, 'What do you want to do here?'
“So they eventually came in increasing numbers to skate, play football, listen to music and just talk to each other.”
This relaxed atmosphere enabled Andy to listen to young people, talk to them about God, and begin to answer some of their many questions about life and faith. From these humble beginnings grew Sorted: a fresh expression of church run by and for young people in North Bradford.
This summer it received a special Bishop's Mission Order, which gives it official church status even though it doesn't have a geographical parish.
Sorted encounters around 130 young people each week via the three groups it has established.
Andy says: “Fewer people than ever before have any meaningful links with the Church and its culture, so we're meeting people where they are at, rather than expecting them to come to church.
“Sorted helps break down some barriers, and the young people can see that we are really concerned about them and the issues they face. We're building a Christian community and family for those who have difficult families at home.”
The Bishop's Mission Order means that Sorted's future is secure for at least the next five years. They will be given oversight by the Archdeacon of Bradford and they will have an electoral roll of members and a PCC.
Bishop David says: “I hope my successor has as much fun as I've had baptising their new members by immersion!"
On Sunday 23 May, the Bishop baptised six teenagers from Sorted in the River Wharfe at Ilkley – with an audience of hundreds of sunbathers. The six were then joined by five others to be confirmed and they received communion by the side of the river.
Andy says: “It's fantastic to see these young people want to commit to God in this way. It's hard enough for anyone to do, but when you're a teenager, it's particularly admirable!”
Will, who's 15 and goes to Immanuel College in Bradford says: “I've come a lot further in my faith and just wanted to take the next step. My friends at school are cool about it, although some were messing around and asked what if the Bishop drowns me!
“Faith for me means that if you've got something on your mind you've got someone to talk to about it.”
Jack, who's also 15, says: “Two years ago I thought this was a load of rubbish, but then one night Andy prayed for me and I really felt God's presence, and I've felt it in my heart ever since. I've had some tough troubles recently and knowing God is there has been a big help.”
Andy adds: “We find that the young people often have an experience of God before they follow him. Rather than a gradual intellectual process, they often have an encounter with God and begin to make sense of it later.
“When they get involved in leadership it really helps their understanding, so we get them to pray for other young people, or they can help lead a Bible study group or get involved in fundraising. When they run it themselves, they really own it and the energy triples.”
Ironically, skateboarding started decades ago as a 'fresh expression' of surfing, for people who could not get to the ocean but loved the idea of surfing. Today, Sorted is a fresh expression of church for young people eager to know more about God and spirituality, and who want to stamp their personalities on their church.
You can see a short film of the Sorted project at http://www.churcharmy.org.uk/AndyMilne
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