Youth work with Polly at the Pen
Polly Baker is an apprentice youth worker at church@five; a community church which meets at The Green Man Community Centre on Strawberry Vale in East Finchley. Polly was previously a volunteer youth worker at her home church but felt called to urban mission to young people. Here, Polly explains how she has used football to bring young people from the Strawberry Vale community together and know more about God.
When I started as an apprentice youth worker at church@five I was met with the immediate challenge of not having any church building or meeting place, leaving me to question how do I arrange to meet regularly with the young people on the estate and begin building relationships with them? The book How to Pioneer by David Male states:
“The place to start making connections is not an event but in relationships. Where and how can we genuinely love and serve people in our locality? It is these authentic connections that are key to developing new communities.” (1992: Church House Publishing)
It was quickly decided to use a space where young people were already meeting, the local Multi-Use Sports Area. I teamed up with Scripture Union’s youth development worker and Ambassadors Goalside and together we put together a simple plan, an hour and a half slot on a Friday evening to meet, chat, play football, drink mountains of hot chocolate and pray.
The idea was to create a presence week in week out to show that we were committed to the development of the young people on the estate and that we could be relied upon. From the very beginning of my placement, I was aware that to create a thriving youth ministry I must first take the time to build relationships.
The Pen was an almost immediate success, within the first months we were attracting up to thirty young people each week. I remember a few weeks in and it was pouring with rain, a young lad came up to us and enquired a little more about who we all were and why we would be doing such a thing for them all. Explaining that we were Christians who wanted to invest our time in him and his mates had an enormous impact on him and he has been a regular attendee each week from there on and bringing his friends to join in too.
From the very early days, we attracted a small group of local young adults whose presence would become key to the further development of the project over time. These young adults were on the fringe of the church with sporadic attendance but a visible searching and believing faith who were seeking to engage in the project we were offering as participants, however, it quickly became clear that they were all showing leadership qualities which could be nurtured through this project.
The enthusiasm of our young leaders prompted a huge development in The Pen project and after the Easter holiday in 2017, The Mini Pen was launched, which runs for an hour before the Youth Pen and is aimed at boys and girls who attend primary school. The young leaders are fully in control of the football aspect of this project, they plan and carry out exercises, games, skills and matches with the young people and are really pushing this forward as a successful group.
At present, we have up to thirty primary aged children attending. It is a privilege for me to watch the skills, commitment and enthusiasm of the young leaders and has really expressed the importance for me to spend time with these volunteers, investing in them in any way that I can.
When we started The Pen, the vision was for it to be a space where we made initial contact with the youth on the estate, and from this, they would go on to become more involved in other activities and groups that we provide for the estate. Mark Yaconelli in his book Contemplative Youth Ministry highlights the importance of community by saying:
“A ministry done with others is a ministry of presence. […] A communal ministry not only bears the presence of Christ, it also allows for greater relationships with young people.” (2006: SPCK)
The Pen has proved to be an amazing community project, it’s been a remarkable success and a valuable asset to the community, one which I hope will continue and develop further in the future.