The Church of Scotland's ‘Talking Ministry' series shares personal stories from those serving in Christian ministry, along with resources filled with questions, prayers and reflections to help encourage reflection on how God might be calling you at this time.
In this instalment, Neil Young speaks about his work as a youth team leader at St Paul's Church of Scotland in Glasgow.
My ministry: Neil Young, a youth team leader at St Paul's Church of Scotland in Glasgow
What is your role?
In June it will be 20 years of me being at St Paul's in Glasgow as the Youth Team Leader. Originally my role was much smaller but it has evolved into a large missional organisation with a turnover of around £500,000, and with a full-time equivalent staff of 17 and over 40 volunteers.
We aim to lessen the worst effects of poverty, including food insecurity, stopping people going to prison by alleviating boredom, and some of the other issues that make it a better option than real life. We also give people a voice with Bolt FM, Scotland's longest running youth radio. Our most recent project started off as a bike project, and is now looking at both 'walking and wheeling'. Most people in the parish don't have access to a car and it's about making sure the infrastructure reflects this.
There's also the usual school chaplaincy and Sunday morning worship. I'm there to enable the work that goes on and I'm very fortunate to work with some of the most amazing people on the planet. Our community is absolutely brilliant.
What is your background?
I grew up in a church family in Govan - both of my parents were involved with the Iona Community. We moved to Perth and at St Matthew's Church there was a youth worker who was good at getting us involved with worship. I studied geology at university but helped to run a youth group and a scout group and increasingly realised I could do youth work and be paid for it! I always think of the line "young people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care", which really resonates with me.
A youth worker job came up in Keith in the north east of Scotland, so I went there first, but I fell in love with someone who lived in Glasgow and a job came up and I moved back here. After ten years of working here I sat with a young person who said "it's alright for you, you don't have to live around here" so me and my wife moved to Blackhill with our young family. It has been an absolute joy to be part of the community.
What are your highlights of the last 20 years?
The biggest highlight for our community has been the alleviation of youth violence and helping to stop youth crime. We used to have to take knives off young people as they came into the building to create a safe space - one of the first months we were here a kid came in with a 5cm gash in his head. We thought we're not putting up with this as a community and I managed to get funding to address this. What the young people wanted was something to do on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Over a ten year period in our area it went from 116 crimes committed annually by under 20s to two, a 97% reduction.
The other highlights are international. We had the opportunity to visit and learn from a similar church in Zambia, which we were twinned with by World Mission. Our congregation is a small priority area congregation, and we turned up at their church and there were 2,000 people! What we've been able to learn from each other has been amazing -the Zambians have come to Glasgow a few times and have helped to tackle our apathy. We have huge challenges, but globally we are not poor and it's not a reason for us to stop trying. To see the opportunities that people in Zambia didn't have encouraged our young people to take on more. One young man, who had been a school refuser and involved with crime, went off, learnt how to read, got a college qualification, and as a result of the church's support we estimate around £1,000,000 has been saved for the UK government. Based on the path he was on which could have led to prison, this was a social return on investment of £816 per pound spent.
One of the beauties of the church is we're not a three or six month project - we're here for the long-haul. God is eternal. When all the other services are pulling out of our parish the only thing that's constant is God and the Church of Scotland. I love that aspect of it.
How does your faith shape your work?
My faith shapes all of my life. Matthew 25 inspires my work, when it says in the Bible "for I was hungry and you fed me" in our parish, the Church is the lead organisation tackling this - Jesus told us very clearly this is what we need to do. Let's go and walk alongside all people and show them that Christ cares. It's the absolute privilege of my ministry.
So much of the mental health pandemic that we have at the moment is with young people feeling that they are not worthy. To be able to be there as a Christian and say "We think you're worthy? You are made in the image of God, Here's what Jesus did for you" and at the same time tackle some of the issues of inequality and justice that removes peoples life chances and choices.
Any advice for someone getting into youth work?
I am not an expert on young people - young people are the experts on young people. Anything that has worked has been because they're leading as they know what they're talking about. All I've ever known is young people wanting people to be interested in them, not in our agendas. Then we are able to tell them that God is even more interested in them, that they are made in the image of God and that God loves them.
It's ok to fail. We'll very much run a project around love. We've had people cause thousands of pounds of damage to the building expecting to be excluded and told we don't want to see you again, but instead they've had someone say "you're obviously going through some stuff at the moment, let's talk about it". God forgives you and so do we. In 20 years we've never had anyone barred from our building because we believe in grace.
If you would like to consider how God might be calling you to serve at this time, you may want to discuss further with your minister or be in touch with your Presbytery to explore local opportunities.
If you are interested in exploring a call to the recognised ministries of the Church, you can find more information on our vocations page and can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a Discernment Conversation with one of the Recruitment Team.