Sarah's dream becomes reality at Norwich Open
By Keith Morris
2010: The Open Youth Venue’s
new Principal, Sarah Mintey
, has a dream for the young people of Norwich
and, alongside partners such as local churches and Norwich Youth for Christ,
she aims to deliver on that vision.
“My dream is to deliver a monthly Christian programme which will inspire, engage and challenge the young people of Norfolk to reflect on the values they wish to live their lives by and explore what faith is,” says Sarah, who has recently been appointed in post at Open.
And the former head teacher also has a clear plan of how to make the vision become reality: “Here at Open, we need to work closely with groups such as Norwich Youth for Christ and Transforming Norwich, along with local churches, in order to find out how best to serve the young people in their care.”
A joint programme of events, fully utilising the fantastic array of facilities at Open, appointing a youth pastor, having a clear marketing campaign of Christian events and prayer are all on Sarah’s agenda.
Sarah’s own Christian faith, and a burning passion to help young people make the most of their lives, is what drives her on.
“I have had a personal faith in Christ since I was about six, but it was not until my teenage years that I came into a full realisation of what it all meant,” she said. “When I was 11, I was on a bike ride, when I heard an audible voice from God saying ‘Sarah you are going to be a missionary’. I will never forget that.
“By the age of 16, I started doing children’s work with Spring Harvest and went to the United Nations stand there to find out more and decided that I was going to be an educational emergency worker in a third world country.
“They said I should get myself trained up in medicine or education, get nine years teaching and some leadership experience and get a masters in education. So I did all that and then my home circumstances changed and I said to myself, ‘hang on a minute, I can do all that in this country and make the same sort of difference in schools here’.”
A Norfolk high school teacher for 12 years and a former trustee of NYFC, Sarah became involved in a training programme for head teachers for challenging urban schools in 2006. There followed several senior roles in London schools until Sarah returned to Norfolk last year.
Sarah is a member of Today’s Lifestyle Church, which meets at Drayton Hall and is led by Graham and Julie Dacre along with John and Debbie Davies. Graham is, of course, the driving force behind the Open Youth Venue.
“TLC is going from strength to strength,” says Sarah. “It is a church built on developing quality relationships with each other. And it is from the strength of those relationships that we are able to explore the values which we want to live our lives by in a context that brings glory to Jesus Christ.”
When the opportunity of being Principal at Open came along, Sarah leapt at it. “My role is to facilitate programmes within the building and also build relationships with schools and other groups and agencies,” she said. “Brett Rennold is chief executive of the Open Youth Trust and his role is to build the Trust and outwork what we do.
“I believe that every young person can achieve regardless of their background,” said Sarah. “I am passionately keen to help every young person we come into contact with realise their ultimate goal in life.
“For me, it is about being helping young people get from one place to the next in their own personal faith journey within their own community and church setting.”
One of the first groups to see the huge opportunities at Open is NYFC, under leader Mark Tuma, and his team have already begun to explore what is possible.
A recent Passion for Life youth event with Galvin Calver was a good example, says Mark.
“We had up to 400 young people here through our partner churches. The worship was very full-on. Some of the youngsters were totally engaged, loved the worship, preaching, everything. Others had never been to a church service before. It would certainly have provoked a lot of questions for those who came in, throwing them in at the deep end maybe.”
NYFC has also been running a monthly event in the Bridge and café area of Open. “We are learning how to use different bits of the building,” said Mark. “We have tried to create something that would be ok for someone who had never been to church before to engage with. It uses a learning from everybody style - let’s talk about this together, not just from the front.
“When someone becomes a Christian it is because God has already been at work in their hearts before,” explains Mark. “If we believe what God says, we should be ok with them learning from him and the other young Christians here and not necessarily from me.”
“The great thing about this place is that it encourages us to experiment and to ask what can we do in this time, in this space with these young people. That is what NYFC wants to do - to innovate - and occasionally some of those things will work and it opens up the way for others to think that that might just work for us as well.
“We are just as happy doing things with small groups as with large gatherings. People make commitments at large events but that only ever happens on the back of relationships that have been developed day-by-day, otherwise you can do big events and nothing happens.
“I don’t want to teach people to want a show, I want to teach people to want Jesus, which is much easier to do in a small scale setting, then, when they come to a bigger event, they will understand that this is worship not a show.”
Sarah agrees: “I want to see big social events so that people can see the possibilities, but supported by the relationship-building programmes. You then have something there that is attractive and exciting where people can explore their values and keep their interest.”
So Sarah is busy looking at what Christian bands are out there and then running them by young people she is in contact with either at church or through the large Open Facebook group.
“If Open can provide that hook to support NYFC in whatever way it can then I think that that is the perfect model for me,” she says.
“Open is keen to work with organisations such as NYFC because it works across a number of different churches. We want Open to support the work that individual churches are doing and be seen as a gateway to the kingdom, accessible to all churches. If we can help facilitate relationships that enable youngsters to want to explore and find out more about the Christian faith and what it means through friendship, then great.
“We would look to put on events that are attractive and provide a service to a range of churches and young people. Maybe events that churches by themselves could not put on. It is about building and facilitating the growth of the kingdom and not about any one specific church.”
“It is not about being a threat or competition to churches but being a resource,” agrees Mark. “Whether you are big or small, use it as a resource if you want to and reap the benefits yourself. At the Passion for Life event, the young people came with their youth leaders who used is as a service and a resource and the conversations they had afterwards were within their own youth groups not through us.
“We are not trying to draw a bunch of young people and take them out of churches. We want the church youth leaders to come along and do the interacting with the young people as we cannot do it all on our own anyway.”
Sarah is keen to have discussions with any church or organisation leaders who are interested in being a part of the monthly event programme, which is all about designing programmes that will engage and inspire young people in partnership with NYFC.
Church leaders interested in getting involved, working alongside Open or having a look around the facilities, which include a night club, dance studio, concert hall, café, climbing wall and multi-media IT suite, are invited to get in contact with Sarah for an initial chat. Ring 01603 763111, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Queen's Award for Open
The Open Youth Venue has just been awarded the prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service
, the equivalent of an MBE for voluntary groups. It also received the award in 2005 for its work with the SOS Bus project. Sarah said: "It's great for the young people and the staff and volunteers who give their time to the project and it recognises their hard work."www.direct.gov.uk/thequeensawardforvoluntaryservice