Mark Russell youth worker, lay preacher, and youngest member of the Archbishops’ Council

02 November 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury seemed to really enjoy himself, and the young people loved having him with us. The night was sensational. Rowan Williams came to our Friday-night worship event called Pulse two weeks ago. I invited him before I had anything to do with the Archbishops’ Council. It is an event run with other local churches in Chorleywood (St Albans diocese), and it was lovely to welcome him, and to see him engage so naturally with more than 250 teenagers.

He looked really at home. I watched him in the middle of a room of teenagers, talking and laughing with them. His warmth, gentle humour, and deep wisdom inspired all of us. It was a very special evening, and he seemed genuinely moved by their love for him.

I really do think he is committed to young people and can relate to them. He has two children of his own at home, and when I’ve been to Lambeth Palace there are the usual bikes and rollerblades in the hall. I have been particularly struck by the depth of his spirituality and his genuine humility. He is also a man of prayer.

I wanted to be the Prime Minister when I was younger, or, failing that, a judge. I did graduate from law school, but then went into youth work.

Wearing a suit is totally the wrong image for me, even though I am on the Archbishops’ Council. So I don’t. I am supposed to have a connection with young people.

Although I have been in Chorleywood for five years, I have made a point of not losing my Irish accent. I use this to great effect, and have my own distinctive way of keeping things lively on the Council, partly because of my personality and voice. I try to ensure that we do not take ourselves too seriously, and if we disagree we have that unity in the Spirit. I have been made very welcome by all the members.

The work is a privilege, not a chore. My work at a local level has given me a platform at a national level. I am struck by the exceptionally heavy workload of all the members of the Archbishops’ Council, and how much time they give up.

It is very easy to pick on bishops. But the truth is that there are a heck of a lot of people who do not understand young people, and who think the worst of them. I want to do my best to challenge that. We have a duty to make the Church relevant and accessible.

Youth work is about relationships and time, not just money. It is about creating a culture within a church that welcomes young people. The Church as a whole needs to invest in the 20-somethings, so it can encourage younger people into leadership. This is on the Council’s agenda.

You can pray youth leaders into a church. We need to be better at releasing people into the ministry of youth work.

Being youthful depends on personality. I know some 18-year-olds who are going on 60, and vice versa. There is no arbitrary number or age.

My family relationships are very important to me. I was brought up in Northern Ireland, where everyone lives in each other’s pockets, and I am regularly in touch with my mother and brother. Because of my strong family ties, coming to England was probably the biggest choice I have made in life. I came here in 2000.

My biggest regret has been not keeping in touch with my father. He left my mother ten years ago, and I should have worked harder to stop the gulf developing. But I am working on it.

I think Leviticus is a cure for insomnia, but I love the Psalms. They contain all human life and emotions. The two books that have influenced me most, apart from the Bible, are Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconnelli, and The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. I probably ought to add The Wild Gospel by Alison Morgan, which challenges us about how to do church. Rowan Williams suggested I should read it.

I felt particularly angry with a traffic warden who gave me a parking ticket outside my own home. I know God loves traffic wardens, but I find it hard. I also get angry about world-debt issues, and am a firm supporter of the Make Poverty History campaign.

I hate decaffeinated coffee. It is like chocolate without the sugar. Café Direct, is my favourite fair-trade item.

The most memorable sermon I’ve heard has to be one given by one of my youth group — a young man called Josh, who preached on Samson and Delilah. It was inspirational.

Give me a sunlounger, beer, and a novel, and I am happy. But my favourite place would have to be the headlands of County Antrim, with the Giant’s Causeway stretching out in front. Spiritually, I love to return to Lee Abbey in Devon.

I would love to engage in an evening of praise with the Christian singer Rebecca St James. The fact that she is stunningly beautiful is entirely coincidental.



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