I trained as an English teacher, founding and
running a charity for young people with learning disabilities, and
running the children's ministry of a large church.
When Hull was struggling at the bottom of the education
league tables, the then Bishop, James Jones, wanted to
find a way for the churches to offer real support and encouragement
to the local schools. The job "Faith in Education worker" was born.
I was the second post-holder, starting in 2005.
The current Bishop of Hull, Richard Frith, is
now my line manager, and I have a support group that meets with me
every four months to talk over progress and plans.
I wanted to surprise the schools; so I avoided
predictable RE lessons and assemblies, and instead tried things
that would add to the requirements that schools were trying to
meet. I've worked mainly in seven of the state secondary schools
within the city of Hull. Over the years, I have been involved in
youth parliaments, living history projects, church crawls, creative
activities, residentials, film-making, a rickshaw scheme, and much
I've also done much work among people who've left school
and were homeless, caught up in substance-abuse, and
needing purpose and relationship urgently. The beauty of my job is
the flexibility I have to adapt the work to situations, taking time
The overriding need is the basic lack of nurture in a
proportion of students. This can result in immature,
disruptive, and non-receptive behaviour. So I developed a mentoring
project. We call it "Celebrate Life". I ask the head teacher to
identify students for whom there is very little celebration of the
fact that they are here. It sounds so very extreme, but head
teachers always think of a dozen students immediately who would fit
We ask that the school give us no background information
at all. We can get to know the students for who they are,
without reputation, or other people's assessments of them - as
individuals made in God's image, with an integral value and
We're not aiming to improve academic or behavioural
issues, nor evaluating what happens. We're neither
counsellors nor therapists. We're simply there to provide a
relationship of trust, acceptance, affirmation, and, indeed,
celebration. Very often there is a marked improvement in many
areas, as self confidence grows.
There are large swaths of people living with multiple
trauma in their lives, and consequently behaviour and
priorities change to cope. Students can know serious home poverty,
a parent in prison, loss, abuse, addiction within the family,
bullying, and sibling terminal illness. The kids that come out of
these homes struggle to fit in with current mainstream society -
and certainly have little interest in Church. So the Church has to
take responsibility in finding creative ways of meeting, relating,
understanding, and communicating with them.
I believe that marginalised, rejected people in our
society are actually God's favourite people, and that he
longs to embrace them. But often the gap between their experience
of life and understanding his love is huge. I've wanted to find
ways to connect the two.
We work for as long as the school wants us: a
volunteer mentor one-to-one with a student for an hour a week. We
provide a pack of four different creative activities, games,
experiments, quizzes for each mentor to have something to do with
the mentee, as conversation flows better when we're working on
something together. I've written a curriculum based on Christian
themes - dealing with anger, friendship, taking advice,
perseverance, forgiveness, gratitude - and the mentors work loosely
We also throw parties each term, held in a
local church, where we splash out and spoil the guests as much as
we can. We invite current mentees, their families and friends, past
mentees, and their circles. The parties have become big joyful
events for people who don't use diaries and don't have social
We've just taken 19 kids away for the weekend
to a Christian activity centre. (I think they were a bit shocked:
some of them had no sleeping bag, or even a change of clothes.) We
just had the best time ever. It was wonderful.
There is some great work going on in schools
everywhere, and I wouldn't make any claims that we are
better or more effective than anyone else. In Hull, we've hit a
seam of favour, both with churches and schools, which means that
the work is blossoming and delights us. Our work is very detailed,
and we have found that it is in the detail of people's lives, and
our relationships with them, that we see the Holy Spirit most at
We don't have a website. We're not an
organisation. We can go under the wire when we need to, to have an
authentic relationship, as we couldn't if we were working for
Social Services or Education. I work with a fantastic team of 25 or
so Christians. We meet to eat, plan, debrief, and pray together
before we go into each mentoring session.
Christian ministry should first and foremost be
fun; otherwise it is not sustainable. While we're working
among much poverty, deprivation, abuse, and trauma, we seek joy as
The post isn't funded by the diocese: they
support me and employ me, but my job is entirely funded through
donations. I have been astounded at how this has worked out. I took
the job with 18 months' funding left, and I'm still here nine years
later and being paid now for 27 hours a week.
We don't charge the schools for our work; we
never charge anything for parties or residentials; and I pay for
lunch for all mentors each week and a termly honorarium to
acknowledge their time and costs. I've been amazed at God's
kindness and generosity. We spend what he gives.
I want to see a blue whale up close. I want to
be part of seeing the marginalised and broken find Jesus in their
droves. I want to learn to make macaroons. I want to find ways to
write the story of what I have experienced here in Hull.
I grew up in Stamford, Lincolnshire, with my
mum, dad, and two sisters. I became a Christian at 13, and they all
followed suit in the years afterwards. Although my dad left the
family when I was in my late twenties, the rest of us have stayed
close and communicating. My husband is an ordinand at St John's
College, Nottingham - a surprise for both of us - and I have two
sons, one at university, one at home.
I get a kick out of finding the cheapest ways of going
to exciting places. Last autumn, I took my son to
Reykjavik before he went off to university, which we did on a
shoestring, and had a fantastic time. I'd love to go back.
Radio 4 accompanies me through my day and
evenings, when there's nothing else going on, which is a
very reassuring murmur. I love the sound of the cat flap when the
cat decides to come home at night, my text bleep as my friends and
family send me messages, and my mum's voice at the end of the
I've been influenced by my family, by many
Christians whom I have walked with for part of the journey, and
especially by the people who ran the youth groups and camps by
which I came to faith in my teenage years.
I'm influenced much by books: Leanne Payne, Amy
Carmichael, Hannah Whittal Smith, and Ann Voskamp. I love to read
of people who have found how to practise the real presence of Jesus
in their lives, and what that has meant for them.
I pray to rest in God's presence wherever I am.
I pray that I understand grace more: both his grace for me, and
mine for other people. I lay out the things that are bothering me
before him, and then I try to just listen. My best prayer is
I would love to have a good chat with Mary
Berry, if I found myself locked in a church.
Tessa Orams was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
Ms Orams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.