THE words of John Wesley were echoed by a young speaker at this year’s National Estates Church Network (NECN) conference at the end of last month.
“Every day, I can see a mission field where I live,” the Youth President of the Methodist Church, Jasmine Yeboah, said on Monday of last week. “I would pray for the lady that used to clean the estate buildings, speak to the guy that would chuck rubbish away, speak to the launderette guy. The launderette is an amazing mission field, because you could sit there for hours; so there’s time to talk about Jesus. . . John Wesley said ‘The world is my parish,’ and I used to think: Broadwater Farm is my parish.”
Ms Yeboah was a keynote speaker at the conference, which met last month in Bradford and Birmingham. Growing up on the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham, north London, she came to faith after watching a tele-evangelist, and began to attend St Mark’s Methodist Church on Tottenham High Road, where she was inspired by meeting young people with “high aspirations”.
“The one question that always used to come back to me is, John 1 verse 46: ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’” she said. “Surely something good can come out of Nazareth because Jesus came out of Nazareth. . . Can anything good come out of Broadwater Farm? I have always believed that God uses the lowest places of society, where people think that nothing good can come out, to bring out good stuff.”
Still living on the estate, Ms Yeboah has established a youth choir at St Mark’s, where she is encouraging young people to “have ambitions, read books, know their rights”. People who remained on the estates where they had grown up could have a “positive impact”, she said. “You give them a goal: if that person can do it, and they live on an estate, then I can.
“It gives you that edge — people can come in and talk about Christ and stuff, but when they know you live on their estate, they know that you understand them. It gives you that ability to relate to them on a deeper level. . . Nobody has ever said no to me praying for them.”
Emily McDonald, a member of the Church of England Youth Council, also addressed the conference. She described growing up in Woodlands, a mining village in Doncaster, and sensing a call to ordination at the age of 17, two years ago.
She had noticed “the lack of church leaders from working-class backgrounds”, she said on Tuesday, and she hoped to highlight some of the obstacles to pursuing a vocation. Placements designed to give people experience were not financially viable for her: “There are lots of gap-year options out there, but most of them cost upwards of thousands of pounds, and that does not even cover accommodation or food or living.”
Eventually, she found a place on the C of E’s Ministry Experience scheme (Features, 11 January), which had been “a really positive thing”, but had “only been possible as I don’t have any major commitments: a family or mortgage”.
She hoped that the Church would “be able to make the whole process more accessible. As well as gaining experience, there is a way you have to talk, to articulate yourself in the Church.” Methods of training and assessment should also be reviewed.
“It really annoys me when people say, to make it more accessible we have to dumb the training down. That is not what anyone is saying. We are just saying we want to make it more accessible, and train and assess people in a way that equips them for ministry.”
About 200 people attended the two conference venues, and focused on children, young people, and estates, including knife crime, and building on small numbers.
Canon Andy Delmege, who chairs NECN, said: “Three main challenges emerged: enabling people from estates to become leaders; putting children and young people at the centre of who we are; and making sure that the General Synod commitment to estates evangelism becomes reality.”