Alice Smith, Lead Tutor in Theology and Youth Ministry at St Mellitus College, had a chat with three of our students:
- Paul, a BA in Theology and Youth Ministry alumni, who is now on the MA in Theology, Ministry and Mission
- Martha, a Theology and Youth Ministry alumna
- Sam, a third year Theology and Youth Ministry student
Many of our students are initially introduced to St Mellitus College through personal recommendation. What drew you to studying at SMC?
M: I was on a gap year with OM in Cambodia, involved in building a school. During that time, the team were part of a youth weekend. It was during this time that I realised a sense of being made to do something, that youth work resonated with me. I came home and Googled ‘Youth Ministry, London’ – I hadn’t heard of St Mellitus College before that! I liked the look of the programme and the structure and continued to explore from there, taking a further gap year to explore this calling, working for a church and engaging in youth ministry. It was important for me that doing a degree was not a random decision – I wanted it to be useful and for it to give a sense of purpose – so this course had the right factors to give me a strong foundation as a Christian youth worker.
P: I knew God was calling me to youth work when I was about 15 years old, despite not really liking people! Over the intervening years, I grew to love and want to relate to young people but I also wanted to understand this calling better. So I did a gap year with XLP, then began finding out about next step options. It was important to me to be stretched theologically and academically so the theological focus of the programme at SMC was a key consideration. Attending an Open Day was an important part of working out what I was applying for and to compare it to other programmes. But the reality of studying here is bigger and different to what you discover on that day.
S: I was on the fringes of church until 2 years ago and then became involved in my local church and encouraged by the Vicar to be doing youth work. Along with another leader, we began gathering and meeting together with young people on a weekly basis. My Vicar also encouraged me to apply to the Diocese of London apprenticeship scheme and so I did a year of entry level training at YMCA College alongside a placement at the church and then transferred to SMC in September to begin the degree. It was a step of faith on all levels.
What do you need to know to be a youth worker? Is theology important?
M: I’m not sure I know that any more now than I did when I started! But I know that what I’ve learned has pushed and challenged me. Barth or some bits of Church History may not seem very relevant to the young people I was working with directly, but learning such wide theological themes has helped me to work out, for example, what I think about the church or how I might make sense of the problem of evil and that is important for my work as a youth worker.
S. I really appreciated the training and input at YMCA but I knew I wanted to explore this ministry in more theological depth alongside the practical training and development. Theological training has opened up more depth in me and my ministry, it has challenged and changed me as a person. The more equipped I become, the better youth work I can do.
What are the takeaways from your time here? What aspects of your time at SMC have had the biggest impact so far?
P: It has to be connecting theology, youth ministry, practice and getting excited about that integration. It’s also about seeing that happen in my work with young people alongside stretching me personally further through my MA studies. It’s exciting to see how young people react to those big questions when we’re prepared to engage with them.
S: So far, the biggest impact has been through the people I have been able to meet and engage with; experiencing the same struggles, passion and questions. The community here is so important as youth work can be so isolating. Being here, surrounded by so many people, you recognise the journey you are on and see others at different stages and experiencing youth work in different ways. It’s a safe space.
M: The Leadership and Character module in second year had a session on writing our rules for youth ministry – it was a fun activity at the time but it now the conversations and reflections from that session underpin what I do and remind me of why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m allowed to learn as I go but also reflect and carefully consider what I want to be known as. The phrase ‘contagious holiness’ has become a foundation for my youth work.
What would be your message to those considering studying at St Mellitus College? What would your advice be to prepare for coming to study here?
S: Don’t feel daunted, if you feel like you can’t do it, understand everyone feels that way! There’s lots of help available; staff, other students, the community. As I’m working through what I’m learning, I am able to make better sense of it and I know that will help my youth work.
P: You’re going to be stretched but be prepared to come away even more passionate and equipped. You’ll be with other people who are all focused on being transformed themselves and seeing their communities transformed. It’s very inspiring. I would recommend having someone in place as a mentor with whom to process your learning, outside of your college life.
M: Apart from saying you must study here, I would also look back and say that I thought being here would be a time when I got all the answers and I learnt what to do in each situation, the 'how to' bit of youth work! But this has been a time for God to do amazing things in me personally and so I’d recommend getting into the community – jump right in, make the most of the time you’re here. With only one day a week in college it can feel a bit hit and run but if you invest yourself, you will be truly formed by the experience. It will fix you more and in that you’ll be able to minister to your young people. As far as recommendations? I read a book called Theology: A Very Short Introduction by David Ford beforehand. That helped!
For more information about the BA Hons Theology and Youth Ministry click here.