Gemma Smith reflects on a year of living and learning with the Animate Youth Ministries team.
I'm coming to the end of my gap year at Animate and yet it feels like I've only just begun. It has been such an incredible year and I have learned so many lessons that I'll be taking with me to university and beyond.
I have loved working with the young people I have met this year. Indeed the experience has given me a new appreciation of my faith and of how I can help others see they can have their own faith journey. In many cases, the youngsters I encountered would come in thinking that faith was some far-off thing not for them – and yet time and again they were amazed by how ordinary we were, which I think is a key detail in peer ministry. We show them you can have a laugh; you can have hobbies and interests; you can get excited about your passions and you can still have a faith.
Every day at Animate has been different, from working in private schools to disadvantaged areas, from dealing with sixth-formers to Year 5s. I have loved working with the primary schools as the pupils' energy is fantastic and they always throw themselves into the fun-packed days, exploring a theme like 'Let Your Light Shine' or 'Living the Christian Life'.
Equally, high schools have been interesting to work with. You can have deeper discussions on faith and the future. Often we would have group discussions which I found important in my ministry. Although we can speak to teenagers for days on different topics and what we believe, they should feel able to talk about their beliefs as well – whether that be Christianity, Islam, agnosticism, atheism, et cetera. This is part of their development into adults and so they should be listened to, which is something fairly pivotal in youth ministry.
The other major aspect of the Animate gap year has been living in community. This was particularly new to me as I do not have brothers and sisters so it was strange to always have a lot of people in the house. Like anyone who has lived in community or in university halls, there can be pros and cons – such as petty arguments over who has not washed the dishes – but living in community at Animate has been a privilege. I've been surrounded by supportive people who have not only helped my faith journey but also my personal growth. I have learned how to cook and do the laundry among other practicalities, while also experiencing how it is to work and live with the same people. It really does feel like a family.
I feel more ready to start university in October than I did 12 months ago and I'd encourage anyone who’s thinking about joining the team to at least come and give Animate a visit. I hope I've made a positive impact on the thousands of young people I've worked with this year and wish them all the best in the future.
'Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity' 1 Timothy 4:12