Empowering young people in the church

By Sarah Malik
11 Dec 2008

Sarah Malik, the new youth president of the Methodist Church in Britain, talks about her role, her hopes for change in church and society, the need to empower young people, and her personal sense of vocation. (The background to her election is here: http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/8047)

Sarah, congratulations on becoming the first Methodist Youth President. In what way do you think your election and appointment sends out a message to other churches? Indeed, how do you see the relationship between young people and the churches more generally, and how would you like it to develop?

I hope that my appointment has sent out a very clear message; one that emphasises equality between young people and adults. I think that the church has dismissed and tokenised young people for far too long. It is time that everybody became equals. I’m not talking about everybody being treated the same, but everybody’s gifts, strengths and weaknesses being treated equally as important. That, for me, is equality. The Youth Participation Strategy (YPS) is all about participation and without equality, we cannot genuinely participate.

The job’s being described as ‘a first’ in more ways than one. Could you tell us more about the role, and how you plan to tackle it?

The way I see it, the new Youth President role is a combination of two past posts, but the new role has more responsibility and more challenges. As I am the first of a new generation of Youth Presidents it is not clear exactly what the job will entail as we cannot see into the future. I will, however, be travelling down to London for regular meetings. I will travel to meet young people all over the connexion. I will be a member of the Methodist Conference, but will also be a member of the Methodist Council (which oversees the life of the Methodist Church throughout the year), and I am simply relying on God’s strength and guidance throughout the next 9 months, wanting the first year of the Youth Participation Strategy is successful.

What about those beyond the church? Will the Methodist Church's youth initiatives - and perhaps even more importantly, the initiative of young people within Methodism - be able to reach out beyond what some would see as the confines of a 'church space'?

The District Youth Enablers are the answer to your question. One young person, paid part time, working in one locality to fit the actual needs of the young people that area. We cannot reach outside the church effectively from a national level, only at a local level. This, I believe, is one of the major strengths of the YPS.

One of the things we are often discussing through Ekklesia is the decline in formal and inherited Christian institutions in this part of the world, and the corresponding potential for a rediscovery of the Gospel as movement, as a liberating and in some senses subversive force. How do you respond to that and how do you see "the state of Christianity" in this country right now? What does it look like from where you stand?

I believe that the more diverse the church is, the stronger it will be. As a body of Christ, we each need different ways to worship God. Each way is as valid as the next. Traditional churches will always exist and new movements will always be created, I think that this is healthy. There is nothing I love more than being able to wander into Sheffield cathedral and pray quietly and go into my local Assemblies of God (AOG) church and throw my hands up in the air. Its all about freedom of worship.

When churches close, it forces change upon those who were connected to it. I believe that it is this which sorts the wheat from the chaff. People are often afraid of change, understandably, but change almost always brings us into a new and fuller understanding of God.

I believe that we are in a transitional period. ‘I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ (John 12.24) As old churches close down, new churches are being planted. As an old lady in her 90s once said to me “We took Christianity to Africa and Asia; now they are bringing it back to us!” We are always in a constant cycle of death and rebirth, it’s healthy for us!

Could you tell us a bit more about your own background and interests? Is there something you will be bringing to your role which might surprise and intrigue people?

I live at Cliff College, a Methodist institition near Sheffield, with my husband who is studying theology there. I come from a non-Christian family, but my gran has always encouraged me to come to church. I’ve been involved with MAYC and the Methodist Youth Executive since I was 13 because my youth leader at the time was involved with the executive. My passion is creative prayer. I love the way that creative expression can be used in any context for any group of people. From singing and dancing to labyrinths and prayer stations. This is a way for those who do not usually participate in worship to do so comfortably.

I hope that I will bring a new way of thinking old concepts. My keywords for my presidential year are: Get Involved (with events and projects), Participate (with the YPS), Speak Out (for the Gospel), Justice (for the world) and Change (within the church). My keywords come from what I understand to be the ethos of the Methodist Church, translated into a simple yet challenging form. I want to inspire young people everywhere and show them that there is far more to life than school, work and Saturday nights. This world is full of excitement and challenge and I want to show that.

What are your hopes and dreams?

My husband and I recently bought a plot of land in Baddomalihi, Pakistan, his home town, and we aim to build an educational centre there to help the poorest people with their learning. I wish to work until my husband is fully trained as a minister, then I want to become a full-time mother whilst working in the community.

In terms of culture, music, technology and so on - do you think the generational gap is getting bigger? Is it bridgeable, and if so in what ways?

You could indeed speculate that the generational gap is getting bigger, but I don’t think it is. Older people and younger people have always had different interests. Every generation is different; as is every person. In our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society the gap between an Asian woman and a white woman is no bigger than the gap between a 9 year old and a 90 year old.

If there was one thing you could change within the church or within society right away, what would it be... and what do you think the reaction would be?

It would be a sense of community responsibility, so that people would be more aware of each other and help one another. In the society I see around me, there is too much individualism; too many people believe that they are the only important person in the world, old and young alike. I wish that people would be more aware and more loving of those around them and act as one body, as Christ calls us to be.

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(c) Sarah Malik is a carer at a residential care home in Eyam, Derbyshire, and the new Methodist Church Youth President. Her blog is here: http://methodistyouthpres.blogspot.com/

More on the Methodist Church: http://www.methodist.org.uk/

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