Transatlantic: The Differences in Ministry Between the U.S. and the U.K.
1: Crossing or extending across the Atlantic Ocean
2: Situated or originating from beyond the Atlantic Ocean
3: Of, relating to, or involving countries on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and especially the U.S. and Great Britain
It has been nearly 9 months since I moved from my home in Seattle to my home in the U.K. starting a new life and a new opportunity in youth ministry. So far, my posts have revolved around a cool British phrase or a place that inspired me to write about a certain subject. Today, I want to try and answer the most common question I have received since I started telling my story about this journey. What is different about here and there?
I find it very interesting that I receive this question from both sides. People in the states asking me what the U.K. is like and vice versa. Often, I must start by dissolving some stereotypes:
- No, not everyone in Brittan sounds like the Harry Potter cast.
- No, they are not still dressed like they are from the Victorian era.
- No, most of them do not go around drinking tea out of fancy cups all day.
- No, not all Americans walk around with guns and a bald eagle on their shoulders.
- No, most places are not like a scene out of some wild west movie.
- No, we also don’t all sound like we are from New York, LA or Texas.
I get asked a lot if youth ministry is the same in the U.K. as it was in the U.S. and I often jokingly respond that it is the same job, different accent. That is not entirely true. I would like to share a few key differences because I believe they can help challenge us on how we view what youth ministry looks like and what we are doing. At times, it feels to me like youth ministry is 20 years behind what I was doing in the States and at other times it seems like youth work here in the U.K. is lightyears ahead of the states. Here are a few examples to think about.
Separation of Church and state
In the states, I had to fight to get on a school campus and share about faith. Often, I might be able to get on as a guest in an assembly talking about sex or I could see the kids at school if I was attending a sporting event or a school play. Beyond that, I was generally not allowed in and I certainly would not be allowed to talk about my Christian faith within the school.
Here in the U.K., it’s different. Youth workers are often an integral part of the schools here in the U.K. We are asked to teach classes, run clubs, go on school trips and be available to meet up with kids during the day. In some areas around the U.K., a church will be as likely to hire a school worker as they are to hire a youth pastor.
The pros of this are obvious. This gives me more time and exposure to kids and the support of the school community to engage and share about our faith. I must admit that every time I do something with the school’s I am still a little surprised there isn’t a security guard to escort me off the premises.
There are also cons to this as well. A lot of school workers that I have encountered shared the frustration that many of the kids they work with will still never make the move from meeting them around school to engaging as part of the Christian community. They like the school clubs or the school workers but they have been culturally empowered to think that proximity to faith is fine. It is ok to just know a little bit about faith, you don’t need to have an active one.
A Warning from Across the Atlantic
I see this as a warning sign for youth work in the states. Without making this statement sound too fanatical, we are becoming increasingly more religious in our education in the states and I don’t think that is a good thing. As youth workers fight to get access to their youth in their schools in the states, we also must remember that we don’t get to pass on faith by proximity. Just being a Christian around kids in a secular environment isn’t going to get the job done. We need to show them what Christian community looks like. We can’t just secularize it to make it school appropriate. All the worship, prayers, bible readings and liturgies do mean something. They are our roots and our heritage. Without them we are just a good moral influence on kids and at least here in the U.K., we are realizing that may not be enough.
[bctt tweet=”Just being a Christian around kids in a secular environment isn’t going to get the job done. We need to show them what Christian community looks like.” username=”ys_scoop”]
A second area I have found of interest between the U.K. and U.S. is resources. Overall, in the States we have an overabundance. Everything is bigger and grander and larger (including our waistlines). Youth workers here in the U.K. often must stretch a lot out of a little. I am lucky in that my church invests heavily into their youth but I have come to find that this is the exception not the rule. When I hear what many of my fellow youth workers in the U.K. must work with I find myself wondering if I could do youth ministry with as little resources as they do. I am not sure I could.
A Warning from Across the Atlantic
I think this is a question youth workers in the States are having to ask more and more. As church budgets tighten the youth budget often takes a hit. Our jobs are getting harder and competing with everything else in a nation of excess means we often try to add a bit of glamour to our youth ministries to compete (getting the latest game consoles, adding Six Flags to the end of the mission trip, getting the jet skis to summer camp, etc.). I don’t know how long this model can be sustained in the U.S. We need to find ways to do more with less. We must remember that we are followers of a man who calls for faith the size of mustard seeds and turns a small boy’s lunch into a meal for 5,000.
Same job, different accent…
At the end of the day though kids are kids and the needs of my youth here don’t vary that drastically from my youth in Seattle or Minnesota or anywhere else I have encountered. We cannot forget that our kids are searching for meaning, identity and community. That is what we must offer them in Jesus and that is what should be at the core of our youth work. No matter where we are or who we are doing it with.
I hope you never lose sight of this. You are called to where you are for a reason. And where you are has just as much to say about what youth ministry needs as where I am. We are partners working towards the same goal from across the Atlantic.
Denny Burda is the Senior Youth Minister at St. Paul’s Howell Hill in the United Kingdom. After over a decade in youth ministry in the States, Denny, his wife Merina and their cat Elliott followed God on their big adventure of a new life in a new culture.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.