I caught up with Sarah Percival during her first week as the new Youth Director at St Paul’s. We chatted about her background, plans she has, and why she took on the role. What instantly strikes you is how enthusiastic and professional she is, and I’m sure this role is something she will flourish in.
Tell me more about your gap year. What experiences did you take away from that?
“So I spent the year working with Youth For Christ in Swindon. I spent a lot of time working in the local secondary schools, doing lessons, assemblies and lunch clubs. The rest of my time was spent either running youth clubs and youth events or working with my church there to help them run their youth work. It was such a great year. I had the chance to work with an amazing team of experienced youth workers and to get to know LOADS of fantastic young people, from all walks of life. Swindon is a really varied town with some really middle class areas and others that are really deprived. But what came through everywhere was that young people are people no matter what their social background. They’re all fun, they all have pressures and questions and they all have so many talents and so much they could be doing with their lives. Having come from a fairly sheltered, middle class existence, my eyes were opened to what the rest of the world is actually like and to the fact that even though I came from a totally different background to many of these young people we were essentially the same and could still get on. And we both need God in our lives just the same amount! There’s SO much that God is doing in this country, in the middle class areas, in the council estates, in the schools and in the churches, it was an amazing opportunity to be able to be involved in it all as a full time volunteer for a year. I learnt that spending your life serving what God is doing – whether that’s in your office, your church, your school, your university or anywhere - it is just the most rewarding thing that you can do.”
Why did you choose a career in youth work?
“I wish I could explain how I got here. And I wish I could explain why I love working with young people. It would make it much easier to explain to people why I’m doing what I’m doing. All I can say is that it’s God’s idea! I went into my last year of university completely confused about what I wanted to do with my life, but through a whole lot of praying God led me to the conclusion that he wanted me to work with young people. It really gets to me the amount of pressure put on young people from all angles, and the way in which I saw many of my contemporaries drop away from the Church. God is the only answer to ALL the problems face by young people today – he’s the only one who can give them true identity, who can offer true fulfilment and who can give them the strength not to conform to all the things the world is telling them. I couldn’t just go into a comfortable job in the city and stand by and watch society push and break so many young people – I wanted to get stuck in, for God to use me in whatever way to make some kind of difference. I wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like, but after more prayer, I ended up here at St Paul’s! So yeah... I can’t explain why on earth it gets to me so much, or how I ended up caring about young people, I just do. I blame God!”
“It’s been a big life change arriving here two days after graduation. And that was pretty daunting. But now I’m here and in the thick of it all I am so excited. I still can’t quite believe God is letting me to do this for a job. It’s a big job and a big responsibility, but I know that wherever I can’t manage, God is bigger than me! Plus, everyone in the Church has been so friendly and welcoming – it’s a lovely place to work and worship!”
Sarah comes from a strong Christian family. Her parents help run Anglican Marriage Encounter, and one of her two brothers is currently training to be a vicar. Brought up in Sandhurst, she attended Yateley Manor School. At secondary school she studied gold medal lamda acting, and obtained a Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award. Then onto Cambridge University, where she studied a Degree in Theology & Religious Studies, focusing on New Testament Studies and Church History. She took a gap year to do full time youth work in Swindon, as part of the YFC gap year programme. Last summer Sarah spent 9 weeks teaching English in China and talking about Jesus.Youth Director at St Paul’s is her first position since graduating.
What would you like to achieve?
“Wow, big question! My prayer is that God will use me how he wants here at St Pauls – whatever that might look like. Ultimately, I would love to see all the St Paul’s young people absolutely sure of God’s love for them, and sold out for him so that they go out to change the world and to tell people about God and his love. God is amazing, I just want to help other people to see that! We’ll just have to wait and see what God has in mind though!”
YOUTH WORK AT ST PAUL’S
- Freezone – youth club for year 6-8. Thursday & Friday evenings
- Rock – youth club for year 9+. Thursday & Friday evenings
- Youth Cells - Sunday discipleship programme for young people
- Youth Alpha – introduction to the Christian faith for young people