When I step off the tube at Stratford in East London, Amy Stott is there to welcome me to the bustling borough of Newham. She assures me that she knows the best independent coffee shop around. A few minutes later we sit down inside to talk over tea and delicious carrot cake…
Born in Glasgow as the eldest daughter of a minister, church has always been a big part of her life. When her Mum took her to Safeway’s as a child, she remembers standing up in the trolley and telling people Jesus loved them. “I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to know they were loved by God” Amy shrugs with a smile. When she was 7, the family moved to one of Scotland’s 50 most deprived parishes. There Amy developed a heart for the inner city. She made a personal commitment to Christ aged 13 at a Scripture Union camp but Edinburgh University was where her faith “really exploded”. Amy loved helping others grow in their walk with Jesus through church student ministry and realised she “was supposed to work for a church as it’s where I really come alive”.
A Vibrant & Exciting Community
Following University, Amy took the bold step of moving to Newham to do a gap year of youth and community work at St Luke’s Church, Canning Town. As a self-confessed sports fanatic, being in the Olympic borough at the start of 2011 was a dream-come-true but she planned to go back to Scotland once her year was complete. This changed when Amy encountered people from different backgrounds mixing together as normal in one of Britain’s most ethnically diverse districts. “Newham is a vibrant and exciting community where cultures are celebrated,” she says, before adding with a wink: “I haven’t been at a Saint Luke’s lunch yet where there’s quiche!”
Newham Youth for Christ
After her gap year, Amy stayed in Newham to hone her skills. She was heavily involved in the work of the newly relaunched Newham Youth for Christ and it’s not hard to see why. Her can-do attitude and genuine humility mean Amy connects brilliantly with young people and church leaders alike. [Newham Youth for Christ founder] Jimmy Dale noticed this and asked Amy to become Newham’s Senior Project worker, part-time. Soon she was running Newham Youth for Christ’s projects and driving the centre’s work on the ground with young people in between working at St Luke’s. This was a big task and, while she wouldn’t admit it, it’s clear that Amy took it in her stride.
Rewriting the Narrative
When I enquire about the impact of crime in the area, Amy bristles a little. Gang-related issues in Newham are “just part of the background noise that young people are wary of” she explains. Growing up on an estate, she knows all too well how negative perceptions can shape young people’s worldview. They can also become “self-fulfilling prophecies”. When she first arrived in Newham someone said: “I bet everyone else has told you about crime statistics but do you also know this is an area where people overcome challenges every day?”
The negative narrative is something Amy is keen to rewrite. “Jesus is at work in Newham. Young people’s lives are being changed and churches are coming together to do wonderful stuff” Amy enthuses. For her, the appeal of gangs is simple: “Young people are willing to die to belong to something.” That’s why they need to hear that Jesus died so they could belong and live life to the full Amy declares with fire in her eyes. This story of community, love and purpose in Jesus “is much better than any they’ll find on the streets”.
Amy became centre director when Jimmy left 15 months ago. She describes it as a “whirlwind of seeing new things happen” so far. Their youth prayer meeting, ‘Project 46’ started off small. However, it has grown after every young person committed to praying for a couple of friends. One prayed that a 16 year old borderline alcoholic would come to Newham’s youth alpha course last April. He turned up “for the free food” but left a changed young man. He now prays for his friends and wants everyone to know that he loves Jesus.
Newham Youth for Christ’s year-long discipleship programme, ‘Leadership Academy’ is giving him the tools to frame his story. He’s one of 50 who’ve come through it so far but it’s not about numbers. “It’s about who we are deeply investing in”, she stresses. “If one young person grasps the good news of the gospel and is discipled well, they’ll tell their friends. Then the Church will grow”. Another part of the work is resourcing other youth workers to do their job better. As Amy says, “the more we do together, the bigger our reach”.
With the buzz of the coffee shop noticeably quieter and my time with this inspiring young woman drawing to a close, I can’t resist asking her about the future. She tells me that she will be ordained as a vicar next September. A fact she finds “terrifying and exciting in equal measure”. The youth-based curacy Amy will do will also enable her to continue running Newham Youth for Christ. As at so many other times in her life, Amy is wide-eyed at what God is doing. “It’s super exciting that the diocese has totally bought into this and are willing to give me back to Youth for Christ”, she says barely able to contain herself.
At Newham Youth for Christ, Amy wants to see “more young people coming to faith, more churches engaging in sustainable, effective youth ministry and more young people discipled and released into their giftings”. She also calls for more investment in young people, “not just as the church of tomorrow but as part of the church of today”. When I ask what this young pioneer would like people to pray for, she answers with one word: “revival” and who would argue with her?
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By Tim Adams
Photography by Bethany-Rose Yates