Church Army evangelist Captain Andy Milne first launched Sorted in 2004. As a keen skateboarder he got to know the area's young skaters, many of whom went on to become founder members of the youth church in north Bradford. Now skateboarding is just one of many activities they enjoy every week, explains Andy.
We meet on Monday, Tuesday and Friday nights, and we'll see an average of 100 young people during that time. About 25 to 30 get together for the Monday youth congregation from 7.15 to 9pm but they are very active and help set up the equipment and run the whole thing really – including worship, teaching, prayer, and activities in between. The age range is 13 to 20.
On Tuesday night, we meet in a different place – at the Salvation Army – and have five different groups with anything up to 35 people there. Each group is led by two young people. Sometimes there is a discussion around a Bible passage and sometimes they work on a fund raising project but the idea is to try and provide a place where they can really talk about their faith and what they can do with that faith. It's more discipleship focused. When they get involved in leadership it really helps their understanding. If they run it themselves, they really own it and the energy triples.
Fridays will see us have a testimony, short talk for about five minutes and then different activities in the various rooms. Last year we asked the young people what they wanted to do at this session. We have to be facilitators in it – otherwise they are going to get bored. There's quite a wide age range for this one, it's about 11 to 20, and the older teens run it with some adults as well. We can get 40 or 50 people coming to that.
One room is used for things like live music sessions; there is also a café with a tuckshop, and games on offer like softball and table tennis. We have people doing dj-ing with mixing and that sort of stuff. It's amazing when you look back to see how things have grown since were first given use of a portakabin in the grounds of a school. Some of the young people have been coming to us ever since.
What tends to happen is that kids come through their friends or schools to Friday evening sessions because it's very open, accessible to anyone. Then they get to know people and when there is a bit more trust they tend to move into the other two groups.
When we started, one of the ways I was able to build relationships was through the skateboarding but it's quite a small part now. It has been good to see a lot of young people come from very different backgrounds to be part of this and I have been privileged to witness young people having experiences of God on a Monday night, come to faith and develop into leaders and disciples.
Some local churches realised they hadn't got the resources to do something similar themselves but felt they could support something that's Kingdom work by allowing us to use their buildings. They show their support for us in practical ways.
We are in the process of setting up Sorted 2 about a mile-and-a-half up the road because we realised that about 80% of those in Sorted 1 were from the same school of around 1200 pupils. The second school in the area is the sixth largest secondary in the country with about 1800 students but it is currently being extended so will be even bigger. It is multicultural and multiracial.
There was a real sense that God was asking us to go there. Then one lady had a picture of God giving us a key, opening up something that hadn't been open for some time. People were amazed when we were then invited to go in. As a result we started working with youngsters there and developing groups. We now see about 30 young people every week in Sorted 2. It’s a massive thing for us.
In the last year, a Church Army team has been drawn together to oversee the whole thing. People from local churches also act as adult volunteers for each Sorted, and it all makes a tremendous difference because the work through the schools is growing all the time.
Another exciting development for us is to be granted a Bishop's Mission Order. It means we are now seen as being on an equal footing with other churches and it also clarifies what Sorted is all about in this part of Bradford. The BMO was first mentioned about three years ago when it was noted that Sorted is not a seedbed for something else or an extension to another church. It's a church in its own right.
That could clearly be seen earlier this year when six of our teenagers were baptised by the then Bishop of Bradford, Rt Revd David James, in the River Wharfe. A further five then joined them to be confirmed and take Communion by the side of the river in Ilkley. We find that the young people often have an experience of God before they follow him. Rather than a gradual intellectual process, they often have an encounter with God and begin to make sense of it later.
Going back to where it all started, I have now written a book about skateboarding called The Skateboarders Guide to God in which I try to connect the Gospel with skateboarding mentality and language. I hope to get it published so that it may possibly help others along the way.