‘From sell-out youth sessions to cream-pied leaders, I’ve had a ball’

David Penney.
David Penney.

An innovative youth leader from Carrickfergus is set for a new challenge with the Boy’s Brigade in Northern Ireland.

David Penney, director of Youth Ministries at North Street Presbyterian Church, is taking up the position of Training and Programme officer with the BB.

North Street Presbyterian Church's Youth Week participants during a trip to Portrush this summer. INCT 32-750-CON

North Street Presbyterian Church's Youth Week participants during a trip to Portrush this summer. INCT 32-750-CON

During almost a decade in the Carrickfergus role he has been instrumental in developing projects that have captured the imagination of young people in the town. These include the ever-popular summer programmes at the War Memorial Halls, where Youth Week sold out in a record time this year of one day.

Reflecting on the highlights and challenges of his previous role, he said: “I have been at North Street my whole life, it’s my home congregation and then I became the Director of Youth Ministries in 2008. So there are a lot of years to look back on and pick out the highlights. Many highlights such as youth club, youth fellowship, BB, GB, youth weekends and being able to relationally work with young people. That’s the most powerful part, being able to get to know young people and build relationships with them and share your faith.

“If I had to choose one thing, it would be our summer programmes both for kids and young people. I have attended all of our Holiday Bible Clubs from a child, I then became a leader at them when I was 12 and ended up helping to organise them when I started working full-time at North Street. There hasn’t really been a part of my life apart from pre-school where I haven’t been at our Holiday Bible Club, it’s a wonderful experience to be a part of seeing people of all ages come together to serve God and to have hundreds of kids come every year.

“I have been doing the dramas for the last 13 years and I have had a ball with them, from cream-pieing leaders to running about with a water-pistol but at the heart of it all there is one main thing and that’s telling the kids about Jesus. The biggest highlight for me is our teenagers’ programme in the summer.

“The event (which I attended as a teenager myself) used to be known as Summer Mission and is now known as Youth Week- it’s just an incredible week. It’s been a really important part of my life, as it was a real milestone in my faith and my commitment to Jesus.

“This year was our biggest ever with 160 teenagers, Monday – Friday, we did a trip to Portrush and we surfed; we went to Barrys; we had animals in the church such as snakes, lizards and owls; we did craft; we did gaming with consoles, Zumba, dance, drumming - the list is endless - but at the centre of this we engaged with God’s word through the Bible studies and talks each day and had a time for worship and a prayer room.”

David is quick to acknowledge the support of colleagues and the community in helping to shape youth initiatives.

“The main challenge as a church-based youth worker is trying to keep young people connected to church especially as they get older. There are so many influences in our young people’s lives and I tried to be a positive influence when I worked alongside the young people I came into contact to in my job. I was also very blessed to have a creative team of volunteers who always helped me to come up with new ideas which would help the young people to engage with our programmes.

“We have a massive response especially to our Youth Week, which sold out in just one day this year, but the response is more than just young people having a safe place, or a place to have fun but actually a place that they can explore their faith, start their faith and ask big questions and know that there is a support network of leaders who will care, love and support them.”

David went on to pay tribute to those who have influenced his work at North Street.

“I have been there all my life. I grew up in the church from attending crèche as a baby to BB, to youth fellowship and youth club. I’m thankful to God for North Street, the leaders and youth worker who invested in me as a child and young person, they taught me about Jesus and I made that commitment to follow him. That’s what led me to serve as a volunteer and then as Director of Youth Ministries for nine years and now as I move to be Training & Programme Officer for Boys’ Brigade NI.”

Having being involved with the BB from his early days, David is relishing the new opportunity.

“I grew up in BB from the very young age of three years old right up until I completed my Queen’s Badge at the age of 18 which is the highest award in BB. Since then I have served in Anchor Boys and within the last four years have been heavily involved in our whole company which includes Anchor Boys, Junior Section and Company Section. So in short, BB has always been in my life. I love what it is about and think it is great for young people to get involved in it. Therefore I’m very excited to make the move to BBNI, so that I can continue to work in ministering to young people.”