Tori Redding’s journey of faith nearly foundered at church – but then she discovered God on an SU holiday. And God has woven her skills and experiences together into a gift for reaching out to the 95% of children and young people not in church.
‘I hated it!’ says Tori, recalling her experience of church as a child. Her father wasn’t a Christian, but enjoyed singing in the choir at a local church, and insisted on the rest of the family going along too. ‘The Sunday school teacher criticised me for praying in the wrong way, and for dressing inappropriately. Had it not been for my best friend Kate, I might have walked away from Christianity forever.’
Kate invited Tori to go on SU’s SUbmerge holiday. Tori says, ‘Although I wasn’t interested in the faith bit, the prospect of fun and a week away from my parents thrilled me!
‘The leaders at SUbmerge were really cool. One evening, one of them challenged us, “Why don’t you ask God to prove he’s there?” So I thought Right, I will. And he did. In one moment, he spoke straight to my heart to show me that he knew me completely, warts and all, yet loved and accepted me just as I was. It was an incredible moment that left me buzzing for days afterwards.’
Back home, spurred on by her Scripture Union experience, Tori asked to go to a different church. Her father was working away overseas, so Tori’s mum started taking her to St Thomas’, a vibrant local church that valued young people and gave them responsibility early on.
Tori says, ‘By the age of 14, I was regularly leading church worship.
Then our youth leader encouraged us to “light fires” where we were. So Kate and I started a lunchtime Christian club at school.’ Within two years, the club had 24 regular members.
Then tragedy struck. Whilst Tori was doing A levels, her parents split up and her mother was diagnosed with cancer. The church rallied round. Tori says, ‘Other people cooked for us, helped me with my revision, and had me to stay when Mum was recovering in hospital.’ The love of her church and the continuing visits (now as a junior leader) to SU’s SUbmerge holiday helped to strengthen Tori’s faith even in the face of adversity.
After her A levels Tori spent four years in Spain as a successful youth pastor. Then, aged just 22, she became a community pastor in Eastleigh. The elderly congregation was dwindling, and recognised change was needed if the church was to continue. So now, Tori shares the good news of Jesus with children and families who don’t go to church, through assemblies, SU Light Parties, and community events (including a birthday party for the Queen). And a mission week in August incorporated a daytime SU Holiday Club and family fun activities in the evenings.
Tori also holds regular parent and toddler groups. There’s always a central Bible message. Tori says, ‘One week we shared the parable of the lost sheep. One of the mums asked me afterwards, “Is that story true? Does God really search for sinners? I thought he hated them!” I answered her questions over coffee and the next Sunday she came to church. The Sunday after, she gave her life to Jesus. Now she invites all her friends along!’
In just three years, the church has doubled in size. Tori says, ‘We still hold a traditional sung Eucharist service in the morning, but seven months ago we launched a family service as well.
‘Children and young people in particular so desperately need to hear the good news of Jesus, to know that God loves and values them, and that he wants to have a personal relationship with them. I know how I nearly missed out – and how hearing the gospel transformed my own life.
‘I’m really excited about The 95 Campaign. It promotes fun and exciting opportunities for children to meet Jesus outside of church, and I know first-hand how important that it. We plan to make the most of the online resources and new mission ideas. I hope and pray that thousands of other churches across the country do too – and that millions of children and young people discover the joy of following Jesus.’
- Connecting You September – November 2017,
- Connecting You