Fife church recruits first full-time youth leader
Published on 25 January 2021
A Fife church has recruited its first ever full-time youth pastor.
Lee Whitecross is responsible for nurturing young people at Gillespie Memorial Church in Dunfermline and reaching out to others in the town.
The 25-year-old hopes to be able to visit high schools when COVID-19 restrictions allow and engage with young people in the places where they hang out.
He revealed that he was a troubled teenager who went off the rails and only found true purpose in life after he opened his heart to Jesus Christ.
The former Starbucks barista grew up in Wester Hailes in Edinburgh and spent a lot of time as a teenager hanging around the streets of Corstorphine, South Gyle and Carrick Knowe with his friends and experimenting with cannabis.
His life was turned around after he attended a Youth Alpha course when he was 16.
Purpose in God
Mr Whitecross, who took up his post earlier this month and has been working online, said: "Before the course I did not have much purpose or drive and did not know who I was.
"I was trying to figure things out and had a lot of questions because I was curious and searching a lot.
"Although I was close to my pals, I was always wondering if there was more to life and I found purpose in God."
Mr Whitecross, who is married to Ashley and lives in the Stenhouse area of Edinburgh, said he is passionate about sharing his outlook through what is his first full-time ministry role.
"Life can be hard when you are a teenager and I want to pass my experience on to young people and be very honest and real in my faith," he explained.
"I do not want to be fake and plan to show them the reality of who Jesus is and help them realise their full value and worth.
"I believe all young people have great potential and talent that should be celebrated and encouraged."
Mr Whitecross has nearly 10 years of voluntary youth experience and his last full-time job was as a facilities assistant at Oriam, Scotland's National Sports Performance Centre at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
The former Forrester High School pupil said he started thinking about where his life was going during the first lockdown last year and felt "very close" to God.
"I stopped volunteering about a year before to focus on my own faith but I thought God was speaking to me about picking it up again and serving," he explained.
Mr Whitecross sought the advice of his sister, Hailey Baillie, who is a youth worker at his home church, Holy Trinity in Wester Hailes, who encouraged him to apply for the job.
"In a way I am surprised that I am in this position now because I don't come from a Christian background and didn't give religion any thought before the Alpha course, he said.
"So looking back it is strange that I am now working for a church but I am very confident that this is what God wanted me to do."
In his spare time, Mr Whitecross enjoys music, playing football, supporting Hibernian FC and challenging anyone brave enough to take him on in a football trivia quiz.
Rev Mike Weaver, minister of Gillespie Memorial Church, said: "I am really excited about this new role which has been subject to conversation in the church ever since I started as the minister in 2017.
"We ran a monthly ecumenical youth work club for a year with some funding from Go For It (the former name of the Church's grant funding body) as a precursor to employing our own youth pastor.
"Lee will reach out to bring young people together with initiatives and hopefully we can have a positive impact on their lives, not least their mental health.
"He will be looking to get access into high schools and will do things in our own building as well as other places where young people hang out."
Nurturing young people in faith
Mr Weaver, a former London night club owner, said the church was ready to recruit the 38-hour a week post in early 2020 but the process was delayed due to the pandemic.
He has been conducting online services over the last 10 months and revealed that more young people have been tuning in to the on-line youth group than usually walk through the front door on most Sundays.
Mr Weaver said the congregation is part of a cohort of churches across Scotland working with Fuller Youth Institute in a program called Growing Young and are committed to nurturing young people in their Christian faith.