Introduction to Our Parish Youth Ministry Strategy
What’s it all about?
In September 2010, we welcomed Pope Benedict VXI to the UK. Before he came the paper talk was entirely focused on abuse of minors by members of our Church. In the few days he spent in England and Scotland Pope Benedict changed not just peoples minds but also their hearts. Significantly, he also changed the way we approach Catholic youth ministry.
Pre-2010, most youth ministry consisted of hiding a bible under a pizza box! Youth leaders had to find sneaky ways of getting God into the conversation. ‘Fun’ was the name of the game; the number one priority, “If they enjoy themselves they will come back”. Although this is true in some part it is not the full story. We know that young people have other aspirations too, such as being fulfilled, deeper thinking time, tackling issues. Then, in walked Pope Benedict, suddenly thousands of people (including hundreds of young people) sat or knelt silently in Hyde Park in front of the Blessed Sacrament. No introduction. No razzmatazz.
By 2013, our approach to youth ministry across our diocese had also begun to transform. The games and pizza approach was gone and a bold, courageous youth ministry was born.
Encounter replaced games as the priority of our ministry. Pope Benedict had reminded us all who we were and more importantly, who we should focus on. He had given our youth ministers courage to trust our Lord, and so we did!
At our next youth residential weekend, ‘Lux’ we introduced our teenagers to Adoration and Benediction, and none of us could have predicted the outcome. These moments of silent praise, face to face with Jesus transformed our young people and our youth ministers. Furthermore, it was the focus of their evaluation forms too; they wanted more of Him! At our youth summer camp, Jesus present in the Eucharist takes centre stage. Even amongst the thrills of a day at Alton Towers or climbing and abseiling, Jesus is the most anticipated and desired. Believe me when I say that I am not referring to young people who are somehow abnormal but ordinary, streetwise young people who you would know.
Encounteris now a key focus to our parish youth strategy. Encouraging volunteer parish youth ministers to be bold and courageous, trusting that it is Jesus Christ who our youth are searching for.
Fast forward nine years and Pope Francis issues the post synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit. This incredible letter to youth ministers, clergy and young people is the basis for NYMO’s fresh and challenging strategy for engaging teenagers in our churches. Youth groups in isolation are no longer recommended along with regular group meetings that come and go. Through the Synod of 2018, we know young people are asking for authenticity and consistency. They want to know “Are you who you say you are?” And “Are you going to be around when I don’t live exactly as you (our Church) say I should?”. So the much more daunting prospect of accompaniment is recommended. Walking alongside our young people as they enjoy and endure life, even when they leave the path we would wish for them. Walking with them as they make mistakes, struggle with who they are or make decisions that are ‘against the rules’. All the time, waiting for a brief opening to lead them (and us) to an encounter moment. The days of parish youth ministers being available for 2 hours a week are behind us – successful youth ministry is now 24/7 availability!
This parish youth ministry strategy is fresh but it is not new. This is the call of the second Vatican council:
“Adults ought to engage in such friendly discussion with young people that both age groups, overcoming the age barrier, may become better acquainted and share the special benefits each generation can offer the other. Adults should stimulate young persons first by good example to take part in the apostolate and, if the opportunity presents itself, by offering them effective advice and willing assistance. By the same token young people should cultivate toward adults respect and trust, and although they are naturally attracted to novelties, they should duly appreciate praiseworthy traditions.”
Accompaniment is a skill which can be learnt. Our church is not about quick wins, we are focused on the long game – walking side by side together (with our young people) towards sainthood.
Our diocesan youth ministry team, NYMO, would love to come to your parish to meet with those interested in accompaniment of young people so that you too can transform the lives of our young people and walk with them on our road to Sainthood.