A Vision for Youth Ministry
Inspired by Bishop McKenna's Pastoral Letter Becoming Christian Together.
The first major area of pastoral concern outlined in Bishop McKenna's pastoral letter is concern for the renewal of the domestic church - reaching out to our young families. The second major pastoral area, youth ministry, is really an extension of the first. The question of how we should evangelise and minister to our young families leads us to ask how we should evangelise and minister to our young people in general. As we all realise, children, teenagers and young adults are under-represented in parish worship and activities. The average congregation is becoming decidedly grey and bald! Youth ministry is clearly an important priority in the renewal of church life.
In approaching this question the bishop begins with an old dictum which is still very relevant today: Young people “are not the future of the Church: they belong to the Church here and now ... for their sake and everyone’s, we must make space for their participation.” The bishop then goes on to say that young people, along with the rest of us, “are looking for something beyond the values of an appetite-driven culture. They want nourishment for the soul.”
These two remarks suggest to us that specific measures or strategies designed to evangelise and involve youth, whilst utilising their disti nctive culture and language and taking into account their level of maturity, cannot segregate young people from wider Church life and practice. For youth ministry to move forward we cannot attempt to establish a parallel ‘youth parish’ disconnected from the mainstream of parish life. It is a temptation to simply create a monthly ‘youth mass’ or Friday night ‘youth group’ and then sit back and congratulate ourselves for what we are doing for the young people. It is for this reason that I suggest to you the very notion of a ‘youth group’ is now outdated and should be resolutely replaced with the notion of ‘youth ministry’. Our young people need to be fully initiated into mainstream parish life. The bishop points out that this integration benefits older Catholics as well as the young: “their ideas, energy and hope can lift us out of complacency and pessimism.” The key challenge for our young people to interiorise and respond to is that there are not simply called to be the recipients of ministry, they are also called to actively minister to each other and to the wider parish community.
What does this reciprocal-ministry mean in practice? Well, the bishop does give us a pastoral imperative: “along with the rest of us, they need to discover more the power of God’s Word and the riches of Catholic teaching, in order to grow in faith.” This does suggest a renewed effort to open up the Scriptures for our young people, to lead them more fully into a personal prayer life, to help them discover the power of the sacraments and devotional prayer, and to develop a more effective and fulsome approach to catechesis in basic Catholic beliefs. The bishop largely leaves the generation of ideas to us, he does go on to make two explicit requests: Firstly, “the experience of World Youth Day, Manna Fest and Blast shows us a way forward at the diocesan level. I ask all parishes and schools to support these events in practical ways.” Secondly, “I would like to see young people represented in every parish council as well as in works of worship and service where they live.” These two goals are certainly within our reach.
If I were to summarise the central message for us with regard to youth ministry I would say it is this: our efforts to evangelise and minister to young people may and should involve specific youth initiatives, but the central goal of these initiatives should be the same as the central goal for all parish initiatives: to facilitate a real encounter with Jesus Christ which leads to the discovery of a personal vocation and thus to enable full participation in the life of the Church through the life of the local parish. In other words: to walk the path of conversion and become saints!