Derry Diocesan Youth Ministry Conference
One hundred and fifty delegates attended the recent Diocesan Youth Ministry Conference held in Thornhill College, Derry. Representatives from over thirty parishes, ten schools, and several youth groups came together with clergy, religious and young people to plan the way forward with regard to developing faith opportunities for young people at parish level. Sean Mullan chair of the Diocesan Youth Commission opened the Conference and set out the need "for young people and their leaders to find new paths in Youth Ministry that neither have walked before"
Bishop of Derry, Rev Donal Mc Keown, spoke to attendees about faith as a way of life. He identified three key concepts when working in Youth Ministry.
1. As a Teaching Church do we know what we are trying to communicate and can we articulate it in word and deed.
2. As a Church moving into unknown territory we have to be counter cultural. We have to be people of hope, people reaching out, offering more. He quoted V. Frankl ‘People have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning.'
3. As a Missionary Church our call is forming people to change society, rather than merely replicate it or succeed in it.
Reflecting on the Parable of the Talents, Bishop Donal exclaimed our Discovery is not that we have great gifts to offer, but that God can use us to offer himself to others.
John McAreavey was the keynote speaker at the Conference. Addressing the theme ‘How to make young people an integral part of their parish community' John explained "God has given us all an abundance of skills, it's up to us as leaders in our parishes and organisations to ensure that we gather the right mix of these skills to create a vibrant and energetic church, one which people love to be engaged with and proud to be a member of".
Combining his business experience with his personal faith John shared how we could market or promote God's message in a better and more creative way. He said "we have been guilty of thinking of promotion of faith in terms of meaning". Speaking about creating the Michaela Foundation for young girls John explained he wanted to promote a lifestyle which was embodied by a ‘Life without Limits' ethos, meaning you can live a life full of happiness, fun and inspiration with faith in God as your core foundation. He believes "the success of the faith development aspect of the camps is due to the subtlety of our message. We promote values of friendship and care and belonging, of making a difference and using your talents. All God's Messages really but we promote them in a creative way". He highlighted the need to think outside the box and connect with young people wherever they are at.
Speaking directly to young people there John quoted Pope Francis who inspires us to be the best we can be and to reach out to others: "To you, who are at the beginning of the journey of life, I ask: have you thought about the talents that God has given you?
Have you thought about how you can put them at the service of others? Don't bury your talents! Bet on big ideals, those ideals that enlarge the heart, and those ideals that will make your talents fruitful. Life is not given to us so that we can keep it jealously for ourselves, but is given to us so that we may donate it."
Over the course of the Conference delegates attended workshops about programmes and initiatives they could offer young people in their parishes and how to engage creatively with young people. There was time for discussion with leaders and young people and an open forum addressing current challenges in Youth Ministry.
Speaking after the Conference Bishop Donal McKeown said "This was a most encouraging event where young people and practitioners shared their enthusiasm and skills in the ministry of bringing good news to young people in a stressful world. However it would be a mistake to believe that the purpose of youth ministry was just to get more young people involved in Church. It is to ensure that we build church communities which reach out to ‘the margins' and offer Christ's healing and hope to a hurting world. The best ministry to young people is not necessarily carried out by those who have expertise or qualifications in the area. It comes from committed and generous believers who will share their infectious joy of the Gospel."