Tag Archives: youth ministry

Evangelisation: From the Mission Field #1

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“‘In the desert, people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive’ (Benedict XVI). In these situations we are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink. At times, this becomes a heavy cross, but it was from the cross, from his pierced side, that our Lord gave himself to us as a source of living water. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!” Evangelii Gaudium, 86

Anyone in need of some ENCOURAGEMENT?!

In this new series of posts, “From the Mission Field”, I want to share some of what I can see the Holy Spirit doing through some wonderful people around the country. These are just some people I have come across, whose openness to the Holy Spirit is achieving marvels that most will never hear about.

Here, I ask them about how they evangelise in their corner of the world, what God is doing, and how they face challenges and discouragement. My hope is that it will bring you courage as you evangelise in your own corner of the vineyard…

#1 Salisbury Youth Ministry – Xanthe Dell

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So, kicking off with youth ministry… I first met Xanie on a week’s silent retreat in France. She was accompanied by several teenagers (kinda normal for Xanie). Being in silence, we didn’t speak to each other the whole week, but at the end I felt like I knew her as a sister in Christ. I haven’t stopped being impressed by her ever since…

Xanthe is a Deanery youth worker in Salisbury, a role which includes chaplaincy work in a secondary school. She is mum to Daisy (16) and just celebrated three years as a Catholic.

Xanie, we hear amazing things about the youth ministry in Salisbury. What do you have happening? 

We have five weekly groups for varying ages, a monthly youth Mass and retreats here, there and everywhere, and seasonal activities.

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We’ve also started a mission team, called ‘The Third Hour’. The idea came from a visit we did to Nailsea for a youth Mass. Sadly not too many young people came at that time from the parish, but it did strike me that we seemed to have a complete mobile youth Mass on our minibus (except the priest!). The next thing that prompted us was that convincing our Confirmation group to come on Youth 2000 retreats seemed so difficult. I realised that because they had never experienced any sort of youth retreat, they couldn’t raise enthusiasm to come along. The two slipped together and so we try to take a mini youth retreat to young people in other parishes, in the comfort of their own church. The lovely thing is that it is not just a Salisbury based team now, young people from all over the country come to help out running the programme. There is still some polishing up to do to make it smooth and professional but the impact is powerful.

Has it always been like this? How did it all begin?

Fr Tom (Dubois) started three of the groups: a youth SVP, ‘Source’ for young people aged 10-14, and ‘Upper Room’ once a fortnight for those age 15 and up. It was those very small groups that really became the foundation of the youth ministry. It doesnt matter how fantastic your programme is or how dynamic you are as a youth leader – you need a few enthusiastic young people to start things off. It is the young people who bring the other young people in.

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Where have you seen the Holy Spirit working? What has God done?

I think the most powerful work of the Holy Spirit I see is the transformation of some of these young people through the sacrament of reconciliation. The more they struggle to take themselves into Confession, the more they seem to receive from going – it is truly beautiful to see them emerge unburdened and free and always deeply touches me.  

There are times when you see the light of Christ just come alive in them – when you get a text at 1am in the morning because they have just had the most special time of prayer, or have just had a deep conversation with an atheist friend and they are desperate just to share that.

Those times when you think no one is getting it, that everyone seems to be turning their back on their faith, and then 10 young people walk in for a weekday Mass just because they can – that’s amazing. So many graced moments.

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One that particularly stands out to me was during a session that I do at the school for girls. The girls had a piece of cord with a crucifix on the end, the idea was to tie a knot in the cord for every worry or burden they were carrying and then to pray a Hail Mary on each of the knots all day, keeping the cord in their pockets. One girl I noticed had run out of cord there were so many knots, I asked her if she really had that many problems or had she just got carried away. She started to tell the saddest story to the group: her father had left, her mother couldnt keep her older brother out of trouble and he was potentially going to be taken into care. When I looked around I noticed the girls had all started tying another knot in their cords, I looked puzzled but one of them explained that they were going to be praying for this girl’s burden too. I was so touched by the beauty of this unspoken understanding and compassion from mostly unchurched children that it still gives me a lump in my throat.

In your view, what are some of the key ingredients to fruitful youth ministry?

Christ and prayer. It may sound obvious, but I get a lot of pressure from parents to provide table tennis or pizza nights.

While this has its place, Jesus has to be the centre of everything we do here. The moment I push Jesus to one side I’m not serving any purpose other than being a child-sitter. There is the misconception that if you mention Christ, all young people will run in the opposite direction. The reverse is true – if all we do is just whisper his name in an opening and closing prayer, we are saying that this is not going to interest you; what we have is not important or worthwhile. It is now very countercultural to be religious! Shout about it and they will too. When we dilute our faith for young people the flavour that is the desirable part is what we remove.

SYC2From the outside, the youth ministry in Salisbury seems to be flourishing. But what are some of the most difficult things about it? What discourages you and how do you deal with discouragement?

The hardest part is when you see young people who have had an intimate encounter with Christ still turn away at times – this breaks my heart, but over time I have come to realize that sometimes God lets them choose: like the Prodigal Son they come back stronger, more focussed, more in awe and with a real first hand knowledge of just how merciful God can be. Even knowing this it still breaks me to see it.

The lack of parental support for their children’s faith is quite often an issue too. While I see so many parents sitting without their children at Mass, praying for them to come back, there are just as many that see swimming or ballet or the Duke of Edinburgh award as far more important than anything that is happening in church. There seems to be a fear that they will become too religious, which surprises and saddens me. There is a huge opportunity for someone to evangelise the parents though!

Is work-life balance important in youth ministry and how do you manage this?

The straight answer is, I dont! They are merged into one. It is not a job that fits neatly into set hours and days, I am available 24/7 and they know that. If Im cooking a meal and three young people show up, they join us. Some of the older over 18s have a key to my house and it is not unusual to find them sitting round my table having a cup of tea and a chat or watching a film when I come home. Its never been abused. It is an open door and thats the only way I can find it works for me. It wouldnt work for everyone and Im blessed to be in a position to give in this way. Its very difficult to differentiate between work and service. Do I stop being a Christian at 10pm on a Sunday evening even if I’m not being a youth worker? It is something that became too tricky to separate. I know the signs now of burning out and I take myself off to a convent or retreat somewhere and restore and refill.

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If you had one piece of advice to a youth minister just setting out, what would it be?

Just one – live what you teach! If you are not going to Mass or Confession or living a moral life, its very hard to bring others to do it either. Your own relationship with God should be given more importance than the young people’s. It is always God who does the work through us, we are just a pen in His hand, writing on someone else’s page. We have to pray to be a useful tool and not a hindrance to what He wishes to do in these young people’s lives. When I’m living as I should then I can trust the things that dont always look so good are all in His hands.

Any final words…?

I once read a youth ministry article asking, ‘would you die for your young people?’ Its a big ask; far harder and more rewarding I think is to live for them. We are always given the patience and wisdom that we need for that young person at that moment. So many times I have looked to God aghast saying, “Well, you put me here, help me! and always, always He does. 

(Photos courtesy of Salisbury Young Catholics; used with permission.)

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Homecoming

I’m LOVING the videos from Homecoming, the Youth 2000 new year’s retreat. They really capture the joy, intimacy, mercy, and peace of encountering Jesus…


Some Quick Takes

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– 1 –

Right now feels kinda strange… Normally this time of year has that great buzzy feeling of gearing up to the new year of parish activity. Last September we had a ‘Vision Night’ for all our incredible catechists, ‘casting the vision’ for catechesis in the parish for the Year of Faith. It’s a great time of meeting teenagers and children in sacramental programmes for the first time, and meeting with parents, sharing expectations and enthusiasm for the year ahead.

What is your parish planning at this time of the year? Do you have a vision for the year ahead?

– 2 –

Here is the wonderfully moving sermon given by Bishop Hugh Gilbert, welcoming the Nashville Dominican Sisters to the Scottish diocese of Aberdeen. It powerfully sets out the place of religious consecrated life in the new evangelisation… Wow – if we had a few more bishops with the vision of Bishop Hugh…

– 3 –

This is a really interesting and excellent article on the necessity of youth ministry (which responds to this article). Fr Damian Ference does many different things in this one article – all of which are well-theologically rooted: our spiritual familial relations in the Church are highlighted, as is the legitimate role of the laity in apostolate within the Church (not only outside it). Well worth a read.


And the best youth ministry in the UK is…

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Maybe I’m ever so slightly biased, but it’s definitely one of the best examples of youth ministry there is.

And the reason Youth 2000 is so successful at enabling young people to encounter Christ, taste what life is like in Him, and so allow the Holy Spirit to transform their hearts – is because it’s all about Him – Jesus!

No gimmicks, no clever marketing strategies, (almost literally) no money… just young people passionate for their peers to experience the healing, transforming, beautiful love of the Lord.

This video is a wonderful example of exactly this – young people super-keen for others to experience the love they have experienced:

I’ve known Youth 2000 over the last ten years, and what has convinced me of the Lord’s guiding it, is the fact that – against all odds, with no official funding from dioceses, with extremely limited resources, and overcoming many difficulties – countless young people meet Christ, are converted, are transformed, through these retreats. Each year, the team of young people leading the retreat gets bigger, better, even more awesome. This year, over thirty young people aged 16-25 met for a weekend to pray for and plan for the Walsingham Festival – see more about Walsingham here.

Too often, we experience (still!) in churches – often at the parish Confirmation Mass – well-intentioned, older generations heartily singing ‘Here I Am Lord’ on the guitar, thinking that this is what young people like. What is unique about Youth 2000 is that it is all about peer ministry – young people evangelising young people themselves.

If you know any young person aged 16-25 – don’t hesitate to invite them to Walsingham this year (22-26 August).

As with any great work within the Church, it is often the hidden, little, under-resourced initiatives that are the most spiritually powerful and effective. This is definitely the case with Youth 2000. (Follow the new YouTube Y2konnected channel and see some of the testimonies or like the page on Facebook)

And finally, if you are too old for the festival, but have a heart for bringing young people to Christ – Youth 2000 finally paid off the bills for last summer’s Walsingham festival this spring. At the moment, young people are organising all the fundraising events you can think of (football tournament, music ministry night, a star-studded ball) to raise funds for this year’s festival (which in total costs £80,000 – participants are asked for a donation of £100 each, but many are students). If you are in a position to donate to this year’s festival and directly contribute to the evangelisation of the young, please contact the National Office who can advise you of a secure way of donating: info@youth2000.org.


Young People and Confession

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“We must never masquerade before God.”

These are the wonderful words of Pope Francis on Confession in a homily Tuesday morning on Confession. Confession is where there is no room for half-truths or tricks. This is where we personally meet Jesus Christ, from whom we can hide nothing, and who always receives us with great, tender mercy.

How delighted I was to see this after coming from a weekend where we witnessed precisely this power of the sacrament with young people.

Last weekend was the weekend-of-the-Confirmation-retreats. I helped out with two different retreats which happened to fall on the same weekend. The first was helping out a priest friend of mine, the second was seeing my old Confirmation group in Balham, due to be confirmed this Sunday. They have been preparing since September and it was wonderful to see them all again.

It was interesting to spend the weekend with two different groups: the similarities among teenagers are many. Furthermore, both groups have been following the same programme (one that I wrote for the group in Balham) so for me it was insightful to see them at different stages of it. With the first group, I led the same retreat that we do in Balham right at the beginning of the year. The idea behind it is that it is an evangelisation retreat, proclaiming the central Gospel message (or kerygma) and starting the young people out on a process of conversion. You can read about this retreat here and here and watch a video here. For the group last weekend, the retreat fell in the middle of their programme. However, we decided to do the same evangelisation retreat, as it is impossible to hear the Gospel message and call to conversion too much, right?! In the event, it worked brilliantly.

I think the entire fruitfulness of a retreat like this rests on the sacrament of Confession. You can have the most dazzling, entertaining, polished, non-stop fun youth retreat in the world, and the kids can leave buzzing, but unless they have made a good Confession, let me be bold and say I don’t think it is worth spending so much time and energy. For me, the entire retreat is about this. The retreat begins with God the Father’s love for us, progresses through the mercy of Jesus, God the Son, and finishes on Sunday morning with the power of God the Holy Spirit. Simple. The climax is the Saturday evening Reconciliation Service.

On this particular Saturday evening, the candidates seemed so ready to receive the grace of Confession. Many admitted they had not been to Confession for years. Opportunities for Confession had been offered during their Confirmation sessions and not taken up. So we needed to make this work! We spent a good chunk of time on Saturday afternoon on how to go to Confession, and spent time in small groups addressing concerns. I took my group off for a girlie chat, and we ended up going in detail through an examination of conscience. No stone was left unturned – we talked Sunday Mass, laziness, gossiping, purity. I discovered that the girls simply didn’t know the kinds of things they should confess. One girl said she just made things up when she went to Confession at school. I discovered I needed to spell things out to them – step by step – how to say things, what information to give, what to leave out. How often do we take time to do this with our young people? On Saturday afternoon, in the middle of our girlie chat, I found these teens soaking everything in, and, to my amazement, writing everything down. Incredible. They had a deep desire to make good Confessions but didn’t know how.

It was a long night for our priest! But very, very fruitful. What a grace to be able to lead people to Jesus’ mercy. I would not have wanted anything else to have filled last weekend.


New Year Youth Retreat

Br John Baptist's hand is now famous...

Br John Baptist’s famous hand (featured on all the publicity)…

WOAH. Dear readers, even now, over 24 hours later, I cannot contain my joy. I know I have written on this blog many times (e.g. here and here) having just finished at a Youth 2000 retreat, overwhelmed with joy and praise at what God has done. And this new year’s retreat was no different. How can you capture in a few words the freedom, peace, joy and contentment that comes from being filled with God’s completely-satisfying love and that forms us into a new family? We experienced what God became a tiny Child for, what he died on the Cross for – to transform us into new creations and create a communion among us that we could never create ourselves. It does not get ANY better than this! Today, Facebook is overflowing with statuses wishing we could turn back time and surround Jesus in the Eucharist again with our songs of praise. I think we tasted just a crumb of the glory that awaits us in Heaven…

Some of my personal highlights:

The joyful and untiring ministry of our priests… Many young people today are heavily burdened, are suffering deeply, and have a lot of brokenness in their hearts. There is so much damage that the devil does in young hearts through our broken culture and I know that Jesus wants to pour his grace out upon these young people. I saw this happening – through the whole retreat – through the priests. They heard hours and hours of Confessions, spent hours talking and praying with young people, no sooner had one young person left with a heavy burden lifted than the next one arrived. I saw – incredibly tangibly – the ministry of Jesus active in his priests. It made me realise with more urgency: we need more priests! Priests faithful to God and faithful to people; who are unconditionally surrendered to the Holy Spirit, and who understand deeply the joys and struggles of young people today.

Our inspiring, outstanding, star-studded team… I couldn’t get over how much God blessed us with our team this year. From the first day, when a group of new MCs (the people who lead the prayer in the retreat) arrived early for training before the retreat started, we were surrounded by a truly talented team of young leaders in love with Christ. A couple of times I looked around and thought God has given Youth 2000 the very best young leaders and musicians in the country 🙂 How generous he is… We are so immensely challenged by resources, and yet he sends the very best people. And what a great joy and privilege it is to work with them. I love you guys!

The endless praise! The greatest thing to do, when you are completely exhausted (as I was a couple of times during the retreat), is to praise God anyway. Truly, I think we could have kept going all night… How beautiful it is to praise Jesus.

Effective youth ministry really has a very simple recipe 🙂 The conversions that have happened over one weekend are countless… it works! Photos to come… In the meantime, one of the theme songs of the retreat:


The Summer Camp

One of the most exciting experiences I have had here in Kansas is Camp Tekakwitha. I quickly mastered how to say it (the camp is named after Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha who will be canonised on October 15) and soon felt right at home on this enormous ranch in the middle of nowhere, thanks to incredible American hospitality, which I wish I could take back home with me to England.

The land was transformed by the diocese 15 years ago to house their vision of a Catholic summer camp for teenagers. Now, hundreds of young people come every summer to camps dedicated to different age groups. A typical week includes adventure activities galore (from horseback riding to canoeing, and from high ropes challenges to archery) – but these are adventure activities with a difference. Every activity is connected with the Faith, so campers do not simply enjoy a morning of climbing – they also learn about Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and what it means to strive upwards in our life of faith. A blindfolded obstacle course is linked to the story of Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, who, though partially-sighted, travelled 200 miles to a place she could freely practise her faith. After each activity, campers gather to share their experience (very American, you might think) but this time is often fruitful in discussing virtues learned through the activities, such as fortitude, strength, perseverance, putting others first, and so on.

The fruits of the experience are plentiful to see. Each night, every cabin of eight campers share their highs, lows, and ‘God-moments’ of the day. I was blown away by the maturity of faith and sincerity of the 13-14-year-old campers I met. You can tell they are generally extremely well catechised and evangelised, and the camp experience seems to deepen this even further. Here, they are with 100 other campers for the week, share in with chores, umpteen crazy traditions and codes I couldn’t keep up with, campfire songs, humorous skits, and a full prayer and sacramental life. One girl said she couldn’t wait for Reconciliation night.

One extremely powerful element of the camp is the role models it provides. Each cabin is led by a young adult – mostly college students and seminarians. These young adults are fully dedicated to their cabin for the week, from early morning to late at night, taking part with them in activities, leading their catechesis sessions, eating meals with them, praying with them… This non-stop service and spirit of generosity impressed me the most. Many of the young women were discerning religious life, many of the young men were seminarians, a few were engaged to be married. One of the camp directors told me that many vocations to priesthood and religious life have come through camp, and you can see how! Here is a culture of discernment, of seeking the Lord, which the campers naturally absorb.

There’s one thing I want to say – come on Church in England and Wales! We need to pray for a new spirit of eager evangelisation, and be open to starting initiatives such as this.

Oh, and did I say, in the spirit of fully entering into camp life, I jumped off a thirty foot pole?! Possibly the most terrifying experience of my life, but I did it… Despite needing a bit of encouragement and cheering from thirteen-year-olds…