Putting fun into the Faith

Putting fun into the Faith Claire Devaney
Personal Profile
Claire Devaney tells Colm Fitzpatrick about her youth mission


From exciting camps and clubs to vital school ministry, one woman is stepping up to the mark to give religious education a new lease of life.

Claire Devaney is Primary School Co-ordinator with Scripture Union Ireland, an ecumenical Christian organisation which focuses on meeting the spiritual needs of children and youth in the 21st Century.

Among her many roles, she collaborates with churches and parishes running retreats and faith-based transition programmes, along with confirmation programmes.

The movement was founded in 1876 and established in Ireland in 1896, and now employs a staff of 11 people with over 200 volunteers. It has a Christian Centre at Ovoca Manor, and runs over 25 camps and holidays impacting around 4,000 children and young people annually.

For Claire, the movement provides an opportunity for the youth to come together and feel God’s presence. “The purpose is to come and experience God and to hear about the Word of God; to join in community with other young people their age in fellowship,” she says.

This type of exposure to the Christian faith through events and activities can be formative, as was the case in her own youth. She was reared in a “really Catholic family”, she says: her parents were involved in the Church, she regularly attended Mass, and her family had prayer gatherings, all of which had a “huge impact” on her growing up. When she was 12, she had a transformative experience on a pilgrimage abroad, and upon return began attending a prayer meeting in Tallaght.


“I went along to this group because I knew there was Adoration. I went for an hour and didn’t talk. I slipped in a slipped out,” she says. After a few months the group invited her for tea and eventually went to a retreat in Roscrea.

“I went away and had a ball. I was really struck by these young people. I was sceptical – what do they want, and why are they so nice?” she explains, adding that the great community around her made her realise that there was “something to this”.

She began working with Youth 2000, and moved into their leadership team helping out at different capacities and was later called into teaching.

She now runs Scripture Union’s children and primary school department, helping children in the development of their faith.

“I feel like children are very close to God, they have this inherent openness to discover and question. They’re very open”, she says, adding that sharing the Gospel message in a way that involves fellowship and fun allows you to gain a small foothold.

Another important aspect of the ministry is giving young people an opportunity to respond personally to the Gospel message rather than forcing it on them.

“You need to give young people a space to respond to the message. It’s not the jug and mug style where you say ‘You’ll receive the message I’m going to give.’ You need more response time. It’s amazing the questions that they come up with,” she says.

Because the movement isn’t solely Catholic orientated, Claire engages in ecumenical activities which has allowed to understand and teach the faith in exciting and innovative ways.

“Denomination doesn’t really come into play,” she says, adding, “my foundations would have been the Sacraments. I can’t turn to those avenues. You have to be very creative. I’m learning a lot from the fellow Protestant brothers.”

The movement is committed to promoting Christian values and encouraging a healthy lifestyle through participation in activities. This ranges from residential camps for primary school aged children to parenting weekends, where parents are offered the opportunity to spend some time together with their child and explore their relationship with one another and God.

The hope is that all who participate in the activities will grow in the Christian faith and so become committed Church members and servants to a world in need.

Claire runs a faith-based transition resource called ‘It’s Your Move’ (IYM) for students moving to secondary school. Each lesson has games, activities and Bible stories to get young people talking about this important move in their lives. At the centre of this resource is the assurance that God is with us always and the reminder for young people that they are not alone during this big move into secondary school.

She is also working on a new resource called ‘Dynamite’, which is a tool for current and future generations to encounter Jesus, not just through knowledge but also through experience. It provides basic kerygma delivered in a fun-filled way.

Although there are many great parts to her job, Claire finds working with the youth to be the most enjoyable. “I love the contact time. I have the meetings but that’s the boring stuff – sometimes it’s important. I love them and they know that – when they leave they know I love them,” she says, adding that this type of interaction is a real breath of fresh air.

For more information about Scripture Union Ireland, see: http://scriptureunion.ie/