Youth ministry outside traditional boundaries

Youth ministry outside traditional boundaries PBYM
Jemma Halpin
Working outside the school and parish model is a challenge and an opportunity, writes Jemma Halpin

Presentation Brothers Youth Ministry (PBYM) is situated in what was previously the Edmund Rice Heritage Centre at Mardyke House, Cork. The centre is now used solely for youth ministry, in line with the Presentation Brothers’ mission of forming Christ in the young.

PBYM is not a parish-based ministry. And since the brothers no longer teach within schools, PBYM is independent of both traditional modes of ministering to young people. Therefore, as PBYM Coordinator, I am in quite a unique position when it comes to youth ministry. This comes with its own demands, but also presents fantastic opportunities. The Province Leadership Team’s vision for youth ministry is dynamic and exciting, envisaging it growing from strength to strength without limitations. Inevitably, this passion brings some challenges.

I rely on the kindness and competence of volunteers, who often can be in short supply. I decided to concentrate on growing disciples through our links to Presentation Brothers Schools’ Trust students. At first, I ran First Year retreats. Straight away I learned an important lesson: never run four day-long retreats back-to-back on your own! They were exhausting and something needed to change.

Small groups

Fortunately, I had begun an Alpha Youth course with 25 Transition Year students from Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh. Their teacher suggested that we bring a few of the Alpha lads to come and assist on the next First Year retreat. This was the best thing we could have done. The young TY leaders offered hot chocolate and biscuits, and facilitated small groups of the First Year students.

The younger teens then talked about their expectations verses reality when it came to starting secondary school. The older students offered advice and support for the years to come. Without even realising it, the TY students were ministering to the first years. This was not only a highlight of the day for the first years, but also a fantastic opportunity for me to see the talents and leadership skills from the TYs.

I learned how important it is to ask for help – especially if it is young people who you are asking. Many times we can think of young people as not being old enough, or equipped enough to deal with responsibility, but this is our first mistake.

High expectations are a must. Young people will not only step up, they will exceed these expectations. It is also vital that when we give our young people these responsibilities, we don’t just take their energy and their time.

We must show our appreciation, tell the teens what qualities we have seen in them, nurture them and most importantly, minister to them.

Half of my Alpha Youth group volunteered to help lead the first year retreats. So when it came to their Holy Spirit retreat day, during their own Youth Alpha course, they were open to engaging with the prayer activity stations and every single one of them happily received prayer ministry.

I have no doubt that the TY students felt safe and willing to try something that they had never experienced before because of the relationships we had developed. They trusted me and what we were trying to do. They knew that their input counted, and that the ministry valued them. I hope to involve them further in PBYM’s progression. This will obviously also help PBYM. A key factor is listening to young people and spending time with them, not with an ulterior motive, but purely because this is what ministry is meant to be. From this then, I can discover what they are interested in and how to connect with them, rather than merely going out on a limb and doing what I think they will respond to.

When I started working for the Presentation Brothers I experienced first-hand how important it is to be welcomed exactly as I am, and shown instantly that I belong. To ensure young people experience this will be PBYM’s goal first and foremost. The second most important thing is the importance of looking after volunteers, having learned how vital it is to nurture them and minister to them, so that they can then minister to others.

PBYM might well be operating outside of the traditional boundaries of youth ministry, and this has allowed us to try new things. However, what I have realised is that the core of youth ministry is not where it is done, but why it is done. We are called to make disciples, and that can only be done by walking with and ministering to young people. The teens I work with have amazing God-given gifts and talents – and experiencing relational youth ministry is often the only way that they can uncover this fact.