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Youth ministry challenges for the Church

On the 4th of July 2017, I celebrated the second anniversary of my priestly ordination. It is five years since I completed the Shekinah Youth Retreat Training Course. Reflecting on the last five years, I give thanks for the formation I received in Shekinah in 2012 under Sr. Jennifer Perkins and Fr. John Horan, empowering me to work more competently and effectively in ministry with young people.

This area – youth ministry – contains some of the greatest challenges for the Church and for believers. This has always been the case but never more so than today. In an era of ‘believing without belonging’, of private spirituality, an era where the faith community is manifestly failing to attract many of the next generation into the fold, we find ourselves at a crisis point. Each new generation is called to take up its place in the Church. But now we are afraid because so many of the current young people are drifting and we seem powerless to bring them back. There is a genuine and appropriate fear when we examine numbers and age profiles. Crisis can be defined as make or break. Our faith assures us that God will not allow us to break. In saying that, our faith also demands that we enter into the real conditions of our time and witness to God’s kingdom. This time is presented to us through his providence so that we can once again take up the mission to announce in a fresh way and unveil for our young people, the hidden presence of God in their lives. This too is the basic premise of the Shekinah programme.

Priestly formation emphasizes that priests should become bridges and not obstacles for this encounter of people with Jesus Christ.[1] The knowledge, skills and attitudes that I learned in Shekinah have helped me in the last two years to enjoy some modest success connecting with young people. Genuine evangelical connection is not an easy thing to achieve. It is difficult to strike the right balance. It is possible to connect fairly well with the normal young person who has not been too damaged by the trials of life. It is not difficult or impossible to share experience of sport or popular culture with teenagers. Unfortunately, not many young people are patently thirsting for doctrine at this time. Not many want to take up the discipline of prayer in a serious way. It seems to me that they look at the visible Church today and see it as something older people do. They probably have an intuition of the gap between the teachings proclaimed and the lives being lived. They struggle to reconcile their scientific type education with the mysterious and miraculous stories of the Bible. Many teenagers, with their sense of justice, cannot understand some of the Church’s stances on ethical issues like contraception, homosexuality and the role of women. These issues, though unspoken, are real live coals that present obstacles to young people from engaging. Without doubt, the uncertainties, fears and existential unrest that have become hallmarks of the new millennium echo in the lives of our young people too. We have a duty to offer them the shield of faith. We have the task of helping them to align the apparently separate elements of their lives in to live-able world-view. We ought to be helping our young people to discover the deepest meaning of vocation – the plan that God has mysteriously hard-wired into our lives. Vocation is the secret to true well-being and the authentic flowering of our abilities. Faith is the pearl of great price that we ought not to hide.[2]

In the formation offered through the Shekinah modules, there is a very credible process which encourages and empowers any youth minister to gain traction in this challenging horizon. Pope John Paul II promoted the new evangelization by calling us to preach the same message, the one Gospel of Jesus Christ – but with new methods and new ardour.

The first step in the Shekinh process is experience. We are never ready but we all bring some experience. We cannot anticipate everything. We will never have all the answers. Shekinah sets up a safe way that allows us to come face to face with real live teenagers in a faith context. We might call it ‘a safe vulnerability.’ As part of a team, with a solid plan and plenty of resources and training behind us, we get a first-hand experience of leading young people in a retreat. In one of my retreats, I can remember bringing the group to the Redemptoristine Church at the Ruah retreat centre grounds, in St. Alphonsus’ Monastery. I was explaining the tabernacle and the presence of Jesus within to some 5th years. There was a girl in the group who was very uncomprehending especially with all the bowing and genuflecting. It was difficult for her to get her head around the idea of the real presence of Jesus under the species of bread. After several attempts to build a bridge for her, she said – “I get it now.” I was sure by her tone that she may have caught the idea but not the faith. I am glad to have had such real experiences. At the least now, for that girl, a question of the mysterious and transcendent had opened up, regardless of how she herself would address it. And for me, I had a better idea of where many young people are at vis-à-vis faith. Only through engagement can we begin to gauge the reality of young people and come to understand both how open many are to faith and also how far off many are from what we might consider the ideal.

This is the second step of the Shekinah process: to gradually acquire an accurate understanding of the terrain. I would much rather honestly affirm the true situation of the young Irish Church and address it adequately, than believe the untruth that all our young people are faithful, informed and engaged in matters of faith. As Aristotle said, not many people are either angels or beasts but in-between. The Shekinah inputs about things like sub-cultures among young people and the stages in personal and spiritual development and maturity have been invaluable to me. Each new experience confirms that we cannot apply an old model with young people. The new wine needs fresh skins.[3] Shekinah has empowered me to re-engage and re-experience with deeper vision. We can bring out from our resource pool things old and new[4] – new technologies, methods and resources as well as age-old proven aspects of our faith such as Marian Devotion, adoration, spiritual direction, vocational exploration and confession depending on the level of formation we meet.

Then comes engagement. In a synergistic way, with other trained retreat facilitators, we learn to put together an extensive and holistic retreat plan. The plan would be made up of many elements including scripture, story, music, art, dance and drama as well as multiple engagements with modern teen life. A crucial element in the retreat are the smaller groups where some stimulus encourages reflection and conversation on the part of the young people. Often, in my role as a Priest, listening is the greatest gift I can give and this is true in the small groups. The retreat plan would have built in contingencies and great variety. Its implementation, like all grace-filled ministry, begins, proceeds and finishes in prayer. Naturally enough the learning is never complete. I am still a novice in these areas and constantly trying to gain a foothold on this mountain. Every retreat finishes with honest assessment and shared reflection so that learning is carried forward to future engagement. I relish the challenge of encounter with teenagers. Unlike my own era, where it was more likely to be one-way traffic – where all the talking was at the youth and all the listening on their side – now youth ministry is now a real encounter and a two-way relationship. We have much to give them, especially in the pearl of great price which is the gospel but we also know that in them we can already find the gospel out of the mouth of the child.[5] In my two years of ministry, I have seen both ends of the scale. I have heard confessions for hours in Roscrea at the Youth 2000 annual retreat and been amazed at the level of faith I found there. I have gone to classrooms where students showed very little enthusiasm or energy. I think the Shekinah retreat model offers a good system to cater for different levels of faith.

Having said a lot, it all comes down to the grace at work in ways that we can barely appreciate.[6] If we can open a space for God’s grace then we have achieved something lasting. In all ministry, the techniques, the technologies and the methods we use will always fall short of their goal, if they are not backed up by the personal pursuit of holiness by the minister. Children and young people are amateur psychologists and they can spot a half-hearted or un-authentic approach. In this, as in all things, let us rely on the Lord, for the grace of God is our strength. To finish, I would recommend the Shekinah course to anyone who is considering it. The course has a lot to offer and most of all the empowerment, confidence and resources to push out into deep water and pay out the nets for a catch.[7] Duc in altum and may God be with you.

Fr. Vincent Stapleton

[1] Pastores Dabo Vobis 43

[2] Matt 13:46

[3] Mark 2:22

[4] Matt 13:52

[5] Matt 11:25

[6] Ephesians 3:20

[7] Luke 5:4

THE SHEKINAH EXPERIENCE 2016-2017

Yvonne Joy

THE GOSPEL MESSAGE & YOUNG PEOPLE - INSPIRE THEM TO SHINE

Last Saturday, 13 May 2017, I graduated from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth with my Certificate in Spirituality (Youth Retreat Facilitation). It was a sweet day and a surprisingly proud moment for me.

I say surprisingly because when I first commenced the Shekinah course last October 2016, I guess I really did not know what to expect. I had done some practical retreat work, working with children and young people from the ages of 12 to 18 but in doing so I felt I lacked something. I felt that to be the best youth facilitator, I needed more insight, more education and more guidance into that work. It is work I hugely enjoy but its value, power and relevance cannot be underestimated and I felt I need better equipment to meet the challenges. The Shekinah course provided me with that.

My first session was on a Saturday in early October. I mumbled a little about it being a Saturday, but if the truth be told, it was the best day to attend as it did not impact on my usual weekly activities. When I sat down on that first morning of that first Saturday, the opening words of our leader was to tell each of us to relax, that this was a day for ourselves and to cherish it as such. And just like that I knew I was in the right place at the right time.

Saturdays with Shekinah would become my routine. Between October and December I would attend seven sessions of the course at the state-of-the-art Margaret Aylward Centre in Glasnevin and another three between January and April. I would have three essays to complete and three practicals to administer.

I never anticipated back in October entering into winter, the joy and light that these Saturdays would bring. Though those participating in the course with me came from different walks of life and owned different motivations for doing the course, we all came together in sharing and believing in Shekinah’s ethos, worth and importance. Far from seeing my Saturdays as grudgingly given to education, I saw those Saturdays as the highlight of my week.

The course consisted of theory, talks, demonstrations and discussion. There was fun, drama, creativity and so much laughter. The ice-breakers and the meditation though quite different in their guises were hugely instrumental in relaxing us as a group and connecting us as individuals. I felt safe here and I felt safe with the people around me. This is what Shekinah champions – an environment where dialogue, exchange and discourse is easy, un-impinged and that word again – safe!

 This is the atmosphere I seek to create for the young people I work with. I want to relay what Shekinah relayed to me, that each retreat day is a day set aside from which every individual has the opportunity to benefit. It is a day like no other. With Shekinah, I discovered the space to connect with myself, something hugely invaluable to me now in going forth and connecting with others.

We concluded our last session in April sitting outside on the sun-drenched terrace of the Margaret Aylward Centre. To host it there on such a glorious day is another illustration of the flexibility and spontaneity of this course and of the people who run it. There was a harmony and a quiet pride amongst us. We had come through our essay writing, completed our practicals and we were coming to our journey’s end. It was a bittersweet moment.

Working with young people is what I want to do. Creating a space for them to journey from their heads to their hearts is what I want to facilitate.  From the Shekinah course I now have those tools. It was a year that delivered more than I could ever have expected. And my sincere wish is that those with whom I will work in the future will benefit and thrive from all that Shekinah has taught and impressed on me.

Yvonne Joye    

 

 

Reflection Exercise

Gimmick or Genius?

In today’s society unless something can be seen, smelt, tasted or touched its existence is questionable. With this in mind how can one visualise the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Enter the ‘Salt Jar’ which is both gimmick and genius…

 

not in equal measures, the genius of the ‘Salt Jar’ far outweighs its ‘gimmicky-ness’ (if that’s a passable word?)

I was first introduced to the genius of the ‘Salt Jar’ back in the autumn of 2012. At the time I was based in the parish of Dunboyne as a ‘parish pastoral worker’ and decided to sign up for the Shekinah retreat giving course which took place at that time in All Hallows in Drumcondra.

The course, overseen by Sr Jennifer and Fr John, in its essence provides training to the participants giving them a firm foundation, and solid skill set, which allows them to conduct school retreats as part of a retreat team. (I say firm foundation and solid skill set since education and learning around giving retreats is continual and lifelong and hopefully our skill set will be developed and added to over the years…the day we think we can conduct the perfect retreat is perhaps the day we need to step aside and leave it to someone else!?) The course also offers a ‘mind blowing’ insight into the world of young adults with many and varied inputs from professionals ranging from music, art therapy, psychology and much more.

The ‘Salt Jar’ is what it says it is; a jar full of salt! The salt however is coloured by the ‘miracle’ of chalk.

(Salt Jar used during a Confirmation ceremony)

 (Tool kit!)

Those on retreat can make their own coloured salt by simply rubbing a stick of chalk in salt, the salt breaks the chalk down producing coloured salt in the process.

This part time author and sporadic retreat giver likes to mix the salt and chalk either the night before…(usually last thing before bed…or in the days prior to the retreat…which would be a ‘miracle’ in itself) by using mortar & pestle and hand held blender, as in the picture above, the salt is then returned to the commercial ‘tubs’ from whence they came ready for use.

I just feel that with limited time in a full day of events it frees up time and reduces stress levels?

In the parish of Templemore, Killea and Clonmore, Co Tipp where I am based as curate we have Confirmation every 2nd year so this has been my second experience outside of the Shekinah Course and its practical component. We have 4 schools so conduct retreats over 3 days (the 2 smaller schools come together for their retreat). Place of retreat is vitally important and we are blessed here in the parish to have The McAuley Community Centre a wonderful resource centre and parish office gifted to the community 5 years ago by the Mercy Sisters. This year word of our retreats has spread and we have had 3 visiting schools.

Each retreat day finishes with the retreatants receiving a ‘feedback’ form which they fill out in the following days.

They say the ‘proof of the pudding is in the eating’ and the Salt Jar’ activity always ranks highly in the ‘what did you like best section’…highly but NOT first…it’s truly amazing how our young people still crave silence and companionship with Jesus; Sr. Helen Kennedy conducts a truly amazing guided meditation where, in the spirit of St Ignatius Loyola, there are invited to place themselves in the Gospel scene with Jesus. They have a wonderful capacity to do this and do it so well.

Someone once said ‘Imagination is evidence of the Divine’…perhaps the future is bright?

The gifts of The Holy Spirit (in a jar) for all the world to see!

Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Courage, Reverence, Right Judgement and Awe & Wonder in the presence of God.

 

About Shekinah

Shekinah is a training programme for adults who wish to facilitate youth retreats or other youth ministry programmes.

The Shekinah course ethos is rooted in in scripture and the message of Jesus but with a profoundly practical interpretation to help Shekinah graduates reach new levels of awareness to engage better with the youth of today.

Shekinah is a Hebrew word that means ‘the light of God’s presence’. In Jewish and Christian theology Shekinah is the glory of the divine presence, conventionally represented as light or interpreted symbolically as a divine feminine aspect.

Young people seek out role models from their peers, siblings, parents and grandparents, an effective retreat team ideally embraces all age groups and backgrounds to best model the reality of the Church as a community.  The methodology and tenor of Shekinah is deeply influenced by the living pedagogy and practice of St John Bosco, founder of the Salesians and patron saint of young people.

The Story of Shekinah

Shekinah was started in 2005 by Jennifer Perkins (a Salesian Sister). The course was developed in response to a shortage of traditional school retreat personnel and teams. The aim was to provide interested adults of any age and background an opportunity to gain professional accreditation in youth retreat facilitation skills and to better engage with young people in their faith journey.

Certification

St. Patrick’s College Maynooth is the certifying body for accreditation of the course. Both certificate and diploma course are approved by the National Framework for Qualifications (NFQ)

The certificate is level 6 (20 credits) and the diploma is level 7 (20 credits)

Participation in the diploma course is dependent on successful completion of the certificate course. 

Practical experience

The Shekinah certificate course requires students to undertake 3 days of practical retreats during their training.  The practical retreats take place in the following locations:

  • The Ruah Retreat Centre, St. Alphonsus Rd, Drumcondra, Dublin 9, owned by the Redemptoristine Sisters
  • The Margaret Aylward Centre Glasnevin Dublin 11, owned by the Holy Faith Sisters.
  • These retreats are organised from Northside schools adjacent to the retreat centres. by the programme directors. 

Diploma students must organize their own placement which will be supervised and assessed. 

Youth Matters

Thu 01/12/2016

Young people face a challenging world!

Understanding them, their attitude and environment is a skill in itself. With the Shekinah ethos, a relevant knowledge base awaits through training and personal spiritual growth. Shekinah offers practical skills in engagement with young people, problem solving, personal development and social science. The learning outcomes offer a rich opportunity for professional enhancement and personal fulfillment.

Benefits of the Shekinah Courses 

  • Official certification
  • Professional confidence in youth ministry
  • Colleague Network
  • Practical tools to manage youth work

 

Blog

31/08/2017

On the 4th of July 2017, I celebrated the second anniversary of my priestly ordination. It is five years since I completed the Shekinah Youth Retreat Training Course.

23/05/2017

Yvonne Joy

THE GOSPEL MESSAGE & YOUNG PEOPLE - INSPIRE THEM TO SHINE

28/04/2017

Gimmick or Genius?

In today’s society unless something can be seen, smelt, tasted or touched its existence is questionable. With this in mind how can one visualise the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Enter the ‘Salt Jar’ which is both gimmick and genius…

 

31/03/2017

Shekinah Reflective Essay 

My Learnings Cognitively and Experientially from the Shekinah Course

by (Patrick Nugent, former Seminarian) now ordained and an external examiner for Shekinah Ireland.

21/03/2017

new book 'Finding Hope in the age of anxiety'