After a year spent leading in a youth group in Australia, I moved to Ireland to pursue a path of learning and growing in the field of youth work.
I grew up in and around youth groups in Melbourne, attending youth festivals, stadium conferences, and the occasional acoustic worship service. But nothing has sparked my excitement and intrigue more than the journey that youth ministry has taken in Ireland, and where it is heading as we look towards the future.
I was introduced to Ireland’s youth ministry context in my first year as an intern with Scripture Union. On school retreats, I would notice the way students would talk about the church. It struck me most that so many teenagers knew about the church, the orders, sacraments, and the ins and outs of mass services. But despite having surface level knowledge of religion in Ireland (enough to teach a young, sheltered Australian), many seemed heavily indifferent to a personal relationship with God.
It has been my pleasure to work alongside many different youth contexts in the last couple of years. In particular, I’ve appreciated experiencing the passionate work of organisations and churches collaborating to push for healthy approaches to faith for young people. There have been some incredible movements happening across Ireland in recent times to help introduce these youth to what true relationship with God looks like. These have all helped to highlight that there is a growing passion for youth coming from local leaders who really care about shaking up the path of youth work in this country.
It is important to also mention the value that various organisations have put on ecumenism. The soul purpose of what we do as youth workers is facilitating safe and healthy spaces for young people within our communities, as well as walking beside our young people and expressing a Christlike love in all the best ways we can. Therefore, the growing emphasis on an ecumenical approach to this has been an important step towards building each other up in the work that we do, instead of letting denominational pressures prevent us from living out that soul purpose for our youth ministry. We have such a beautiful opportunity in this line of work to advocate for each other and honour the shared vision that we all have for the future of youth work in Ireland. We can do that more as we all focus on what’s important and how we can use our diversity for the benefit of our young people.
And herein lies my hope for youth ministry as we evaluate our goals for the future. There is so much good happening right now- this must be emphasised. However, there is still a long road ahead as we learn more from others and about ourselves, grow more in our thinking and approach, listen more to the needs of those we serve, and hurt more for the hearts of young people. My hope would be that we all continue to dream large and dream together, trusting in a God who values unity and breadth of relationship.