Young people need to be encouraged into a lifelong befriending of Jesus before they will embrace the regular rituals of the Catholic Church.
So says Baptist minister, Kevin Yelverton, who’s working for the Catholic Deanery in Geelong, Victoria, to get youth back to the church.
This lifelong relationship with Jesus is ‘not just a peak experience, going off for a big jamboree’ but the gentle building up of a friendship. Just as we phone or text our friends and spend time with them doing things or just being together, so it is with Jesus—prayer, worship, conversing with our friend, Jesus, developing the habits of the heart.
‘Recognising that the friendship we build with Jesus brings us into friendship with other people, this requires a community—discipline and certain traditions. Then the Mass starts to make sense in that here is the living presence of Christ whom we now encounter in a liturgical fashion.’
Invited to begin a three-year project of training youth leaders to work towards a goal of encouraging 600 young people in the city to commit to the Mass, Dr Yelverton began researching what young people want.
He discovered that young people have ‘no real commitment’ to institutions—not church, not marriage, not children—but he did find a strong and almost universal commitment to the Catholic schools—‘a great gift to the church as were the religious orders that established them.
‘One of the great impressions I got was that the schools are doing things almost too well and they’ve cut the parishes out. They do the immersion trips, they have arts and music and they do it very well.’
For this reason, he feels the parishes must claim the training for confirmation. This is one area where the parishes and schools can collaborate.
Dr Yelverton has recruited three young people aged 25 to 35 to train as youth leaders and to encourage 60 young people for each of the 10 parishes in the city of 250,000 population, an hour’s drive from Melbourne.
These leaders will be paid full time and will spend one day a week in formation and strategic planning and have free rein for the rest of the week to act as Andrew, the great networker, did.
‘Andrew’s great gift was he knew how to make connections (see Jn 1:42).’
1960s start for numbers fall
Dr Yelverton has a number of reasons for the decline in the numbers entering religious orders since the 1960s. One important one is the contraceptive pill which enabled Catholic families to limit the number of children they produced, just as happened in the general population. This meant that families were reluctant to send one of their offspring to a convent or monastery because they needed them to produce grandchildren.
But, he says, the training that young people received when they entered religious life, is extremely valuable.
‘I am now convinced that we have to found a new lay order of young people—25 to 35 year olds—the training that went into these orders has to go into young people.’
One of the sad things about religious orders is that they have no apostolate for young people. There is ‘heaps of work’ on death and dying and on building up families, but the training ‘just dies’ when it comes to youth pastorate.
‘It doesn’t make sense,’ he says. ‘How come the bishops have not done something about a ministry for young people?’
Dr Yelverton, who has been travelling through New Zealand with Fr John Fuellenbach, will establish a capital fund, the interest from which will pay the new youth leaders.
Financial support from fund
He says most protestant churches have such a fund for this purpose and it is not uncommon for Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians to employ a youth pastor for every 100 in a congregation.
Donations to the fund will be tax deductible and purchases from the fund will be GST-free.
He predicts that the pentecostal movement has peaked and will blow out.
‘It’s not real spirituality. It’s too shallow. Young people can spot a fake.’
If there is going to be a renewal of faith, it will happen through the Catholic community, principally through the schools, which is why it is important for church leaders to focus on those in the last three years of secondary school.
Dr Yelverton says one thing the Australian secondary schools focus well on is social justice. This is where the parishes and schools can collaborate well. The parishes should concentrate on faith development while the schools work at social justice.
‘I’m all for social justice but let’s have some faith development alongside it. Otherwise you just get to the point of being a humanitarian, a do-gooder. You’ve got to walk on both legs not hop along on one—social justice and faith development together.’