The importance of wasting time together for building relationships has been a great discovery for the Marist Young Adult Ministry known as The Grove.
This five-year-old project sets out to have Marist Brothers and young adults living together in a supportive Marist and Catholic environment.
Brothers Kieran Fenn and Doug Dawick take as their mission the ideals of the founder of the Marist Brothers’ order, St Marcellin Champagnat, to reach out to young people and journey with them.
The brothers invite five young people, two men and three women, to live with them in their Lower Hutt house for a year.
Both men are in their 60s so there has been quite a challenge to bridge the 40-something age difference, one they’ve easily overcome.
‘This is the most energising Marist community I’ve ever been in because of the vibrancy of the young people,’ says Br Doug.
‘I don’t like their music – they don’t like mine. But it keeps me young.’
Br Kieran says hospitality is an important part of their mission.
‘I think we experience the best of Catholic young people in Wellington and the Hutt Valley. There’s a sharing, a friendship, a support that goes on which I think is vital.’
Once a month the community has Grove dinners to which they invite young people who haven’t been to The Grove before so that they can see what it is about.
This outreach to young people who might be starting a new career, or just arrived at university is at the heart of The Grove’s ministry of supporting young people.
‘A lot of young people are struggling with their faith – going to university [where] everything is being questioned. We’re just at the decision-making stage,’ says Karen McLellan, ‘a stage of figuring things out [which is] quite an important time for young people.’
As well the community works on building relationships with one another. They try to have their main meal together each day and much of the getting together is done over meal preparation and the dishes. They have also discovered the value of sitting on the deck watching the sunset – what they call wasting time, which they all agree is a valuable exercise.
‘I think the essence of our relationship with everybody here is tied up with that word ‘brother’,’ says Br Kieran. ‘It’s a different relationship from ‘father.’ We can’t be brother to people unless there is the element of hospitality, acceptance, and encouragement. Brother is relationship. We’re not threatening people in any way.’
‘We are just simply trying to walk with young people at this particular stage of their lives,’ said Br Doug. ‘We’re not converting, proselytising – just walking with them. It’s amazing the network we have throughout the country – people who know of us.’
One challenge which they haven’t yet succeeded in meeting is that of reaching out to needy youth.
‘But this is not for want of trying,’ says Br Doug.
Karen, Natalie and Br Kieran have gone to Faith and Light in Petone once a month.
Approaches have also been made for mentoring in schools and working with young offenders in the Hutt Valley, but this is yet to be realised.
The community is highly conscious of the temptation to slip into a comfortable life and bypass the challenge that St Marcellin exhorted his followers to embrace.
‘If we’re Christians we have to take Jesus out to people and we are still working at this,’ says Br Doug.
But for Karen, who will be leaving the community at year’s end, living with Catholics has been a normalising experience.
‘Having friends my own age who are Catholic, there’s a certain base level of values you can pretty safely assume. I often forget that the world’s not Catholic. It certainly has made me more open about my faith and willing to talk about it any time.’
‘We aren’t exclusively Catholic,’ says Amy Aukusitino. ‘Last year there was a girl considering living here who was Brethren. We are still open. It’s not just about Catholic.’
‘We’re openly but not obnoxiously Christian,’ says Blaise Drinkwater.
The Grove community will undergo a major change next year when it moves to a house near the Waterloo railway station.
This has advantages in terms of accessibility but they will miss the birds, the view and the deck which was great for wasting time on together.
But their mission to walk alongside young people will continue.
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