If ever anybody knew the value of listening carefully to the parish notices at the end of Sunday Mass – or of not instantly discarding your Sunday bulletin – it is Anita Carson.
Anita, recently appointed Liverpool-based coordinator of the Redemptorist Youth Ministry (RYM) programme in this country, was stuck at a career crossroads when, early last summer, she heard parish priest Father Tim Buckley advertise a role she quickly came to fill. If this was a light-bulb moment for the long-time parishioner of St Mary's, Woolton, it illuminated the path Anita felt compelled to take.
'I wanted a change of direction in my life,' the 49-year-old tells the Pic. 'I was asking lots of questions about my career and where it was taking me, and I wanted a greater involvement with the Church. I was moved in that direction, and when Father Tim said at Mass that the job was available I felt it was ideal for me.'
Fast-forward a few months and Anita leads the RYM, in tandem with fellow appointee Natasha Pritchard, from the Redemptorists' twin Liverpool parishes of Bishop Eton and St Mary's. Considering the Order also ministers in London and Birmingham, as well as in Scotland, there is wide scope for growth. The immediate focus, though, is the Liverpool group – primarily for 18 to 40s – which meets every other Tuesday evening at Bishop Eton for prayer, reflection and social time, among other activities.
'The challenge is to really establish the group, to look at people who can join us on the journey, and to nurture and support them in their faith,' says wife and mother-of-three Anita. 'I've had the opportunity to go to daily Mass and to research lots of topics for our Tuesday-night sessions. I feel like this whole opportunity is steering me along a faith journey.'
One of her earlier steps in faith brought an encounter with the Salesian charism, during schooldays at Mary Help of Christians (later St John Bosco) where 'everything was so joyful' – including retreats at Brettargh Holt near the Lake District. Now she is walking with the Redemptorists, she credits Fr Tim Buckley as being 'an inspiration' because 'his approach is all based on God's love'.
For the 'Reds', she will apply her 26 years' teaching experience at Archbishop Blanch in Liverpool. 'I was a Geography teacher in a church school and I wanted a greater involvement on the religious side. I know how young people work; I know the influence you can have on their faith. Leadership, interpersonal and team-building skills are transferable.'
With an eye already on the Faith in Action national Catholic award scheme, she certainly sees the potential for 'rich soil' in her 'fantastic' local parishes. 'The youth are quite energised,' she says, 'and there are lots of ways they can be active in their faith lives, such as work with the homeless. Hopefully we'll also end up doing pilgrimages.'
Anita will be promoting the RYM – launched in 2013 as the latest expression of the Redemptorists' commitment to youth ministry – at the Embrace Liverpool conference at the Metropolitan Cathedral on Saturday 25 November. Before that she and Natasha will have delivered a retreat day at Pantasaph as they 'try to be as proactive as we can'.
Amid all this activity, however, this daughter of a deacon (the newly retired John McGeoch) also recognises the importance – for youth and slightly older folk alike – of simply resting in God. 'In the last few years there's been the realisation that God is in control of everything,' she says. 'I've largely given up worrying about things because everything seems pre-ordained anyway.'