Animate take leap into virtual world

By Father Simon Gore

As I write this, it is lockdown once again. And that means you have to endure my witterings again. It does not seem that long ago that I was writing about the antics of a priest in lockdown in Lowe House and my hours spent gardening and cleaning woodwork with cotton buds. And here we are, back again. The team have gone home and I am alone in the house once more. Fortunately, I do not scare all that easily and can ignore the squeaks and scratchings that come from living in an old house like this.

Even though I am back on my own, this time does feel different. While out shopping (for essential items, you understand) the other day and seeing all the cars in the car park and the queues to get into Tesco, I caught myself saying, ‘This is like no lockdown I’ve known before’ – as if this were a regular occurrence in my life! Funny how we become acclimatised.

It does feel different, though. The last time I was at a bit of a loose end. This time, though, I had more of a plan for me and the team. And so we have all spent this time working remotely and trying to be as productive as we can.

I must hold my hands up and say that I misjudged how popular the virtual pilgrimage to Lourdes would be in the summer. For that I have to give my thanks to the coach leaders and staff of the Youth Pilgrimage who worked hard in the lead-up and then during the week itself to offer as vibrant and engaging an experience as was possible under the restrictions we had.

It made me realise that we, as Animate, were behind the curve when it came to the virtual world and needed to embark on a big catch-up. I reassured myself that we were probably not the only ones making this discovery. Nevertheless, it was a sobering thought to realise how much we were missing, and what we could and should have been doing for years.

In my head there was a balancing act, though. As a team we do have a lot of commitments through the year. The team rarely have time simply sat in the office. They are either working with young people or preparing for that work. On top of that is additional work like the Faith in Action scheme, Lourdes and confirmations. There was simply no room to expand into new areas without something having to give in return.

Additionally, I did not like the idea that expanding into the virtual world would come at the expense of face-to-face work with young people. The blessing of Animate for the diocese is to be a peer ministry team – that is to say, young people ministering to other young people. It is not me as priest saying, ‘God is good’ and ‘Faith is brilliant’, it is young people saying that to other young people (and, I hope, in a slightly more fluent fashion!). We should not give that up to retreat into the virtual world. Yet, is the virtual world not the modern Areopagus that we must preach in?

As the year started, we looked at what we could be doing while trying to juggle the retreats we had booked in. It was proving the point – how can you commit to something online when you are working in the ‘real world’? And then Lockdown 2 happened!

I would never say this second lockdown has been a blessing in disguise – that would be both stupid and horribly misjudged when we see the damage lockdown does to mental health and to the economy. But this time has given us a chance to try some new work in the virtual world. We had recorded quite a bit of footage while still in the house together, in the hope that we had enough to create some videos that we could upload on to YouTube. And, fortunately, we just about managed it. With the help of some friends who came to our aid with testimonies and readings we have produced some videos that you can watch on YouTube.

As the dark nights come in, you might like to look at our attempt at prayer in the style of the Taize community (please be generous in reviewing the singing – we are a youth ministry team, not singers!). We also have a celebration of young people in the diocese for Youth Sunday and an Advent Youth Alive Mass. All of these can be accessed from the Animate Youth YouTube channel.
We have also started to upload Faith in Action reflection points as well. The first is online now. Young people can then continue with the award even if they cannot complete the reflection points in school or in the parish. The Lourdes liturgies are still online as well, so feel free to relive that special week too.

On 17 December we are hosting a live quiz, on YouTube and Instagram, so join us for that if you can. Then in the new year, we have a Praise and Worship event planned for January and a Lent retreat for February. We are not there yet but I do feel we are making progress in catching up with the curve!