‘And do you think your degree has helped you in your current line of work?’
‘Erm, no. Not really.’
This is just a snippet from a recent telephone conversation I had with a woman completing a survey for St Andrews University. When she asked what I had been doing since graduating last June, I do not think my reply of ‘working as a Catholic youth worker’ was what she was expecting.
If I am honest, it is not the answer I would have expected from myself either had someone asked me the question a year earlier. I have always been a ‘planner’. I want to know what I am doing with my life and where I am going next, so my decision to join the Animate team was as big a shock for me as it was for anyone else and, sure enough, in the months before I moved into Lowe House, I got cold feet. Shouldn’t I have applied for a regular office job? Shouldn’t I have applied for one of those graduate schemes? Shouldn’t I have applied for something to do with my degree?
The decision to work in youth ministry did not happen overnight – in fact, I think God was slowly leading me to this over my four years at university. I was brought up a Catholic and considered myself committed to my faith but I think, like many students, I became easily distracted by all the other things going on at university. With the freedom of living away from home, parties to enjoy and new people to meet, somehow God became much less important to me. I stopped going to Church and on the odd occasion I did get to Mass I never told my ‘friends’ for fear they would consider me ‘weird’.
The novelty of my first year at university started to wear thin, though, and I began to realise something was missing. Putting other things before my faith was not making me happy. It was only when I met some wonderful people in St Andrews that I was able to put God at the forefront of my life again. I saw how much joy their faith brought them and I wanted what they had. It is true what Pope Francis says: ‘The Church grows by attraction, not proselytising.’ I wanted to be to others what these true friends had been to me.
And so here I am – halfway through my year with Animate and I have not looked back. I work with young people on a daily basis, hoping to share with them the joy of faith. I do not set out to ‘teach’ anyone anything, or to ‘persuade’ others to think as I do, or to ‘convert’ anyone. I simply want to share my experiences and give others the chance to share theirs. There was no greater example than Animate’s recent weekend course for Eucharistic ministers. The focus was on how we each felt that God had called us to this role and it gave us the opportunity to share our experiences of faith. I was able to see not only how I can help young people grow in their faith but how they help each other and how they help me.
Those who say young people do not have a faith need only spend some time working in youth ministry to see that this simply is not true. More often than not, all that is needed is something or someone to awaken what is simply lying dormant.