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Changing the way young people experience Church

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The suspension of Masses and cancellation of gatherings over the past few months have proved challenging for parishioners, but for young people the opportunity to readily access more resources online has been a welcome addition to their faith lives, as LINDY McNAMARA reports.

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They say every cloud has a silver lining and while the coronavirus restrictions have kept people apart it seems young people in the Archdiocese have welcomed the opportunity to access resources and participate in events at the touch of their fingertips.

When Masses were suspended and large gatherings cancelled in March, the Catholic Office for Youth and Young Adults (COYYA) knew it was going to need to come up with some creative ways to keep young people engaged, connected and ‘attending’ events.

According to coordinator Peter Bierer, the re-invented offerings have been embraced by the youth of the Archdiocese who are relishing the chance to nurture their faith through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram as well as the COYYA website. And with the new ‘normal’ being so well received, he believes we can expect many changes in the way young people ‘experience’ Church in the future.

“One of interesting pieces of information we gleaned from past forums was that young people wanted the ability to connect at times ‘when I am available’, and to be part of the community in a different way,” he said.

“The restrictions in place now are pulling out those opportunities. They can now access on-demand for so much of what they do… they can watch live stream Masses at different times and not just in real time; all the faith forming, catechetical and spirituality resources are now available for them to connect in a way that suits them.

“They can go to their podcast, go to their social media and now – because there are so many more resources available – find something that is relevant to them.”

Peter said when it became apparent things were going to change due to COVID-19, his team jumped into “emergency mode” with one of the first tasks to develop a suite of “appropriate” resources and helpful material for youth and young adult ministry. Another pressing issue was to find creative ways to continue to deliver youth events, but in a different format.

Unfortunately due to the timing of events, the Palm Sunday youth vigil was cancelled, however the Arch D Awards went ahead, but this year in the form of a podcast. The much-anticipated Pentecost Vigil on May 30 also proceeded, with people ‘attending’ the virtual event on Facebook Live. Many participants became further involved by responding to the call to submit visual and performance art pieces that were featured in a virtual gallery.

Threshold @ Home music series is another way young people are connecting during this time of disconnect.

Launched in early May, it involves young Catholic musicians from across the Archdiocese sharing their talents every Tuesday night in a 30-minute segment on Facebook Live. The first show received more than 2000 views and following episodes have continued to draw a large audience.

“It’s been beautiful to be connecting all these people across the Archdiocese and beyond to the wonderful things young people are capable of and their talents and passions,” Peter said.

Young people enjoyed ‘attending’ the monthly Pub Theology event on May 14, participating either via Zoom or alternatively watching it on Facebook Live.

Peter said Facebook Live streams were proving a popular way for young people to be involved in events, especially for those who may be hesitant to meet others face to face.

“Allowing young people to participate online will be the new norm for us as we plan to continue to live stream our in-person events in the future,” he said.

According to Peter, the way young people ‘experience’ Church in the future will be very different, with some of the changes to be inspired by the “online gaming experience”.

“The concept of immersive design takes the gamer through a virtual experience that immerses them in another world… and when they come out of it at the other end they’ve had an experience they can recount and maybe it’s had some sort of impact on them,” he explained.

“That’s a concept that’s been part of Christianity, part of Catholicism, for the last 2000 years.”

In the lead up to 2020, the COYYA team launched a new suite of offerings around the theme of ‘Threshold’. It symbolises the liminal, ‘middle space’ where a person is standing neither in nor out of the room. However, by crossing the threshold a young person is welcomed into a new reality.

“What we are hoping for is that a relationship can be built with a young person that’s healthy, that’s whole, that respects them as a person and it’s all about accompanying that young person on the journey of their life, across the many and various thresholds they encounter,” Peter said.

“Maybe, through the experience of accompaniment, they get to a point in their life when they are want to make a commitment to faith, have an interest in Christ, and the way Catholics live and practise their faith, then they may ultimately want to be a part of a parish or community.”

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