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A weathervane of counter-culturalism!

If you've ever been to Winchester (it's in England!) you will probably vaguely recognise this thing on the right. It's called the Buttercross and it's a sort of memorial/ landmark type thing.

I've never lived in Winchester, but my Grandparents have since before I was born, and my parents now live there too, so it's a city that's been a feature of my live longer than any other.

The Buttercross is half way up the main street (and just round the corner from St. Peter's - a lovely, old Catholic Church). What's always interested me about it is that it's always been a bit of a magnet for non-conformists. In the 1980s I have a very vivid memory of seeing punk-rockers sitting there with their crazy orange, spiky hair. Since then, it's played host to moshers, skaters, and whatever other I'm-trying-to-be-different sort of groups that were en vogue at the time.

I always find groups like these really interesting. I'm not necessarily knocking everybody who subscribes to them, but I have always been really amused by people who try very, very, very hard not to conform. The irony being that their struggle not to conform is probably a far more lemming-like type of conformity than what they think they're rejecting.

It all goes back to identity and acceptance. Something I wrote about - albeit in a far more radical and shocking context - a while back. In short, if people don't feel that they are loved and accepted then they will go looking for something or somewhere where they are.

As youth ministers, how do we look out for the young people who don't feel like they fit in? And how do we make them fit in?

I'm not necessarily saying that all of these Buttercross people are there because of social hang-ups. What I am saying though is that there will always be people who feel the need to conform to non-conformity, because they feel that their voice isn't being heard. Expressions may change, but the need to be heard, to fit in, and to feel loved and accepted never will.

Cardinal on Rio visit calls youth key to New Evangelization

On a recent trip to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day 2013 preparations, a top Vatican official said the conversion of young people is essential for evangelizing formerly Christian societies.

Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, head of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, told CNA that he hopes the Rio World Youth Day will be "one more important step" in the Church's mission to bring young people closer to Christ.

He noted that over the last 25 years, World Youth Day has "proved to be an instrument of evangelization of extraordinary power. I'm sure that Rio will give a strong confirmation of this fact."

Cardinal Rylko made his remarks at a March 2 press conference held in Rio de Janerio to discuss preparations for the global youth event. The cardinal was in Brazil Feb. 27--March 2 to meet with the local organizing committee and Archbishop Orani Joo Tempesta.

He told a packed room of journalists that "the preparations are very advanced" and that he has been touched by "the enthusiasm and the joy of those engaged in this path towards WYD 2013."

He also praised the "sense of responsibility and professionalism" with which the preparations are being done, noting that "a good part of these works were entrusted in great measure to the young people themselves."

Cardinal Rylko reminded the press that World Youth Day is returning to Latin America after 25 years, and that Buenos Aires was the first city to host the event outside of Rome in 1987.

The Polish cardinal said he was particularly impressed during his visit by...

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Better Team-building

I saw this billboard from a train a few weeks back and it made me laugh, so I whipped out the iPhone and took a quick picture. I guess it reminded me of all the silly team-building activities I had done over the years.

If you work as part of a team (and sadly, too few youth workers do) then it's important to put some time into building that team and helping everybody to gel. I guess that works on several levels: there is the need to properly plan and evaluate work (which requires good facilitation, by a decent leader), there is the need for spiritual formation, and there is the need for proper training - both at the start, and ongoing.

Moreover though, teams need the chance to bond together as people. People who work together need to gel in an atmosphere where there are no work related issues to grapple with.

In my last job, myself and the director used to take our team for a day out during each training week (of which there were three a year). Sometimes they were good, and sometimes not. I think days like that shouldn't be there to tick boxes ("let's go and visit a school or other diocesan project to fly the flag"), but to give people time with one another. They should be largely - dare I say - social.

One of the very best team bonding experiences I have ever had was in preparation for Lourdes. Some of the youth service group team would fly out to Lourdes for a weekend. There was work to be done, and we made time for a lot of prayer too, but the weekend was largely a reason to go to bars, go to restaurants and just have a massive laugh with one another. As one person put it, it was wall to wall banter!

The result was that when we got to Lourdes that summer with the young people, we had an amazingly strong team spirit, which came across to the young people.

So if you're part of a team, by all means do the well-designed team building exercises, and the spiritual retreats and the tick-box visits, but don't forget to make time to have a laugh...

'We love our Youth Worker' launches in the US

This successful programme has been running for a few years in the UK now. It's not a specifically thing, but it's got a lot of attention in the Catholic world. In truth, it could do with getting a little more.

The programme has now launched in the US, and Josh Griffin has some interesting thoughts to share. Here's a slice...

Youth workers serving with one ministry for a long period of time is crucial to reaching students for Christ. It simply takes a while for relationships with parents and teens to grow and develop. The more those relationships mature, the more doors and opportunities will be open to youth workers in their churches and communities.

I am in the middle of year five at my current church and because relationships with certain students have had years of development, I am able to be more direct and blunt with them. We go deeper and relate easier. This summer will be our fourth mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico and because of this repeat there will be fewer hoops to jump through when it comes to helping parents feel comfortable about the trip. As I have cultivated relationships with town officials over the years, local Social Workers now call me when they have students whom they think will benefit from our youth programs. And these workers are in no way affiliated with our church, or any other church in town for that matter.

Longevity really does lead to many fantastic opportunities in ministry. The problem though is that many youth workers go into a ministry position with longevity in mind only to find themselves packing up much sooner than expected. Some choose to leave on their own accord because a church isn't very healthy. Sadly, many others find themselves burnt out or fired.

Go, read the rest...

Isolation and Youth Ministry

The brilliant and challenging has posed the following question:

We have learned that teenagers live in a world isolated from adults, and, unfortunately, most of our ministries perpetuate this. How are you addressing this problem?

They invite three really experienced youth ministers to answer - including our good friend Scott Miller - and what they come up with is well worth a read.

Here's the link...

[image hotlinked from Flickr user chandrika221]

Pastoral Letter on Marriage

If you've been to Mass in England & Wales this weekend you will probably have heard the pastoral letter on Marriage (read: Gay Marriage) from the Bishops Conference. It's not related to youth ministry specifically, but it's bound to come up. So we thought we'd stick it on here. Alternatively you can see a video version here.

A Letter on Marriage from the President and Vice-President of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

This week the Coalition Government is expected to present its consultation paper on the proposed change in the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships.

Today we want to put before you the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society.

The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility. This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself.

Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion. Understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society.

There are many reasons why...

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Great photo of a group preparing for Flame...


This is the group from the Diocese of Hexham & Newcastle preparing for Flame

If you've got any more photos send them to us - or send us a link - and well stick them up :)

Roundup (March 11th)

Stuff you might find interesting that isn't quite worth a whole article...

Josh Evans reflects on 5 important purposes of student ministry.

Gregg Farah, in the first of a two part post, explains why you need to take your team to a conference.

Josh Griffin reflects on why he does Youth Ministry, explaining 'this is why I breathe.' reviews a book called 7 best practices for teaching teens the bible.

Benjer McVeigh reflects on what he didn't learn in training.

Josh Griffin (again... well, he's pretty good!) in the first of a series of posts, talks about managing expectations.

Tony Blair talks about his respect for nuns. (Yep, you read that right!) weighs in on the whole Joseph Kony/ Invisible Children thing.

Rome Reports explain how the authorities in Lourdes go about verifying miracles.

The Pope urges US Bishops (and presumably everyone else) to teach youth about the Catholic vision of love.

And finally, the (US) National Catholic Register reports on how Catholics are happier with more Catholic friends!

[image hotlinked from Flickr user NS Newsflash]

Going to Mass today...?

Thought you all might find this amusing...

Dark time for Catholicism

CATHOLICISM is in one of the darkest periods of its history - and the worst ever in the United States - according to a visiting priest who has just finished an international 10-part television series about the church.

Media expert Robert Barron says the sexual abuse crisis has ''undermined the church in almost every aspect of its life'', but because ''the wrong people are telling the story'' (the secular media) only the negative side emerges.

''There's always been a shadow side over the church: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the witch burnings. But that doesn't undermine the beauty and integrity of the church,'' he said.

Father Barron is in Melbourne as a Catholic evangelist, speaking to young people, churches and theological faculties, as part of a 13-day national tour.

''If you'd asked me 20 years ago about the worst time in US Catholic history, I would have said the 19th century, when they were pulling down convents and burning rectories, but the sexual abuse scandal has been worse. When you hear Catholic you hear sex abuse, paedophile, protecting abusers. Regrettably that is part of the story, but it's such a great reduction of the huge history and tradition.''

The way forward, he says, is back to basics: to simplicity, works of mercy, prayer and poverty, to faith, hope and love.

''We should be looking right now for the saints who pop up in times of crisis, as saints Francis, Dominic, Benedict and Ignatius did.''

Father Barron reaches out particularly through new media, where his YouTube videos have been seen 3.5 million times.

''The church can't assume people will stream into schools and parishes to be evangelised - we need to go get them, reach out to the general culture.''

The television series, being shown on more than 250 US channels, takes 10 ''great themes'', from Jesus, God and Mary to the church, the sacraments and the last days.

It cost $3 million to make, a big commitment given the way the sexual abuse crisis has emptied church coffers.

''I was a beggar for about two years. A lot of lay Catholics said, 'We want to get behind this because the church has been so knocked about by negative publicity, we want something uplifting'.''



I've just been reading a short piece on the LifeTeen site about what to say during Confession. It is plugging one of LifeTeen's resources, which you can buy here.

Usually, we don't plug paid resources. We made an exception here though, just simply because this photo is utterly awesome.

I mean, seriously, that's all of my reconciliation PowerPoints sorted. Forever!

Teens Struggle to Find Classy Role Models!

A fascinating post from the blog of an american teenager called Travers Oliver. Here's a slice...

Throughout today's society it seems that the moral principles of many of the female youth have declined. It seems as though many of them have lost respect for themselves and their beliefs which has led to them flaunting their bodies, talking trash like a sailor and sleeping around.

According to, there are around "750,000 teen pregnancies annually. Eight in ten of these pregnancies are unintended and 81 percent are to unmarried teens." Teenage pregnancy is a large contributor to the female high school drop out rate. Only about 50 percent of teen mothers receive high school diplomas by age 22, versus nearly 90 percent of women who had not given birth during their teenage years. Not only does it affect the teen's education, but the child's as well. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention "Children of teenage mothers are more likely to have lower school achievement, more likely to drop out of high school, have more health problems, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, give birth as a teenager, and face unemployment as a young adult." Many of you reading this may not be teenage girls, or a relative of one, but you're still affected by it. Roughly nine billion dollars of tax payers' money is used each year due costs of teen pregnancy. Costs for increased health and foster care, increased incarceration rates among children of teen parents, and lost tax revenue because of lower educational attainment and income among teen mothers. What is the cause of this? I believe it's caused by a lack of good female role models.

Go, read the rest...

Help a friend of mine in a brilliant challenge...

This, from the CAFOD blog...

Hi. I'm Father Rob Esdaile, parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, Thames Ditton, Surrey.

It's a leafy suburb which doesn't look like it suffers from a water shortage (especially with the Thames forming the parish boundary), but I've set myself the challenge of living on ten litres of water a day for a week (March 10-16). It's both a Lenten discipline for myself and as a way of involving the parish in CAFOD's Thirst for change campaign.

Sponsor me here >>

As I get ready for my challenge, I'm beginning to notice the problem with water - and hence the problem with thinking about water: it gets everywhere (as anyone who's ever dropped a glass on the floor quickly discovers!).

I need to think about far more than what I drink: how to plan cooking so my menus don't depend on great pan-fulls of H20; how to wash-up in the most water-efficient way; how to 'save up' water to hand-wash my clothes mid-week (because the washing machine will be far too thirsty); how to retrieve water I use in washing or cleaning for toilet flushing; how to ensure personal hygiene without running water.

Then there is the need to 'protect' the challenge from reflex reactions - that 'automatic' flushing of the loo each time (using 5 litres - half a day's water!); the easy reaching for the tap when I'm at the sink. So I'm setting up a rather odd array of plastic cups and bags tied over the top of each tap or handle.

Finally, there are the ground-rules to consider: do I ask my lodger and weekly cleaner not to flush the one toilet I'll be using (the house has two!) in the name of 'realism' or do I breathe a sigh of relief if they do?

Do I 'fine' myself when I get back home if someone gives me a cuppa when I'm out? If I have visitors (sometimes I have a lot!), do they get 'my' water or good old tap-water? Does beer 'count' ?

And then, finally: what to do if the rather flimsy water-carriers I've bought develop a leak one day on the way home? It sounds a daft concern (I can simply turn on the tap anytime - and no one need ever know ). But it would be an everyday worry in many developing countries. So I shall keep an 'emergency bottle' on the kitchen slab just in case - and as a reminder of what 'real' water-shortage means.

Books: I am a Follower

I had a hard time reading Leonard Sweet's book I Am a Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus, though the premise of the book very much appealed to me. Sweet states being a leader isn't about leading, it's about following. He stresses the importance of being a follower of Jesus instead of being a leader, which he calls being a 'first follower'. I agree with him that following Jesus is the most important aspect of being a leader, but the way he describes this in his book irritated me and at some points even offended me.

Okay, I'll stop there because this isn't out post. I copied it from You can read the rest on their site...

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