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How do you keep parish numbers up? This priest says invest in young people

Core group: Kenmore parish’s core group of 13 before they headed off to Australian Catholic Youth Festival in 2017.

KENMORE parish is investing in young people.

The parish invested time and money to send a group of 13 to the 2017 Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney.

The group, which included parish priest Fr Mark Franklin, were inspired by their trip and wanted to take youth parish ministry to the next level.

They enlisted the help of Evangelisation Brisbane youth officer Steven Bird, who provided formation opportunities, and by mid-2018 a parish youth group was established.

“We spent about six months preparing a group of young people as leaders and doing some formation with them before we actually started the youth group,” Fr Franklin said.

“That core group were formed and understood what it is to be a young person in the Church today and to minister to each other in peer-ministry. 

“So that group has gone from strength to strength.”

This December, two years on, Kenmore parish is sending 22 people to ACYF in Perth.

Fr Franklin said it was essential in the process of formation to listen to the young people.

“I was keen to hear what they wanted and so we had sessions, saying, ‘Well, we need feedback from you, we need you to tell us what you want’,” Fr Franklin said.

“It’s about responding to their needs and what they see as important for them as young people in the parish community.”

And when he listened, Fr Franklin learned they wanted two things – a youth co-ordinator to help organise events and a place for them to meet regularly.

The parish provided.

About 23 young people meet every fortnight.

All of the young people are involved in a ministry in the community too, Fr Franklin said.

It wasn’t about shutting them away in a youth bubble; it was about empowering them to take leadership in the whole parish.

ACYF itself was a great inspiration to those who went, Fr Franklin said.

Seeing 19,000 like-minded young people in one place built confidence, he said.

“I think they got a lot of confidence in the sense that, ‘We’re not alone here’,” he said.

“There are lots of people across the country that are like minded. 

“I think some of the talks and the liturgical (events) and… the experiences were good for their faith development.”

The festival experience – getting there, living together, looking out for each other – helped with bonding too, he said.

Fr Franklin hadn’t been to World Youth Day and so, ACYF was his first experience of a mass youth gathering. 

He said it was worthwhile, especially if you have a parish with a core group of young people.

But he warned you couldn’t take them and just do nothing afterwards.

He said you needed to make a continual investment in the young people, “in the sense that when we came back, we started to build that group and create a youth ministry in the parish with that core group and this is what happened and now we’re going again”.

It wasn’t a quick fix.

“It is a long road,” Fr Franklin said.

“It’s a long process but I think you do need to spend time and money for our future.

“They are the future of the Church.

“What we’re trying to do is form good Christian disciples, people who will be involved in parish life into the future when they grow and marry, whatever happens.

“So if they have families, whatever happens in the future, it’s about building good leadership with disciples.

“The festivals help do that. 

“They stimulate young people in their understanding of the wider view of the Church rather than the narrow view of the Church.”

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