This morning as I was walking down my stairs, trying not to trip over some shoes in my weariness, I remembered that today is the feast of St. Ninian. Whilst pouring my coffee, I pondered what I knew about this saint. Quickly, I realised that I had never really given much thought to him before and all I could abstract from my tired mind was an image of a dimmed stained glass window that I once saw and a story of him converting people that seemed like something out of an antiquated book. It was then that it struck me. Although I know so little about this man that once walked these lands, I do know that he is a great saint. Therefore, Ninian encountered the Lord, understood that he was deeply loved, known and seen by his Father in heaven and responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit wholeheartedly so as to follow the call placed on his heart and become the saint he was created to be. Thinking more about his life, I realised that Ninian was not born a holy bishop. In fact, just like us, Ninian was once a child, once a teenager, once a young adult.
When thinking about the youth we encounter today in our schools, streets, parks and pews, I wonder if they really differ from young Ninian. Sure, Ninian wouldn’t stay up late filming a new TicTok video or thrashing his friends on Call of Duty and the youth of today would have no concept of 5th century Scottish living. However, Ninian, once a local Scottish teenager, and the young people of today share something foundational, the potential to be great saints. I’d also reckon that Ninian didn’t grow into the saint he became in isolation. Instead, I would expect that he was formed by others who knew the Lord and witnessed to him through their love and encouragement. This, in a nutshell, is what I would define as youth ministry.
For the last four years, I have had the privilege to work in youth ministry here in Glasgow. Through RCAG Youth and volunteering, I have had the joy of walking with many young people as they come to encounter God, respond to Him, seek to learn more about the One who has first loved them, and wrestle with their faith in the ring of relativism and suffering, family dysfunction and peer pressure. Time and time again, I see in each young person a great hunger, an innate craving for something more and although they often misunderstand this, it is indeed God they seek. All too often, on their quest to find the food that satisfies, they end up rummaging in the dumpster. We, who know the Lord, the beauty of His Church and the joy of walking with Him, are the signposts to the banquet hall where our young people can feast and be satisfied.
How is it that we can be these signposts and where exactly is the banquet hall?
I would propose that each of us are a signpost by nature of our witness to the love of God and that the banquet hall, although ultimately being Heaven and foreshadowed in the Church, is actually a space for young people to encounter God in community with one another in their local parish. This is what I would call, a parish youth group.
I first heard about parish-based youth groups a few years ago. I had never experienced one growing up and so it was a new concept to me. When I finally got to visit one in the flesh, I realised what a great blessing it is for the young people, the leaders and the Church. Imagine being a young person today, in this messy world and having a place where you could go that you are welcomed and loved, that you don’t need to pretend to be someone else but that you are accepted as you are by leaders who truly care for you. A place where you are nourished by the teachings of the Church, inspired in prayer, and encouraged to ask the deep questions on your heart. A place where fun is had, joy reigns and solid friendships founded on faith with other young people are built. This is a banquet hall where you can feast on good things!
Is everyone called to start a parish youth group? No.
However, could this be something God is asking of you?
I encourage you to not be overwhelmed by what might seem impossible but rather to step out in faith, discuss this with your priest and check out what resources are on offer. If this is something that interests you then please know you are welcome to join us for our free parish youth ministry training sessions taking place online in October and November. If you would like more details about this then please email email@example.com
Together with our variety of gifts, the Lord’s grace and the intercession of the great Scots that have went before us, may we step out in faith and accompany our young people so that they, just like little Ninian, may become the saints they are created to be.
St. Ninian, pray for us.
Mairi-Claire McGeady | Glasgow | RC Archdiocese of Glasgow Youth Office