Eat, pray, live!

It’s not unusual to hear people express concern about the dearth of young people in churches and church communities. However, the parish communities of the Maitland region are proud to host a ground-breaking initiative called ACTiv8, led by local Anne Maher.

Eat, pray, live!

Commencing before World Youth Day in Sydney 2008, ACTiv8 welcomes children in Year 3 up to senior high school students and encourages them to participate in a variety of activities, within and beyond the church. The program has drawn significant numbers, particularly to the 6.00pm Sunday Mass at St Joseph's East Maitland.


ACTiv8 Youth Team Leader Anne Maher, 26, shares the latest development in a model that she hopes and believes might one day spread throughout the diocese and even farther afield.


"What began as a rather vague dream has become a reality.  As a leader, with a background in the social sciences, I was finding it difficult to cope with the work generated in Youth Ministry, even with the extraordinary support of several devoted volunteers.  Yet I wanted to expand the ministry, so I asked for assistance from the regional community last year.  I spoke at all Masses about my dream and received unbelievable support!" 


The latest dimension of the ACTiv8 model involves three first year university students living in community, sharing a flat at the Bishop's House Maitland.  All accommodation and living costs are covered.  In return, the students help organise and participate in all regional youth activities.  Parishioners have been outstanding with offers of cooked meals and cash donations for basics such as milk, bread, laundry supplies and transport.  Most have made this an ongoing commitment.


At present, four university students are committed to this innovative Youth Team.  They are Katrina Humphries-Ford from Taree, Sam Hill, Kara Spears and Elspeth Macpherson, all from the local region.  Each is contributing her own unique skills: Katrina is a talented musician while Sam and Kara have a particular affinity with young people and Elspeth has previously worked with young people in the Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn. Kara, Sam and Katrina will continue to work with Anne.  The girls have made an extraordinary commitment to dedicate their time and energy to work with young people this year, while they proceed with their university studies.  Each meets once a fortnight with a pastoral carer to deal with any issues they may face.


Anne says that the girls, "attend the four weekly area youth groups, help co-ordinate the weekly youth Mass and run outreach events." These include preparing for the annual 'Battle of the Bands' competition and assisting with Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.  The girls are also involved in local schools, participating in Year 6 leadership days and a five week Year 5 student course.  They are engaged in secondary school retreats too.


In all aspects of ACTiv8, the standout feature iscommunity.  There is an abiding sense of unity and a co-operative spirit which is evident when you meet the girls.  They live, pray and eat together.  They also work alongside each other in the variety of tasks associated with the ministry by youth for youth.  The Regional Pastoral and Finance Councils, local Church communities and regional schools are making this new endeavour possible by their continuous sustenance, sponsorship and support.  It's a 'win-win' situation for everyone.


Anne hopes this movement will become stronger since, "We're at the stage of cementing policies so that it is ongoing."  She believes, "God has big things for this diocese; we went through a desert time when people kept asking where were the young people, what are we doing?  These questions are being answered now." She imagines a time when Elspeth, Katrina, Sam and Kara will be working in the broader Church and communities.  Her hope is to strengthen the bond between parish and schools, and these young women are creating the foundations of that partnership.


Once the girls have completed this program and their university qualifications, Anne knows they will have the proficiency to begin youth leadership ministry roles within the diocese. "This movement will spread out to young people who are on fire for the Church."  Anne's excitement about the opportunities for local young people is palpable.  With her happy enthusiasm, the fidelity and promise of Elspeth, Kara, Sam and Katrina, and the support of the community and schools, it's clear that ACTiv8 will continue to invite young people to a Church that welcomes them, and is more vibrant because they are there.

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