Mars Bars and Cans of Coke

October 3rd, 2009

For many years, 14-year-old Patrick was an active member of my youth club. He had his troublesome moments, and at times I wasn't sure anything we did had any impact whatsoever on him (such is the challenge of Christian youth ministry). Then one day on the sidelines of a boisterous football match (soccer for my North American readers), Paddy and I had the following conversation:

Paddy: “Davey, why do churches use bread and wine at Mass?” (Paddy was a young Catholic man from south Belfast.)

Davey: (Not wanting to get into the theological nitty-gritty around the Last Supper, nor necessarily understanding the nitty-gritty) “Well, Jesus was using everyday symbols to help the disciples, and us, remember what he was about to do on the cross.”

Paddy: (with a cheeky grin on his face) “Can you get drunk on the wine you get at Communion?”

Davey: (deliberately downplaying Patrick's enthusiasm in asking this question) “No.” (and hoping to throw some light on the issues) “If Jesus was around the ‘Holyland' (an area of Belfast) what would be used to symbolize his death, Paddy?

Paddy: (with another cheeky grin on his face) “A Mars bar and a can of Coke!”

It strikes me that Patrick, for all his youthful naivete and enthusiasm, was onto something. If Christ had gathered his disciples from amongst Patrick and his friends in another ‘Holyland,' the outward visible sign of something much more special might indeed have been a Mars bar and a can of Coke. The bread and wine of the Last Supper were ordinary and common, yet Jesus used them and made them extraordinary.

So what's behind the story? Simply this…youth ministry in Ireland at its core, across all forms of Irish and British culture and all levels of society, seeks to act with and for young people because Christ is already there, turning the Mars bars and the cans of Coke into something real, tangible, and lifechanging. In God's hands, the ordinary is becoming extraordinary.

Youth Ministry in Ireland: Ordinary Volunteers

There is little doubt that the huge bulk of youth ministry, across all denominations, occurs through the good will of an army of committed volunteers. However, the pressures of life, work, and, in some cases, over-commitment burn out our volunteer youth ministers. Initiatives such as the Church of Ireland “Reflect” and the ecumenical National Youth Leaders Convention are beginning to resource and refresh some of these champions of the Gospel.

Youth Ministry in Ireland: A Not So Ordinary Calling

Whilst vocations to the ordained ministry across Irish denominations are waning, there's a growth in the number of churches seeking youth ministers, and an increase in men and women of faith finding their callings to serve young people.

For the churches in Ireland (and I particularly refer to those from the reformed traditions), youth ministry is becoming an established reality. This is a reality from Dublin to Limerick, from Cobh to Coleraine, and even in places we find difficult to pronounce, like Knocknamuckley and Waringstown! However, we lack youth ministry formation, spiritually and theologically, and tend to draw on youth ministry resources drawn from the English and North American contexts. (These are all excellent, by the way, and yes, I love to visit the National Youth Workers Convention in America.)

Pray for these youth ministers that they'll be confident in the Gospel, both to live it out and to draw on its reality in articulating Irish Christian youth ministry models.

Youth Ministry in Ireland: Ordinary Difficulties

Like those faced by many in Christ's mission to young people, difficulties exist in seeing this form of ministry established across the island of Ireland. Difficulties to do with history (dare I say, denominationalism), mistrust of others (however “they” are defined), the ever-present generation gap, and general early-21st century apathy to institutionalism amongst our young people all lend themselves to hard and, at times, stony ground. However, and it's a big however…

The seeds of Christ's kingdom are breaking through, particularly regarding ministry to our young. We're seeing more full-time youth ministers with passion and commitment for the young. The main churches, certainly on youth matters, are increasingly working in close cooperation. Large worship events such as Summer Madness are pushing the boundaries between faith and life with our young. For me, as the youth officer for the Anglican Church in Ireland, the new life bursting through brings challenge and comfort:

The challenge is allowing Christ's mission to continue to reach every part of the Green Isle (and yes, it is God's own, truly).

The comfort is knowing that even as we sleep, God's Spirit moves far ahead, making God's mission happen, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.