By Susan Gately - 02 September, 2015
As schools reopen this September, the new Junior Parish Pastoral Council in Tullamore will swing into action.
Seven years ago the parish had the idea of setting up the council to give young people a voice.
At the 6th class confirmation retreat each year, children are invited to volunteer for a number of parish ministries involving youth.
One of these is the JPPC which involves around 20 or so teenagers aged up to 18.
The JPPC meets usually from 4-5pm on a Wednesday. Meetings are regular coming up to Advent and Christmas as the young people prepare events like the ‘Spirit of Christmas’ in the parish’s day chapel.
Here children come to visit Santa but instead of getting a present from him, they write a wish for someone else and leave it on the Christmas tree.
They also organise cake and bric-a-brac sales to fundraise for a chosen charity, the parish and for themselves.
“They all try to raise the money for themselves to go on a retreat in February,” Annette Evans from the parish told CatholicIreland.net.
Annette Evans and Mercy nun, Sr Genny Hassey are deeply involved with the young people in the Junior Parish Pastoral Council.
“We guide them, but it is mostly their work,” says Annette. When it was first set up, they organised an annual National Parish Youth Conference which has run for six years.
This year they are planning a ‘Faithfest’ to be held on a Friday night in one parish before Christmas and in another after Christmas.
“All parishes from around will be invited. A theme will be picked and the night will consist of music, workshops and teaching. The night will be relaxed with lots of outdoor lights and fire!” says Annette.
In holiday time, the JPPC runs bingo after 10am mass once a week for the senior citizens. Some of the young people are also involved in the ‘J-Unit’ – a group which meets each Sunday night started five years ago by the JPPC.
This group meet from 7pm to 8.15pm during the school year. “They began by doing Alpha Youth and once they had completed the 10-week programme the J-Unit was formed. The name was chosen by the group meaning Jesus Unit,” Annette explains.
“We have around 25 young people from the age of 12 to 18 attend every week. In the last year we have formed a Youth Worship Band called Reflection Youth Ministries.”
The format of a typical J-Unit gathering is music to start, followed by icebreaker games, and then they break into groups of 8 or 9 with one leader in each group to discuss their week – something good or something challenging that happened in their week.
The Sunday Gospel is read and young people are encouraged to discuss it in their small groups. “For many the Bible is something which was written thousands of years ago. So they’re encouraged to try apply it to their everyday lives.”
Last year the young people committed to pray for intentions left in a petition box in the church. So at a certain point they sit in a large circle and pray for the petitions.
“This has helped the young people with their prayer life. Up to doing this, they found it so hard to pray out loud,” remarks Annette. The evening ends with food and music.
As a follow on from the JPPC and the J-Unit in Tullamore parish, for the last three years the young people have mimed the Passion on Good Friday.
It is proving a big attraction with numbers growing year on year. “I have witnessed grown adults reduced to tears because of the intense emotion felt while our young people re-enacted the passion with such reverence,” says Annette.
The highlight of the year for the J-Unit and the JPPC is the three-day retreat in the February mid-term held in Ovoca Manor which is a combination of holiday (outdoor activities, adventure sports, midnight walks, bonfires) with moments of reflection, prayer, bible study and faith imput.
Last year about 80 young people from Tullamore and a second parish attended the retreat.
New initiatives keep coming to life. This year the parish is planning a prayer night for young people mid week.
“It will only be a half hour long with a short teaching from a young person, worship music and prayer. The first night will be held on 20 October. The aim is to encourage young people to come to church without feeling that it is boring or irrelevant,” says Annette.
These activities strengthen the faith of the young people as they are more involved in their church. “What is most important is to keep looking for new things as young people get bored so easy,” she adds.