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The Irish Catholic, March 22, 2012

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Dunshaughlin Parish Centre in Co. Meath is hosting an open day for Youth Alpha on Saturday, March 24 from 10am-4pm. Irelands national Youth Alpha co-ordinator, Jonny Somerville, can be contacted on 085-7083538 or

Beginning a journey of faith

Mags Gargan meets the new coordinator of the Youth Alpha evangelistic course in Ireland
disagree and not be shouted at or put down. Young people respond to that. Obviously they understand that at the same time we are going to teach on what we consider to be the truth when it comes to Christianity. It will be put forth to them and they will be allowed to chew on it, and take it or leave it. Jonny already has three years experience of facilitating school retreats with Scripture Union, and since taking up the new position he has pioneered Youth Alpha in 16 secondary schools across the country.


he challenge of engaging young people with the Faith is a constant hot topic in Church circles. People despair at the lack of interest the younger generation show in the Church and many parishes seem to be at a complete loss at how to even start to address the issue. Jonny Somerville is trying to offer that starting point with the Youth Alpha course. In many ways for the young people Im coming across, Alpha is almost like a fresh page, Jonny says. I guess that is why parish workers and pastoral directors are keen to use this course because it is a great starting point and also brings back the idea of talking about how faith can be fun. When it comes to changing what they think about God, there is always going to be yes and no, but we have been very encouraged by the feedback on the whole and by the amount who want to do more. Jonny was appointed as the national co-ordinator of Youth Alpha last July, a new role under the partnership of three religious charities; Scripture Union, Alpha Ireland and Catholic Youth Care. Youth Alpha is an interdenominational evangelistic course that helps young people to get to know Jesus and His message. The course is adapted from the adult version, which nor-

There are three schools in Sligo and three schools in Tullamore, Co. Offaly who probably have the best strategy behind them, because as I am there I am working with the parish workers so as a team we going in together. Im facilitating but they are leading the small groups, and building the relationships, so they are in a better position to bring an aspect of follow-up or follow on. In Tullamore for example, we ran three Youth Alpha courses in three schools before Christmas, and now the parish workers there are still meeting with those who want more. So it has been quite effective, he says. Although Jonny is pioneering the courses himself at the moment he hopes that as more and more people get involved, parishes will be able

to take up the mantle themselves, and to build on the course as a foundation for setting up an environment where young people can continue to learn about and discuss their faith. I guess if there was to be a vision, we need to equip the parish workers to get into their local schools to enhance youth ministry as a whole and, me personally, Im very passionate about facilitating young people to go on a journey and for us to do what we can to enable them to continue to journey in their faith and meet together, particularly in a welcoming and safe environment which Youth Alpha seeks to be. When I was 18 or 19, it was my brother who one day got me to think through why I am who I am today, as in why do I care about my faith. I was starting to think through the journey, and I was thinking about these key people like mentors, or people who invested in me and then I was thinking about the different youth groups that I went to and the reason I kept my faith was because my journey was facilitated. There was never a time when I felt I had no one to go to I was always a part of a youth group or a youth initiative, Jonny says. The journey is so important. I feel it totally echoes the life of Christ Jesus focussing on 12 people to change the world. You start with small group, you go on a journey and thats what I am trying to implement.

Jonny Somerville (24) from Templeogue, Dublin is the new national co-ordinator for Youth Alpha.
mally runs over 10 weeks, plus a weekend or day away, and revolves around sharing food and discussion in small groups. Traditionally, in Alpha you come and eat together, you watch a talk and then discuss it in small groups. I dont believe that will work with young people. They dont want to listen to a talk, and they dont listen much past 12 minutes anyway, Jonny explains. The youth version of the course involves Jonny giving a five minute presentation, in which he poses a question for the young people to discuss and respond to in small groups. This is followed by another presentation and another question and so on. Why did Jesus die? to How and why should I read the Bible?, but Jonny finds it is also an opportunity to allow young people to ask questions themselves and to air their opinions. When talking about faith, you certainly have some hot topics and Im very keen to make sure that everybody knows that if kids disagree with you, brilliant! If they want nothing to do with the God you are talking about that is fine, just encourage them where they are at and allow them to continue to come back and question. I guess they are not used to that and thats why we get such great feedback. Some of the things they say is its been great to be able to air my views about God out loud, its been great to be able to


When talking about faith, you certainly have some hot topics and Im very keen to make sure that everybody knows that if kids disagree with you, brilliant!

I seek to make it as multisensored as I can, he says. The Powerpoints would be very visually stimulating, there would be vox pops to hear the voice of the people on the street, animated clips and some clips from movies and what famous people think, what our ancestors think. I try to engage with all sorts of different mediums in order to help them to take it further. The course looks at topics from Who is Jesus? and

Top: Transition year students from St Colmcilles, Knocklyon, Dublin 16 sharing food as part of the course. Above: Transition year students from the Ursuline College Sligo taking part in a Youth Alpha course.