The Apostolate of Association, Trainin and Challenge
DISCUSSION on the role of youth clubs and their contribution to the growth of Christian maturity in our young people has filled many columns of both news and comment in recent issues of this newspaper.
Differences of opinion on methods of approach arc, of course, legitimate, but there are many matters of fact which need to be established if we are to make any headway in assessing what contribution, if any, the Church can make to the work of the Youth Service and, in particular, what methods arc most appropriate in the mission of the Church to •the young.
The picture painted by a recent correspondent of the Catholic youth club as an occasion for ping-gong in an unsuitable hall supervised by an already overburdened priest is sufficiently near to the frequently met truth to be uncomfortable. It has little. if anything to do with the Youth Service.
The service as it has developed since 1939 is a partnership of voluntary and statutory agencies co-operating "to offer individual young people in their leisure time opportunities of various kinds, complementary to those at home, formal education and work, to discover and develop their personal resources of body, mind and spirit and thus the better equip themselves to live the life of mature. creative and responsible members of a free society" (Sir John Maude).
The Albemarle Report, in teasing out the implications of this definition against the contemporary background, suggested that association, training and challenge are the triple elements of a constructive approach to the needs of young people as they leave school. Places of association are needed where the young can engage in the simple business of meeting each other and developing mutual respect acid tolerance.
Skilled leadership within this association can initiate training by making use of every activity which will develop discrimination and present the challenge of worthwhile goals to be achieved.
We might note, in passing, that those who view the youth club or group as a preventative against delinquency are assign ing to it a function it is not equipped to perform. Similarly, the youth service is not concerned to "keep them off the streets": it secs no intrinsic value in "putting a roof on the street corner".
Last November the Duke of Edinburgh put the matter in a nutshell : "Young people arc either worth-while or they are not," he said. "We don't run clubs for them just because they're a nuisance."
Partnership in action
The partnership of voluntary and statutory agencies is geared to co-operation in the provision of facilities, the sponsorship of training of both leaders and members and the shaping of the service. Among the voluntary organisations the work of groups sponsored by religious bodies has been, and continues to be, outstanding, This contribution by the voluntary organisations is recognised by the Department of Education and Science and local education authorities, both in the level of consultation on developments and in The grantaiding arrangements which govern the allocation of public funds for expenditure on buildings, equipment, salaries and training.
We can assume too easily that the expensive-looking buildings we sec occasionally are directly provided only by local education authorities. Speaking in the House of Commons in June. 1963, Sir Edward Boyle said that in the three years which had then elapsed since the publication of the Albemarle Report, 807 projects sponsored by voluntary youth organisations had been approved by his Ministry.
With the recent announcement, of the 1965-66 building programme the allocation of projects as between voluntary and statutory bodies since 1960 is broadly equal. Religious organisations have figured frequently in the lists of voluntary projects, and in most parts of the country they will have
received grant-aid up to 75 per cent of the total cost of building and initial equipment.
Heartening increase It is encouraging to sec a slow increase in the number of Catholic sponsored projects seeking places in the building programmes and to note the willingness of local education authorities to help in the provision of equipment and maintenance of premises. In the few places where full-time trained leaders are employed in Catholic clubs a large part of their salaries is being provided by the education authorities.
I make these points simply to suggest that while the financial implications of development in this work are undeniably *large, the Christian steward has other legitimate sources of revenue to supplement his own efforts.
Opportunities to assist in the training of youth leaders abound. The National College at Leicester has co-operated in the provision of supplementary training for Catholic students, and the local committees charged with the implementation of the Bessey Report on the training of pert-time leaders and assistants include many members with church affiliations.
In the London County Council area, for instance, the honorary officers of the training group are an Anglican parson. a Catholic layman and a Methodist lay preacher.
Opportunities to make a Catholic contribution to the youth service are plentiful. But to what purpose? If we are concerned just to provide social facilities under adult supervision, or to make professional entertainers of our priests, then we are wasting our time and their talents. Others have taken the stage.
Aids in growth
The youth group is essentially a community of young people coming together to enjoy each other's company in the pursuit of mutual interests. These interests may be labelled purely recreative or social, or more formally educative, but however they may be called or combined they contribute to the growth of the mature person.
The group is a network of developing relationships and standards of behaviour, and it is at this point in the process that the Church must neces
sully be involved if the business of Christian education is to mean anything at all. For the Church to cut short this close involvement with its children at the early age of 15 is to abandon the young precisely at the time when, in an alien environment, they must interpret all that they have learned at home, Church and school.
Speaking to youth leaders in January this year,. Pope Paul is quoted as saying : "It may be said that in the normal course of things the boy and the young man cannot draw from the family the religious and moral help you give them unstintingly."
And' again, speaking of the development of clubs: "We are the first to wish that they may grow in every inward and outward way likely to interest and form youth, but we believe that it would not be true progress for these institutions if they did not always have as their chief aim that of catechesis, of religious education, of Catholic culture, of formation in prayer and Christian life."
Help for handicapped
All too frequently in our Catholic youth clubs we fall lamentably below this high standard set by Rome. And yet, nearer home, if we care to look, others are going a long way towards achieving, according to their own lights, some at least of the constituents of the Pope's programme.
Club members aee active in assisting handicapped children, visiting and helping the old, giving voluntary service in understaffed hospitals. They run Sunday-morning nurseries for churchgoing parents and car services fur the elderly and crippled.
They offer themselves for voluntary service overseas and provide the money for tractors for under-deyeloped countries. They prepare themselves for personal and community life by conferences on marriage, on politics, on the Commonwealth. .
A syllabus of training for ytning Sunday School teachers has been accepted by the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Office to fulfil the requirement that candidates for the award must be trained in some aspect of public service. Have we no young people capable of this generosity? Have we no need for catechists?
At a recent conference of youth service organisers one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Education declared : "The field of service which can most appropriately be left to the young is the application among themselves of what the Roman Catholics call • the Spiritual Works of Mercy."
Meet on own ground
All of this is a far cry from the table-tennis table and the record player. But the notion of association as a prerequisite of training and challenge has the realism of a simple truth : you must meet the young on their own ground.
It is the task of skilled adult leadership to introduce into this association those elements of training which constitute the essentially apostolic mission of the Church to the young. Without encounter there can be no mission.
The work of assisting young people to advance "in wisdom and age and grace with God and men" is the privilege of the Christian community, priest and lay. No priest need spend precious hours supervising Twist sessions if real responsibility is both given to and accepted by apostolic laymen.
Hundreds of voluntary youth workers will embark on courses of training this autumn. Will we be among them? Will we be in the team upon whom our priest can rely to assist him in this difficult task so that he has time. amidst the din of the record-player and the clutter of canoes and rock-climbing gear, to listen to the bewildered youngster who seeks simple answers to profound questions?