Going to the volunteers’ conference was something I was looking forward to after hearing leadership and our second year volunteers talking about how great their previous experiences were. Coming back from Christmas break was filled with excitement, so much so I’d even packed for conference well in advance – something that normally never happens. We made our way down via various routes with a few mishaps along the way, including a cancelled train and starting off going in the wrong direction on the motorway. But, we all made it there in the end and it was great to all be back together again after our break.

The three days at conference were filled with prayer, conversations with friends new and old, laughter, singing, discussions and of course countless cups of tea, hot chocolate, and coffee from the very exciting hot drinks machine which kept us warm and happy. The conference all kicked off with, of course, introductions, by now I feel like I could introduce every member of our team in my sleep because every retreat and outreach starts off in the same way, and this soon became very useful as I was nominated to do the introduction for all of us from Castlerigg Manor. We also had our introduction to the theme for the whole conference which was authenticity and keeping it real.

After this we were split into small groups, made up of people from various retreat centres from around the country where we had time to get to know each other and share stories of the work we do in our communities and learn from those with different ideas and experiences to enable ourselves to develop as youth ministers, these conversations continued into dinner which flew by as we all quickly made new friends and bonded over all that we had in common.

Our first day concluded with all of us gathered together to celebrate Mass in the chapel, this was a wonderful way to finish our day with all of us united in prayer and it was great as one community to come to be a part of a larger community and share in our Catholic faith.

The next day was packed full with so many opportunities for us to learn more, discuss and think about various aspects of our faith and our future. Starting off with a fascinating and thought provoking talk from Fr. Eamonn Mulcahy who was this year’s keynote speaker, his talk gave all of us there much to think about and reflect upon in order to grow as people and also as youth ministers so we can strive to show all the young people we encounter the real, authentic Christ. The talk was filled with so many important messages and each individual will have left with something different, but at its core it was all about accepting God’s unconditional, unparalleled, and never failing love for you into every part of your life, as this is so important to do before we can share the message of God’s love with young people, and also that our faith should be radical, like Jesus, and like him we should try to step out and share this with others in a bold and ground breaking way. After this we were filled with so many ideas and thoughts, so our conversations about this continued way after the talk had finished.

After this we had a variety of workshops to choose from which would make up our afternoon, I chose workshops on discernment and mindfulness, both were really useful for me and gave me a lot to take away. Looking at different ways to approach discernment was really refreshing and it is something that I know will help me in the future, especially looking at how vocation is where your greatest passions meet the world’s great need and how we can discover what that can be in our own lives. I left filled with ideas and inspired about vocation. Mindfulness was something that I’d heard a lot about, as it seems to have become a trend lately, but I didn’t know a lot about it, so it was that curiosity that drove me to attend this workshop despite not knowing what to expect, by the end I was very happy with this choice, as I left feeling very positive and uplifted, wanting to put some of what we have discussed into my own life.

Next up was our Adoration and reconciliation service. A chance for some calm after a very busy day to take that time to just be present with Jesus, to talk to him, to listen and just be there with Him. We were lead in this service beautifully by the Soli House team, and it really helped us to open our hearts and minds to Jesus before us in the Eucharist, and as always the opportunity for reconciliation is always amazing as it is such a beautiful sacrament and leaves you feeling renewed and forgiven and strengthened in your journey.

From adoration to Ceilidh! This was the time for us all to gather together and just have fun and celebrate all that had happened so far in the conference, most of the team ended up dancing at some point encouraged most enthusiastically by Fr John, who was later dubbed Twinkletoes due to his outstanding Ceilidh skill. The night was filled with dancing, laughter and of course lots of bumps and trips, but it was such a joyful celebration filled with so much life and love.

Suddenly, Thursday morning had arrived and somehow we had reached the last day despite it only feeling like we’d just started, the final morning was filled with reflection on what we’d experienced during conference and what next, in both our lives after this year has finished but also for the rest of this year and each community made a pledge to carry out for the rest of the year, after much discussion as there was so many great ideas over the past few days, the Castlerigg Manor team made the pledge to: ‘be more aware of the love of God for us, so the young people can see the real authentic Christ.’. This led us into the final liturgy lead by the team from Walsingham House, which reflected a lot upon Mary, her yes and the joy that it brought to her life, and in the same way how our yes can bring joy to our lives and to the lives of others. That joy comes from being carriers of God’s light, and we have a mission to keep this light alive. For the light to stay alive we need to share this with young people, to pass the light to the next generation which we can do through our ministry. This wonderful final message brought us, sadly, to the end of the conference, we said our goodbyes and began the journey home but despite the conference being over, the messages we received will continue to impact our lives and help us in our ministry.

All that is left is for us to remember the friends and the memories made, all the ideas brought up by listening to so many new people, and to remember our pledge and to strive every day to show the real authentic Christ to all that we meet.

Alice – Castlerigg team