At the start of January, the Castlerigg team joined other Catholic volunteers, retreat leaders, chaplains and directors from retreat centres from all over the country, for the annual conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire. This gave us the opportunity to meet other people who were doing similar work to ourselves and it meant that we could take a few days just reflecting upon the work we do and our faith before entering in to the New Year.
We met at Castlerigg Manor on the Wednesday and started our day with Morning Prayer. I really liked this because we all knew that we would have a busy and tiring day ahead of us and it was nice to spend a few minutes in prayer. Travelling to Swanwick took us five hours (we did make a few wrong turnings along the way!)
When we arrived, we were split in to our small groups and spent time getting to know each other. We also discussed our experiences in youth ministry. The rest of the evening involved celebrating Mass and getting to know some of the other volunteers.
On Thursday morning, Father David O’Malley and Anita from the Salesians gave the keynote address. We had the chance to learn and reflect upon the theme of this year’s synod of Bishops, “Young People, the faith and vocational discernment.” I found this interesting and it gave me a chance to think about my purpose and my vocation in life. This session also gave an insight in to what influences young people the most today, from social media and the news to the encounters we have with different people every day. The thing that stood out to me the most from this workshop was the importance of asking ourselves the question ‘Why?’ We face so many life-changing decisions, and it is important to take the time to really think and reflect upon the decisions we make each day.
For the afternoon, we were given the choice of several different workshops. The team split up so that we could all learn different things and share our experiences with one another. I chose to attend the CAFOD workshop in which we learnt different games and activities linked with the campaigns that CAFOD runs. I also attended a workshop, led by Fr David and Anita, called ‘Signposts and Discernment’. I found both of these workshops very insightful and helpful, and I am really looking forward to sharing what I have learnt.
In the evening, we had a reconciliation service led by St Vincent’s (a retreat centre based in Kent). It was a beautiful service and a good time to reflect upon what I had done throughout the day. After the reconciliation service we all celebrated with a ceilidh. I was so excited for this part of the retreat because I love to dance and the retreat leaders, who had been before, told me how good it is. I had a brilliant time and the whole team really enjoyed themselves!
The final morning started with a morning reflection, led by CAFOD. It was about their new campaign ‘Share the Journey’. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of people who are forced to leave their homes to flee danger. CAFOD are hoping to walk 24,901 miles, the distance around the world, to help us to think about the journeys that people all over the world have to take to escape danger in their homes. The volunteers at the conference were given the honour of launching the campaign and we all walked one mile on an Emmaus walk, putting more than one hundred miles on the totalizer! I have decided to continue this, this January but instead of walking, I am going to run!
After CAFODs morning reflection we spent some time reflecting on what difference this conference would make when we returned to our centres, and what we might do after our gap-years.
The conference closed in the chapel with our final liturgy. Each retreat centre received a box and a letter with the address of another retreat centre. We have the task of filling the box with gifts and items from our community and we will send box to Walsingham house, a retreat centre in Brentwood.
Although all the retreat centres in the country do similar work each one is unique, and throughout the week, we could share and receive ideas from people from the other centres. We also formed new friendships with people who were doing similar work to ourselves and we had so much fun. Conference was a brilliant way to start 2018 and I am looking forward to the rest of the year. We were encouraged to make a little pledge for our community so alongside the mission of the Youth Service we have also decided: “We will not be afraid to ask the question why, to both ourselves and to the young people, to have conviction with our answer and choose to trust in God and each other.”
The Youth Service are recruiting for next year’s gap-year team. If you will be 18 or older this summer and are interested in growing in faith and sharing it with others please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website.