What the young have to teach us9 Sep 2019
The Australian Church needs to form and promote strategies to engage and encourage the innate generosity of its younger members.
As a part of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (PWPN) the Australian Province of the Jesuits has a bar and restaurant, called The Two Wolves: Community Cantina, along with a variety of other ‘doorways’ for young adult, mainly undergraduate, engagement in Sydney.
The beautiful thing about the bar and restaurant is that it’s volunteer run, apart from a few paid professionals.
I think that I can confidently say that I am the only Jesuit in the world who is also the licensee of a bar.
The bar acts as an engagement platform for hundreds of young, committed volunteers each year who come to build community and give their time for a good cause. They organise fundraisers to support their friends who are volunteering in large numbers overseas, as well as working in disadvantaged communities, and to provide food to the homeless.
We also have some wonderful volunteers, among our most committed, who live with some kind of disability. They are our ‘ballast’ and bring only good to our volunteer community, and to our customers, who see them seamlessly integrated with our buoyant and hope-filled, more able-bodied, young volunteers.
One of our volunteers living with disability is Matty Shields who recently celebrated his 60th birthday in The Two Wolves. About 150 friends and supporters turned up to celebrate Matty and his commitment to our work. Having Matty a part of our community of volunteers has been a great blessing to all of us. His style of customer service is very personal to say the least, especially when he decides to sit down next to customers and ask them how they’re going. They’re startled and then delighted by his presumption that they are just as warm, friendly and open as he is.
Inspired by the volunteers
I can say that being a part of a vibrant, young volunteer community, with 50-60 new volunteers each semester has been one of the most inspiring and consoling things I’ve ever done as a Jesuit. To have another 120 volunteers on immersions each summer and a further 45 volunteers up to 12 months a year in difficult situations around the world – all without receiving a dollar in return – is a wonderful riposte to any dour diagnoses of the narcissism of contemporary youth.
Since we opened the bar we’ve had around 1000 young people volunteer in it and another 800 overseas, short- and longer-term. The sheer number and dynamism of these young volunteers offers a deeply needed counter-narrative to the temptation of the church today to be inward-looking, risk-averse, and myopic.
Without positive strategies to engage and encourage the innate generosity of our young people, the Church in Australia would have no pool of future leaders, but, more urgently, would miss the lessons the young have to teach us in the here and now.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of Madonna magazine.