In June 2014, the fresh-faced James Camden and Rosie Drum MGL began their journey as director and assistant director of Catholic Youth Parramatta.
“We didn’t know each other [before we started]. I think we knew of each other,” James said.
“We basically met on the job,” Rosie added.
Now, five years down the track, James and Rosie have helped to develop and strengthen youth ministry across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.
“Youth ministry is really transient, which is why it’s a little bit of a miracle that both of us are still here five years on,” Rosie said.
One of the largest initiatives that James and Rosie brought to CYP was the LIFTED series. What started as a small event now expands to the LIFTED Live series for primary school students up to young adults, a retreat weekend and a diocesan sports day.
“With our LIFTED events, we’ve tried to balance big diocesan events or international events with our support of local parish initiatives as well, rather than doing one or the other,” Rosie said.
“LIFTED became the opportunity to create something that was really diverse under one look and feel – from having a sports day, to a retreat, to a LIFTED Live night that’s outdoors and festival-like to a LIFTED Live night that’s about praise, worship, adoration, Reconciliation,” James explained.
One of the biggest differences that James and Rosie identified from when they started is the integration of safeguarding into their ministry.
“[The Royal Commission] completely changed the landscape. Whilst we knew that it was stuff we needed to be conscious of, it was now, at the forefront of everything we do.
“Our office is ultimately dealing predominantly with people who are underage, who are still minors, who are still under the protection of their parents. Or they are just at an incredibly vulnerable time of their life where they’re making new choices, new decisions,” James said.
Rosie explained “I think that the challenge most people working professionally for the Catholic Church are facing has been the scandals of sexual abuse, which has made us lose our credibility in presenting the Gospel to the world.
James added, “across the diocese, youth groups are often a safe space for young people who sometimes don’t feel that they belong in other places. Inevitably, with lots of the hot topic issues, we’re bound to have a young person, or people, in a parish, school or movement youth group who are struggling with something that the Church is facing and how to tread pastorally with them and with everything they’re seeing, feeling and hearing online, is really tricky.”
The addition of Qwayne Guevara as Local Engagement Leader in June 2017, James and Rosie believe, has brought a new energy to the team.
“I actually don’t know how we survived without her,” Rosie laughed.
“Qwayne’s role is completely delegated to being that person who is first point of contact for people when they are first coming in to youth ministry and that has been invaluable for us,” James said.
“Qwayne is open to the new people and a follow up to the parishes that need that extra support from the CYP team,” Rosie added.
“We’re the vocations package – married man, religious sister and a single woman. It’s a great team. All our stories, all our testimonies comes from a different space in life, so hopefully we all connect to different people at different times,” James said.
Looking to the future, James and Rosie are hopeful that the Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit reinvigorates youth ministry.
“I read Christus Vivit as a bit of a wake-up call to young people to step up and take their place in the Church. Christus Vivit is written to young people saying ‘the Church is alive, because Christ is alive and you are alive’. The church will only remain young if you are involved, otherwise it will keep on ageing,” Rosie said.
James added, “it [Christus Vivit] is a huge challenge for young people, it’s a huge challenge to us. It’s 40 pages of material there that we’re still getting our head around, and no doubt for the next few years, we’ll all be figuring out what does this look like on the ground and how do we re-shape youth ministry and engagement of young people with these words of wisdom from Pope Francis.
“That document is millions of young people making a contribution that he asked for, and it would be an incredible disservice to every young person around the world who contributed if we’re not looking at everything that we do. And challenging the rest of the church to be open to the possibilities of what young people can bring.”
Locally, James and Rosie stressed the importance of being in spaces where young people are, in particular online.
“We have projects in the mix to bring formation online in fun, interesting, quick, easy-to-grab ways. There’s podcasts in the works, more interview Q&A-style programs that are a bit more spontaneous. It’s creating these spaces that we haven’t really been in and continuing to offer more in the hope that a young person will connect with us in a different place,” James explained.
“I have a little dream of building on our work so far around vocation accompaniment, so opening up the exploration of all the vocations a little bit more,” Rosie added.
“Our schools are still this giant place where there is so much potential for the formation of young teachers, some of whom are our parish young adults who are also running a youth group but they’re also in a school. How do we continue to bring all those elements together so that we are one unified ‘army’ for sharing the Good News with young people in and out of our schools,” James said.
“As we keep moving forward, it becomes more about empowering other groups like the Deanery Ambassadors and the Youth Council who are working in the mission – getting as many people as possible responsible and invested in what we’re all on about, so that we’re not the be all and end all,” he said.
“Having had a fair bit of interaction with different youth agencies and different movements around our nation, western Sydney has something pretty special going for it in the mix of cultures, and therefore, inherited faith and rituals and the ability for all of that to co-exist really peacefully and beautifully in our parishes and in our movements and in the bigger events we have,” Rosie explained.
“I’m so grateful that this is where I’ve been asked to serve for the last five years,” she said
James added, “where else would you rather be but the fastest growing young church in Australia?”
“We’re still here because it still means a lot to us and we know that there’s still an incredible amount of work that can be done.
“The work never ends,” he said.