When pressed, youth leaders will often agree on the most important facet of their work: relationship building. ‘It’s the most important thing for leaders when connecting with their youth and young adults,’ says Nathan Costin, Discipleship Team Leader in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. And during lockdown, when it’s impossible to be in the same physical location, one of the key challenges faced by youth leaders is how to go about building those relationships.

Welcome to The Ministry Hub

Launching this week, The Ministry Hub is an online platform designed with this challenge in mind, to connect and support youth ministries and young adult leaders across Melbourne. ‘The Ministry Hub was inspired by a need, voiced by our youth and young adult ministry leaders, to have connection and community with each other,’ Nathan says. ‘It’s about relationship building, formation and resourcing for youth and young adult leaders. There are so many great people leading great ministries but often they are working in isolation without adequate support.’

‘The Ministry Hub provides a place for ministry leaders to come together to be affirmed, supported, resourced, receive faith formation and to be trained in ministry. The goal is to encourage collaboration between communities and foster an exchange of support with ideas and tools for growth. ‘We envisioned a more collaborative approach where ministry is connected, and supported by a fun, ministry-savvy, Christ-centred community, and this is The Ministry Hub,’ Nathan says.

Online youth ministry flourishes

Despite the lockdown, individual Catholic youth ministries have been active in Melbourne, with many parish youth leaders using online tools like Zoom and Facebook to engage. ‘Back in March when lockdown first hit pretty hard, we had to go completely online,’ says Joe Melhem youth ministry leader at Holy Spirit Parish in Mount Waverley. After being inspired through prayer, Joe says that shifting their operations online was the way forward in his mission. By infusing some fun into Zoom meetings, Joe says they were ‘able to connect and engage with the parish youth online.’ ‘To be honest, it’s received better now than before,’ he says of online youth ministry. ‘I’ve got more young people back; two youth groups more than I had at the start of the year.’

Tishan Lokuge, who leads St John’s Vianney’s Youth in Springavle North, tells a similar story. ‘Our online youth ministry has been going quite well,’ says Tishan. ‘We have adapted and have just been running our ministry online, using new tools and various activities like online quizzes.’

An advantage to moving into the online space, according to Youth Minister Carmel Walsh from St Francis in Mill Park, is the variety of speakers they have been able to attract.

‘We can feature all of these amazing guest speakers that we would not have normally had. They have been able to join in and have some really insightful and wonderful faith discussions with the youth,’ she says, mentioning a Q&A night with their parish priest, a talk by Fr Marcus Goulding and a seminarian studying in Rome sharing his insights via Zoom.

And even under isolation, some leaders are seeing relationship building take place in their youth groups, demonstrating that spatial distance and social distance aren’t always the same thing. According to youth leader Tina Dib from Good Shepherd parish in Gladstone Park, the massive increase in online offerings has led to a corresponding spike in participants and friendships. ‘Some of the young people haven’t met physically, but many want to know each other more,’ Tina says.

Although some groups have found great success in moving their youth and young adult groups online, it’s a relatively new space to navigate for others. The Archdiocese will be hosting a series of online sessions to support youth, young adult and campus ministry leaders so they feel more equipped, both practically and pastorally, to move their ministry online during this time.

For more information about the youth ministry across the Archdiocese, contact Justine Cumbo.