Young Catholic men and women seeking to discover their purpose in life often find their focus by embracing activities which separate them from their comfort zones. In the case of a few, a year's service with the National Evangelisation Teams (NET) is this type of experience. There are many stories of the working of God's grace in the receptive souls of ardent young Catholics as a result of their year with the National Evangelisation Teams.
When school leaver Sam Stanford of Coffs Harbour, NSW, first encountered NET he was surprised. In the parish, Sam was one of few young men who attended Mass regularly. One Saturday evening, he was surprised to see five enthusiastic young Catholics talk to the congregation about God.
They were so poised, confident and normal-looking. In due course, Sam joined a NET team for a year and at the beginning of 2012, he entered Corpus Christi Seminary, Melbourne, to prepare for the diocesan priesthood.
The National Evangelisation Team is a Catholic peer-to-peer youth ministry which puts into practice the Church's mission to reach out to young men and women. In 2012, there are ten teams positioned around Australia preaching the Good News to secondary students and parish youth groups. Some are located centrally as in Melbourne, some are placed in secondary schools and some, like the new (2012) opening in Goulburn, NSW, have their home in a disused parish house.
Whether the average NET member has heard of St Teresa of Avila's passionate call to evangelisation or not, s/he has been fired in a similar way. In St Teresa's words: "Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours! Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion looks upon the world. Yours are the feet with which he goes around doing evangelising the 'Good News'. Yours are the hands He uses to bless humanity now."
The NET concept was developed in Minnesota in the United States in 1981 and thirty years later, some American and Canadian young adults minister each year in Australia with local Net members.
In fact, some North Americans stay in Australia after their year's ministry. Jonathon Zarb, from Ontario, Canada, for example, after two years with NET moved into work in Melbourne Catholic secondary schools as a Campus Minister and, part-time, assists Fr Bing Le, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese.
A typical day for a five-person NET team is busy, commencing early at 5am with prayer and breakfast and then on the road to their assignment. Most days are spent at secondary schools or parishes running retreats.
The team arrives about an hour before the students to receive instructions from the Retreat Leader about the allocation of duties during the course of the retreat.
There are personal testimonies of faith, a talk on a particular topic such as peer pressure, leadership, forgiveness, or the search for God and His purpose in one's life. There is time for games and more serious dramas conveying the Gospel message. A specific time at the end of the day is allocated for prayer with each student.
The team then cleans up, does a retreat evaluation and shares a prayer before heading back to their home base. The later afternoons and evenings are for team bonding with praying, cooking dinner together and preparing for the next day. Sometimes the team is entertained at dinner by a local family.
In Melbourne, the NET team lives in a large church-owned house in Queens Parade, Clifton Hill, and as time allows these trained Netters help to energise the Archdiocese's young adult ministry: the SIX30 Holy Hour on Thursday evenings at St Patrick's Cathedral, the monthly Theology-in-the-Pub sessions at the Pump House Hotel and the Archdiocesan Breakfasts for Vocations at All Saints Parish, Fitzroy.
Shanelle Bennett, Australian Director, explains the special quality of NET ministry in this way: "The attractive quality that sets NET apart is our peer-to-peer approach to youth evangelisation. This enables us to help make the Gospel relevant in the ordinary lives of teenagers and young adults. So often faith and religion appear so distant!
"The witness of young adults helps to make faith more real in the lives of people close to the age of those to whom the teams minister. Add to this the travelling dimension of the ministry and it takes on a fairly unique character.
"This means we can be available to anyone who needs us, even in remote parts of the country. However, we also provide teams for specific parishes, secondary colleges, or dioceses who request our services. This is called our 'local ministry' whereby a team is employed by a parish or diocese for them to use the team wherever they choose.
"The team is able to take their enthusiasm, love of Christ and his Church and the benefit of all of their skills and training to help build up a lively community of young people and leaders for that particular area."
The National Evangelisation Teams deserve to be better known and suitable young adult Catholics who feel called to a year's ministry with a NET team could contact one of the following leaders to check out the possibilities. Older Catholics can assist with sponsorship of NET team members.
NET contacts: Ms Shanelle Bennett, Director, tel: (07) 3217-5299, fax: (07) 3217-5288, and email: recruiting at netministries.com.au, Web: www.netministries.com.au, Facebook: www.facebook.com/netministries.
Sam Stanford's email is samuelj-stanford at gmail.com, and two of the NET Teams' organisers can be approached via email: Nattasha Pennington: nattasha at netministries.com. au, and Jeremy Grear: jeremy at netministries.com.au