It is usually not a smart idea to mix food, alcohol and religion but recently the Australian Catholic Students Association and its state affiliates have initiated successful ventures in Melbourne (Theology-in-the-Pub), Sydney (Theology-on-Tap) and Brisbane (Faith-on-Tap) to hold religious gatherings for young adults in hotel function rooms.
In Melbourne the venue is the Pump House Hotel, 128 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, opposite the Carlton Gardens, an unorthodox venue for orthodox talks. The evenings are monthly and the typical event revolves around a popular speaker, a thought-provoking topic and wide- ranging dialogue and discussion. Organisation is provided by the Archdiocesan Office for Youth and the Victorian Catholic Students and Young Workers, led by its dynamic President Matt Restall.
Victorian leaders John Smyth and Gerald Keane give this rationale for Theology-in- the-Pub: 'We wanted to get young Catholic adults together for their own benefit and to provide witness in a public place. The events have three elements: social, catechetical and evangelistic. The young adults like their counter meals, they like their beer and (hopefully) they can like and engage more effectively with their faith.
It's a case of allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire and the spirits to move. The relaxed atmosphere of a tavern provides a safe entry point for young people who want to talk about theological issues in a low-key, non- threatening environment.
Theology-in-the-Pub is working; the numbers are there; the atmosphere is keen and enthusiastic. The event attracts young adults where they like to 'hang-out' and brings ministry to them with attractive speakers and peer-led discussions.
There are, in fact, four activities for young Catholic adults which are proving effective:
* SIX30 weekly Eucharistic devotion in a major city church (cathedral).
* Theology-in-the-Pub (under whatever name) organised by the Australian Catholic Students Association and its state affiliates.
* The young adult activities sponsored by dynamic religious orders at central venues, such as those of the Missionaries of God's Love and the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Communities (Burwood, Victoria), the Franciscans (Capuchins) and the Domini- cans (Frassati Circle, Camberwell, Victoria).
* Major events - such as the World Youth Day Reunion in the Cathedral recently - organised by the Diocescan Youth Office. These occasional rallies can draw hundreds, even thousands of participants.
There are also strong parish young adult groups such as Hearts 4 Christ in Croydon. Parish groups share the disadvantage, however, that they are often crucially dependent on a single person, the parish priest, his assistant, or a Pastoral Associate. As these move, the group often stumbles or withers.
In many Catholic parishes, young adulthood seems less like an age-range than an age gap with Catholics between the ages of 18 and 35 under-represented in the liturgical and community life of most parishes. Many priests and their Pastoral Associates fear this is a reflection of the secularism and scepticism of the millennium Generation Y.
However, their absence from parish life can also be due to apathy, work, tertiary study and the bewildering range of social and sporting activities on offer in the urban scene.
Young adult Catholic ministry attempts to energise practising Catholics and reclaim the missing demographic from many parishes. It is a challenge. However, the challenge is best met by young adults themselves who can identify easily with their target audiences. The leadership is there if it can be tapped.
The heart of successful young adult ministry is the intense Eucharistic Adoration of the SIX30 Holy Hour in St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, on Wednesdays, and in St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, on Thursdays.
The prayer is led by invited (arch)bishops, priests and deacons on rotation; the music is arranged by different youth and parish groups and the numbers attending are encouraging. They are mainly students from tertiary institutions and young workers from offices around the inner city.
As has been mentioned, there is another area of young adult ministry which is proving effective: that associated with certain religious orders which have remained true to their founding charisms and which (unsurprisingly) continue to attract vocations.
The Franciscan (Capuchins) at St Anthony's Shrine (Hawthorn, Melbourne) led by Father Denis Ward and at St Conrad's (Leichhardt, Sydney) led by Father Robert Stewart are cases in point. Each of these Capuchin friars has a 'Pied Piper' effect on many young adults in their areas. In Melbourne, young Capuchin friars assist Father Denis in drawing young adults into the ministry of prayer, as well as social and sporting events.
In Melbourne's eastern suburbs, the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community and the Missionaries of God's Love have many young members. With the leadership of Father Dan Benedetti, Deacon Dan Strickland and young New Zealander, Chris Easton, they provide young adult ministry with a charismatic flavour.
Meanwhile, the youthful Dominicans at St Dominic's, Camberwell, led by Deacon Manes Tellis, have established the Frassati Circle to provide a focus for young Catholic adults in the area.
Young adult ministry has often been a Cinderella apostolate in the Church. However, World Youth Day in Cologne some years ago initiated 'a new Springtime' while World Youth Day, Sydney, has brought more young Catholic adults out of the woodwork ready to celebrate and deepen their faith.