It’s already been a long hot summer, and we’re only half way through it.
In this heat it takes a bit of extra effort to do anything.
So, while many head to the beaches and coastlines of Australia, it’s a measure that something special must be happening when 215 participants fight the soporific seduction of the sun to head inland for the very active annual Summer School at St Stanislaus College, Bathurst.
The Summer School, an initiative of the Disciples of Jesus (DOJ) and now in its 35th year, is a regular highlight on the calendar for young people from not only Bathurst but all around NSW.
Tim Kirk, one of the organisers of the Summer School, said participants come from as far as Sydney and Canberra… and some even further… to participate in the School.
“In Australia, the Disciples of Jesus run four summer schools, and have for some time,” he said.
“There’s one in Bathurst, that’s the biggest of them. We also run one in Melbourne, one in Patterson in the Hunter Valley and one in Perth.”
“The target Audience is Young People – we encourage people ages 16-35. We do get some oldies, like me, but more in a support role. Interestingly for this school, to our joy and a little bit of a challenge, 60% of our participants are under 21.”
At a time when youth participation is falling in many areas, including team sports and community organisations as well as religious activities, the numbers of young people buck the trend which Mr Kirk finds very encouraging.
“It’s an age group the Church often worries about reaching,” he suggested.
“But by some amazing circumstance we seem to be able to draw them for a week of spiritual growth, great music, dynamic liturgies and a deeper encounter with the key elements of our Catholic Faith.”
“We struggle attracting young people to Mass these days but to come out here in the Chapel at St Stanislaus, to see it crammed full of young people, all singing at the top of their voices, it’s an incredible thing to experience that would edify the heart of any faithful Catholic.”
This year’s Summer School ran from Sunday January 6 to Sunday January 13.
Each year the Summer School follows a fairly set program, with each day having its own theme.
“Monday was on the love of God, Tuesday was Reconciliation, Wednesday was on following Jesus as a disciple, Thursday was encountering the Holy Spirit and Friday was on Mission,” he said.
“Participants come in and are deepened in their own faith then, with the help of the Holy Spirit, you get sent out to do good things in the World.”
“The participants come with all sorts of levels of experience and involvement. For some it’s a bit of a shock – going to Mass every day, full bands and youth rallies every night.
“There’s preaching… we have drama and testimonies. Some activities are compulsory and some aren’t, but people who come find their own level they are comfortable with and take what they need from it. For some its self-growth and discovery, for some it’s Mission.
Our aim is, whatever level you’ve come to the School with you’ve, advanced a few steps from your involvement.”
While there is no DOJ Summer School held in the Archdiocese, around 50 of this year’s participants – almost a quarter – were from the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.
Locally, the DOJ runs the Explosion event that was held at St Clare’s in Canberra during the third term holidays.
“The Explosion event is for all students from Year 7 to 12, and this Summer Camp is for a slightly older audience but what they have in common is the same dynamic, trying to present our faith in all its power and beauty in a way that energises young people,” Mr Kirk said.
To ensure that participants aren’t left on a high that dissipates upon contact with their regular life, DOJ has a number of follow up events to support the experience.
In addition to Explosion, DOJ run a Youth Group St Benedict’s Narrabundah on Friday nights which they invite all of the kids to come to.
Also coming up in a few months is the “Light to the Nations” celebration at Chevalier College in Bowral over the Easter Triduum.
“We get over a 1,000 people to that, and it’s an amazing experience,” said Mr Kirk.
“People come and camp… a lot of young families.”
“We have a number of events across the year which try to plug the people who attend the Summer School into, but we also try to teach them some of the ways they can be strengthened, and strengthen themselves in their own faith by developing their own prayer life and developing a love for the sacraments.”
“We also use other forms of communication like Facebook and so on… but there’s no substitute for face to face connection and we try to keep the momentum up so it doesn’t all end when this experience ends.”
The Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community exists in many places around Australia and a couple of spots internationally… Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Indonesia. Their focus is on renewal and evangelisation and their Mission Statement is “A community of Disciples moving together under the grace of the Holy Spirit to renew the Church and evangelise the world.”