Young Adult Perspectives: Bernadette Bonner, FSSP Vancouver

Bernadette at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Young Adult groups are a bit of a strange thing. Their constituency runs a wide age range, their purpose can be a little vague at times, and their nature seems to vary from instance to instance. And yet these groups pop up at parishes all over the District to address a real need that exists among young people. To find out more about these groups, what their purpose is, and how young adults are coming closer to Christ through these groups, we talked to Bernadette Bonner, leader of the Young Adult group at Holy Family Parish in Vancouver, British Columbia (That’s in Canada…). Editor’s Challenge: Find the awesome British spellings of things in this interview.

The Missive: So why have a young adult group, anyway? What do you think its purpose should be? What are your goals as a group?

BB: I’m a firm believer that support and community are healthy ways of encouraging and maintaining our narrow paths to Heaven. God made us communal creatures, to provoke charity and goodness in one another, to grow closer to Him through one another, and bring others closer to Him with us. The young adult stage of life is a crucial time, when we should be laying solid groundwork that the rest of our adult lives will be built on. To have support and encouragement from other young adults with the same core values, Faith, and overall goal of attaining Heaven is an invaluable asset.

The Missive: Tell us about some of the activities you do to further your goals. Do you have regular activities, or occasional ones, or both? What type of activities do you focus on?

At the top of Garibaldi Mountain, B.C. with Holy Family pastor Fr. Geddes.

BB: We all have the goal of reaching higher levels of holiness, that we might be as close to Our Lord as possible once we reach Heaven. This idea of camaraderie and fellowship between Catholic young adults as a beneficial means to attain said goal is the purpose of the Holy Family Young Adults Group. We usually meet once or twice a month. To keep it interesting, and not fall into a boring routine, we do a wide range of activities. Some of those this past year have been Holy Hour & pub nights, the symphony, Christmas markets, an Italian dinner cooked by Fr. Uy (in Rome he learned authentic Italian cooking which he was excited to share with us!), potlucks, fireworks in downtown Vancouver, hiking, etc.

The Missive: How do you reach out to the young adults both in the parish and in the general area? What are some of your methods – social media, email, word-of-mouth? What works best?

Vancouver German Christmas Market

BB: Early on when I re-booted the group, I was inspired to snap a photo and send it out on the next event update, in the hope of providing a visual of what fun those who didn’t come missed out on. The next few events brought out new people and/or people who hadn’t come in a long time, and all said it was the photo that caught their attention, and it looked like a good time. I’m not much of one for social media, so I have yet to use that tool for our group. But I find we actually get quite a bit of exposure and emails from new people just by our group being listed on the Diocesan website as a young adults group.

I also find personal invitations go a long way. With a personal invitation you are singling someone out, and that personal touch is sometimes all it takes for someone to feel welcomed and wanted – which is an important part of loving one another, especially in the confusion and brokenness of our current world.

The Missive: How do you deal with the recurrent difficulty of getting young people to “show up”?

BB: The times when no ones shows up usually start off as a bit disheartening. But there are always two or three who come, and when the group is small, that is oftentimes when real bonding takes place. Fewer people provides the chance for deeper conversation, which brings a stronger bond between those involved. Sometimes there is just a slump where people get busy or lose interest. But that is never a reason to stop organizing events. That is the time to persevere with the group. In my experience, gaining true friendships has been a result and reward of persevering through the “slumps” or quiet events.

The Missive: What advice do you have for young adults who are trying to start a group at their parish? Especially those who might be tempted to give up because of the difficulty of getting a group started?

At Hell’s Gate, B.C. (Editor’s Note: They didn’t go through).

BB: As for starting a young adults group, re-booting one, or struggling to continue with one, try and read your crowd. Every group will have different needs to be met, so I think the group’s success will be based on the organizer reading the crowd accurately. Also, ask for input from other young adults. People like to know that their wants and opinions are heard. I regularly ask people for activity ideas, or tell them to let me know if there is something in particular they want to do. Sometimes it is good to take a break, too. Our group suddenly died a couple years ago under another organizer, and after the group being inactive for almost a year, I re-booted it with a renewed vigour. We’ve been (I’d say) fairly successful these past 16 months.

It’s also important to make people feel at ease. So many people have insecurities, are shy, introverted, etc. Those who aren’t (and even those who are!) need to go out of their way to make those people welcomed, comfortable, wanted. Nothing is perfect in this world, and keeping a young adults group going can be tiresome and frustrating when people don’t respond the way they perhaps should. But that’s life, and it’s an organizer’s job to continue being a leader, even if your army has slowly fallen out of step. A Young Adults group is not something to be reached and attained – just as in life, it’s a river that’s constantly moving and changing with time, and it’s our job as organizers to navigate and keep moving full speed ahead with as many other young adults as we can, all for the greater honour and glory of God.

September 5, 2017