By Eric Martin
This year marks the 16th anniversary of the 24:7 Youth Ministry programme, to which Youth Director Mario Borg recalls the ground-breaking work carried out by founders Megan Proud (formerly Belcher) and Martin Thorsen in establishing the project.
“Sixteen years ago this week, a young youth leader, studying to be a youth minister embarked on a project that would have a lasting impact on thousands upon thousands of young lives.” Mr Borg said.
In 2002, Megan and Martin were commissioned by the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community to research world best practice in youth ministry, examining existing effective programs to develop a best practice model for sharing the Christian message with Australian youth.
“The result (of this research) being that they would recommend the employment of qualified and experienced youth ministers to cater for the needs of high school students within the Catholic Church,” Mr Borg said.
“This was ground-breaking at the time, and some would say still is, and was the catalyst for the unique model that underpins the 24:7 Youth Ministry model today.”
“We were out there researching youth groups (in the last term of 2002), speaking not just with Catholic youth ministers but also youth groups from protestant denominations, Pentecostal churches – we wanted to find a best practice model that we could use,” Mrs Proud said.
Megan went on to explain that it was not just the content of the youth programs they were interested in, but also the format and times that made the best use of existing availability (like after school) and facilitated the greatest level of impact (such as one on one sessions with interested students during school time).
“Some held their youth groups during the service on Sunday, on a Friday night or after school, when parents were still at work. There was so much diversity.”
Megan was able to connect with 20 other youth leaders on a regular basis and together, she and Martin worked on putting together a structured plan for a Catholic youth ministry that took aspects from each.
“I completed a Certificate IV in Youth Ministry at an Assemblies of God Bible College, as at the time there were no Catholic Bible Colleges and it was great to be able to see how God was working across the ‘Church.’”
“(Laughing) I was known as the ‘Catholic Girl,’ which I didn’t mind at all – I learned so much about my faith at that time, I had a great collection of books that I would read to answer their (my student colleagues’) questions.”
On 12 February 2003, the 24:7 Youth Ministry was born, with the first after school youth group taking place at Aranmore College, Leederville.
“I was employed three days a week and was also out there once a week at the high schools, following up with the students whom we’d met (at 24:7) and holding a weekly prayer group. I was working with the chaplain, Mr Chris Brennan, and being able to share the experiences of the students… It was yet another great time of learning for me, learning about my faith,” Megan said.
“For example, as we shared the Aspects of God with students, I had to really go back and examine my concept of God, my relationship with him to make sure I was sharing something real, something alive.”
The 24:7 youth groups were held at Aranmore and Sacred Heart Catholic Colleges on a weekly basis before the ministry moved into the Howe Street, Osborne Park premises (the home of Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community) in 2004, which brought about a new era of a weekly Friday night youth group.
Thanks to the efforts of successive Youth Directors, including Steve Proud (Megan Belcher’s husband) and fellow youth minister Mike Sandrini, thousands of teenagers have been ministered to and served today.
“Sixteen years later, 24:7 YM is now a flourishing ministry with 11 youth groups around Perth reaching hundreds of youth each weekend, with 24 qualified and experienced youth ministers employed along with an army of student and volunteer leaders, together with a school ministry team running 120+ retreats annually reaching close to 10,000 students,” Mr Borg said.
“As we rightfully celebrate this milestone, we thank God for all those who have played their part in the building of what is truly a remarkable work reaching and equipping young people to live for God, full on, full time, all the time!”