Shekinah is a training programme for adults who wish to facilitate youth retreats or other youth ministry programmes.
The Shekinah course ethos is rooted in in scripture and the message of Jesus but with a profoundly practical interpretation to help Shekinah graduates reach new levels of awareness to engage better with the youth of today.
Shekinah is a Hebrew word that means ‘the light of God’s presence’. In Jewish and Christian theology Shekinah is the glory of the divine presence, conventionally represented as light or interpreted symbolically as a divine feminine aspect.
Young people seek out role models from their peers, siblings, parents and grandparents, an effective retreat team ideally embraces all age groups and backgrounds to best model the reality of the Church as a community. The methodology and tenor of Shekinah is deeply influenced by the living pedagogy and practice of St John Bosco, founder of the Salesians and patron saint of young people.
The Story of Shekinah
Shekinah was started in 2005 by Jennifer Perkins (a Salesian Sister). The course was developed in response to a shortage of traditional school retreat personnel and teams. The aim was to provide interested adults of any age and background an opportunity to gain professional accreditation in youth retreat facilitation skills and to better engage with young people in their faith journey.
- I am happy and feel blessed to have had the opportunity to do this course. I have learned a great deal and have found it all very beneficial, both from a parenting point of view and in my work with young people. (A Parent of Teenagers)
- The course provided so many methodologies for interacting with and facilitating young people using drama, music, film, art, small group interactions, ice-breakers and much more (Youth Minister)
- The many presentations gave me a real insight into issues that were unfamiliar to me, even though I was a teenager not so long ago.(A student of Theology)
- The Shekinah course provided me with skills and resources that helped me be a better teacher. (RE Teacher)
- The course gives a firm foundation and a solid structure for engaging with young people. I was able to introduce meditation into the parish and we have also used audio-visuals in various liturgies which have enhanced the liturgical life of the parish and are popular with young and old. (A Parish Priest)
- Pope Francis often mentions the joy of the Gospel when he talks about young people. The Shekinah course inspired me to help young people recognise and live that joy in their busy lives. (Chaplain)
St. Patrick’s College Maynooth is the certifying body for accreditation of the course. Both the diploma and certificate courses are approved by
the National Framework for Qualifications (NFQ)
Diploma students must organize their own placement (4 retreat days in school/parish) 2 of these day will be supervised.
The certificate course requires students to undertake 3 days of practical retreats during their training. The practical retreats take place in the following location:
- The Margaret Aylward Centre Glasnevin Dublin 11, owned by the Holy Faith Sisters.
- These retreats are organised from Northside schools adjacent to the retreat centres by the programme directors.
Retreats have been part of the Post-Primary Irish landscape for many years. Like the school system of education they have, over time, changed to respond to the rapidly changing needs of contemporary Irish youth. Many young people are no longer church going and their values are not influenced by the Church’s teachings – of which they may be largely uninformed. Moral and Spiritual formation frequently takes place through peer re-enforcement and the overwhelming influence of the media. Young people are exposed at a very early age, to a deluge of information and intercommunication through the internet and social networking, all of which can militate against the development of their critical faculties and their ability to discern the deeper meaning and truths of life.
In the light of the above, there is a generation of young people who are predominantly disaffected from the Church and who do not see it as relevant to their lives. This raises the question with regard to the function of school retreats.
The Shekinah Youth Retreat Facilitation programme attempts to answer this question by taking up the call for a “New Evangelisation”. It strives to communicate the perennial joy to of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, as a radical encounter with grace that opens a door to the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the young person. The spirit is the one who seeks only that they have life and have it in all its fullness. Therefore the Shekinah methodology begins with the recognition that Christ, the light who enlightens all people (Jn1), is already active in the life of the young person. The Youth Retreat Facilitator co-operates with this action of the Holy Spirit by inviting the young person to discover the presence and action of Christ in the context of his or her life. In this regard, the School Retreat Day complements the Religious Education and Catechetical programmes already taking place within the school.
The Shekinah methodology seeks to give young people an experience of the attractiveness of the Good News. The retreat therefore aims to be an insightful, reflective and enjoyable day for them. While it may challenge the young people to think more deeply about the place of spirituality, faith and God in their lives, it may also contest their perceived ideas about God and the Church. This is done in a gentle encouraging and compassionate manner. In the words of St. Francis de Sales “kindness wins more hearts that cold logic and that one catches far more flies with a spoonful of honey than a barrel of vinegar. “
Faithful to the Gospels and to Catholic Teaching, the Shekinah Retreat Facilitation Programme aims to give young people an understanding of God and of Church where they encounter a listening ear, affirmation, respect and compassion. On each retreat day the retreat facilitator strives to be the face of God and of the Church, conscious that this may be a rare experience for young people at this stage of their lives. It is hopes that this approach reveals an aspect of Church that is attractive, joyful, loving and caring. Many adults today testify that such positive retreat experiences are remembered for years to come. The National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland, Share the Good News states that “young people who discover the real meaning of the Church, as life lived together with Jesus Christ in love of God and loving service of others, will carry that understanding with them into adult life.” (pg 159)
“Preach as you go, use words if necessary. “ These words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, illustrate the important opportunities for school retreats to provide occasions to creatively proclaim the Good News of God’s love and compassion. It is this knowledge of God’s mercy and love that inspires each one to return home to self and to God. This message is the basis and core of Christian faith. When preparing retreat material for young people disaffected from the Church, it is wise to listen to the words of St. Paul (1Cor3:2) “I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready.” (New English Translation). This catechetical model gives focus to retreat facilitators engaging with non Church going young people today.
The Shekinah Youth Retreat Facilitation methodology has been tested and chosen because it engages well with 21st Century youth. Its style and content has been sanctioned by School Principals, School Chaplains and teachers of Religious Education. Accredited by St. Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth, this training programme is deeply influenced by both the Salesian and Franciscan pedagogy which has served the Church for hundreds of years. It is a pedagogy which calls each one to be realistically attentive to the signs of the times, convinced that God manifests God’s will through the demands of time and place. God also speaks through the young people of today. The Shekinah methodology therefore calls for initiative and a well-balanced and creative approach that is in tune with contemporary issues in the lives of young people. Such attentiveness to the needs of young people will continue to determine Shekinah’s catechetical response.