The Irish Mission “Outpost Youth Project”

The Irish Mission “Outpost Youth Project”

The Irish Mission 'Outpost Youth Project' – An Initiative By and For the Youth

Dan Serb

Dublin, like most major cities in Western Europe, is a multicultural, multiethnic, and increasingly secular place. Most Seventh-day Adventists here are first-generation immigrants and worship in culturally diverse congregations. This is mainly due to circumstance as options for same-culture worship are limited. Furthermore, worship and outreach are still very much indebted to the traditional heritage of the members’ countries of origin. Even though this situation is considered adequate by the majority of adult church attendees, it seemingly threatens to destabilize young people in the church, leaving many second-generation Millennial and Gen Z young adults relatively disinterested in church life, with some of them on the brink of leaving the church altogether; when asked, many youth are of the opinion that church is somewhat ‘out of touch with reality’ and this makes it challenging for them to identify with, belong to, and have ownership of it.

Understanding the World We Live In

To define reality is no easy task; but to understand it is essential if one were to make informed and wise choices. Often, we let inertia pull us to where we feel we should go, but going where we ought to implies insight regarding the options we have on our journey. Most people agree that today’s world is different from that of a few decades, or even years back. That implies that one needs to approach life, and church for that matter, differently, too. But how is today’s world different? And what are those differences?

Jonathan Sacks (2005), in his book The Dignity of Difference. How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, sees the world as increasingly diverse, pluralized, and globalized. That means that, “we live in the conscious presence of difference” (p. 10). This bears a plethora of possibilities for growth and enrichment, but it also accentuates the fear of the ‘other’ and can lead to suspicion and an indiscriminate push for preservation. The actions of some driven by fear of amalgamation and loss of identity have caused several social analysts to call our time an ‘era of extremes’[1] while Sam Harris qualifies our world as ‘simply ablaze with bad ideas’[2]. Furthermore, Sacks highlights the danger of reductionism: “Any proposed reduction of…diversity through the many forms of fundamentalism that exist today – market, scientific or religious – would result in a diminution of the rich texture of our shared life, a potentially disastrous narrowing of the horizons of possibility” (p. 22).

Another all-pervasive aspect of our world is multiculturalism. One needs to understand and learn to navigate the cultural landscape by decoding cultural situations, developing trust, and mastering the varied ‘languages’ of culture[3]. But culture is an ever-evolving reality, and it surpasses locality and tradition; it needs to be understood within the ideological domain which informs our actions. New developments in contemporary culture have led to the need to find a new term of definition, which goes beyond ethnic and tradition-defined cultural acumen as well as beyond the postmodern mode. This term is metamodernism, as first coined by two Dutch cultural theorists, Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, in their 2010 article entitled Notes on Metamodernism.

The many crises and societal upheavals from recent history have led to a “palpable collective desire for change” and “yearning for meaning”[4].  “Whereas postmodernism was characterized by deconstruction, irony, pastiche, relativism, nihilism, and the rejection of grand narratives…metamodernism engages with the resurgence of sincerity, hope, romanticism, affect, and the potential for grand narratives and universal truths”[5].

Matthew P. Turner asserts that the characteristic of this new era is that of being at ease with oscillation whereby one is comfortable with both ironic and sincere attitudes concurrently. This is crucial in understanding the way young people relate to concepts, institutions, faith, and life in general. But it is also essential to note that metamodernism is not a closed system of thought as it is descriptive rather than prescriptive. In other words, one needs to see potential rather than implacable refute of all there was and is, for “metamodernism displaces the parameters of the present with those of a future presence that is futureless; and it displaces the boundaries of our place with those of a surreal place that is placeless. For indeed, that is the ‘destiny’ of the metamodern wo/man: to pursue a horizon that is forever receding” (Vermeulen & van den Akker, p. 12).

We also live in an age which constantly surprises us and where we could begin to explore the idea that we can do unthinkably decent things with our lives[6]. This world is complex; it has always been, only that now we are more than ever aware of this truth. This complexity is a reflection of the paradox of who we are, for “we’re an exotic bland of awesome and pathetic, extraordinary and lame, big and small”[7]. And in the end, our complexity confers reason for optimism and opportunity for belief as it encompasses the awe of our existence and the craving, not just need, for and of something beyond and greater than us. “We are way too complex, and so is the world – too much surprise, too many possibilities, too much that defies our limited logical categories – to fit everything through the narrow filter of reason alone”[8]. Even though Rob Bell’s poetical take on plurality and diversity has a pinch of pantheism in it, it does seem to open the door for an originator God when it affirms that though fragmentation “can easily shape us, convincing us that things aren’t one … when we talk about God, we’re talking about the very straightforward affirmation that everything has a singular, common source and is infinitely, endlessly, deeply connected”[9]. So, is there room for God in today’s ideological ‘inn’?

Youth and Religion

The claim that young people have lost interest in religion and that they deem it obsolete is inaccurate. Recent research shows that youth still find faith relevant, but not in the same way it is being expressed in most religious systems today. Many young people are disillusioned with and somehow distant from the religious, but still open to the spiritual; they still regard religious matters to be relevant, but feel that organized religion (such as the church) has failed them; they want to be engaged, but often feel that there isn’t enough room for them to participate in the reshaping of the religious landscape and feel unsafe when attempting to redefine the contours of faith.

In You Lost Me! Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith, David Kinnaman (2011) highlights this apparent failure within Christianity: “A generation of young Christians believes that the churches in which they were raised are not safe and hospitable places to express doubts. Many feel that they have been offered slick and half-backed answers to their thorny, honest questions” (p. 11). Kinnaman argues that a new mindset is needed in order to facilitate youth’s spiritual engagement: “We need new architects to design interconnected approaches to faith transference. We need new ecosystems of spiritual and vocational apprenticeship that can support deeper relationships and more vibrant faith formation” (p. 13).

Second Generation Immigrants and Religion in Ireland

Another major factor in shaping the religious identity of young people in Europe today is immigration. Regarding Ireland, Mary J. Hickman argues that the country has never truly been ‘monocultural’. She quotes Piaras Mac Einri who argued that “’One of the central myths of independent Ireland…was that we all shared in a common set of social values and a common culture. Yet, looking back this was never the case. Exclusion did not begin with recent immigrants. One has only to think of traditional minorities, such as Protestants, Jews, the Travelers…and other ethnic minorities, Italian and Chinese for instance, to realize that there never was a monoculture in Ireland’ (2002, p. 2)”[10]. She seems to oversimplify the effects of globalization, demographic fluidity, and inward migrations, and this oversimplification of reality tends to negate the true picture of the enormous challenges presented by the fact that ten per cent of Ireland’s population has become foreign-born in little over a decade[11] (and this was more than a decade ago). I believe Hickman employs poetic idealism when she calls for a shift to be made “from considering Ireland as a nation that now includes Others to recognizing Ireland as a nation of Others”[12]. The question of national identity still lingers on, and in Ireland, it is very closely tied to religious affiliation (i.e. to many Irish people, to be Irish means to be Catholic).

Within this context, education is a great tool of integration into the host society for immigrant children, young people, and their parents. But it is also a clear indicator of the reality and nature of change the host country experiences: “Ireland’s immigration is distinctive in terms of its changing nature both in terms of the scale and speed of incoming migration and the shift from return migration to the migration of other nationality groups to Ireland. The diversity of the immigrant groups that have come to Ireland in terms of nationality is reflected in the student body at both primary and second level”[13].

How has immigration and plurality impacted religious expression amongst young people in Ireland? A recent study assessed the challenges and possibilities for spiritual and religious development amongst youth in Ireland and found the following: even though the majority of young people identify themselves as Christian, this is in name only, as one in three young people is going through a crisis of faith; the generation feels that there is an increasing conflict between progressive values and Christian morality – even so, seventy-one percent of young practicing Christians in Ireland want to find a way to follow Jesus that connects to the world they live in, and this is to be achieved through a more personal and active faith life[14]. In other words, plurality and cultural interchange has resulted in more openness and opportunities for faith amongst young people in Ireland.  

The “Outpost Youth Project” in Ireland

Millennials and Generation Z’ers are not anti-religion; they are open to explore the possibilities presented by the faith paradigm. But for this encounter to be deemed beneficial by the youth, religion – in general, and Adventist Christianity – in particular, need to adapt, reset, and rethink the rules of engagement. A new environment needs to be created where the church becomes countercultural, unusual, and ‘weird’[15] in its mission. Moreover, while remaining true to its message, it needs to find creative ways to enable the youth in taking ownership of the process to change the world here and now, while preparing for the one to come.

To this effect, the administration of the Irish Mission facilitated the launching of a new youth programme which aims to be different and effective in reaching the youth. The Outpost (the name may still change) was first launched on 20 October 2018; after persistent strategizing and prayerful planning, it relaunched on Sabbath, 14 September this year (i.e. 2019) under the leadership of three young people. Here they are and this is their vision:

“I’m Aaron O’Brien and I am 20 years old. I was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

I just finished my A-levels and I am taking a gap year before my studies next year. So, I decided to work for the Irish Mission as the Youth Outpost Leader in this gap year and I am very excited about this fantastic opportunity. I love playing guitar and participating in outdoor activities. I recently spent my summer working as the Worship Director for Camp Lawroweld, which it is located in the town of Weld, Maine, in the United States of America. I was also an instructor for Rock Wall, Archery, BMX, Mountain Biking and Navigated Motorboats for the water sports. It was the best summer of my life! I grew closer with God and made new friends. I thank Him every day for all He has done for me! As the Youth Outpost Leader, my vision is to create an environment in the Irish Mission that would help bring young people to Jesus; an environment of Christian love and acceptance, a haven of shared understanding, a platform of support where young voices can be heard and where we all can grow and flourish in our relationship with Him. Not a particular place, but rather a particular space, a time set aside when we gather together to strengthen those friendships within the youth of the church, and to form new ones; but foremost in all of this, to share the Word of God to all around us – to be an Outpost for the Kingdom as we await His return.”

“My name is Marc Neal and I am a student studying Music and Worship in Coventry, England; I am 21 years old.

I spend most of my time playing drums, listening to music, or going out with friends. In the future, I am hoping to become a Music teacher, mainly teaching drums or piano back in Ireland. I am honoured to have the role as the Worship Leader for the Outpost and I am excited to see the Journey it is about to embark on. My vision as Worship Leader is to see the youth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have a strengthened relationship with God and to create a space where they can Worship Freely and Fully.”

“Hi, my name is André Vieira; I grew up in Brazil and now I live in Northern Ireland with my wife and our two beautiful children, Grace and Reuben.

While in Brazil, I studied web design and have worked in that area for more than 12 years now. I came to live in Dublin in 2012 to learn English and have had many challenges and blessings along the way. I have had various jobs while living here, from handing out newspapers to working in Subway, and now, in my current job, design once again. However, I have always had a strong desire to work for God, to tell others of His Word and great love for each one of us. I’m also the youth leader in my church, Banbridge, and part of the youth team for the Irish Mission.It is a joy and blessing to be part of the Outpost team as a Counselor and Mentor to the youth. God has a wonderful purpose for each one of us and, over the next year, and I pray He uses me to guide and show our young people His amazing love. I want to create a place where they can come and feel surrounded by God's grace and experience His unconditional love. No matter who they are or where they're from. May God bless our team as we go forward and do His great work.”

To sum it up, the “Outpost Youth Project” was started to address the spiritual needs of the youth within the Church, by creating a space of expression where young people can run and take ownership of church worship, Sabbath events, and outreach programmes. Also, the Project seeks to answer the spiritual needs of youth outside the Church community by providing both mentorship and peer modeling of a spirituality which is relevant and alive; it also endeavours to operate as an open forum for expressing doubt and asking faith-related questions without fear of judgment and retribution.

Another objective of this project is to impact positively the youth community in Dublin and beyond, by actively partnering in and/or organizing initiatives which tackle the societal and felt needs of Irish youth; moreover, to provide an alternative to the social city-scene through forging meaningful and lasting friendships, and through designing programmes which offer guidance and advice on issues young people are concerned with, such as sexuality, relationships, career choice and development, dealing with depression, money matters, etc.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not well known in Ireland; but this situation could present more opportunities than handicaps; it is often easier to work and witness within an environment of ignorance than in one where there is prejudice. Even though it seems that Irish society is becoming increasingly secular, I side with those proposing that it isn’t the absolutism of secularism that we witness here, but rather the prevalence of plurality; and plurality makes room for every voice to have its say. This is why the Outpost could find an audience to promote and exemplify authentic compassion and the dignity of belief in God in a manner relevant and meaningful to today’s youth.



[1] James Martin, 2006, The Meaning of the 21st Century. A Vital Blueprint for Ensuring Our Future.

[2] Sam Harris, 2005, The End of Faith. Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.

[3] Erin Meyer, 2015, The Culture Map. Decoding How People Think, Lean, and Get Things Done Across Cultures.

[4] Matthew Paul Turner, 2005, Provocative Faith. Walking Away from the Ordinary, p. 2.

[5] Ibid, p. 3.

[6] Joshua Cooper Ramo, 2009, The Age of the Unthinkable. Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It.

[7] Rob Bell, 2013, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Faith for the 21st Century, p. 56.

[8] Ibid, p. 70.

[9] Ibid, p. 118.

[10] Mary J. Hickman, “Immigration and Monocultral (Re)Imaginigs in Ireland and Britain”, Translocations:The Irish Migration, Race and Social Transformation Review, Summer 2007, Volume 2, Issue 1, p. 15.

[11] Ibid, p. 22.

[12] Ibid, p. 23.

[13] Delma Byrne, Frances McGinnity, Emer Smyth and Merike Darmody, “Immigration and school composition in Ireland” in Irish Education Studies, September 2010, Vol. 29, No. 3, p. 284.

[14] Barna Report, 2017, Finding Faith in Ireland. The Shifting Spiritual Landscape of Teens & Young Adults in the Republic of Ireland.

[15] The ‘weirdness’ I refer to is the peculiar, unique, transformative, countercultural brand of Christianity found in the Early Church (see Michael Frost’s Keep Christianity Weird. Embracing the Discipline of Being Different, 2018).