Parishes passing on the gift of faith
Pauline Dowd describes a children’s parish-based programme that the Diocese of Down & Connor is making available to parishes across the country

Parish GIFT (Growing in Faith Together) is a parish-based faith programme, for children aged 11-14, with lots of activities, games, arts and crafts and singing. It was originally designed and compiled by Maura Hyland and delivered in parishes in Ireland some 20 years ago. Ten years ago, it was revived and adapted by the team in the parish of Maghera (Newcastle, Co. Down) and it was so successful in the parish that they shared their resource with Living Youth – the Diocesan Youth Commission in Down & Connor. 

The programme is offered over two hours, once a week for six weeks and is parish-based so that children who attend school outside of their parish, or who do not attend Catholic schools, also have the opportunity to stay connected to their parish.

In GIFT 1, the focus is remembering Confirmation and developing unique gifts and talents. GIFT 2 looks more at young people caring for themselves and learning new skills in life. GIFT 3 begins to look more deeply at how to share faith, through a guided retreat, with the local Church, the parish and in local nursing homes. 

Finally, GIFT 4 looks towards the Universal Church and explores our Catholic heritage, culminating with an international pilgrimage.

Over the past three years, 28 parishes across the Diocese of Down and Connor have been piloting, reviewing and revising the first two programmes – Parish GIFT 1 for Year 8s (aged 11-12) and Parish GIFT 2 for Year 9s (aged 12-13). 


We are now in the final stages of the review and edit and we hope to make the Parish GIFT 1 programme available, free of charge, on our website to all interested parishes from September 2016.  As well as parishes within Down and Connor, we are delighted to have had interest from the dioceses of Derry, Armagh, Tuam, Elphin and from parishes in Co. Clare and Co. Cork.

In Belfast on Saturday, October 8, we will run a training session for coordinators where participants will become familiar with the resource and the structure and the organising of the programme.  We will also demonstrate some of the activities and teach some of the music.

On the website, from September, we will regularly share ideas for games and activities and we will include photos and videos of the groups running the Parish GIFT programme. In this way the resource will remain dynamic and fresh and adaptable for use across the diocese in a variety of parish contexts making use of the talents of parishioners in individual parishes and it will become a collaboration, with parishes having the opportunity to share best practice and new ideas. 

Parish GIFT 2 is currently being piloted, reviewed and revised and will be shared on the website, hopefully by September 2017. 

The brand new Parish GIFT 3 is currently being trialed by a small number of parishes, we are hoping to release this as a pilot to a further 10 parishes this coming September.

We recently held two Parish GIFT ‘fun days’ to celebrate the end of the programme for this year. We had 120 young people attend the Ardglass (Co. Down) celebration day for the parishes in the south of the diocese in May and another 220 came to the Dunloy (Co. Antrim) celebration day on June 5 for the parishes in the north of the diocese. 


At both the days the young people were involved in singing, art & crafts, drumming and games followed by a barbecue and a treasure hunt. At each day, local volunteers assisted with the organisation and were on duty at the treasure hunt.  Fr Gerard McCloskey PP said Mass to finish the day at Ardglass and Bishop Noel Treanor said Mass to finish the day at Dunloy. 

We had a big banner to celebrate both days and each child and leader decorated a circle on it, including Fr Liam Blayney (Dunloy PP) and Bishop Treanor.  

In September 2016, Living Youth will have been in existence for four years. The primary focus of our work is the passing on of the Catholic faith to children, young people and young adults between the ages of 11 and 25. 

The three Parish GIFT programmes are tools for supporting parish teams to create opportunities for children to engage with, share and celebrate their faith from ages 11-14. 

Lectio Divina will, from September, be an integral part of the three programmes so that children who attend Mass will have another connection with the Gospel and those children who don’t yet go to Mass will at least have heard the Gospel of the following Sunday.

On the programme, young people with have the opportunity to take part in creative activities, sing and pray together and begin to build relationships with their priests and the people in their parish community. 

As they get to know more about their parish, their church and their faith, our hope is that they will begin to feel like they belong. 


Our vision for Parish GIFT, like for all our programmes, is to engage with children in a way that invites them to think about their faith in a different way. 

Rather than an obligation for which they are rewarded we want them to allow their faith out of the box and into every day of their lives, and for those who don’t currently practice their faith we want them to be challenged to think about it.

We encourage each parish to select a small group of three or four people who will take responsibility for organising the programme. They will be trained in their use of the resource by us. 

As well as making use of the talents of parishioners in individual parishes, it should also challenge parents to become involved in its delivery. 

Each parish will recruit a group of parent and adult volunteers to assist with the running of the programme. This group should not be made up of people who are already volunteering in the parish. It is likely that they already take on a lot of jobs and do them very well. Rather, we want to energise a new body of volunteers who have never volunteered in their parish before. 

The key to recruiting this group of volunteers is to promise that they will not be asked to do anything that they don’t want to do. We need them to be involved to help create a safe environment for the children during the running of the programme and to be open to learning something about their own faith. 

There are many jobs that require a wide range of skills including registration, snack preparation, reading, assisting with arts and crafts and leading some of the games. 

We find that leaders normally build in self-confidence as they attend the programme and are eventually willing to take on tasks that they initially thought were beyond them, including sharing something of their own faith experience.

We encourage parishes to invite young people doing the Pope John Paul II Award to assist with the programme. This has worked very well as they bring an energy and vitality that only young people can bring and they get experience of volunteering in their parish.

On the Parish GIFT programme young people and leaders take part in fun activities, pray together, discuss various topics and have a positive experience of belonging to the Catholic Church and their own parish. 


*For more information see www.livingyouthni.org or contact info@livingyouthni.org  or 028/048 90 232 432.