Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Youth Ministry Consultant hired for Parish Services Office
by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register
(From the Aug. 2, 2001 edition of the Inland Register
Effective Aug. 1, a Wisconsin native began work as the new Youth Ministry consultant for the Diocese of Spokane.
Paul Mach, former youth minister for parishes in the Seattle Archdiocese, has been working in the ministry for about 12 years now.
“I started in college,” he said during a recent telephone interview. That work was part-time but eventually became full-time.
After completing a degree in Human Development at the University of Green Bay, Wis. — “I’m a big Packers fan,” he said — he worked in his native Wisconsin until moving to western Washington in 1996.
He has been youth minister at St. John Bosco Parish in Tacoma and Holy Rosary Parish, Edmonds, the city where he and his family lived prior to the new position in Spokane.
Besides a new landscape, his move to the Northwest also brought marriage — to his wife, Laura, who also has background in youth ministry.
He is the youngest of seven children himself, with his six older siblings all girls. He grew up in Appleton, Wis., about 20 minutes southwest of Green Bay.
Youth ministry can be difficult. Most successful youth ministers seem to embody certain specific gifts for that specific sort of work.
The ministry can also be intense. Mach pointed out that some statistics indicate that the average youth minister lasts less than two years.
What draws him to the work?
“Probably the energy and excitement of youth,” Mach said. There is also “the challenge — helping them to have the light turn on for them, to understand what their faith is all about.” High school, he said, is often the time when young people have that kind of illuminating faith experience, and to facilitate that and watch it happen is “incredible,” he said.
Youth ministry, he said, is about relationship. “We have to come to (teens’) settings, their locations, to show our faces at their games, just as youth ministers in general,” he said.
But the biggest challenge, he says, isn’t necessarily something unique to youth ministry and young people: time.
“The biggest challenge for youth ministry right now is finding the kids’ time,” Mach said. Teens today are “just extremely busy. Unfortunately, the church is losing a lot of priority with parents. I’m not going to fight with them. So it becomes the youth minister’s job to get (the teens) excited about their faith.”
To do that, he said, “we reach out in a broader sense, we have to have quality programs.”
Another aspect of youth ministry is that of role model for the young people — the youth ministers modeling good behavior, good lives, something which, sadly, often does not happen in the teens’ homes. Young people are looking for adults who will provide good example, he said.
He admits that it’s a big responsibility on a number of different levels, and it’s easy for those trying to work in this aspect of ministry to burn out, and quickly.
On the diocesan level, he sees part of his job as “supporting the youth ministers and energizing them in their jobs,” he said. “It is a big task. You do have to be called to this ministry. I think it’s a whole lot more than being a glorified babysitter. As a youth minister, you also need your own support and outlets” to stay healthy in the ministry.
On a broader level, he spent three of his years in the Seattle Archdiocese serving on the archdiocesan youth ministry committee. He chaired that committee for a time, and represented Seattle for two years at the national meeting for diocesan youth ministry consultants.
Mach is excited about the new job and about working for Bishop Skylstad. He was especially impressed with the bishop’s personal account of World Youth Day in Rome last summer (“From the Bishop,” IR 9/14/00). It’s “incredible to have somebody who cares so much about the youth of his diocese,” Mach said.
“It should be a great blessing and a long and good experience,” he said. “Words can’t describe how excited I am.”
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