Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Cooperative tri-parish youth ministry works in Walla Walla
(From the , 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
The three Catholic parishes in Walla Walla pool resources for a cooperative youth ministry program for both middle school and senior high students. From left: Justin Piek, Amanda Weis, Anthony Neal, Bernie Neal, Kyle Miller, and Chloe Robinson. (IR photo courtesy of Judy Pinney)
Walla Walla’s three parishes – St. Patrick, St. Francis of Assisi, and Assumption – have more in common than the city in which they are located. The three parishes share Catholic schools, religious education, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), baptism preparation, and Bible study programs, plus senior citizen luncheons and adult faith formation programs.
Not many years ago, however, Walla Walla’s parishes realized that it made sense to cooperate in youth ministry, too. The result has been middle and high school Catholic youth ministries that are vibrant and growing – and the adult youth ministers are all volunteers.
Twenty-five years ago, the three parishes shared a youth ministry program, but that collaboration ended not long after the departure of the professional youth minister who had been there for several years.
When the last on-staff youth ministry professional left the area, pastors and other parish staff tried to keep effort going. Attempts were made to recruit volunteers, but about four years ago, the three parishes decided to return to the tri-parish model for youth ministry.
In 2000, World Youth Day was held in Toronto, Canada. St. Patrick parishioner Judy Pinney had a teenage daughter, and assisted with middle school youth ministry. She decided to help Walla Walla’s Catholic youth get to the celebration in Canada.
“I thought, ‘You know, that’s on our continent; that’s doable,’” she said. “I felt called to help spearhead that. At that time, Paul Mach was the diocesan youth ministry coordinator, and he was organizing a group to go. A few of us here decided to help. We had a dozen or so kids from Walla Walla attend World Youth Day. So after that I began showing up to help out.”
In October 2005, six youth and three adults from Walla Walla parishes traveled to Atlanta, Ga., for the National Catholic Youth Conference. “It was wonderful,” said Pinney, “and that created so much energy with those kids that they started spreading the word about youth ministry when they got back home.”
Weekly youth nights are hosted in St. Patrick’s new activities center. Additional youth events take place about once a month. “We might go bowling or ice skating,” said Pinney. “We might have a ‘lock-in’ at the church – that’s where we have an overnight, not actually in the church, but in the youth center. For example, last year when the new Chronicles of Narnia movie came out, we had a Narnia lock-in night. We took the kids to the movie theater, and they watched the movie, then we came back and had all these activities that tied the movie into our faith. Then the boys slept upstairs, and the girls slept downstairs, and this was for all high school ages.”
The tri-parish program is about more than entertainment and socializing. The weekly Sunday evening youth ministry event begins with a few minutes of socializing, followed by prayer. Next comes discussion about a particular topic, and each evening has a specific theme, sometimes with guest speakers, Pinney said.
“Last year, for example, when we were preparing for one of our outreach activities, which was the ‘Souper Bowl of Caring’ – which happens nationwide on Super Bowl Sunday weekend – youth got together and held soup pots at the doors of their church and asked parishioners to donate a dollar. The money collected locally goes to local charities. Last year, our youth chose the Christian Aid Center for their donation. We also had a scavenger hunt for canned goods the day before, and they donated that to our local food bank.”
To prepare for their Souper Bowl Sunday activities, the youth had a Sunday evening youth ministry unit on poverty and hunger. The speaker for the evening was the director of Walla Walla’s Christian Aid Center. Another time, a speaker came from the local YWCA to discuss personal safety, a topic the youth ministry program addresses each year.
Pinney said that “It was difficult to discuss abuse, sexual harassment, and things like that, but there was no clowning around. You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone was very attentive, and a lot of questions were asked. One of the youth asked, ‘What if a friend has told you about an abuse but has told you not to tell anyone?’ The speaker said, ‘What’s more important, that it stops or your friendship? Even if you lose a friendship over it, if you can stop the abuse.’”
For most of youth ministry evenings, adult volunteers rely on resources from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry. This year’s topic is titled “Catholic to the Core,” dealing with “our most basic, core beliefs,” Pinney said. Various adults make the presentations.
Another valuable resource, she said, is the on-line Youth Ministry Access, from the Center for Ministry Development. That web site includes pre-planned youth night programs, including opening activities and ice breakers that provide “a lead-in to the topic for the evening,” she said. Group discussion and small-group activities also address the main topic of the evening, she said.
Typically, an average of 18–20 youth attend the evenings, most coming from public schools. “We’re getting more kids from the Catholic high school, however, and home-schooled kids, too. It’s growing. Kids are starting to invite their friends,” said Pinney.
During the school year, the youth ministry program selects two Sunday Masses at each of the three parishes, and at each Mass youth take responsibility for liturgical ministries. Youth serve as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, ushers, provide the music, and so forth.
To help form the youth ministers themselves, she recommends youth ministry studies program sponsored by Connecti-cut’s Center for Ministry Development. The two-year program is held in various places nationally. Spokane Diocese youth ministers gathered with confreres from the Yakima Diocese for the eight weekends each year. “It’s been a great source of information and inspiration on how to offer youth ministry.”
Sue Logsdon is the religious education coordinator for St. Patrick Parish. She directs the three parishes’ middle school effort for grades 6-8. She works with a team of five or six volunteers, she said – some parents, some adults “who just love youth ministry,” she said. The middle school program typically attracts 25-30 students and meets Thursday evenings from September to May in the youth center.
Besides socialization, the gatherings include what Logsdon called “conversational prayer. We ask about their needs, and we pray for them. Our focus is Lectionary based, so we come on Thursday evening and study the readings for the coming Sunday. We help them understand the Bible, the context of what was written, who it was written for, and then we ask, ‘What difference does it make in my life?’ We try to help them understand it at their level, and these kids are just beginning to question the faith and beginning to own it.
“Our goal is to help them grow in their own discipleship, knowing that different children are in different stages of their spiritual journey,” she said.
They use a program titled Living the Good News, which includes a manual for the ministers, but no textbook for the students. The program is casual and interactive. “In the course of the lesson we may be discussing the readings, but we may have an activity so we’re up and moving around,” said Logsdon.
Most of the students come from the city’s seven public middle schools. The number of students from the Catholic school system has been increasing, said Logsdon, “not because of anything I did but because the kids were inviting their friends. We’re also getting more kids from the Hispanic community. One of our goals, aside from the Lectionary based parts, is to build a sense of community.”
Logsdon participated in the Youth Ministry Studies program offered by the Center for Ministry Development. Part of their work was to draft a statement “of what we have in common and what we all agree on. That has been very important, not only to have the statement for parents, but for us, so we all know this is something that not just we are thinking of, but this is coming from the church, this is what the church wants.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also provides guidance and inspiration, she said.
“I look at the four pillars of the Catechism,” she said. The ministry includes a prayer component, catechesis, social outreach, and community-building. There are monthly socials. It all requires an attempt at balance, especially for the children, who al- ready have busy lives filled with school and sports activities. “There are some kids who are always there, and others who are coming and going,” she said. “It isn’t a lack of interest, it’s other commitments. It’s a challenge, but it’s a joy, too.”
The energy, creativity, and “let’s go for it” attitude of the youth ministry resulted in an event that both youth and adults are looking forward to in December. Last time the diocese’s Catholic Foundation invited grant applications, Walla Walla’s youth ministry leaders applied for a grant to fund a special event, and their efforts were rewarded.
“We wanted to invite a team from REACH Youth Ministry (based in Cowiche, Wash.; www.pages.prodigy.net/reachym) to come to Walla Walla,” Pinney said. “They send a young adult team to give a Catholic retreat for youth, and we really wanted to have a retreat to pull together the public school kids, and the Catholic school kids, and the Hispanic kids, who have a youth ministry night on Fridays. We got the grant to help pay for this overnight retreat. It’s going to be the first weekend in December. We’re really excited about this.”