Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
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the Inland Register
(From the April 16, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)
Archdiocese of Portland
Adolescents have a lot going on – school and parental demands, pressure from peers, developing brains and bodies. Many have difficult home lives or have experienced loss or hardship.
“As youth ministers, we have the opportunity to say, ‘I am here with you,’ and point them in the direction of the one who can bring true peace, love and joy,” said Jill Wenger, youth ministry director at St. Paul Parish in Silverton.
That solidarity doesn’t come naturally for everyone. People who work in youth ministry must know how to communicate with young people, to assist them and support them in their spiritual growth, and encourage them toward deeper involvement in parish life.
“Youth are not just the future of the Church; they are the present of the Church,” Wenger said. “They need opportunities to share their gifts and experience community. They need to see that a parish is made up of all the people in it. If they are not involved as a youth, then what will draw them in to be an active member as an adult? We need to foster these experiences now.”
Kelsie Whaley, coordinator of youth ministry at Shepherd of the Valley Parish in Central Point, has taken to heart St. John Paul II’s words in St. Louis in 1999: “Remember: Christ is calling you; the Church needs you; the Pope believes in you and he expects great things of you.”
Whaley said she believes in the hearts of young people.
“They have so much to give the church today and I am blessed to be able to walk alongside them and learn with them,” she said.
Under Whaley’s leadership, engaging adolescents has become a parish-wide effort at Shepherd of the Valley. Ushers check in with youths when they come through the doors for Mass. Father Mike Walker, pastor, knows each teen and ‘tween by name. Staff members from every ministry support youth ministry through planning and organizing events, chaperoning, and engaging the youths in projects.
“There was a time when I thought and firmly believed that I had to make teens engage with the faith, that it was all up to me,” Whaley said. “Then through the wisdom and guidance of the talented people I work with, I slowly began to realize that, they’re not my teens. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to engage them; I am there as a conduit through which the youth of our parish can hopefully encounter Christ. I am there to be a witness. And as they witness me, in relationship, I hope they understand that they are called to this same gift; relationship with Christ and relationship with community and is that the Holy Spirit works powerfully in engaging them in the faith.”
Led by Michal Horace, the Archdiocese of Portland’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry program offers resources to prepare pastors and youth ministry coordinators across Western Oregon to nurture their relationships with adolescents and, in turn, the youths’ relationship with Christ. Children ages 12-18 are the target of the ministry.
Youth ministry is a relatively new development in the pastoral ministry world, Horace said, and it continues to evolve.
In 1976, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued “A Vision of Youth Ministry,” which identified dimensions, components and principles of the nature of youth ministry. That document initiated a transformation in the church’s thinking and practice, and emphasized relational and holistic aspects of the ministry.
Resources are geared to help youth ministry coordinators develop visioning and management skills. These leaders aren’t just catechists, Horace said.
“They get to be the keeper of the torch and vision,” he said.
At St. Paul Parish in Eugene, that torch is held by Caitlin Breitenstein, who leads parish high school students, and Kristin White, who works with the parish’s new middle school youth group.
At St. Paul, high school students are actively involved in the parish, fundraising for the homeless, planting flowers to gussy up parish grounds, and engaging with the pastor, Father David Brown. Middle school students play games, act out skits, and pray – and often delve into deep and thoughtful discussions.
- Catholic Sentinel (Oregon Catholic Press)
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