By Anne Marie Amacher
When Annie Walljasper began work as a multi-parish youth minister, she noted there wasn’t much available for middle school students to participate in youth ministry.
Plenty of youth ministry events were available for high school-aged students to get together, such as a youth rally, retreats and service trips. But sixth-, seventh- and eighth- graders were either in a religious education program or junior high (middle school) program for their individual parishes.
“There wasn’t a lot for them. They have no place to go and they cannot drive yet,” said Walljasper, the youth minister for Sacred Heart Cathedral and Holy Family parishes in Davenport.
During an internship in which she participated, she observed a gathering for middle school students from various parishes. She brought the idea to a youth ministers’ meeting in the Davenport Deanery, which covers parishes in Scott County, as well as Muscatine and Columbus Junction. Many of the youth ministers decided a monthly activity was a good idea. But with conflicting school schedules, different school districts and activities, the youth ministers found that offering The Party’s Here (TPH) for middle school students works better as a quarterly event, said Joyce Kloft, youth minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf.
“It’s a good, supervised activity,” Walljasper says. “It’s also a way to expose them to a bigger church.”
Ray Knight, youth minister at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, said, “We try to bring in a balance of fellowship and faith through these events.”
Getting youths together at a younger age can help them stay more active in the Church, Walljasper believes. “We can show them that being Catholic can be fun and church is not so boring.”
The events allow them to meet youths from other parishes and establish new friendships prior to high school. “It’s networking.”
Dances are by far the favorite activity. “Even though they do dances at school, it’s what they like best,” Walljasper said. Other TPH activities have featured a Bible story mystery, bonfire cookout and themed dances, such as a Halloween dance.
The sixth- through eighth-graders who attend are predominantly from the Davenport and Bettendorf parishes. Because of distance, parishes farther away seldom have attendees at the activities. But it’s open to everyone in the deanery, Walljasper said.
St. Ann Parish in Long Grove hosted one event, which was well attended by its youth, said Julie Jones, youth minister at that parish. But because of the distance and rural location, many parents from the metro area did not want to drive to Long Grove. “Those who did come out enjoyed the event,” Walljasper said.
“The eighth-graders are more likely to interact with other students then the sixth- or seventh-graders,” said Leigh Boorn, youth minister at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport. Hopes are “that they would recognize that there are more youth who are Catholic than just those who attend their Catholic school or parish program.”
Typically, a TPH fall kickoff is an event such as a bonfire. Another TPH event is held in February and a third in March or April, depending on Easter and spring breaks. The date of the fourth event varies. The location of activities varies as well. St. Ann’s, St. Paul’s, Our Lady of Victory, Sacred Heart Cathedral and Our Lady of Lourdes in Bettendorf each have hosted events.
St. Paul’s has served as host more than once because it can accommodate a number of youth, Knight said. Other parishes have “hosted” the event, but used St. Paul’s facilities, he noted.
“We’ve had Leap of Faith (now called 1 of 12) perform twice,” Walljasper said. “We’ve had dinners, praise and worship and mystery nights.”
Some events have had glitches, but the youth ministers make adjustments as needed, she noted. One time the disc jockey did not show up. “The kids grabbed CDs and we had the dance.”
The first mystery night had several kinks, but the second “went much better. If you have an idea that doesn’t work well, you learn from it.”
Kloft said about three years ago the youth ministers really started trying to meet monthly.
“We help mentor new ministers, get ideas off each other, give hints to help others, talk about upcoming events and work on collaboration of ideas for our youth.
“We want the youths to get to know each other whether they go to a Catholic school or public school.”
Boorn would like to see more faith formation students attend the events. She also noted the youth ministers are looking at new ideas as they plan activities for the 2010-11 school year.
Other examples of parish collaboration in the Davenport Deanery
• Sacred Heart Cathedral and Holy Family Parish, both in Davenport, share a youth minister, RCIA and PS-8 school.
• Various parishes participate in JustFaith and social action sharing.
• St. John Vianney and Our Lady of Lourdes parishes, both in Bettendorf, share baptismal preparation. They alternate each month.
• The Bettendorf parishes share a Knights of Columbus council.
• Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine and St. Mary Parish in Wilton share grief ministry.
• Youth ministers, religious education coordinators and school principals meet from various parishes in Scott County, Muscatine and Columbus Junction.
• Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Paul the Apostle Parish, both in Davenport, share a parochial vicar.
• All Saints Catholic School in Davenport is a collaboration of several Davenport parishes.
• Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire and St. Ann Parish in Long Grove work together and share the costs for Christian Experience Weekends (CEW).