By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Pre-teens and adolescents can face many distractions, choices and obstacles in their faith journey. For Luke Ebener, coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, ministering to this group is a priority.
“Youth are an important part of our Church. We all make up the body of Christ. When you limit that to (adults), you limit the body of Christ.”
Ebener is one of about a dozen youth ministry workers gaining skills this summer through the Youth Ministry Studies Program at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
The ministry education program is offered at St. Ambrose in conjunction with the Center for Ministry Development (CMD), an international organization based in Washington state. The program is intended for those in ministry with youth ages 11 to 18, in both parish and school settings. It equips leaders with knowledge, skills, practical tools and techniques needed for creative and comprehensive youth ministry so they can better serve youth in their schools and parishes.
“It is the most complete and intensive training in youth ministry leadership in the country,” said Don Boucher, CMD adjunct faculty member and diocesan coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. “To have it in our backyard is really a gift.”
Tom East, CMD director and project coordinator for the Youth Ministry Studies Program, is one of the teachers this year. He said youth ministry workers are often in need of guidance, both from professionals and from peers, due to the unique challenges facing today’s youth.
He said youth ministers he’s taught have expressed a need to engage youth in hands-on service, to use interactive methods to teach faith, prayer and liturgy, and to help youth build a living relationship with Christ.
Most importantly, East said, “What (youth) are really seeking is a way to relate. … How are we engaging youth in those things in ways that are new, creative and effective?”
He added that an emphasis in classes is the need for youth ministers to work with the whole parish or school in ministering to youth. “I’ve seen really effective leaders … work together as a team rather than being a pied piper or the lone ranger.”
St. Ambrose is the only site in Iowa or Illinois to offer Youth Ministry Studies courses, though the Center for Youth Ministry has education sites throughout the United States and internationally. The St. Ambrose classes draw students from dioceses in both states.
Participants in the Youth Ministry Studies can attend individual classes — four are offered each summer in a two-year rotation — or earn a nationally recognized certificate by taking all eight courses and completing required homework.
Boucher said the Certificate in Youth Ministry Studies program has been available to youth ministry workers and volunteers within the diocese for about 30 years, though it requires a sustained interest in order to continue in future years. Boucher said St. Ambrose University has been generous in hosting the courses and taking care of the upfront costs, but that the university needs about 12 students for each course in order to break even.
“To ensure the future of the program in the diocese, we need people to realize that we have it (available to them), and encourage parish leaders, both paid and volunteer, to take advantage of the program,” he said.
Boucher said parishes and schools often offer to pay for their youth ministers and volunteers to attend the program.
He noted that the diocesan Ministry Formation Program (MFP) provides a general overview of Catholic ministry, but not does offer specialized training for youth ministry. He encourages those involved with or interested in youth ministry to take Youth Ministry Studies courses after completing MFP training, so they can receive more specific instruction.
Julia Jones, youth minister of St. Ann Parish in Long Grove, is one of the Youth Ministry Studies certificate program graduates. She said the program helped her network with other youth ministry workers and to “get organized and set goals not only for myself, but as a youth ministry vision for my parish. … I not only gained the confidence in myself, but also the parish program that I am blessed to be a part of.”
To sign up:
Two Youth Ministry Studies courses are being offered in July: Justice and Service July 10 – 11, and Pastoral Care July 12 – 13. Deadline to register is July 4. For more information or to receive an application, contact Christopher Clow at (563) 333-6189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.