By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Speaker Doug Tooke told a group of young adult ministers that about 70 percent of Catholics eventually fade away from parish life. Young adults make up a majority of that statistic. “We’ve become reactive, like ‘Oh my gosh, they’re leaving! What do we do?’ … Young people won’t just ‘come back to church like they always do.’”
Young adult ministers had an opportunity to discuss this issue at the Diocese of Davenport Young Adult Summit April 18 at Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City with Tooke’s help. He’s director of Faith Formation in the Diocese of Helena, Mont. Young adults also had an opportunity to re-charge their faith through a separate track led by Tim O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame University Center for Liturgy.
Tooke said young adults are relationship-oriented and looking for somewhere to belong. Providing opportunities for young adults to be together in a Catholic context is important, otherwise they look elsewhere. However, Tooke was adamant that planning fellowship events is not enough. Events like Theology on Tap are great for bringing young adults together but they should aim to channel young adults into active parish life. “It’s not all about having a separate ministry.”
He said all parish members can help attract and keep young adults simply by being welcoming and offering opportunities to get involved with parish ministries.
Young adult ministers had the opportunity to express some of the challenges and triumphs of young adult ministry in their parishes. Most parishes in the diocese do not have specific young adult programs. Kathryn Churchill said the Young Adult Catholic group she started at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City about five years ago is thriving and growing but it took a lot of effort to establish the group. “It started with about five people and now it’s up to about 27,” she said.
Others said it was difficult to organize activities for young adults because they are a transient group. Sustainable lay leadership and parish support could be beneficial in making sure young adult activities do not fall to the wayside, young adult ministers said.
Meanwhile, young adults at the summit explored their role in the church with O’Malley, who encouraged them to live out their faith and search for their role in the church.
Jessica Snyder, a member of St. Mary Parish in Riverside, enjoyed O’Malley’s session. “It was interesting to take time to clear our minds and figure out what God is telling us, to listen to what God is telling us … Every now and again you need that boost to re-center yourself in your relationship with God.”
To conclude the summit, the young adult ministers and young adults came together to discuss needs and goals. A young adult said she loves her parish and feels loved and welcome but also feels frustrated as one of the few young adults in her parish. She said she longs for additional fellowship with people her own age.
O’Malley said the summit motivated him to consider publishing young adult ministry materials — something he’s put on the backburner for some time. “This event spurred me on,” he said.
Robert Wamer, youth and outreach ministry coordinator for St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant, said he hoped to start a youth ministry program at his parish.
Sara Scogland, a youth minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, said she hoped to integrate some of the smartphone apps Tooke suggested for her young adult ministry efforts.
Jacqueline Albrecht, a Newman Center member, was invigorated by the summit. “I’m going to continue to explore my place in the church and plan (young adult) service events,” she said.
Don Boucher, diocesan coordinator of youth and young adult ministry, wrapped up the summit by saying, “We have a long way to go, but this isn’t just a young adult issue. It is a church issue. … The task is big, but we believe anything is possible with God.”