They’ve returned home pumped up for the faith. Now what do we do to keep 600-plus teens engaged, involved and growing in their Catholic faith? How can we tap into their enthusiasm, sparked by the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), to reach out to their peers? The answers to these questions begin with us — parishioners, parents, grandparents, teachers, guardians and the church of the Davenport Diocese.
NCYC, described as a “mountaintop” experience, drew some 24,000 youths and adults this year for a weekend of faith-building, fun and bonding. Many return home changed, but life hasn’t changed. “These experiences give teens a concrete experience of the Catholic Church and faith in action,” observes Don Boucher, director of our diocese’s Office of Faith Formation and coordinator for Youth & Young Adult Ministry. “The message of the Gospel is presented in a dynamic way that is impossible to replicate on the parish level.”
Through NCYC, these teens experience a church that loves and values them. We can replicate that aspect of the NCYC experience by loving and valuing them as a local church, parish and family. We can tap into their joy and enthusiasm at the parish level by providing the support they need and inviting them to participate in whatever way they feel called. Maybe a teen would make a good lector, altar server, usher or Eucharistic minister. Invite them to do so. Another teen might be a great addition to a parish committee, such as liturgy, church life or social action. Invite them to do so. Some teens may not feel called to a particular role at this point in their lives. But they have lots of questions. Take time to listen.
“Young people need to be connected to the parish community. It awakens them to different paths and different ways to live out that new awaking in them,” Don says. Give them activities that get their hands dirty; that get the teens working on projects. “They need to have activities that are constant and consistent, that keep them fired up and keep them challenged,” says Michelle Montgomery, Youth Minister at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville.
Take a page from Michelle’s game plan. She’s enlisting her NCYC group to serve as leaders in organizing a “Saint Nick Day” service project that will involve the junior high youth ministry, the confirmation group and senior high ministry. They’ve adopted 30 families in need. The teens will shop for gifts for the families, bundle the treasures into a Saint Nick’s bag and take them to a Christmas party. Kids stay motivated when they see they’re making a difference, Michelle observes.
Keeping the flame of faith burning isn’t solely the job of youth ministers, catechists, the parish or the diocesan church. Parents’ involvement is crucial, says JoAnn McLin, who coordinates faith formation for grades seven through adulthood at St. Mary Parish in Centerville. Her parish plans to launch a reorganized youth group in January, building on the momentum from NCYC. Plans also are underway to gather Centerville’s eight NCYC participants and their parents for a shared meal. “I think it’s crucial to get them together on a regular basis, and for them to reach out to others who didn’t go. Then the youth are sharing with other youth.”
Her family approach is a good one, supported by the National Study of Youth and Religion, which found that parents are primary in passing on the faith. Others have an impact, but nothing like parents do.
In a thoughtful column that appears in this week’s paper, Father Jake Greiner observes from his NCYC experience that the “young church” wants the rest of the Catholic Church to walk with them on their journey. He asks whether we’re willing to make the sacrifices to mentor the young church.
Let’s respond to his question with a resounding “Yes!”