By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) meeting on Sept. 11 focused on the development of strong youth ministry groups in parishes. A panel with youth ministers from around the diocese spoke about what has, and hasn’t, worked for them.
Joe Morra from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Baldwinsville brought two of the members of the parish’s youth group with him to the meeting. Morra brought his son, Joey, a 12th grader, and eleventh-grader Taylor Toomey. The two young people spoke about how and why they fit time for their parish’s youth group into an already busy schedule. Joey spoke of enjoying the trips that the group takes, and Taylor said she has been able to involve many of her friends in the group’s activities, which makes them more fun.
Morra said this is a good way to get young people to develop a deeper relationship with the parish.
“Youth ministry is about developing relationships,” Morra said. “Taylor, by falling in love with her parish, is more likely to remain in her parish.”
Mark Raneri from Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica said a youth group’s success depends on solid organization and consistency as well as the awareness that the group needs not only flyers and bulletin announcements, but also the word-of-mouth communication among young people and personal invitations from the organizers.
“We’d get a piece of paper and post it up on the bulletin board at church and then we’re disappointed when it’s just me and the pizza lady,” Raneri said. “Use every means possible. Get cell phone numbers at youth night, get on Facebook, get e-mail addresses. You’re going to get 50 percent more people if you invite them because they’re going to feel like they’re wanted.”
Andrew Prickel from Holy Family in Syracuse argued that youth ministry models need to evolve from simply offering dances and playing basketball.
“Basketball is fine, but youth ministry has to be catechetical. … They can play basketball at the YMCA. They don’t need to come to your parish to play basketball,” Prickel said. Instead, he argued, basketball should be a means for adults to get to know the young people. “It’s more than just saying ‘hi.’ It’s every week you want to know more about them,” he said.
Prickel also offered what he said was his biggest piece of advice in setting up successful youth groups: create ministry groups for children in grades six to eight and a separate group for young people in grades nine to 12. “Never, never, never mix the two,” Prickel said. Parishes might even consider setting up a division between those in sixth grade and those in seventh and eighth, he said. “You’re just teaching and talking to them in very different ways and you have to make a distinction.”
Bob Walters, director of the diocesan youth ministry office, gave a presentation on how to form and strengthen youth ministry groups in parishes. He said successful youth groups require the commitment of the pastor as well as involving the right adults who would be willing to donate their time and talents.
But finding the right people can be more difficult than it seems, he said.
“I find it easier to recruit catechists in a parish then it is to find youth ministers,” Walters said. Religious education is easier to understand, he said, because there are tools and approaches to use as well as clear personal memories of what religious education was like. “We need to be able to do that with youth ministry,” Walters said.
“We don’t necessarily want to get involved with youth: they’re scary. We’re scared of them for some reason,” Walters said. But it’s important to move beyond this reluctance. “All you have to do is show up and God will give you the grace to carry you through.” Those interested in starting youth groups in their parish can call Walters at (315) 470-1419.
Father Jim Lang, Vicar for Parishes, said one of the most frequent questions he receives is about what the models and processes are for understanding where the diocese has come from and where it will go. He said the next DPC meeting will consider ideas for reframing pastoral care areas in planning for the future.
Maureen Gallagher, who co-authored a book entitled The Art of Change: Faith, Vision and Prophetic Planning, will come to speak at the meeting scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 13.
Gallagher will speak on planning, relationships, conflict resolution and communication tools. In the four days before the DPC meeting she will also speak around the diocese about transforming challenges into opportunities.
Father Lang said he hopes to work with parish representatives who will be able to give examples of parish collaboration. He will also discuss how the needs of parishes differ in urban, rural or suburban settings.
“All of us are smarter than any one of us, so let’s engage with what’s going to happen in the future,” Father Lang said.
Bishop Robert Cunningham concluded the meeting by answering some anonymous questions submitted by those in attendance. The first was for his comment on the potential burning of the Quran by Terry Jones, the pastor of a nondenominational church in Gainesville, Fla.
“Obviously we would not in any way support, favor or condone the burning of a sacred item of another religion. I think it’s terrible to even think of such a thing,” Bishop Cunningham said. “There is clearly a need for all of us to have respect and tolerance for those whose views differ from our own. … We have to recognize the value and the dignity and the beauty of those who are sincere followers of another religion. It’s a tragedy when you have somebody who is seeking to support Christianity by burning the Quran. There’s nothing right about that and everything wrong about that.”