August 22, 2013
The annual diocesan Youth Ministry Kick-Off was held at St. Ambrose in Annandale and hosted by the Office of Youth Ministry attracting some 50+ Coordinators of Youth and Campus Ministry. There were a number of new hires this year, but also a strong number of veteran ministers who were well passed the proverbial "18 months" typical of many youth ministers elsewhere. Kevin Boehle, Director of the Office of Youth Ministry, during his keynote presentation chalked that up to the vibrancy of youth ministry in this diocese, the support it gets from Bishop Loverde, the spiritual and professional development offered by the Office to parish ministers and adult volunteers and the larger activities it offers to the youth in the diocese.
Kevin went on to issue a 5 point challenge for those in ministry this year.
- Keep the Main Thing, The Main Thing
- Reach the 2%
- Attend 3 new diocesan events
- Commit to 4 Deanery meetings
- Invite 5 new volunteers into ministry
Kevin, citing Soren Kierkegaard who said that "A saint is someone who can will the one thing" pointed out that in youth ministry the one thing is to bring a person into a deeper loving relationship with Christ. More generally, he challenged everyone to "Pray as much as plan" pointing out in his own Office that they begin each day with 15 minutes of prayer. He described the first 18 months that can lead to burn out as one in which the initial energy and call to ministry becomes burdened with the real life logistics of parish life where there is always something else to get done. In such a multi-tasking environment, prayer life is usually the first thing to go and it goes at one's own peril. "Until you realize that prayer is the thing, you won't do it," he said along with recommending the book Soul of the Apostolate for more insight.
The second challenge is to reach the 2%. This number represents 2% of the number of high school youth in each person's parish. Some parishes were much higher than others given the demographics. In Deanery III, for example 2% meant a low of 39 youth for Our Lady of Hope, to the median of 57 youth for Christ the Redeemer in Sterling, to the high of 93 youth for St. Theresa in Ashburn. While youth ministry isn't completely about numbers, numbers do play a role. It takes a number of helpers to do successful outreach. On the other hand if nobody is participating or showing up, that is also telling you something.
The third challenge was for coordinators of youth ministry to come to at least 3 new events this year. The diocesan youth calendar is filled with a variety of activities directed at spiritual formation and professional development for church staff and adult volunteers as well as youth activities on a larger scale that perhaps a parish could not pull of on its own.
The fourth challenge was for members of each Deanery (a group of parishes within a diocese that are geographical close to one another) to attend 4 Deanery Meetings a year. Commitment to this goal is meant to bring about better mutual cooperation and support amongst neighboring parishes.
The fifth and final challenge was to attract at least 5 new volunteers into youth ministry. Earlier in Kevin's talk he was quick to point out that the model of hiring a youth minister to run a youth group is an outmoded concept leftover from the 1970s (despite the fact that many people still carry that misconception). "If we change the language we can change the perception." Thus, the preference is to call the person a coordinator of youth ministry because his or her role is to facilitate and invite others into the actual ministry of helping youth fall deeper in love with Christ.
Following this "Keynote" a mid-day mass was celebrated in the chapel with Fr. Tom Fergusson, Episcopal Vicar for Faith Formation, who then attended the lunch that followed. After lunch, the Diocesan staff did a tag-team presentation of the Calendar of events for the year emphasizing those that were for personal enrichment, those that were also for adult volunteers, those that were meant for youth involvement, and those that were purely social.
The day concluded with an inspirational talk from Rob Tessier of All Saints Church in Manassas who regaled the group with his tales of how a person like him who wasn't too plugged in to youth ministry but interested in theater came to do what he does now. He doesn't build anything, know how to run a sound board, can't sew, can't sing, but he is able to produce musical shows because he knows how to find people who can. He used this example as a springboard to suggest ways to ask for help in ministry, who to ask, and how to value the people who work with you. He often returned to one essential point which was the need to convey that what you are doing (youth ministry) is so important that it needs to be done with people and talents that no one person has.