The Beacon - Beacon_July 14 2017

Diocesan Survey Assess Strengths, Challenges Of Youth Ministry Programs In Local Parishes

Michael Wojcik 2017-07-12 02:03:02

MADISON There’s “a new vigor for youth ministry” in Diocese of Paterson, according to two surveys of parish youth ministry programs that were conducted by the staff of St. Paul Inside the Walls: the Diocesan Center for Evangelization at Bayley-Ellard, with the help of the diocesan Youth Ministry Advisory Board. Yet the two surveys, conducted in 2015 and again in 2017, also revealed some significant challenges. Some parishes, which are located in towns where the population is decreasing, have fewer youths, while others parishes are so close to one another that the youth flock to one parish, leaving nearby parishes without a significant youth population. The surveys, which the Diocese conducted to understand the status of youth ministry in each local parish, also confirmed that several parishes feel they have the funding to operate “vibrant youth ministry programs.” “Can a parish stand without the youth? Yes, but not for long. If Christ is the foundation of a parish (1 Cor 3:11), and the wise are its pillars (Gal 2:9), the youth are the roof. Young people, supported by the pillars, are suspended between the Church and the world,” writes Brian Honsberger, diocesan assistant director of evangelization at St. Paul’s, who helped facilitate conducting the surveys. “As the interior side of the roof, they experience the Sacraments and holy community, but on the exterior side they are pelted with the ever-changing weather of secular society. What is called good on the inside is called bad on the outside, and what is called bad inside is called good outside (see Is 5:20). It is known that roofs are dependent on the support of a building’s pillars, and it is also known that the building is dependent on a good roof to persist. The parish needs the youth, and the youth need the parish. Each parish that plans to last for generations needs to have a vibrant youth ministry,” he writes. The Youth Ministry Advisory Board, a group of youth ministers who represent the many regions and demographics of the Diocese, identified the following components as essential for a vibrant parish youth ministry: A top priority in the parish, vibrant youth ministries must be championed by the pastor and supported by the parish as a whole, including priests, a dedicated youth minister, parents and a team of volunteers to aid in the mission. Youth ministries should use invitations from youth peer leaders and social media promotions to draw in new members to programs, which should include catechetical, service, social, spiritual and liturgical events. Not simply Confirmation catechesis, an active youth ministry should meet during and after the period of Confirmation catechesis, meeting at least monthly and seeking to integrate the youth into the everyday life of the parish. The 2017 survey showed that successful youth ministries are the result of the efforts of an entire parish, not a youth minister working alone. The survey also showed that some parishes interpret Confirmation catechesis as youth ministry and only about a third of parish youth ministries conduct post-Confirmation catechesis. The results also suggest that parental support is critical for youth ministries to thrive, but 40 percent of parishes report having little to no parental support. Lastly, the survey revealed that only half of parishes use social media in their outreach to youth. Based on the information from the surveys, the Youth Ministry Advisory Board said that the following steps must be taken: • Diocesan youth efforts will be directed toward assisting parishes in building vibrant youth ministries. • The Youth Ministry Advisory Board will offer help to struggling parishes in building youth ministry programs through mentorship and other “best practices” sharing initiatives. • A singular, agreed upon, dependable and two-way method of communication must be established between the diocese and its parishes. • Parish youth ministries must supplement Confirmation catechesis and provide post-Confirmation catechesis, while youth ministers and catechists must work together closely. • Everyone must prioritize youth ministry, a parish-wide initiative, with his or her time, energy and resources, including pastors, priests, deacons, staff, parents and the congregation as a whole. The Youth Ministry Advisory Board has identified the following successes in local parishes, despite obstacles: • St. Anthony Parish in Passaic has one of the most vibrant youth ministry programs in the Diocese despite financial constraints and depends solely on volunteers. • Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Branchville, and St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, Sandyston, and St. James Parish, Montague, have joined forces to jumpstart a youth ministry program, amid a rural population in decline in Sussex County. The priests are very present, the parents are supportive and youth have been participating in good numbers. • St. Joseph Parish, Mendham, has recognized that their youth are too busy with sports and other activities on most evenings, so they host successful early morning bagel and prayer meetings before the school day begins. Honsberger and Youth Ministry Advisory Board members suggest that it is vital for parishes to assess the condition of their faith communities and consider ways to improve their youth ministry programs and if they do not currently have a youth program, to start one. [To learn more about the Youth Ministry Advisory Board members, visit the Youth Ministry web page at insidethewalls.org. For information, email Brian Honsberger at bhonsberger@patersondiocese.org.]

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