It has been said crisis breeds creativity.
That has certainly been the case throughout the Catholic Church, particularly in Youth and Young Adult Ministry programs. With across-the-board staff and service cuts, it is a ministry that has been particularly hard hit and forced to adapt.
With many classes and instruction cancelled, community service opportunities curtailed and large events sidelined, Church leaders have had to hustle not only to introduce the faith, but engage and train emerging leaders, who are early in their Catholic journeys.
Most agree that youth and young adult ministry is foundational.
“People say, ‘The youth is the future of the Church,’” said Diocese of Orange Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Freyer. “However, they are also the present and so our strategic plan places an emphasis on ministry to youth and young adults.”
This is particularly true at a time when the young are in a fulcrum position in deciding whether to fully embrace the faith.
“If you serve the young Church now, they’ll be the future Church,” said Armando Cervantes, director of the Youth and Young Adult Ministry. “You make disciples by being protagonists for the faith. Now, more than ever, you need the connection.”
The ministry not only brings teens and young adults into fuller communion with the Church and Church life, but promotes civic activity and awareness through charity work, such as food and clothing drives, social justice and education.
High school-aged participants are required to track and complete service hours and young adults not only guide younger congregants but can be engaged in in-service training and National Certification opportunities.
As Bishop Freyer says, “Our ministry helps young people not just to be connected with Christ, but as Christians to help build a more Christ-like world though care for the poor, those who are sick or suffering. Our relationship with Christ should compel each of us to strive to make our communities more just, safer and holier.”
Combined it is a massive undertaking. The Youth and Young Adult Ministry oversees and supports programs for teens in parishes as well Catholic high schools and middle schools.
The Young Adults program caters to young adults (ages 18 to 39) registered as Catholics in Orange County.
Even with modern technology and social media, engaging youth has not been easy, and participation has declined.
“The financial impact cannot be underestimated,” said Catherine Ord, coordinator of the Youth Ministry, noting staff cutbacks and the pandemic have made it impossible to stage in-person events central to the Youth Ministry.
“Instead of hosting a youth day, we may be in the office making calls and sending Instagram messages,” she said.
Luckily, most young members are pretty tech savvy.
“One of the blessed things is the transition to technology hasn’t been hard,” Cervantes said.
YouTube, Facebook and Instagram help young parishioners participate online in rosaries and adorations. Families are also becoming more involved connecting via social media in new ways. There are also online games, Bible studies and confirmation classes.
As examples, Ord said Saint Hedwig Catholic Church created videos for families to watch that included prayers, games and teachings, as well as a summer online show modeled after late-night talk shows. Holy Trinity Parish ran a virtual Vacation Bible Camp and high schoolers created videos and led activities for youngsters. A Spanish-language youth group from Saint Polycarp Parish developed online meetings drawing national Hispanic leaders. San Francisco Solano Church held drive-in movie nights. And at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, the youth ministry used Minecraft to recreate the church.
Some other ways to connect with youth and young adults are so-called “hybrid events,” where they can meet outdoors, while maintaining distance, in addition to having an online component. Several churches are also holding outdoor youth events immediately before or after Mass.
On the Diocese’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry homepage, the program is designed “to draw young people to a responsible participation in the life, mission and work of our Catholic Faith Community.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lists eight components of a comprehensive ministry, including advocacy, catechesis, community life, justice and service, and prayer and worship.
For young adults, goals include actively inviting young adults into the life of the Church and responding to their needs and concerns. Cervantes said this has helped the ministry become, “with, for and by youth. They don’t just want to be served, they want to serve.”
This has led to a creative silver-lining in the pandemic crisis.
“COVID has given us a chance to think creatively about how we present our faith,” Cervantes said.
Where many programs and models have been top-down and set in stone over the years, Cervantes sees opportunities for change to better reach and connect.
“We can throw some of the models out the window,” he said. “I’m excited to see what gets created.”