Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I hate to say it, I am running on caffeine.  And even then, I feel more like a Model T than a Mustang.  

The Advent season, getting ready for a January retreat (based on the Chronicles of Narnia movies), and so forth has officially caught up to me.  Working 8 days straight has not helped either.  However, 2 more to go and then it is off to a far, far better place for me...Disney World.

Before I start singing "It's a Small World" yet again, I want to go back to that retreat.  I am terribly excited for it.  While we're still hammering out a title, some suggestions are:
  • "Ben Barnes: The Man, the Myth, the Movies" (catering to the girls who still drool over the Prince Caspian Movie"
  • "The retreat based off of all the crazy stuff that J (an adult volunteer) and his friends have" (due to his owning or knowing someone who owns: a rams horn, several broadswords, a lion costume, dry ice, and other sundry items)
The more likely title is "Through the Wardrobe."  Far less exciting, but fits our plans.  We're going to have opening prayer and me (as MacReady) giving the rules outside.  For once I'm praying we'll have cold and snow!  Then we'll journey inside to the meeting room.  The adult leaders are going to go all out in creating a winter Narnian landscape and a Wardrobe facade for the doorway.  Then our sessions will revolve around two major themes, Knowing God v. Knowing of God, and God's love.

So while I'm sure I'll return from nearly two weeks of Florida fun and sun somewhat more rested, I know that the retreat looms at the end of January and will likely chip away at that calmer me.  I think the most practical goal would be to cling to whatever tan I get while waiting in line for rides at the Animal Kingdom is a much more practical goal.

Until I return, this will likely be my last post, so 

Have a Blessed and Happy Christmas

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Easy Doesn't Mean Good

One of the great truths in food applies to ministry, just because it's easy doesn't mean it's good.  Now, there are exceptions.  As PB-Banana sandwiches and mac & cheese demonstrate.  However, Thanksgiving turkey, lasagna, homemade English toffee (still trying to get that recipe off my friend), and making schaumtorte that doesn't fall all attest to the fact that sometimes the really good things take a lot of work.

The past two days have flown by in the office.  There's plenty of work to keep me busy.  In addition, I'm creating more work as I want to apply things from NCCYM to the ministries here.  The January retreat is receiving the most significant overhaul.  We're starting from scratch, relying heavily on the adult leadership team, and incorporating first time volunteers (praise God for a new musician in our ministry!).  At least today I finally pulled our hook for the retreat and it was all due to the subliminal message of the music I was listening to some music while working on updating our YA website.  Amazing what the soundtracks to the Narnia movies will inspire.  Well, not all that amazing - we're going to use the Narnia movies as the arch for the retreat.    The up-coming meeting with the adult leadership team will approve or nix that idea, but the email response seems fairly positive.

As much as I agree, "All I want for Christmas is a weekend off," I am willing to let go of the easy in order to serve the Good.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sound and the Silence

Tonight was a good young adult ministry activity.  It drove home the idea that sometimes you need to take the simple route, in ministry and in your own faith life.  Our group wanted an Advent reflection.  I went in armed with my iPod, Bible, a sheet with reflections, and all the purple candles in the youth room.  What happened was a simple night of reflecting on two very different pieces of music, Breath of Heaven (Amy Grant) and O Come, O Come Emmanuel (Instrumental version) with the lyrics on a sheet of paper.  With some time to reflect on their own thoughts and some prompts provided a quiet discussion began.  The discussion continued into the next segment.  With passages from Matthew and Luke's infancy narratives, twenty minutes of individual reflection, and gentle music, the group again returned with wonderful thoughts.

Much is said on the importance of ensuring quiet, reflection, meditation...but I forcefully saw tonight that it is necessary to be deliberate in scheduling and formatting it.

Well, tomorrow I have a regional CYM meeting.  We're going to talk about technology and my peers asked me to do a bit of a presentation.  We are also going to talk through NCCYM.  With how busy I was today, I didn't get much of a chance to organize my thoughts or the papers I came home with.  I hope to do so by the end of the week, though I fear it will be next week when things start to slow down a bit more.

Monday, December 8, 2008


The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is always one of my favorite feasts.  Chalk it up to the fact she's a woman so I get something from her story.  Or maybe that she is so crucial to Salvation History, yet we know so very little, thus sparking my imagination.  Each feast involving Mary always leaves me with something to mull over for the days to come.  Today was no different.

However, I was exhausted and after the chaos of last week at the conference and a very exuberant youth group last night; I had planned to go incognito to an early 8:00 am Mass at a parish closer to where I live than where I work.  Hitting the snooze button a few times made it impossible for me to make that mass.  So I was able to put together my lists for my errands and not rush quite as much.  I ended up heading to the parish where I work for the mass at 9:15.  I love the school masses on Holy Days.  The kids are a mixture of divine inspiration and divine comedy.  Since some 'normal people' took up a few of the pews usually occupied by the kids, I ended up with a row of third graders next to me.  They were so well behaved (better than the teens often are!) and hearing them sing the hymns was precious.  It helped to pull me into the celebration.

Besides for the joy of the school children, it was important for me to be there.  As our pastor preached on how we all have a purpose, as exemplified by Mary, I really started to think about that with the background of the conference.  While we may not have dreamed as a ten year old of being youth ministers, we who chose this field do have a purpose.  It may not be glamorous, but it is so very important.  By the time Mass ended, I was feeling properly humbled by my previous wish to hide out today.

During the sign of peace, I turned and saw one of 'my' kid's mother.  She was behind me and we remained after mass to chat.  Her child is one of those that you find yourself worrying about when you're not praying for them.  Wonderful teen, incredibly talented, gifted artist, and exceptionally empathetic.  However, those same qualities that lead this teen into difficulties with emotions, relationships, and stress.  I was forcefully reminded during the conversation that one of my purposes is to minister with and to the parents.  This woman is faithful and growing in her own spiritual life while she so devotedly struggles with the worldly issues her family is facing.  It was a moment where I was awed by her.  She is an inspiration.  It was a moment where I was awed by my purpose.  What can I possibly do to encourage, help, or otherwise minister to her?  I did the only thing I could, I asked for guidance in one of those oh so familiar prayers of a youth minister, "Please God help me! Don't let me say something horrible."  

What further astounded me was how in the midst of talking over her struggles she still was so thoughtful as to ask how my brother was.  How is it that I am so blessed?  Days like today are the days you look to when someone asks you, "Why do you ever want to be a youth minister?"  You think of the moments where you see God.  Today I saw God. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Back in the Saddle

I'm back.  It is amazing how exciting it is to return to the office after the NCCYM conference.  I had my bag full of stuff to haul in.  There are the posters to put up on the youth room walls.  
I have CDs to add to our collection.  There are the massive quantities of flyers, brochures, business cards and such in a box now in my office.  Those will be sorted later in the week once I'm fully caught up.

For now it is applying the excitement and rejuvenation that the conference always seems to bring.  I'm already tweaking tonight's youth group.  I got some fantastic Our Lady of Guadalupe prayer cards we'll be using (including the Spanish version - good practice for our Honduras service trip later this summer).  Then there's the tweaking of next week's youth group.  And the retreat in January.

One of the things I really want to do a better job with, simple though it may be, is the music.  We have some kids whose musical intelligence is probably their dominant intelligence.  I want to better utilize music in the youth group.  Due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is space, we don't have live music.  However, we have a decent CD collection and now I plan to make use of MyCatholicVoice.com to find new music.  Have any songs to recommend?  I'm likely going to be listening to the couple of CDs I bought at the conference tomorrow as I deal with all the laundry and household chores.

It will take me a while to unpack this conference (mentally and physically - my suitcase will probably stay open on the futon in the den until I pack for my Christmas trip).  I look forward to tomorrow - the chance to relax, do laundry, catch one of my favorite Masses (ummm...Holy Day people...), and go through my notes (20 pages and tons of Post-Its).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sing a Song of Christmas

It is quite late.  I'm watching SNL with my hotel roommates and my alarm is going off at 5:45 am, but here's a quote of the day for you:

"Taking teens Christmas caroling is like state sponsored terrorism."
~ Steve Angrisano

Friday, December 5, 2008

Live from Cleveland, it's NCCYM!

So here's the total so far:

15 pages of notes
7 Post-It notes
6 books purchased or received free (love that expo hall!)
Two free shirts
Two key notes
Two workshops
One water bottle filled with goodies

Considering we still have all day tomorrow and what I have no doubt will be an amazing Mass on Sunday, I am in that state of simultaneous awe, exhaustion, and invigoration that a good conference offers.

As Michael Norman said today, only other youth ministers can understand all that it is to be a youth minister.  The joys and triumphs, the disappointments and desolation, the exhaustion and the hyper-activity, the well honed skill of pulling wax up from carpet with an iron and a paper bag.  Youth ministry is a strange field.  A room full of 2,000+ youth ministers doing the Hokey Pokey just proves it.  

This is my third NCCYM.  Each time I come it reinvigorates me.  Workshops provide the down and dirty means to improve the ministry.  Whether it is on retreats or evangelization, communication or biblical literacy, I can walk away with pages of notes and a mind full of ideas.  The keynotes challenge me.  They throw the statistics and realities of American youth into our faces to remind us what we need to be doing.  They offer inspiration with success stories and peculiar humor.  The expo hall is full of shiny new books, CDs, DVDs, websites, religious orders offering ideas, resources, and support.  Of course many offer free things like pens and candy.  

For all the concrete and spiritual development that is offered and that I rake in as quickly as possible, what always gives me the greatest joy is the fellowship.  here are 2,000 people who don't ask, "So is this your real job?"  They don't look at you like you're insane because you take two dozen kids out of the country to serve the poor in a garbage dump for your summer vacation.  They know that the greatest praise that you can receive is that one particular look on a teen's face when they have the 'ah-ha' moment.  They get it and they get me.

I will head home on Sunday with a bag full of resources and a notebook full of notes and ideas.  I will have new phone numbers in my cell phone and new friends on Facebook.  I will have books to read and CDs to listen to.  I will go home with a reminder of church and a renewed sense of mission.  For I am sent and as the last thing He said is the first thing we are to do - 

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. 
~Matthew 28.19-20

I am sent to make disciples.  I am sent to teach as I follow.  I am sent with the presences of God.

I have a lot to do.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ready, Set,...

I was all set to log on and write far more than you would ever be inclined to read on the first official day of the NCCYM conference.  However, reality has struck in the form of exhaustion.  Suffice to say for now that the opening presentation was fantastic.  I took four pages of notes and wrote margin notes on things to post here or other side-thoughts on what was presented.

I'm hoping to be a bit less exhausted tomorrow so I can not only share thoughts about today (Benign Whateverism & Moralistic Therapeutic Deism) but what adventures we have as the conference continues.

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house. 
But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 
And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house. 
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” 
~Matthew 7.24-27
Reading for first Tuesday of Advent

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Count Your Blessings

As part of my relaxing Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday through Saturday), I was able to see the musical, White Christmas.  One of my favorite songs from both the film and the stage musical is "Count Your Blessings."  Particularly during the difficult economic time and hectic pre-Christmas chaos, this song is a reminder of what is truly important.

When I found myself a bit under the weather, mostly congested, at youth group on Sunday I was ready to fold up and call it a day before the kids even showed.  The first one there, our resident class clown spent the first half hour (he was there 45 minutes early) alternately sharing thoughts on music (he's a gifted musician) and mocking me.  Not surprising.  We had a wonderful Advent prayer service with reflection and a quiet activity.  An entirely entertaining game of Apples to Apples followed.  A simple closing prayer that is also creating our Christmas decorations wrapped up the night.

The youth group was a bit hodge-podge and I was definitely not at my best, but the kids rose to the occasion.  Their humor was just pointed enough when making fun of me to remind me they are awfully close to being grown up, yet well intentioned so they never crossed any lines.  They truly quieted themselves as we prayed and reflected.  For over 10 minutes we had near silence as they did the activity (a minor miracle for the Sunday after Thanksgiving).  They were all good natured during the game and it was a testimony to the community that has been built among these incredibly diverse youth and adult leaders.

I count myself blessed in my ministry.  There are days I do just want to go home and sleep long before whatever activity is planned even begins.  But most days, when I do eventually find my way home I enjoy the silence of my place and think, "Today was a good day."

Not that I am the most regular blogger on the web, but I will likely be away from the blog for a week.  I am off to the NCCYM and NCYAMA conferences.  If I am able to find wi-fi I will post some thoughts.  Otherwise I will have to digest 5 days of overload and put somethings here for you.

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.

On that day,
The root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
The Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.
~Isaiah 11.9-10
from today's Mass readings

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Out with the Old

Today we, Catholics and those that follow a similar lectionary cycle, celebrate Christ the King Sunday.  This feast is the end of each liturgical year.  Next Sunday begins Advent and the anticipation for Christmas, and the new liturgical year.  

With tonight's youth group taking a sort of "new year's" perspective and the shift in the liturgical cycle, I really feel the newness coming.  December is fairly lightweight as the youth ministry bows to the pressures of other parish events, school vacations, and the festivities of the Holy Days and holidays.

I will escape to Cleveland for several days to the NCCYM and NCYAMA conferences.  This will be a chance to get new ideas on youth and young adult ministry, search out new resources, and share stories (good and bad) with others in similar ministry positions.  This will be my third NCCYM conference and I am looking forward to it.

I also am looking to the new year, calendar wise, as we will begin working on several major projects and continue developing others in greater detail.  There will be our parish common conference.  A parish youth retreat, a joint (4 or more parish) youth retreat, a girls retreat, a young adult retreat, a state Catholic Young Adult Conference, Sunday night youth groups, Bible studies, young adult nights, a trip to Honduras, and the initial plans for World Youth Day 2011. 

I find though, that much like I do when the year changes on January 1, that my outward plans are tempered by a bit of introspection.  Knowing what is all on my plate and recognizing the challenges that those events pose, I am trying to make some spiritual resolutions - prayer time, fun time, and just me time.   Those ideas got pushed to the side, slowly but surely, over the past several weeks.  

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Iron Man

I thought I'd post a youth group night that worked well.  I passed it on to another CYM who tweaked it and had a successful night with it.

7:00 to 7:20 Opening Activity
7:20 to 7:45 Iron Man clips & discussion
7:45 to 8:00 Prophets of a Future Not Our Own Discussion
8:00 to 8:20 Finishing the opening activity
8:20 to 8:45 Tale of Three Trees reflection and prayer


Cut outs in the shape of people; markers; pens; Bibles, copy of Iron Man (2008); copy of The Tale of Three Trees; candle.

Based off of Matthew 25.14-30

Opening Activity
Everyone gets one of the paper ‘people’ to decorate one side of. Use any of the supplies put out on the table in the back of the room. Please decorate it appropriately. You need to keep the backside clear with no decorations. 

Iron Man Activity
We will watch a clip from chapter 3 of Iron Man. Clip ends when we hear Yinsen say, “This is a very important week, then.”

  • What is going on in this clip?
  • What did the doctor (Yinsen) do for Tony Stark?
  • What are the talents that the two men, Stark and Yinsen, have?
  • What effect did Yinsen have on the world up to this point?
  • What effect did Stark have?
  • Why did Stark refuse to use his talents?
  • What does Stark do with his talents after this last question from Yinsen?
  • Why do or don’t people decide to use their gifts and talents?
  • What effect do we have on others?
  • What can we do when we cause hurt, damage, or suffering?
  • How can we try to use our talents and gifts for good?
  • Why should we try to do good?

"Prophets of a Future Not Our Own" Discussion
Read the quote on the cards.

  • What do you think is the meaning of this?
  • Why do you think it was written?
  • Do you agree with it, why or why not?
  • How do you feel about the idea that “we accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction” of God’s work?
  • Do you think the fact we cannot do everything is liberating?
  • What is the difference between a minister and a messiah?
  • What is it that you think you might be a prophet of?

Finishing the Opening Activity
Now we will finish those little ‘people’ that you begun at the start of the night. For the next several minutes you will have a chance to silently write on the back of each person’s person. You will write a positive note about some talent, gift or positive trait that they have. There will be no commenting out loud or talking in general. (Play quiet, reflective music.) Once everyone is done, make sure people get their own ‘person’ back. Give them a few minutes to read them (silently still).

While they are writing, set up the next clip.

Tale of Three Trees
Before the story, watch the brief clip of Pepper and Tony in his workroom. Begin when she enters, end when he says, “I shouldn’t be alive unless it is for a reason.”

  • Do you think we’re all alive for a reason?
  • Is it the same reason for everyone or do each of us have an individual reason?
  • What do you think that reason is?
  • Where does that reason come from?

Read the storybook, The Tale of Three Trees.

Offer a short reflection on how we all have aspirations to go with our gifts and talents. No matter how disappointed we may be when something goes differently then we would wish, we still have a purpose. There are still good and great things we can do with the blessings we are given.

Read 1 Thessalonians 5.1-6

Instructions: We are children of day. Even when things are challenging or seemingly overwhelming, we are hopeful. We offer our gifts, our talents, and our time to help change that which is negative in our world. As we close, we pass this candle. Please offer one thing that you see as something troubling and also something that gives you hope. Then you pass the candle to the next person.

Now I had a good night with this.  I ended up changing the closing a bit.  Due to discussion, I concentrated on where they had seen light in their lives.  Then I said something to the effect of (after turning all the lights off in the room): "You are the light for others, just as you have mentioned those that have been light for you.  There will be times in your lives when you feel surrounded by darkness.  But just as this candle is brightest in the complete darkness, the light of God that is with you always and the light within others will be strongest at those times.  You only need to turn your face to it.  You are all strong and beautiful souls. Your light is astounding to me and it is my prayer you never forget that."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In the Garden

Not long after starting in youth ministry, I was reading an article in either Group Magazine or Youth Works magazine.  I honestly don't know which of the two.  I ran across this advice, "Show them the God of love and joy...'Relish it. Remember it.' They're going to need it someday when it's their turn to pray in the garden [of Gethsemane]."  There are many tidbits of advice, theology, psychology, crowd control, and so on that I routinely remind myself of.  This remains one of the most important in my mind and in practice.

Since reading that, we've had tragedies in the community, in individual lives, and I have seen how powerful those words remain.

Yes, they need to know the morality, the theology, the history.  But they need to know how to not only survive the tragedies of life, but to come out of those Gardens of Gethsemane into the light of the Resurrection.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What's in a Name?

Routinely I am asked by the diocese to do presentations on young adults.  Whether I use the "Theology of the iPod" concept or keep it simple and short, I always end up surprising some people.

What is interesting to me, is how much attention the young adults are getting in the world right now.  And it is positive.  Whatever your personal reaction to the election results are, the young adult vote and what it means became a force in American society that cannot be ignored.

The New York Times offers this article, Generation O.  Much of what the article says about the young adult population is not new; the newness lies in those who are listening.

Young people have the wherewithal, spirit, and desire to change the world for the better.  The question remains for those befuddled, frightened, or ambivalent, will you let them?

The question for churches becomes, will you let them?  

After all, wasn't it a young man, oh about 33, who started this all?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Parental Control

No, I have no interest in my thoughts of that charming show.  Rather, I ran across this article in the Christian Science Monitor, "Key to Stemming High School Dropouts: Parents."

Two comments on this.

1.  Communication with the parents is absolutely essential.  Any publication on youth ministry worth its salt will have this somewhere in its pages.  However, do we really follow through?  Do we take the time to make the calls, send the letters?  Do we promptly return parent calls, emails, and letters?  With the exception of when I have a day off or am traversing the globe on the latest harebrained-why-was-this-a-good-idea-pilgrimage/service-trip, I hold myself to a strict 24 hour max on any delay in returning communication.  Even if I can't answer the question, I call back to say I don't know but I am working on the answer and will get back to you (I fill in a reasonable amount of time here).  None of us like to be kept out of the loop, so why do we do that to parents?

2.  Parental involvement.  Dangerous words.  Just about every youth minister can point to their train wreck moment when a parent volunteer caused massive amounts of damage to their ministry.  I had the joy of my train wreck being all of four months into the job.  However, I did not let this stop me from having parents involved in the ministry.  I simply did a better job from that point on in vetting and preparing volunteers.  Five years in, I'm still on a learning curve for this.

Side note - youth ministers, don't get caught up in your bubble of ministry, youth, and all that is church.  Remember that wisdom can come from unlikely sources so keep your nose in non-church media.  

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Headscarves and Bibles

Two articles that I ran across yesterday gave me pause.  

The first was Generation Faithful found on the New York Times website.  Here is an interesting article that discusses how the Turkish young people are living out the typical call to rebel, by returning to their faith.  Now some could argue that this breeds extreme ism. Yes, that does happen.  however, it also breeds young people who the pursue life in business, science, medicine, education, and families that are grounded is firm moral and spiritual roots.  Thoughts of the justness and righteousness of an action are weighed as much as the ability to complete the action.  Is this not a good thing?

The article took me back to my freshman year of college.  I lived in the all girls dorm.  Due to it having the largest rooms and best cafeteria.  Plus it was a great location, next to three of the buildings that housed most of my classes given my areas of study.  Anyways, also in the dorm were a cluster of girls I had been good friends with in primary and secondary school.  One had moved somewhere in the middle school years.  The other two remained in my circle of friends throughout high school.  When the four of us discovered we all were in the same dorm, we began to have regular meals together.  An odder set you likely would not see.  Fatima was becoming as involved int eh Muslim student group as I was in the Catholic student group.  Another friend, from Taiwan, was Buddhist, but mostly secular in her beliefs.  Then there was the eccentric one who was raised sort of Catholic but was heading down the atheist path.  Especially Fatima and I would have constant conversations about our faith and how that influenced our lives. She, like the girls in the NYT article, chose to wear the headscarf.  Her mother did not, I believe.  She saw it as a sign of her faith, as a sign of her choice to live according to that faith.  I understood.  I wore my cross daily and a Miraculous Medal with it.  We shared stories and found strength in each other's faith.  Both of us were parts of a faith that was predominantly led by a male hierarchy.  We were both trying to be faithful in a secular university where professors and students didn't always respect our choices.  We both were singled out by professors due to the physical signs of our faith.  I remember being verbally attacked by a philosophy professor due to my cross and medal I wore.  Petrified at the time, I now see that as a valuable life experience.  Fatima helped me through some of those freshman year challenges.  

The second will have to wait.  I need to get into the office.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Little Things

Let me share a great piece of wisdom with you.  It's all about the small things.  The small things will either keep you going or drive you nuts.  

Sample of today's small things:
1.  In a moment of clarity while at a store's close-out sale, I saw those plastic disks you put on the bottom of your furniture to make the furniture "move like it was on wheels."  After a year of shoving the couches around the youth room (they are those really solid wood 'crate' style that could kill an elephant if dropped incorrectly), I had the epiphany.  "I should buy these things."  After rooting around for the last two for solid pieces, sans wheels, I stuck them on the couches.  A huge sense of accomplishment.  I dropped the couches on their backs, stuck those little things on, and then righted the monstrosities again.  Now those couches move without scratching the floor and without breaking my back.

2.  Here's one of those small things that has driven me nuts for a while.  I accidently bought scented dry erase markers.  The combination of dry erase chemicals and cherry, orange, and grape leaves me with not so fond memories of children's medication.  Oh well, I refuse to waste them, so here's hoping they dry out soon.

3.  I am reading the kids one of my favorite stories, A Tale from Paleface Creek.  This was a book given to me by the author, Bishop Robert Morneau of Green Bay, WI.  It is a fantastic reminder of what is important in each of our lives.  As it was a gift when he spoke at a conference I helped organize, the lesson on being too busy of a beaver was appropriate.  It is just as good of a message as I am a too busy youth minister.

Well, I'm off to review my notes for tonight.  As biblical literacy is a huge focus in the youth ministry this year, tonight is on the parables with a chunk of time on the origins of the Gospels.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lessons from Australia

I am sitting in our youth room due to my normal office being rewired.  Plus the paint fumes from the front parish offices is quite annoying.  I am glad to have this retreat.  The silence is only interrupted by the buzz of one of the lights.  (Soon to be replaced as part of our electrical system upgrade - more energy efficient light bulbs which I guess need a different socket - project for later next week the electrician told me.)

It is full fall weather here.  Chilly mornings dipping into the 40s while the afternoons see balmy temperatures into the 50s, maybe low 60s.  This was the same weather we faced in Australia for World Youth Day (WYD).  Being chilled, I found myself staring at my scarf collection.  Searching for one that I could wear with my fleece and use as a shawl or scarf while sitting down here, I pulled down the one I bought in Melbourne.  Yes, I must admit I took a cluster of my kids to the mall in Melbourne.  While we had been very prepared, the area had a cold snap accompanied by nearly constant drizzle or mist.  Very reminiscent of England for me.  It seeped through you and left you chilled just about all day.  Our trek to the mall was a side trip on our walking tour of the city center.  We trooped in to purchase additional warm wear - hats, scarves, gloves.  A couple girls bought think tights to layer under their pants for added warmth.  Smart girls.

Another rule of youth ministry crossed my mind at this point - no matter how well prepared you and the youth are, you will be unprepared for something.  This was not a major hindrance, but it was miserable some mornings as temperatures hovered around 45 degrees and the drizzle and grey skies lurked.  But this was a blessing in disguise.  On the superficial side, instead of tossing money away on items of little value, intrinsic or sentimental, the youth purchased practical mementos in the forms of the Days in the Diocese hats or scarves.  Host families gave the kids items from their own closets and insisted the kids keep them, as host parents and grandparents feared chilly temperatures for us in the following week in Sydney.  The weather and the trek to the mall made for great memories.  We huddled together as we waited for trams.  We learned about Aussie Rules Football from the avid fans leaving a game as we journeyed home on the tram.  We were humbled by the graciousness of our hosts.  We recognized our interdependence on others in our group, our hosts, and the strangers in the street.

This ties into the other, possibly most important rule of youth ministry, be flexible.  Or as the colorful sign my friend gave me for my last birthday says, "Improvise!"  Our daily plans changed according to the weather.  When we couldn't adapt our plans, we changed our wardrobes.  We changed our routes so the kids could find hot cocoa or coffees to stay warm.  

A combination of that preparedness and improvisation is one of the greatest tools I strive to foster.  The kids are amused by my immense preparations - the envelopes of contact info, health forms, maps, first aid kit, duct tape.  Parents appreciate it as they know that they have as much information as possible and we, the adult leaders, are as ready for what comes as we can be.  However, the real world does not exist in a vacuum.  Personalities, weather fronts, mechanical difficulties, health concerns, road construction, and all the other variables add up to keep us on our toes.  Being able to take that preparedness and retool it to work with a new set of circumstances is crucial.

It even helps on the days when the parish offices are in disarray.  I do not have access to my work computer, voicemail, file cabinets, or card stock.  However, I could put files on a flash drive, create new files and save them to Google Docs, work on the blogs we use to plan Sunday youth group.  I have been able to have fully productive days even though I am cut off from my normal office environment.  Some of my coworkers have struggled with this as they are less mobile, less tech savvy (not that I am worthy of employment at Google or Apple), and a bit less practiced at improvisation.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Between Two Jungles

Keeping with the contrived theme of the blog, I have been caught between two jungles.  Beginning with the summer months and really continuing now for the next year.

A short summary of the conflict isn't too easy.  There were things mentioned over the summer - tragedies in the lives of my closest friends, travels to see family, and the like.  Now, I am also facing the fact that my brother is deployed to Iraq.  It has taken a toll on me and my ministry.

Most noticeably, the personal issues manifested themselves in one of the nastiest head colds I've ever had.  Likely worsened by the chaos of the first three weeks of youth group and the very early youth retreat, I was down for the count most of last week.  As it was last Tuesday that my brother left for the Middle East, it left me physically and emotionally wiped out.  Apparently, some people also have noticed I am not quite as upbeat or, as one of the school teachers put it 'chipper', as I normally am.  Again, a major component of this is my brother, a smaller portion, exhaustion.

All of these have led to some minor revelations and practical changes.  The simplest is that due to the cold, I have finally gotten back into a normal sleep pattern and a sufficient amount of daily sleep.  Granted last week I was napping for a significant portion of the day, but it has carried through this week in so far as I am getting around 7 hours of sleep a night.  Not bad for a youth minister.

All the worry, stress, and sheer quantity of work, family issues, and the like has led me to a better prayer time.  In the way of so many before me in the Catholic faith, when my own words fail me, I have turned to the Rosary.  I know I am praying for my brother's safety, safe return, my family, and all those I know deployed.  However, I do not know what to pray for in regards to helping them in the day to day life in Iraq.  I also thought and reflected on the power of Mary's intercession.  If ever there was a woman who had no control over the events and dangers surrounding a loved one's life, it is Mary.  Her intercession cannot harm my prayers.  I have also been spending more time reading my Bible.  On the days that I have not had to head into the office until later, I also have picked up the book, A Pilgrim Pope.

The combination of sleep and better prayer time in the very early morning are leading me into a more solid routine to my day.  This helps me to place things in perspective before being inundated with the massive quantities of email, phone calls, drop-ins, mail, and other business of being a youth minister.  I also hope it will help to center me so that the coming year does not overwhelm.

By really focusing on a rhythm to life, I am able to get back into habits that the chaos of the summer and the stresses of early fall pushed to the side.  I am again reading voraciously.  Currently I am utterly engrossed in A Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  To read something that is unrelated to ministry or the Church is incredibly helpful.  On a less cultured note, I am also enjoying watching the DVDs of the first two seasons of Heroes.  Mind you, it is no West Wing, but it is entertaining.  I also have made time to cook, whether an Indian chickpea recipe or Pumpkin bread, the creative, relaxing activity is immensely helpful.  Plus it makes my condo smell wonderful.

As much as I have joked about how I have no regular pattern to my schedule, I am seeing how incredibly necessary it is.  I skated through the past five years, probably based on my youth and sheer force of will.  The added responsibilities professionally and personally will not continue to allow that.  This will hopefully be a much better balanced year.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Wise Men

This time of year is a peculiar one.  There is an air of relaxation, informality.  Others in the parish office are on vacation.  Kids message me from beaches, camps, basements, and living rooms sharing their excitement or boredom. 
I find myself already in the very deep planning for the coming year.  The calendar is set.  Topics are chosen.  Action plans discussed and decided.  Research and background reading begins for those topics I'm not quite comfortable with yet.  Paperwork, photocopying, stapling, sorting, stopping for the bandage for yet another paper cut.  Calling to make reservations for picnic shelters, putt putt golf, and retreat centers.  Updating websites, creating new blogs,  and adding to email lists.
While hectic, slightly overwhelming, this time is a mixture of the familiar, the new, and even a bit magical.  The new ideas float around all the leadership.  The excitement of new freshmen joining the group buzzes through the youth.  The reality of the chaos of the year has not yet caused me to push aside the well thought out plans and lofty goals.
This year we are trying some new things.  Our Sunday Youth Groups are being based on the Lectionary readings.  This means our topics derive from what that Sunday's Mass readings contain.  I've gone through September so far in detail and found plenty to work with so I have great hopes for this.
Our Wednesday night Bible studies will go off of other books in the Bible as they used to be on the coming Sunday's Gospel reading.  Our first book to tackle will be the highlights of 1 John.  A personal favorite and no one in our leadership had any other preferences. 
The fall retreat is quite early which means I only have two weeks of 'normal' youth group before we go.  That will be a challenge, administratively, but I think there's great advantage to it.
We are moving some things to the web to help (hopefully) reduce planning meetings.  I set up blogs to help plan our Youth Groups and Bible studies.  Here's hoping that it works.  The leaders need to form the habit of checking the blogs, but it is the price to pay for shorter leadership meeting.
With all the work, all the aspirations for the year, I oddly find myself thinking of the three wise men or kings.  Yes, they shouldn't be showing up until January, but the new year makes me think of them.  So little is known, thus leaving my imagination to fill in the rather gaping holes in their stories. 
I would like to think that they did not really know what they were doing when they followed that star.  Yes, they knew how to read the stars; knew it was unusual; divined that a king was come.  But I don't think they knew to expect a king in a manger with a mother no older than the girls I work with here.  Yes, they knew how to survive the journey.  But I don't think they expected the company.  After all, would not a king or a great wise man wish to make as grand an impression as possible? Why then would he choose to travel with two others that could diminish his grandeur?  Yes, they brought gifts fit for a king.  But I don't think they knew how fitting they were for the small babe in swaddling clothes.
These men, with aspirations, hopes, and an idea where they were going found themselves lost.  Their plans failed.  They were surprised by companions, the babe, the angel.  They returned a different way, changed.
Each year, I start with my plan.  I know who is on leadership, I know what to expect.  Then come the freshmen, then comes the new volunteer forms.  Then come the crises, the normal ups and downs.  Then come the moments of grace and devastation the teens experience.  The plan changes.  The leadership team changes.  I drop my expectations.
Each year I turn that page of the calendar from May to June and with it comes the realization that I, too, have changed.  And it is as it should be.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

When Loves Collide

Last night was the meeting where our young adult group hashes out the quarterly plan of events.  Imagine my joy when a longstanding member, who apparently knows me well, offers a fantastic suggestion for November 4.  The difficulty with that day is that we want to have our usual Tuesday night meeting, but as it is election day, most young adults have to head to the polls after work.  Thus we need to find an activity that is easy for people to drop in after the official start time.

So when it was suggested, "Hey, why don't we have a West Wing night? You can pick the episodes and we can discuss the issues in them." I nearly fell on the floor in delight.

West Wing was a sacred show for me.  I never, before or since, have been as avid a viewer of any show.  The combination of great characters, amazing bravery in tackling issues, and often even incorporating faith issues got me hooked.  I look forward to deciding which episode(s) to show.  I've already got a few floating in my mind that would be good ones...

..."The Supremes" - a good one with Glen Close that looks at the powers of the Supreme Court, compromise, idealism, healthy dialogue, and that glass ceiling my mom did her paper on for her MA.

...An episode with the Judge Mendoza character - shows immigration issues, prejudices, what do we value in the justice system.

...One of the key episodes discussing the ramifications of Bartlett's MS - Should McCain be elected, his age begs questions of how would we deal with an ill president, what should the public know, how should power be distributed.

...One of the episodes dealing with Zoe, Charlie, and the threats made on the lives of those in the White House - As my mom pointed out, should Obama be elected, there will be those that due to racism or other prejudices will be violently displeased.

...The episode done in response to 9/11 - this episode was brilliant, in my opinion.  It brought out the underlying prejudices and presumptions even the educated have in regards to Arab Americans.  It dove into the historical, political, and ideological differences involved in our current world struggles.  Plus, it gave Stockard Channing a beautiful piece.

So I shall continue to ponder, have an excuse to spend a lazy Saturday watching West Wing DVDs, and join my two loves of ministry and West Wing...even if it is just for one night.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More on WYD

While I don't normally borrow from other websites that I write and maintain, this post from my official youth ministry website for the church applies to this blog too.  So without further ado, here's the post.

When WYD Meets the World

The return from WYD, once the laundry is done and the pile of messages and emails are answered, becomes slightly surreal.  The experiences that are so outrageous - sitting in a racetrack with 450,000 people for Mass…talking with people from Tonga, California, and the United Arab Emirates simultaneously…bundling up in hats and scarves and space blankets while we eat dinner in a field where Aussie Rules Football, soccer, and dancing are all going on…watching the Pope arrive in a boat-acade that floats past the Sydney Opera House…watching his welcome address on a cell phone of a Sydney-sider while our radios provide the audio…

To explain to someone who hasn’t sat in a field on the other side of the world, sweltering, frozen, drenched, or sunburned, it is is near impossible.  Why you would ever wish to do such a thing?  Moreover, why you would want to take a group of high school youth and young adults to such an event.

Then there is the popular media coverage…the usual coverage occurs regarding where the Pope went & what he said.  The commentary appears saying shouldn’t the Church use its resources for other good deeds?  Then there’s the attacks that occur on the Pope’s message or past deeds, the Church’s teachings or past deeds, the youth themselves.

Simply put, I truly believe that WYD is a worthwhile and incredibly value event.  It is worth the two years of planning and mild ulcers.  It is worth the challenges the planning committee faces.  It is worth the sweltering heat of Rome in 2000, the downpour in Toronto in 2002, the chilly mist of Cologne in 2005, and the winter of Sydney in 2008.  It is worthwhile because the participants hear words of wisdom and inspiration from bishops from around the world.  It is worthwhile because connections are forged between people that would otherwise never happen.  Many who went to Germany in 2005 are still in contact with their host families and friends made around the world.  Participants see what it truly means to be part of a universal Church - faces from the world over, different ideas, a variety of spiritualities, challenges to their faith journey, encouragement to grow, and a greater sense of their Catholic identity and their personal identity.  Those who go on pilgrimage return on mission.  The host community sees a positive gathering of young people with their enthusiasm, faith, and sense of community providing a boost. 

I could easily go on and on regarding WYD.  I’ve been to four.  Two of those were trips where I led a group.  The best way to see the value of WYD is to go.  Plan for WYD 2011 in Madrid, Spain. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I have just returned from the massive trip that was two years in the planning and two weeks in duration.  Right now I am in the shell shocked, over exhausted, and slightly sick recovery state.  A few more days of normal sleep (trying to get back into this time zone) and finishing my laundry will put things to right again.

The trip was incredible.  No matter how many World Youth Days (WYD) I attend, each one in it's unique way is absolutely wonderful and the occasional disaster.  This one blew me away in some major and innumerable small ways.

The incredible large moments were the Living Stations of the Cross and the overnight vigil and Mass with the Pope.  The Stations were indescribable.  Over the course of 3 hours, actors re-enacted the Passion narrative using the landmarks of Sydney as their backdrop.  To see the Opera House transformed into Pilate's palace and Jesus transported with his cross on a simple flat float were stunning images that I am still processing.  What spoke most to me was the casting of an Aboriginal man, in traditional garb, as Simon the Cyrene.  After beginning to learn more of what the Aboriginal peoples of Australia suffered, the image of this man helping Jesus to bear the Cross was one of the most moving moments of the two weeks.  

The overnight vigil was incredibly cold, down to 46 degrees overnight, but was a beautiful witness to the universality of faith among young people.  Our small group from the U.S. was surrounded by Germans, Tongalese, a large group from the United Arab Emirates, and an enormous group from California.  All of us were willing to brave the chilly temperatures, occasional issue with malfunctioning toilets, and canned tuna to pray together at night and close the WYD event with the massive Papal Mass on Sunday morning.

The small moments were the things that no news agency would wish to cover, but which made the trip more meaningful.  Watching group members care for individuals struggling with the confusion, teens pausing to pray instead of sight-seeing, finding old friends in the midst of thousands of strangers, these were the moments that helped to ground the experience for me in a complex reality.

What is difficult is the reactions of the teens.  WYD is primarily geared towards those 18 and older.  By taking a significant number of 16 & 17 year-olds, the dynamics change.  I obviously cannot have young people roaming long after midnight through a foreign city.  This means curtailing our evening activities.  With a diverse group of people, there is a complicated matrix of needs and wants to work with that rarely coincide with each other.  Inevitably, people have disappointed expectations or are pushed beyond what they had imagined the trip to be.  Young adults are more ready, developmentally, to face these challenges and make decisions accordingly.  In the case of teens, they often will become antagonistic, shut themselves off, or begin the time honored tradition of complaining.  I struggle greatly with this.  I want to take teens, but I question the wisdom. 

I had teens complain the trip wasn't religious enough.  Others that it was too religious.  Some wanted more freedom, while others  I knew required structure.  Balancing all of this is an impossible act.  Of course the nay-sayers are the most vocal, which makes it more difficult.  With my present exhaustion I am a bit more negative myself.  Time will give perspective.

Until then, I will continue attempting to reorient myself to this time zone and enjoying the quiet.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Needs of the Many, Needs of the Few

Within ministry, the choice between the needs of the many and the few often is a difficult one to make.  The hardest moments are when the needs of the many, those you minister to and with, come in stark contrast with the needs of the few, yourself and those you love.  

This morning was the normal frantic routine of final packing of toiletries, rechargeable batteries, and the ever misplaced glasses case.  Then, just as I hung up after calling my mother, my cell phone rang while still in my hand.  I was thrilled to see it was my closest friend, one who just moved out of state and I miss dearly.  A bit surprised to see her calling so early, I just chalked it up to her wish to talk a bit before I leave.  I only wish that was the case.  Instead I learned her father had just passed away.  Knowing this moment was coming due to a long illness, I long ago made the decision that as soon as I got this call I would pack a bag, grab my maps, call in to work and head down to help her.  After all, her kids treat me like an aunt, I know what those first days after a death are like, and it was just the only thing I could see myself doing.  Contrary to those plans, all I can do in these few hours before I leave the country seems too small.  I made a few calls, got a friend to take care of sending flowers in my name, plan to have Mass intentions set when I get into the office.  

It is these moments when my duties and call to youth ministry divide my heart and challenge my will that I find myself most disheartened.  I know that the pilgrimage I am leaving on will be a wonderful experience for all involved.  I know that my friend understands and would not wish at all for me to cancel my trip.  I know that I will see her just a few days after returning.  I know what I need to do, but it most definitely is not what I want to do.

So I will close, turn off this laptop, pack it in my backpack.  I will pray yet again for my friend, her family, and even for myself.  I will load my car, head to work, then to the airport.  But with all that I have packed, a bit of my heart will be torn off and left with my friend and her family.

Monday, July 7, 2008


All the helpful comments of, "You are brave" or "Better you than me!" have officially hit the pit of my stomach.  Within 24 hours I will be on my way to World Youth Day.  Over two years of planning, thousands in fundraising, and countless hours of preparatory meetings and administrative frustrations culminate in this two week pilgrimage.

Alas, all the 'helpful' support of friends and co-workers who express their amazement or general relief that I and not them take on this trip has resulted in adding to the already high level of stress and nerves I am experiencing.  Of course the shorter than expected hair cut is not quite helping.  Yes, I am at that point in the life of a youth minister where it seems God's sense of humor, or maybe irony, appears to be plaguing me.

Overly dramatic? Probably. But short hair, stress, and the frustrations with the visas are adding up to give me cause to live off of Tums and coffee.  Not good.  At least there are some treats from Whole Food's salad and deli area for super.

Due to the pilgrimage, posting will be sporadic (still).  I do hope to share some of the thoughts and reflections of the trip.  Escaping for a few minutes at the end of the night to the silence and space of the blogosphere will be a comfort!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

On Vacation in Another Wilderness

Though on vacation from youth ministry (at least as much as one ever is), I felt this was something to post.

I am fairly well traveled.  I have seen and met people in and from many countries, felt myself to be stranger and family.  I have seen and experienced sights and places that cause you to feel far from home yet are hauntingly familiar.

Never have I experienced anything like the wilds of Alaska.  Though I was here before, it was in the dim twilight of November and my explorations were constricted to Fairbanks.  This trip has included a winding road trip of over 1,100 miles from Fairbanks to Kennicott to Anchorage to Talkeetna to Denali Park and back to Fairbanks.

The drive to Kennicott in particular and the hike to the glacier there was awesome in the true sense of the word.  Though my brother laughed when I tried to express it, my impression of the overwhelming peaks and breathtaking vistas was like trying to understand a higher language.  There is the practical language of nature - being able to understand the calls and sounds of animals, read the paths in the woods, or find sustenance in the brush.  Some of that lower language I can read and speak.  Years of Girl Scout camp helped with that.

This loftier and deeper language is one that hints at the voice of God.  The height and grandeur of the mountains.  The tumble and froth of the rapid creeks.  The sedate, patience rivers.  The blue coolness of the creeping glaciers.  The warmth of the sun on the wild, hearty flowers.

I felt if I was still enough, for long enough, perhaps I might just be able to make something of the quiet cacophony of this majestic language.  

Monday, May 12, 2008

Of Many Languages

Sunday was Pentecost for those that follow the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar.  On this day, as we read in Acts 2:1-11:
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God.”
To hear one's native language in a sea of foreign words and experiences is such an immense feeling it is difficult to describe what it is like.  My senior year of college I ventured to Rome to visit a friend studying there for the semester.  After experiencing Florence and its homage to the vast artistic history of humanity, we traveled via train to the seaside city of Naples.  From there we were to take a ferry to Capri.  We had tickets and we had maps. We were experienced travelers and felt that this was a simple enough journey.  Men plan, God laughs.

Our train dropped us in Naples just as the afternoon stretch where shops close and Italians generally take to their homes for a rest from the heat of the day.  Thus we found ourselves picking our way to the docks so we could find our ferry.  For over an hour we roamed through what was the commercial and industrial docks looking for the tourist ferries.  No one was in sight.  Finally, as our exhaustion and hunger caught up with us, we heard voices.  That alone was enough for us to cheer up and begin searching out the people that went with the voices.  Finally we discerned the language they were speaking.  It was English! American English!  We practically ran at full tilt towards this middle aged couple.  I'm sure the band of three bedraggled college students rushing them was a sight.

Providentially, not only were they English speakers with a clue as to what we needed to do, but the woman was actually my friend's advisor in the very university we all attended.  Somehow in the midst of Napoli's docks, we not only found English speakers, but a couple from our very own town.

That sense of relief, belonging, and acceptance that is based on nothing else than hearing words you understand when you expected to be mystified will never leave me.  When I hear the words of Acts in this Pentecost reading, I can understand the amazement and wonder of the people listening to the disciples.

As I was listening to our associate pastor's homily, I began to question myself and my ministries.  When the kids come to our youth ministry events, when the adults come to Theology on Tap or Ya2acht Club, do they feel that sense of acceptance and belonging.  Does the language I use make sense to them?  Any profession, ministry, military, government, medicine, teaching, has a nomenclature.  Am I careful to make sure what I say can make sense and touch the souls of others?

Furthermore, Pentecost is a moment when God spoke to all of us.  Through the mouths of the disciples he was able to show his glory, his compassion, and greatness.  The truly universal message of the Good News was directly related to each individual in the crowd.  Do my actions show that same universal love of God?  Do my own words and actions testify to the presence of Truth?  Do they speak of compassion, understanding, and acceptance?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's Coming

Summer's coming.

When will a rest?

I've started the heaving planning for summer events.  I am a bit intimidated by the summer schedule.  While I do get to run away to a far, far away place, the rest of the summer is quickly being packed with summer events.

A trip to Cedar Point, a lock-in, the World Youth Day pilgrimage, Apples to Apples apple party, glow in the dark putt putt, picnics, and the Nuts and Bolts conference will force June, July and August to quickly pass me by.  When you toss in planning the 2008-2009 school year, podcasts, and the usual Bible studies it is a formidable schedule.

It is tempting to, as the kids do, blow summer off.  To say that it is a time of rest and relaxation not needing programs or events.

For that very reason it is more necessary to reach out the kids.  To connect the incoming freshmen with the community and help them acclimate to the new environment of high school life.  To provide graduating seniors with the tools and mechanisms to move on to the next phase of their life.  To spend time as a group joining in social events.  The summer provides an unique opportunity to focus on community building and pastoral care.

So I will enjoy my vacation in June to see my brother in the land of the midnight sun.  I will use those days to relax (if not exactly catch up on sleep).  I will then come back knowing that the ensuing months will be just as busy as the rest of the year.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


They laugh.  They mock.  Inevitably, they ask for it.

One of the essential items I pack for any youth ministry event - whether it is a retreat, camping, service project, or international travel - is duct tape.  This miracle product will repair ripped jeans, hold up broken airline tray tables, suspend just about anything, and will, without fail, be used on each and every event.

Somewhere is a stunning picture of me standing in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.  I have my day pack slung over one shoulder.  On the other shoulder is my flute with a role of duct tape on the strap.  

With two retreats just wrapped up and the massive undertaking to attend World Youth Day now less than 80 days away, duct tape has a comfortable position on my desk.

For all those who have ever mocked me (and there are plenty), here is a bit of higher vindication. 

Monday, April 21, 2008

Another Minor Miracle

I survived.  Basically the month of March through this past weekend served as a crucible for me.  Whether it was the normal chaos of Holy Week, the State Conference, or back to back retreats it has been a challenge.  While there's plenty to keep me busy (as always), it is at least down to the normal level of chaos.

As I am enjoying the first day off where I haven't had to do some work here at home, I am enjoying some of my favorite simple pleasures.  The list of Jenn's favorite things to enjoy on her day off:
  1. My favorite pair of sweat pants.
  2. My incredibly holy, incredibly oversized sweatshirt.
  3. Lebanese take out for dinner (I love chicken shwarma, hummus, and fattoush salad).
  4. West Wing DVDs.
I must say that I deeply mourn the loss of West Wing on Prime Time.  I love the show and the switch from discussing relationships withe teenagers to the world of politics and government.  It was after all my first love.  

So I shall continue enjoying a truly relaxing day with some of my favorite fictional characters and some excellent take away.  A bit of rest before heading into the Educational Trust Fund benefit, end of the school year activities, and preparations for World Youth Day and international service trips.  For the time, I shall enjoy the time watching Josiah Bartlett appoint a new Supreme Court Justice.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Jenn's Law #1

We all roll our eyes and quote "Murphy's Law" when something goes wrong.

I propose a new set of laws - Jenn's Laws.  These relate to the specific ways things roll in ministry.

To begin with:

"When you get sick, you will go from fine to death warmed over in about two hours.  Of course, this will occur the first two hours of an overnight retreat.

Anyone care to hazard a guess as to my current condition? Anyone? Bueller?  Bueller?

Yup, exhausted, finished a retreat around noon and have youth group at 7:00 pm.  And I have almost no voice, difficulties breathing, and am generally a breeding ground of charming forms of mucus punctuated by horrible coughs.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mangoes & Greek Salad

Today is a mango sticky rice & Greek salad sort of day.  What exactly, dear reader, does that mean?  - Basically my schedule is so hectic that I didn't have time to put together a lunch or dinner.  Thankfully lunch was included in the morning meetings I had and a Whole Foods store was on my way from the meetings to the office.

This is one of those days where I almost wish I didn't care so much about what I do.  Or that I wasn't a bit of a stubborn perfectionist.  Bad combination when you're faced with two weekends of back to back retreats, state conference wrap-up (and planning next year's), a diocesan council or two, and various other projects.  I want everything I do to be perfect partially due to my own perfectionism, but mostly because I don't want my imperfections to mar the experience of others.

Especially when it comes to faith it seems people demand perfection from those in leadership.  Hypocrisy, sin, or even just the minor everyday faults we all have are highlighted as faults with the faith, faults with the leadership, and used as an excuse to doubt or criticize.  Thus, when I am putting together an event, a h
andout, a presentation, I truly do want to make it faultless.  If there is one less thing that people can object to as they continue on their journey of faith, the better.  

However, this creates several problems.  Not the least of which is that I (like everyone else) am full of faults, sins, and unintentional hypocrisy.  No one is perfect.  I am buying into the demands that others place on me that are fundamentally unreasonable.  It also causes me extraordinary levels of worry and stress.  Not healthy, especially when your mother had a heart attack in her early 40s due to stress and so forth.  By seeking to be without fault I also am giving an implicit statement that others should be perfect and without fault.

Yes, we should strive to be without sin and strive to be like our Father.  I know that I am called to live my life as a disciple, actively and consciously.  I am called to be a disciple, not a perfectionist.  Thomas, Peter, and Paul and the lot were always falling short.  I take comfort in that.  God used their imperfections to bring light to others.  Jesus did not demand perfection from Peter.  He forgave him his denial and then asked not for faultless, but for Peter to love and feed his flock.

Not perfection, but love.  Therein lies the true call of discipleship and those of us who feel called to ministry.  We are called to love, not to be perfect.  We are called to love ourselves, our neighbor, and our God. 

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Sometimes I am astounded by what I consider typical.  Typical meals, typical schedules, typical behavior, typical trip planning...

I'm usually caught up in something 'typical' when someone comes in, comments, and then leaves saying something akin to: "You have such an unusual job."  That, in and of itself, has now become typical.  This week is much a typical week for me, both the past and coming weeks actually.

This past week I had The Big World Youth Day (WYD) meeting on Thursday.  Of course Tuesday was the young adult group and Wednesday was the youth Bible study.  After 2 1/2 hours where everyone, including the intrepid leader, was a bit overwhelmed the WYD meeting wrapped up.  The quantity of information and paperwork that had to be handled was a bit overwhelming.  All told, I handed out about 3 inches of handouts to the 23 people going.  As three did not attend, I still have more meetings to look forward to in the coming weeks.

In between the regular and irregular meetings, I have the project that I am very excited about.  We're restructuring, redesigning, and generally completely revitalizing our high school youth ministry web site.  In addition we are looking to put up podcasts.  As our pastor is over 60 now and never much of a computer person, I am amused when I get on a roll about the changes.  He is very supportive, but the language is completely foreign to him and so while he checks that progress is being made, there's a level of disconnect.

I find that disconnect one of the most challenging aspects of youth ministry.  The generational difficulties take on a new dimension when you factor in technology, culture, and social changes.  Though just over ten years older than most of my students, the world I grew up in is quite different from the youth today.  The generations that came of age in the 50's, 60's, 70's, even 80's must stretch far beyond their understanding of adolescence to embrace the existence today's youth face.

So I return to my typical day - morning Mass, quick lunch, some office time, some coffee shop time, and then glow in the dark putt-putt golf with the high schoolers who are all on spring break.  Typical.  And no other way I would like it.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Ministers of Light

Within the Catholic Church's tradition is a beautiful moment at the Easter Vigil. At the very beginning of the Mass we all empty out of the church and gather around a fire.  We have a beautiful metal stand in which the small fire is made on the front steps of the church. 

Prior to this Vigil, I was in the back room where all those involved with the day's liturgy gather to hear final instructions and pray together.  There was a young man serving as an Eucharistic Minister, like me.  He seemed to have some slight developmental disabilities and kept interrupting the very frazzled liturgy coordinator and the priest.  At one point we who were Eucharistic ministers, were told that at the point immediately following the baptisms we were to go and light our candles to help the rest of the congregation's candles.  This would then mean we were all holding lit candles for the renewal of our baptismal vows.

As our liturgy coordinator was finishing, the young man interrupted saying, "So we are Ministers of Light tonight too!"  At the moment, it frustrated all of us as we were all rushing to understand the details of roles for the night.  Now I regret my frustration. 

I have been pondering those words, Minister of Light, for the last week.  It really resonated with me.  After all, isn't that what we are all called to be?

The field of youth ministry presents us with the hidden depths of the lives of teens.  We are called to bring the Light of God.  His love, his forgiveness, his guidance, his constant presence are to be our message.  We are called to bring the Light of Community.  The youth today are connected to the Internet, sports, music and so forth. We are called to offer the Light of a deeper spiritual community where they will be challenged, loved, and protected.  We are called to bring the Light of Love. Not the love they see on TV or in the latest self help book. Rather the complex love that is unconditional but will challenge the kids as much as it accepts them.  There are countless ways we are to be Ministers of the Light

The Catholic Church celebrates Easter for the next few weeks until the Ascension.  Throughout this time, I am going to focus on my role as a Minister of the Light.

May you be the Light and may you see the Light.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Theology on the iPod - Part One

Last year I gave a short (10 minute) presentation based around the Theology of the iPod. My audience was every member of our diocesan staff. I was brought in to explain the minority demographic of that peculiar group, young adults.

As I normally have a two hour workshop set up on "Who Young Adults Are," condensing this into ten minutes was a challenge. While working, rather staring at the blank Word document wondering how to begin, I went into my purse (which can support a family of six for ten days). I rooted around, likely for my lip balm or some tissues. My excavations revealed my iPod in it's friendly red case. if nothing else, I thought I could put on some inspiring music to help jump start my brainstorming.

I pulled the speaker cord from my computer speakers to plug into the iPod. And that is when it struck me, when you want to talk about young adults in the church, you need to talk about the Theology of the iPod.

Now picture saying that to a room comprised of church employees aged roughly 45-70+ (some older priests, sisters, and other wisdom figures were present). Imagine seeing the faces of those raised in the pre-Vatican II Church hearing that we need to have a theology based on some new-fangled device. I enjoyed that brief moment.

When I have the time and it strikes my fancy, I'll be posting some of the components of this talk. I also hope to expand on that short presentation. All hooks aside, I believe that what I am saying has merit.

First in the Theology of the iPod is the concept of portability. Today I want to focus on the compact, easy to carry nature of the iPod.

Whether you have the latest video iPod or the most compact iPod Nano, you can comfortable fit it into the pocket of your jeans. You can shove it into your date purse or your glove compartment without a thought. You slip it into your desk drawer or the pocket of your uniform. Whether you are at the gym or on a road trip, it moves with you.

Traditionally, and in some places still, where you were born was where you were buried. Perhaps you traveled a hundred miles if you were exceptional to attend college or university, but you returned and lived your life all in one place. Slowly this has dramatically changed. In an economy and society where young adults will hold dozens of jobs prior to their retirement, mobility is a constant.

Young adults live in one city for their studies. They move for their first job. Then they are promoted, laid off, marry, or have another life change that draws them to another home.

I am a prime example. I lived in Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Brown Deer (Wisconsin) as a child. My college was the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now I am a resident of Ann Arbor. In something abnormal for my generation, I am still at my first job almost five years after college graduation.

This leaves churches with a very frustrating phenomenon. The traditional model of leadership is to have a parishioner involved in a ministry for a significant length of time. A strong understanding of who that person is develops and they are called forth sometimes after years to take on a role of leadership. Years of formation then are put into making that new leader a well-trained catechist, finance council member, or youth ministry volunteer. The classes, conference, workshops, books, and other resources are seen as a long term investment for the parish. The traditional understanding is that the parishioner you are forming as a leader will reside in your parish for decades.

Young adults form a generation that moves more frequently than any before. Waiting years to tap them as leaders will result in their slipping through our fingers.

Just as an iPod is portable, we need to form young adults as 'portable leaders.' We need to recognize that the training and formation we offer to them is not a long term investment for our parish but an investment in the universal Church. We need to offer to the them the chance to grow and strengthen so that when they do move they will be able to take on leadership roles or continue their formation at the parish they find in their new home.

This requires a leap of faith. We all look to our budgets, thin numbers of volunteers, and other difficulties. We question whether we can afford the time, money, and effort to form these young people who are only going to leave in 12, 18 or 24 months.

The answer is that we cannot afford to not put the time, money, and effort into our young adult community. We need our young adults to be active, well-formed, conscious Catholics that can be active, well-formed, conscious Catholics in each of the coming places they call home in the future.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Clear Signs Last Week Was Holy Week

And now, the top signs that a Catholic youth minister can tell last week was Holy Week:

6. On Holy Thursday you realize you are down to less than half a roll of toilet paper.

5. On Wednesday, the only day you get home while the sun is still up, you sit down on your couch only to immediately fall asleep and nap until the sun has set.

4. You build your wardrobe for the week around what shoes you can wear that are most comfortable but do not squeak, clack, or make other noises on the church floor. Your clothing choices in turn manage to be appropriate for Mass but also fully washable as you spend the afternoons in the church attic sorting through costumes and props for the the Living Way of the Cross. This also results in triggering your allergies. You are thankful you didn't give up Claratin for Lent.

3. You no longer have cans of soda (Diet Pepsi or Diet Mountain Dew) in your office. You now keep two liters available to keep you running.

2. When you check your email on Thursday night, there is an e-card from your kitchen appliances saying, "We miss you."

1. You are so exhausted/overwhelmed/scatterbrained during the week that you forget the password to your blog leaving you to post about Holy Week on Easter Monday.

With Holy Week behind this means it is now Easter! So happy Easter to all!