Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

Oh, NCYC...


Major addition to the "Things Not To Do In Youth Ministry" list:
Do not get the flu the week before NCYC

Fret not, it wasn't H1N1. I was no longer contagious or exceptionally gross. I was just beyond exhausted, consistently needing to blow my nose, and generally wishing for my own comfy bed each night.

All illness aside, it was a fantastic experience. Were you there? I have to brag a moment about one of my kids. Remember during Thursday night's session when they did the song with the parables? Remember the kid with the terribly deep voice singing the dad's part in the prodigal son parable? Yup, that kid is one of my youth groupers. If you heard about 5 girls screaming "Go Deh-Deh!" those were my kids too, just showing their support. Insanely proud of him for all he accomplished.

It was a different experience for me as I spent surprisingly little time, usually just the night sessions, with my teens. I was at a booth for the afternoons and therefore missed all the workshops. However, I loved the experience of speaking with more people from all over due to the booth.

I'm looking forward to the NCCYM conference in New Orleans in a year. Hope to see you all there too!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Next Stop - Kansas City

I checked in for tomorrow's flights. My kitchen table is covered with things to pack (can't actually pack them or my dog gets anxiety attacks). I have folders and lists and my travel pillow all set.

And cold medicine. The frantic pace and the joy of having the school right next to my office has hit in the form a nasty cold.

Cold medicine and throat drops will get me through the rough spots. Overall though, I can't wait for NCYC. It is always an incredible experience. Plus I am so excited to see the teen from my youth group perform as an animator! I'll be the super proud youth minister with a box of kleenex near by during the opening session. Here's hoping I don't give him the cold tomorrow on our flights!

For those going to NCYC, I hope to see you there. For those not, sleep a little extra for me, please!

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Norm


There are just a pocketful of days until NCYC when I, like many other intrepid youth ministers out there, will head to Kansas City for a relaxing three day conference with 25,000 of our quietest and most restrained youth.

Right.

While I could use a bit more sleep between now and then, I am very much looking forward to NCYC. It is always fascinating to find out that as bizarre as my teens are, they are very much normal. Of course, our parish group will be attempting to get the best seats possible each day during the general sessions since we want to cheer on and get quality photos of our youth who is an animator.

In addition, this week has been all social justice, all the time. On Wednesday we had the informational meeting on our service trip to Bolivia. Last night was the Ohio service trip meeting. I am terribly excited for both those...now if only my Rosetta Stone software would show up, Spanish please, not the Italian that was incorrectly delivered. Last I checked, the national language of Bolivia was not Italian.

With all the major things brewing, I've had the important reminders to pay attention to the individuals too -

The teen who is in the school musical.
Two youth struggling with a huge family issue.
A young adult with a new job.
A young woman overwhelmed by new responsibilities...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Matter of Size

Thank God to the genius(es) who arranged for Daylight Savings. This always helps me get a bit more sleep just before our Diocesan Jamboree.

It is a bit after 7. I'm eating my pumpkin oatmeal in my office posting the Sunday reflections and getting ready to leave in a few minutes.

This year Jamboree is a prelude to NCYC. There is a workshop for all those going to NCYC and another one just for the adult leaders. As a tip to NCYC (actually NFCYM) for the sake of all youth ministers, could you put a low price coffee shop in the expo hall, open only to adults? The kids don't need more energy, but us 'grown-ups' sure could.

The Jamboree should be excellent. Bob Rice is our keynote. Really, how cool is that? (As said by one of my teens.) Well, I'm going to finish inhaling my breakfast and sally forth to the front parking lot to meet the teens.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Sign?

It is either a sign that I truly have the perfect job or that I need to be admitted to a mental institution.

As of this afternoon I will travel to service project A in Ohio for a week in July. I return on a Friday. The very next Friday I will travel with another service project to Bolivia for 11 days.

I cannot wait for either of these experiences.

Remind me I said that on August 11 when I'm comatose from exhaustion, hit with laryngitis, and have been bitten by the Guatemalan ninja caterpillar's Bolivian cousin.

In all seriousness, as I sit here with a mild headache, stiff shoulders & neck from working at the computer all day, and slightly overheated from the fact they were 'clearing out the steam vents', I recognized something today. The need for joyfulness. I'm not slap-happy. But to be joyful about my work. Even when I spend hours changing websites, calendars, newsletters, bulletin articles, announcements...there needs to be joy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Land, Sea or Sky

No matter how much you say you will never do so again, the moment inevitably comes when you realize you are about to embark on yet another trip with teens or young adults. After denial, checking your sanity, and making sure you are up to date on all your vaccines, you think you're ready. Are the people in your group?

I was reading this article from CNN on Getting Your Way when you travel. It started me thinking.

Do you know that look of absolute fear that crosses the face of just about everyone at a gate when you walk up to the counter with your teens in tow? Or even more amusing, the look of guilty (or not so) guilty relief of those where you didn't stop?

I have now taken teens out of the country three times. This doesn't make me an expert, but there are a few things I hold to.

  1. Prep the kids for travel. Whether it is the precaution of Dramamine for a youth who has never flown or directions on how to fill out the customs forms, prepare your youths for the trip as much as possible in advance. Also help them while traveling. Navegating an unknown airport is challenging enough for well-traveled adults (hello Frankfurt). Factor in the age, experience, and possible language issues and you could have several nervous youths.
  2. No pjs or 'scrubby' clothes on the plane. They don't have to dress for Christmas Mass, but I want the teens to be dressed nicely. Appearances are important in that infamous first impression.
  3. Keep the group reigned in at the gate. Yes, when we had a 10 hour layover at LAX, we were all over. However, it turned out almost all our flight (I think excepting about 10 people) were returning from WYD in Australia. Respecting the space of others help them to respect the youth.
  4. Watch the noise, food, Frisbee, and anything else that could intrude on others. Again, the kids have got to eat (especially as on the short domestic flights there often isn't a meal served). However, I try to get the kids to eat the food neatly in the gate. Noise level when playing games should be respectful. And really, Frisbee is not an appropriate airport game.
  5. As the group leader, make nice with the employees. I try to catch an employee before the flight to let them know if there is a problem that is brought to their attention that I am the group leader and happy to deal with whatever the issue might be. I also introduce myself to the flight attendants. Not only for the same reason as above, but it helps to explain why I may wander the aisles a bit more. One year I had a girl with diabetes whose numbers shot through the roof. Once the attendants understood I was her chaperone/leader and the young woman with me was a nurse, we had free reign on wandering so we could check on her. They were very helpful when they knew the situation.
  6. Respect and responsibility. I demand it from the kids and myself. (I obviously have wiggle room with the responsibility - they are teens.) Respect is a necessity. I make sure that people know I am the one to go to if there is a problem. I make sure they know that I will handle it.
  7. Last, but not least, communicate. Communicate expectations with your youth. Communicate with your leaders. Communicate with the people around you.
Oh, and always pack duct tape.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

If you're just getting this idea now...

...you may want to pay more attention.

Several years ago I read an article that proposed that the influx of Hispanic Catholic would have as profound effect on American Catholicism and politics as the influx of Irish Catholics 150 or so years ago ultimately had. Thinking about all my American politics classes and the understanding of how the Irish Catholics changed American Catholicism, I nodded my head in agreement.

CNN.com has jumped on the bandwagon with the article "Latinos may be future of U.S. Catholic Church." In the immortal words of my generation, "Duh." The sheer quantity coupled with the decline of caucasian Catholic participation makes this equation simple to understand. Of course it is complicated by the fact that within a few generations Hispanic Catholic young adults mirror the general statistics (see Dean Hoge's book).

If you haven't thought through the impacts, then you may want to. Recognize the immeasurable gifts that Hispanic Catholic bring. There is a depth and color that is not necessarily found in American Catholic churches. There are perspectives on spirituality, ritual, and history that we can learn and grow from. We can learn a deeper appreciation of Mary, of Christ the pilgrim, and a sense of true mission.

And as someone who loves chile rellenos, I could handle a few changes at our northern fish fries.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dwelling

In college, a roommate and I would use the words dwelling vs. wallowing to remind ourselves to keep perspective and priorities in place. Wallowing in our worry, misery, migraines, etc was bad. Dwelling in faith, hope, peace, the company of good friends, the oversized chair in the living room, etc were good. Simple, but a good catch phrase so we could support each other's faith and right perspective.

In the October 5 issue of America, there is an article titled, " God Makes a Comeback." The entirety of it is interesting, but I am choosing to take one line of it to reflect on here today.

Religion is increasingly crafted, not inherited; it is 'a seeking rather than a dwelling.'

On the one hand this struck me as profoundly new, while on the other it echoed what the research tells me and experience has taught me.

In this phenomenon lies a great challenge. In this lies an epic call to action. If religion is crafted, if it is a seeking, then we as Catholic leaders need to be truly alive in the field. Relying on family tradition or "it is the way it always has been" is not a viable choice. Instead we need to demonstrate the depth, vibrancy, and relevancy of the faith that we so believe so fervently that we choose to serve it as our daily labor. We need to empower others to seek the seekers. To be guides even as they journey. We need to learn, constantly, new tools of the trade and to pass that knowledge on to our leaders and ministers.

And as for religion not being a dwelling, now that is something to spend more time reflecting on. As the world is buffeted by natural disasters, financial turbulence, and horrors of war, perhaps rediscovering the peace of dwelling in God is needed all the more.

In the enduring words, Romero quoted. We are workers. So let's get to work.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Moving the Goal Posts

As I often do, I find most of my non-Church lessons can be drawn from the source of all wisdom, West Wing. In a particularly fine episode the staff is dealing with crazy dictators, international politics, globe trotting pizzas, Mideast Peace, and the media. Finally, C.J. realizes that while their initial goal, a UN Resolution is not going to come together to meet their deadline, they have the NATO nations in support. She declares to her trusty assistant, Carol, that they are moving the goalpost and taking the game.

We often can get so caught up in playing the game according to how we think it should be played we miss things. We get frustrated when we seem to get absolutely nowhere. We consistently give it our all, only to get stuck in the mud within sight of the end zone.

I am beginning to realize that this often means we're playing the wrong game. We get so busy trying to win by our standards and our concept of what a win is.

All we need to do is move the goalpost.

Or, rather, perhaps we need to make sure that where we put the goalpost is where God wants it. Because as we learned, sometimes God put the goalposts in the most unusual places - on the top of a hill outside Jerusalem...in an empty tomb...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Couldn't Have Said it Better

Here's a post that I truly understand. Especially as it was a monumental struggle to make it in by about 9 am when I had Theology on Tap until quite late last night and the smell of leftover pizza is wafting through from the staff kitchen.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Always Learning

When I migrated from political science/law into ministry following graduation, I never thought those random elective courses I took would become some of the most useful. I also didn't think I'd be reading some of the same journals and books to polish up my understanding of psychology, communication, etc with such dedication.

I've found thus far that some of my most useful classes from college are:
  • Communicative Disorders - this has helped me to understand various disabilities, how people hear and process aural stimuli, etc. As it also talked about normal communication there were tons of pointers.
  • Psychology 201. Yup, of course I took psych. What college (liberal arts major) freshman doesn't? Though it is seriously helpful.
  • Philosophy of Moral Education - Hands down winner. This elective was cross listed with Educational Policy Studies, Philosophy, and (I think) Religious Studies. To Know As We Are Known is a book I continuously pick up to reflect on and apply. Stages of Faith is up there too. The other education philosophers we focused on helped me to figure out the impact of the physical set up of the space I minister in, the tone and words I use, etc.
  • My 3 Astronomy classes - just because the bishop from Australia at one of our catechetical sessions studied with my prof and the kids thought it was cool to have that link. Plus it makes star gazing more fun when we've got bonfires and overnight events.
Now I find myself scrambling to improve my understanding of autism, Asperger's, and the autism spectrum. I have a couple of kids that fall somewhere on that spectrum. With a small space, many individuals, and the normal chaos of youth group, I want to make sure we can incorporate these kids smoothly. So far it means I really do need to get the lighting worked on (find floor lamps to use instead of the bright overhead lights) since lower lighting can help kids with autism. It also means adding a new topic to the formation of our leadership.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

So we begin!

Sunday was our first Sunday Night Youth Group (as opposed to our summer Wednesday nights). It was fantastic - lots of excited freshmen, some new mid & upper classmen. We had some fun with ice breakers, creating our Wall of Fame (quote board meets year book page idea), and prayer time. I'm looking forward to hitting our stride in the coming weeks. On the downside, the kids were super talkative and given a larger number and the small space, it was noisy! As I had spent Saturday giving workshops, by 8 pm on Sunday (halfway through youth group) my voice was disappearing. If this keeps up, the year could be interesting.

The annual survey of ideas and open discussion that follows fielded some good topics and activities. The suggestion to do a night on my personal life was not put on the board.

Today has been busy with the cleaning up of paperwork and the youth room. Plus I've been on the phone and email for some time working on WYD.

To further the recommendation previously posted - make sure that you read Souls in Transition. Excellent resource and I have a hunch we'll hear even more about it at all the national conferences in the coming year or two.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Under the Radar Lately


With the major kick-off of just about everything this Sunday, things at the parish have been hectic to say the very least. Plus I'm heading out of town (again) for about 30 hours to give a workshop at a conference.

What I wanted to highlight for those in YA ministry, well it has implications for youth ministry too, is that Souls in Transition: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults is out. I hope that I can at least get through a significant portion before Saturday. I'll have two flights and some airport time to make that happen. It is the follow up to Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Facebook and Faith

I really promise that I will share more on the Guatemala trip. Especially as I had a meeting yesterday to schedule our next trip with International Samaritan.

Today, though, I want to spend some time on that Washington Post article, Soul-Searching on Facebook.

Religious views: _______________

How do you answer that question? Those who are, like me, employed by the Church (or any faith group) can likely put the one or two words for our denominations. But is that really it?

While their sample is small and we have a brief window into the minds of a few young adults active on the Internet. All gave the question some thought. All had very different answers. Pretty interesting.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Defining Faith on Facebook

A fascinating article showed up on the Washington Post.


It gives an interesting snapshot on a section of the young adult population and Facebook users as a whole. Of the 250 million users, approximately 150 million respond to the profile prompt Relgion:.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Martha in Guatemala

Today is one of my favorite feast days - the feast of St. Martha.

Particularly today, I feel like Martha. There are 3 days and 20 hours until I leave on the service trip to Guatemala. This means the usual preparations for international travel. This means the added work of making sure the ministry is set to run without me for two weeks. Unsurprisingly, I woke up this morning with a nasty headache, a borderline migraine. Thus why I'm typing away - just waiting for my medication to finish working before I head into work. (Not supposed to drive with it fresh in my system.)

I love Martha. Probably because I know I'm a Martha. I do things. When there's a problem, I do something. When someone is upset, I invite them to a home cooked dinner or show up with treat in hand ready to do whatever is necessary. It is likely why I ended up working in ministry instead of a convent or finding a cave along the ocean to set up shop in.

I love the hope that Martha offers to all of us 'do-ers.' She may be scolded by Jesus when she complains about her sister. But in the end (see John), she gets it. She has such faith and trust in the Lord. She doesn't let her busy-ness keep her from understanding or giving witness to the Truth. In that I find hope and a goal.

So I may have chosen the lesser portion. I'm okay with that. But with my lesser portion of busy-ness and bustling about, I may just be able to help some others. And I'm okay with that, too. I just need to always keep the reason why I'm busy in the forefront of it all. And maybe then God will be okay with it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Early Morning

There is nothing quite as charming (at least for a singleton without children) to waking up to a dog that is throwing up. Particularly when it is 5:15 am and you were hoping to stay in bed for another two hours. Once the mess was cleaned up, I admitted defeat and decided to just stay awake. I was already a bit cranky, again.

I donned my favorite hat (it is a bit chilly in the mornings), hauled on my fleece, and trudged outside. The little dog, Gracie, did her duties and I trudged back in. I fed her and began making coffee. Still a bit disgruntled, but figured good coffee (chocolate cherry grounds from Traverse City in my french press) would help to an extent.

Coffee in hand, I went to find my Bible (also known as a blunt force weapon in some counties - the Catholic Study Bible is no compact tome). Then it was remembering where I stuck my journal after unpacking it from my weekend. With those missions accomplished I looked up the readings - the feast of Mary Magdalene. Ah, now that is something to ponder. I sipped my coffee and read from Exodus, Psalms, and John. The care of God, even when he is least appreciated, followed by the call to share story, and the proclamation of Mary Magdalene "I have seen the Lord!" Now that was a morning of reading!

Recently I have been struggling to just tread water. The seas are rough and things are buffeting me from all sides - personally and professionally. I have also let my time with God be truncated or reduced in quality of late. Today reminded me that no matter how little I appreciate him or how oblivious I am to his actions, God is active in my life. Even when the horrible things happen. Today reminded me that one of my favorite things, story, is a fundamental aspect of life and ministry. The Gospel today echoed the moments when I could say with every confidence that God was present then and there.

So maybe, Gracie throwing up was just what my spirit needed today? In ministry and life, the unexpected, even the unpleasant, can become a most powerful moment.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Deep Breath

Well, I got the official word that our trip is no longer to Honduras, but to Guatemala. Huge sigh of relief there. Of course it now means redoing permission slips and so forth.

Just another typical day in youth ministry.

Glad that the chaos of this week follows after a glorious Michigan summer weekend where I could relax. There are quite a few things on the plate - a young adult picnic, movie night (teens off to see Transformers 2), a major youth ministry leadership meeting, a lock in over the weekend and then starting all over on Monday with WYD 2011 meeting, a young adult service project, a youth group, and some effort to retain my sanity.

While I know I will be fried by next Thursday when I end this 11 day stretch, I realized this morning that I love my job. I knew this already. However, as I was pulling out of my place to start the drive into work, I realized that while I loved the long weekend, I was genuinely looking forward to getting back to work. I take that as a good sign.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bated Breath

By yesterday morning I knew what I had to do though I loathed to do it. Obviously we cannot venture forth to Honduras for our service trip as planned. I am waiting to hear from International Samaritan to hear what our alternative options might be. They indicated that Guatemala City may work out near or on those same travel dates.

Truly never thought that a military coup in Central America would be such a consideration for me in the ministry in Michigan.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Monumental Oh-Oh

Those in the field are well versed in improvisation, crisis management, and usually no small amount of first aid. I think we may have finally hit the moment that is the limit of my ability to work with the situation - military coup.

Yup, a military coup in the country where I am set to travel to with a group of youth and young adults for a mission trip. With just a month to go, we're carefully watching the news in Honduras wondering whether we will be able to make our trip.

Please keep the country, its people, and the many ministries that strive to help the Hondurans in your prayers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Roller Coasters and Sunblock

Tomorrow we venture forth into the wilds of Cedar Point. Sunblock (SPF 50), hat, water bottle, lip balm, and rain jacket (rained at 7 pm the last 5 years straight), permission slips, health forms, and of course my cell phone are all packed and ready to go.

Then I get a long weekend in Wisconsin with my family and friends. Gracie the Dog is looking forward to a road trip and some quality time with her slightly overworked human.

Monday, June 22, 2009

So it begins

Tonight we have the official start (for me at least) of the World Youth Day 2011 preparations. A group of staff, young adults, teens, and parents will gather to choose our itinerary for travel. Some we can rule out due to cost. My bet is that the group will pick the pre-trip package that will take us to Rome & Assisi. I am completely okay with that. I love both the locations and am familiar enough with them that I can find my way through the cities' thoroughfares without great difficulty.

It is a bit surreal though to already be working so much on this trip. We are still 40 days from the Honduras trip, but is as if it had already happened. Like I often note, given how much preparation is required in this job, you have to really fight to experience the moment. As it is, I have my WYD 2008 green bag with liturgy guides from the last four WYDs to share with one of our music directors.

Expect to hear much more on this. Likely some more of my Law's and Necessary Items will soon be listed. As it is - never venture forth without duct tape, band aids, and candy!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Charity

Last night was a fanstastic discussion in our young adult group on Charity. We talked about aspects taht related to public policy, health care, our own lives, and ultimately (of course) where charity is in our faith and own lives.

Two things stood out to me, both as an individual and looking at our group. The Catechism says: Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. (Paragraph 1822)

How simple is that?

Oh, and then there's this: Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it. (From paragraph 1889)

Now the difficult part comes in living these in our daily lives. It is so simple. Love others not because of themselves or ourselves, but because of God. Respect them and their rights. Nowhere does it say you have to like them. Unfortunately there are people on this earth who are difficult, if not seemingly impossible to like. However, we are still called to love them.

Respect others. Respect their rights. Love them for love of God. Simple. Now making this a constant in my life and ministry.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mixed News

The news is mixed. Here it is:

The bad: According to separate reports from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the American Religious Identification Survey, fewer Americans now call themselves Catholic, and those who do aren’t attending church or praying as often as they used to.


The good news: The Catholics who remain, church leaders will tell you, are far more devoted and involved — particularly young adults.


For the rest, see Young Adults Lead Catholic Charge.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Formation

Formation is one of those things that you can never think about too much - formation of yourself, formation of your leadership, formation of the teens, formation of the parish. Part of that meeting I had a couple days ago was talking about how we can form teens to really search out their calling, their vocation in life and to have the tools to follow that call. Not an easy task - unless any of you readers have the Foolproof Guide to Following One's Calling? No, ok.

What we'll be doing is trying to find ways to work this into all aspects of the ministry. I also hope to begin offering a mentoring program. We'll start first with our leadership team. Then once that has the major kinks ironed out, we'll move on to the broader teen group. Until we reach the point of implementation, I will be combing through everything I've got on discipleship, vocation, prayer, leadership...well, basically everything I can get my hands on. Ideas anyone?

Yet More Web

After a fantastic meeting with the adult volunteer leaders where we ate our way through several "grown-up" pizzas (read: multiple toppings and cost more than $5 each) from Papa John's, I've spent my day with the Internet even more so than usual.

First it was pulling my notes from Google Docs and neatening up the language, getting rid of my shorthand notes, and elaborating on things while they were still fresh in my mind. I emailed the whole revised version out to all the leaders so that they can add their two cents on what I may have forgotten or new thoughts they might have.

As one of the suggestions made was to create an interactive calendar, I set up a Google Calendar giving them admin rights. Now all our youth ministry events are posted to the calendar, adults can put notes in on whether or not they can be there, and we can have better communication. I also was able to post it to the website for the ministry so parents can merge it with their own Google Calendars or just have a nicely formatted version to print out.

With a resident expert on the web (she's in marketing and specializes in New Media), we're going to get some crash courses to better utilize things. In the meantime, I'm fiddling around with what I know and trying to learn on my own.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Images We Present

I'm always aware of the images of our faith. A part of me wishes that my drawings from art classes were better than they were so a professional art career could have developed. Given how visual our faith is - from the crucifixes and icons to the rituals and rites - we believe and we see. (Don't worry, I'm not forgetting Hebrews 11.1)

As a youth minister, I also am incredibly conscious of the images we put before the youth. I watched Grease with the teens one night when we had to quick change plans for youth group and an adult leader happened to have it in their car. Even this film, seen on TV for years, has moments that I think aren't the greatest. I know kids see worse. I see worse. But it is what we show when they are consciously experiencing Church.

With a summer service trip coming that will take us to Honduras and an afternoon at the beach I face a particularly difficult situation. We obviously have dress codes. No speedos for the boys (most laugh at this) and only one-pieces for the girls (makes it easier than to deal with the gradations between a tankini and a bikini). Then there's me. I will freely admit that being a slightly chubby kid in middle school did not help my self esteem. I was never thin and to this day I am particularly self-conscious in a bathing suit. I'm working on getting over my issues and getting my weight to a healthy level (for health reasons - mom had a heart attack in her 40s and some family is morbidly obese). I will not, and I know this, though feel comfortable in a swim suit on this trip. My fear of fish won't help at the beach either. Likely I will spend the day in my suit and capris walking the sand and keeping the kids herded in a relatively small area. When girls come into my office with self-appearance issues, I completely empathize. I share my issues in all honesty and how I'm dealing with them. I also make a distinct effort to be comfortable with myself, particularly my appearance, at all times. I'm a work in progress. I know that. And I make sure to share that with the kids too.

On a similar note. I ran across this article on NPR's site. It is a letter to Pixar asking for a female lead that isn't a princess. I was always more into Minnie Mouse than the princesses from Disney. I agree that it would be great to see a female, non-princess lead. I agree with the author and the commentators that Pixar does have a great record of female characters. They can do more. I never wanted to be a princess - it was an astronaut, a Supreme Court Justice, doctor, or astronomer. I would have loved to see such a girl in a film.

Another quick note - see UP. It is a beautiful film that evokes laughter as well as tears (though I hid the dewy eyes from the guys in the young adult group). Plus the love story that is the underlying motivation for Mr. Fredrickson is absolutely wonderful. The ideas of family, love, friendship, adventure, and life in general are so well opened up in a terribly unique manner. Amazingly enough, the movie caught me enough to not start analyzing it immediately as a potential tool in youth & young adult ministry. I can't wait to see it again.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Questions without an Answer

Right now I'm thinking of questions I do not yet have an answer to.  It doesn't help that some of them I have been asking for nearly six years I've spent in youth ministry -

  • How can the youth be shown, taught, experience, the incredible love of God?
  • How do you do the catechesis on all the things the Church teaches about while always coming back to the relationships - between God and the youth and the community's relationships?
  • How do you address the huge spectrum of faith, understanding, and interests within the youth as a group?
  • How do you cope with your own struggles when you are also facing the struggles of the youth, the ministry, and the Church?
Please don't think that I am desolate, thinking of closing up shop, or anything dramatic like that.  These are some of the periphery ponderings that have sprung both from things in the ministry, my life, and the discussions surrounding the pastoral planning process.

I actually think that going back to the basic questions is absolutely crucial.  We get caught up in putting together the perfect night on life issues, the best baked potato dinner fundraiser yet, the mock conclave, and all the other things we do in ministry.  I'm finding myself personally and professionally going back to the simple questions - Why am I in ministry?  Why is the idea of youth & young adult ministry important to the lives of the youth and young adults?  Where am I going from here and now?  How will I move along that path?

Like all the questions that really matter, there is no easy answer.  The answer evolves; my understanding of the answer deepens.  

And should it get to be a bit too much to ponder, I can rest calmly in the knowledge that the answer to the big question - life, the universe, and everything - is simply 42.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hello Means How About A Hug

Here's a fascinating article from the New York Times about how teens are hugging as a wordless greeting.

A great line from it: "Witnessing this interaction always makes me feel like I am a tourist in a country where I do not know the customs and cannot speak the language.”

Listening

Today I listened. I know, sounds like I brought home a report card from kindergarten with a little gold star next to "listened well." However, as others have suggested, kindergarten teaches us what we really need to know about life. There's so much noise around us, literal and figuratively, that listening becomes difficult. Jesus listened to those that came to him. He even listened to those that came to attack him. So isn't this one of those things where we can't really deny the fact that we're called to be imitators of him?

Here's my day - as part of our writing the next 5 year pastoral plan for our parish, each ministry is going out to other churches (of various denominations) to look at their ministries and talk with the relevant staff. Today I met with a wonderful youth pastor from a vibrant Presbyterian community. As a veteran youth minister of over 30 years, it was wonderful hearing his words of wisdom, honesty, and very powerful words of where they are still struggling and growing. Obviously we covered the topics and issues related to the pastoral planning process. However, it was the give and take of the conversation that I found refreshing - hearing his narrative on what he views as indispensable to the youth ministry, the ideas on ministering to the volunteers, the unique perspective on faith and ministry that he brought to the table that all made me stretch my understanding and get me thinking and reflecting.

I'm curious to speak with the others who attended this meeting - a pastoral council member and two young adult leaders active in the youth ministry and young adult ministry.

This has made me decide to add something to my plate. I try to daily read things that will help my work in ministry. Magazines, online resources, books, and blogs are all part of that daily routine. Some are directly related while others are a bit more tangential. However, they all provide ideas and formation to help me grow as my calling to a minister. Now, I want to add that every month or two I'll call up another youth minister in the area, or one on the way to wherever I might be traveling (driving to my folks' place a couple states away is a great opportunity), to spend an hour or two taking them for coffee and chatting about ministry. Yes, our region's Catholic youth ministers get together monthly, but I would like to stretch myself further. We shall see how this all plays out now.

I'd like to sign off by challenging you, whether you are a minister or someone who got lost in the blogosphere and wandered across this post, to really listen. Wisdom is found all around you. Take the time to stop, put aside all the distractions, and really listen to what is being said.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Proud CYM

I am a proud CYM right now.  Not that I had anything at all to do with this, but one of the kids in my youth group will be an animator at NCYC this fall.

Now we just need to get the logistics worked out to get him there for the weekend in July, a chaperone for it (parents can't be there), and the travel expenses....oh, and I thought tomorrow would be a ho-hum day.  Silly, silly me.

Pope & Web 2.0

The Pope has now more fully entered Web 2.0.

With the launch of Pope2you.net, there is a much more cohesive and useful foray into the tangle of young people and their web use.

I've only just started to play with it a bit, but there's good stuff on the site already and it obviously recognizes the major items in young people's use of the internet - iPhone, iTouch, Facebook, wiki, etc.

The WikiCath is a nice touch. Some Italian still shows up for the buttons to turn pages and such, though they are fairly intuitive so it doesn't make a huge difference. I am sure some of these hiccups will be repaired.

All in all, after a couple of minutes of playing with it, I like it. Can't wait to see what else they do with it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On the Road Again

Thankfully it isn't Timbuktu or such, but I am on the road again tomorrow for a presentation at another parish. I've been asked to present to their Education Commission on who young adults are and what is young adult ministry.

Besides for the fact that these presentations allow me to play with the fun presentation software on my Mac, I truly love these opportunities to go to other places and talk with them about young adult ministry. I hear stories from the young adults in attendance about their journeys of life and faith. I hear the struggles of the parish as they face financial issues, consensus about priorities, and a bit of fear or confusion about they mysterious and slightly amorphous group: young adults. I know I don't have all the answers so I go in with the statistics, the documents, and the lived experiences of my parish and what I am aware of in our diocese. Then I try to start a dialogue that the group can continue on their own.

That dialogue is the crucial part. They need to look at all the general items and then look at the specifics of their parish and community. They need to look at their resources, their priorities, their dreams and make the decisions. I just try to help give them the tools to start that journey.

What is encouraging is that this Education Commission had several members that spoke up about wanting to look at issues beyond just the elementary school at the parish - they want to look at the issues relating to youth, young adult, and 'regular' adult faith education in their parish. This is fabulous!

So I will go in, wearing my grown-up clothes (no retreat T-shirts for me tomorrow) and shoes I will hopefully not trip in (still quite clumsy), with my Mac and enthusiasm in tow. I will leave with a few less handouts and with a heart full of prayers for their ministry.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Near and Far

After two treks to the Diocesan offices (75+ min drive each way) for meetings, I am grateful that tomorrow's meeting was unexpectedly moved to my parish.  Even if I'm now gathering treats and tossing the agenda & prayer together.  Actually, I'm quite excited.  For those that come, we're going to look at peace and social justice issues.  Most of us do service projects, service trips, and some sort of programming of the topic during our 'normal' youth groups.  I'd like to hear what the other youth groups are up to, how they approach the topics, and what resources are out there.

Plus, I'm getting those 8th grade girls literally bounding into my office asking after World Youth Day.  Truly no rest for the weary.  

Not that I would have it any other way.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Yup, I think this could be the most wonderful time of the year. The school year activities are wrapping up, or at least planned and packaged for delivery. The major summer activities are in the administrative phase of planning, leadership organization, paperwork gathering. The stomach turning worry over those major summer events is still at least a month off so I'm not chowing down on Tums. I also am trying to take half an hour each day to organize my desk and files. Once June hits, I'll be swamped.

This summer is going to prove quite interesting.
  • We'll start the WYD 2011 planning process (already have quotes from several agencies).
  • We've got the trip to Honduras with International Samaritan ministries.
  • We need to plan the September - November events prior to August (when I'm in Honduras).
  • There is a lock-in July 11-12 which will focus on social justice issues and help prep those traveling on our service trip. It is also a joint retreat with the other local parishes.
  • I'm heading to the north woods with a small, okay 15, flock of girlfriends. Since several are employed in or volunteer for the Church, this should be interesting. Particularly when we descend on the small Church up there for Mass
  • Our young adult group challenged the youth group to see who could gather more items for us to take to Honduras (clothing, school supplies, books, toothpaste, etc). At stake is a homemade meal made by the loosing ministry for the winning ministry.
  • In a moment of weakness I agreed to a water fight night at the youth group. Please pray for me.
Those are the highlights. Toss in some all day meetings for staff, the all day training for the Protecting God's Children in ministry course, planning meetings for activities, too. Should be busy.

Stay tuned to see if my sanity stays in place this summer...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Catholic Youth Bible and My Family

I am pulling the Beatitudes from Luke for tonight's youth group. In the Catholic Youth Bible, on the page opposite, is an article entitled "The Reunion Dinner." It tells of the tradition I am already familiar with regarding the Chinese New Year - family gathers from around the world to celebrate a meal together. They are relating this to Luke 7.1-10.

However, as I plug away here I am thinking of my brother and the rest of my family. One of the things I love about the Catholic Mass is that I know my parents in another state, my brother in another country, and I all celebrate the same Mass. We are spread through several time zones, in a war zone, in suburbia, yet we are bound by this common experience.

It gives me great comfort and no little strength. It is also something I experience when I travel alone or with the ministries. The Masses for World Youth Day that are in a multitude of languages. The Mass in our twin parish in New Orleans where the people gather despite the slow recovery from Katrina. The simultaneous sense that something is different, yet fundamentally the same. This is a gift. I always hope to help the youth and young adults to see it as such, too.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mid-Marathon

Last weekend was the young adult retreat.  This weekend is the youth ministry retreat.  Tonight I am doing the "Why You Should Come to Youth Group" night for the 8th grade religious education classes.  Yesterday I helped Paul Wilkes download pictures for his presentation at our parish. Thursday I have an online seminar and my monthly meeting with my pastor.  Typical week for ministry.

Oh, and a headache that just doesn't seem to want to go away.  Rather have the headache than the nasty cold I had during this stretch last year (on both retreats I had a fever that the nurses with us though broke 100, it was great).

However, my Disney mug full of Mississippi Mud Pie coffee (fair trade of course) and my iPod playing my favorite playlist of Telemann's flute sonatas, Bach's cello sonata's, and a few Mozart pieces are definitely helping.

As tough an audience as they are, I love doing the 8th grade presentation each year.  Due to late notice (less than a week), I am flying solo instead of bringing in high schoolers with me.  I love getting up there and hearing what the kids expect youth ministry to be like - school, boring, something their mom makes them go to.  I don't win all of them over, but from the minute I step out there tonight, I hope to disabuse them of a few of their misconceptions.  First off, how many of their teachers have red and purple hair (my hairdresser went a bit over board on the highlights last Friday, still like it, just more than I expected).  Second, I bring ammunition from our adventures - go carts on retreat, closing Mass at WYD, and pictures from our other many excursions.  Third, I enlighten those that have never seen the youth room that we have no desks anywhere in the room.  Fourth, I throw candy at them.  Generally helps their mood.  Hey, sugar them up and send them home, right?  Seriously, the candy will help them focus since it is a large group and just me up there.  After all, they get the candy if they answer the questions.

Thanks to the Excedrin with the coffee booster, my headache is breaking.  I need to go through the DVD options to find some possible clips that would work for tonight.  I'm leaning towards X-Men (good things on teams, making decisions, etc) or Iron Man (also good for answering a call, decisions).  Probably go with X-Men as they are experiencing the resurgence thanks to the coming of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  Though I would love to use one of my many incarnations of Jane Austen's works that I own, I think I would loose the boys.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Maybe I'm not too far off base...

I get the Zenit.org newsfeed with 'all the news from Rome.'

Today one of the articles had the following (emphasis mine):

During the synod on the Word of God, one of the memorable interventions was made by Salesian Father Pascual Chávez Villanueva, president of the Union of Superiors-General and Rector of the Salesian Society of St. John Bosco. Father Pascual, whose Salesian Congregation has a special charism for working with young people, offered the Emmaus story as model of bringing the Word of God closer to the world of youth. He drew our attention to the fact that young people today share very few things with the two disciples on the road but perhaps nothing as much as the frustration of their dreams, the fatigue in their faith and the disenchantment in discipleship.

"Young people need a Church that meets them there where they are. Arriving to Emmaus, the disciples still did not recognize the person of Jesus. What Jesus was unable to do in accompanying them, conversing with them, interpreting the Word of God, he accomplished with the Eucharistic gesture. An education in faith which forgets or postpones the sacramental encounter of young people with Christ, is not a secure, efficient way to find him."

Though I'm already tired and scrambling to finish preparations for the young adult retreat this weekend and the youth retreat next weekend, these are priceless chances to meet the young people where they are.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Where are we?

Every so often I get really frustrated.  At myself.  At others in the Church.  I have to keep asking myself, "Where are we?"  

I love the story of the Prodigal Son.  So much good stuff there.  So familiar, yet in each reading and retelling you can find new meaning.  My question today is, "Where are we?"  Have you noticed how frequently people in the Church will say something to the effect of, "So and so is relevant today because...."???  To me that seems like we are standing the door and hollering down the road to the children passing by deciding whether or not to turn to the Father.  Have you noticed that the father in the story of Luke 15 takes off down the road?  Picture it - the father, with robes flapping as he sprints (likely for the first time in a long time) after his son.  He goes to where he is, not where he wants him to be or where is comfortable for him, the father.


I have to keep reminding myself, and sometimes in love the larger Church community, that we can't expect the kids we want to reach to all come when we say, "We and our Tradition and our Faith is relevant to you because..."  Rather, we need to look and say, "Hey, so this is where you are, I get it.  I love you.  Let me walk with you Home."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Remembering Columbine

Yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School. I remember it well. I remember seeing the TV coverage. I remember working at the local public library after school the next week and having a shiver of fear run down my spine when a boy I didn't recognize came in wearing a long black trench coat. I remember the bomb threats that filled the school days for the rest of my senior year of high school. I remember the fear, the confusion, the uncertainty that filled that time. I remember indignation at the school district when they did not tell us what was going on during what was the second bomb threat following Columbine. I remember being so mad at the kids who made those threats because they wanted to avoid a test or sleep in. I remember wondering what I would do if I were in a similar situation. I remember the horrific thought of what would I feel if it were my friends who were harmed. I remember those days very well.

Now, I look back to it from another perspective. We've seen horrific events at schools and colleges around the world. Now I look at it as one of those moments where I had to grow up a bit more. My world wasn't as safe as I thought it was.

What makes me pause, have every muscle tighten into a painful knot and a rock form in my stomach is the fear that something akin to it might happen at one of the many schools in the area here. We've had tragedies - near deaths, untimely deaths due to illness or crime. But they came one by one. They were often personal tragedies and rarely affected more than a small portion of our youth ministry as we have anywhere from 5-13 high schools feed into our ministry in any given year. In those smaller tragedies, I've gotten the early phone call telling me I am needed at the church, at the Catholic school, a public school counseling department. I go. I listen. I talk. I pray. Mostly, I feel inadequate. But we carry on with the ministry, with the pastoral care of those youth, with life.

I cannot fathom what it was like for the community at Columbine. I cannot fathom being the youth minister at one of those churches. Particularly the church that buried three youths that was mentioned in the Catholic Youth Ministry Blog. Should anyone who was a minister in the area ever read this, you have my utmost respect and most fervent prayers for your peace and those of the youth you ministered to and with during that time.

Maybe at some level the frustrations and fears of that time contributed to the matrix of experiences and decisions leading me into youth ministry. I don't know. I had not ever really thought about it before. I wish I would have had a youth ministry where I could share the concerns, find comfort in faith, and the pastoral care that I unknowingly craved.

For all the joy, all the statements I heartily agree to about how much fun my job is, the fact of the matter is that when push comes to shove, we have a difficult task. I would not have it any other way.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Holy Week

Here we are again, Holy Week.  I've managed to keep my act together for 5 1/2 weeks of Lent.  Now is the sprint to the finish.  For some reason this Lent, if not the entirety of the new year, has been unusually chaotic.  I won't have a chance to catch my breath until late on Friday when I wing my way to a friend's for Easter.  In the interim, I have a few things to do:
  • Launder the shroud cloth, the purple cloak, and the 'tear-away' robe of Jesus for our Living Way of the Cross
  • Polish the script for the Way of the Cross (please don't scold, I know it should be done already)
  • Do a few things for he National org I'm now on
  • Write a letter of recommendation for a boy applying to be an animator at NCYC (this kid could be the next star at the Met - he's incredible)
  • Pack for my weekend; pick up one or two more gifts to take with me
  • Confirm costumes
  • Send out the weekly parent email
  • Remind people that a payment for our summer service trip is due next Wednesday
  • Hunt down the kid who still owes me paperwork for the service trip
  • Figure out suggestions on what our transitional deacon could do with the youth ministry and young adult ministry this summer
And that is just what I know of right now.  Since I'm at home there are likely more things waiting on my voicemail, email and in box.  I can't wait to get on that plane and relax.  Plus the added bonus of blending at Easter Mass.  It is such a treat to just be a 'normal' person at a Mass - to not be swamped with people asking questions about deadlines, needing you to fill in for a liturgical minister, or to complain about something.  Don't get me wrong, I love what I do and I love to be useful, especially in a pinch.  But there is great peace in being able to just be during a Mass.  Of course, my friend has 3 kids under age 4, that may not be the most peaceful!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lessons from the Youth

Last night was the last "Takeover" night where the two girls that serve as chairs of our youth ministry take over youth group with minimal input from me.  In fact, as they wanted to surprise me with aspects of last night, I pretty much trusted them and didn't see an outline or have any of my offers of help accepted.

They did a superb job.  At one point they took my breath away with a reading they composed of several different Bible stories relating to water and storms.  The music they chose for the background, the impeccable pacing (Forensic coach moment of pride), and creativity was astounding.  My pride in them was as equal as my deep humility.  I know I could not have done what they did.  But I was so proud of them.

As I look back on it, with a good night's sleep behind me and a bowl of oatmeal in front of me, I have the leisure to observe many things.  First, the growth these girls demonstrated.  Over the past three years I have seen them grow into these accomplished leaders.  Second, that this is really one of the main points of youth ministry - to enable the youth to own their faith and be able to share it with others in an effective manner.  Using everything from umbrellas to wonderful music choices these girls spoke the many languages of their peers in order to have a conversation with the youth.   And third, it was truly a reminder that another main goal of ministry is to ensure that it is not dependent on me.  

To close, here's one verse the girls pulled for the night from a book you may have overlooked.

In hurricane and tempest is his path, and clouds are the dust at his feet
~Nahum 1.3b

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Plague and Lent

Cheery title, yes?

Well, I had several ideas for what I imagined to be spectacular posts.  Then...the plague.  Two Sundays ago I started feeling quite tired and out of it.  By Wednesday my head was congested. By Thursday I had no voice and was coughing up a storm with chest congestion.  Friday and Saturday were, well, disgusting.  Finally this past Sunday I started to feel better.  Still congested a bit and have a lingering cough today, but with the warm weather and sunshine it is good to be on the mend.  Of course, I think I've exhausted my dog who was quite content sleeping 23 1/2 hours each day last week.  Now that I'm better and spring has hit, I took her on her first long walk yesterday.  She slept later than me and is now sleeping soundly again.

Much as I could carry on about my pup.  The novelty is still there.  Please, any of you considering a pet - get one from a rescue.  Now that my Bob Barker moment is done, I'll carry on.

I want to pitch a resource I'm using with the young adult ministry.  It is one of those that not only has it led to a great series with the group, but I've found to be fruitful for myself.  It is Praying All Ways by Caroljean Willie, SC, Ph. D.  The group has found it to be enjoyable and challenging.  The basic concept is that if there are multiple intelligences, then couldn't that be applied to prayer?  After offering a simple self-evaluation to see where your preferred prayer 'intelligences' lie, there are chapters on each of the different intelligences.  We started with math and logic.  The engineers in the group felt quite at home with this one.   It was interesting to see how the more artistic individuals dealt with this.  In turn, last week when we did the linguistic intelligence, the more logic minded individuals were a bit intimidated by the prospect of writing poetry.  However, the book is prepared in a very practical manner with prompts, guides, and examples.  Even the most hesitant individual found the ability to create some lovely poems and reflections.  Tomorrow we will do a session on the artistic intelligence.  One individual is quite excited for the opportunity to use crayons and markers.

On a personal side, this series and the resource in particular have helped me.  Lent is a time where there is more to do at work.  Not only for the season itself, but the looming retreats in April and the summer service trip are creating additional administrative work.  To realize that despite, or perhaps because of, all this I need to ensure I still personally fully enter into Lent is a challenge.  The book has offered me new ways to not just talk to God about my litany of intentions or frustrations, but to quiet my voice and seek new ways to listen to God and the world around me.  

If you are interested in the book, it is published by Harcourt.  It is one of their titles for adults.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Where Do We Go From Here?

Besides being a line in one of my favorite musicals (I can usually manage to stay in key when I sing along while driving), it is a question I often ask myself.  You cannot make a decision based off of the question, "Where do we go from where we were 6 months ago?"  

Regardless of whether you like where you, your ministry, or the world is today, you can only make the decision of where to go from this particular moment, this particular place.  I don't think that is a bad thing.  It gives us a solid point from which to start.  We can look back to see what brought us to this moment, this place.  With thought, discernment, and no little amount of faith, we can then make the choices that will take us to the next moment, the next place.

Knowing Lent is so close to starting I am looking inward to determine what is my answer to, "Where do I go from here?"  My first major Lenten practice is, as for many, prayer time.  I've got a great book at home that is set up for a 40 day period.  I'll be able to walk through that.  

My other major Lenten experience was, well, foisted on me - taking that sacred time for me, for my psychological and spiritual well-being.  As I have just adopted a dog, Gracie, from a rescue, I am forced to ensure that I go home to walk and care for her.  In turn, she offers that undying, unqualified, unconditional love of a dog.  In addition, she is reminding me that patience, trust, and the art of being cannot be undervalued.  Given her two years in a puppy mill and the abusive first family that adopted her, she came to me cowering and fearful.  For the first few days she only came near me when I put her food down for her.  Now she seeks me out and follows me into the bathroom (we're working on privacy issues).  There is still much to do, but as part of my Lenten practices, she is helping me to take time for myself without any guilt attached.

Having Gracie is not only a blessing in my personal life, but she is teaching me much that can help me with my ministry.  That time it takes to build trust.  The fact that her trust was easily taken away in those first days if I spoke too loudly or didn't see her behind me and stepped on her paws (in my slippers, she was fine).  Now that trust is stronger.  The ongoing process is lengthy, just as establishing credibility, trust, and relationships in ministry takes time.  

Gracie has made me completely change my modus operandi in my personal life.  The pastoral planning process, a few texts I'm reading, and the perpetual challenges in youth and young adult ministry are causing me to seriously rethink the basic methodologies in the ministries.  Not that what is currently going on is bad or wrong.  Rather, it can always be improved and there are developing circumstances that will require change sooner or later.  I figure that being prepared is better than scrambling after the fact.

I know more will come.  However, if you have ideas on resources to read or people to talk to, don't hesitate to let me know. 

Monday, February 9, 2009

When Evaluations Meet Magic 8 Balls

It is that time in our parish.  We are looking to the past and presence to evaluate all aspects of our parish in anticipation of a new pastoral plan.  Yesterday we spent a few hours hashing through the youth ministry.  Depending on how much sleep I have in my system, I either love or hate meetings like the one yesterday.

It was wonderful to gather teens, adult volunteers, and parents to look at the ministry.  They were affirming, yet honest in their ideas and criticisms.  The two main areas that we need to really develop more are the bridge between 8th and 9th grade and parent communication/involvement.  There were subsets of these discussions such as how busy the kids are, that parents are exhausted from being Mom & Pop's Taxi Service, transportation issues overall, and use of email/websites.  

I hate these sorts of meetings insofar as they lead to the realization of all the work that there is to do.  Some of the things to look at:
  • Developing a parent newsletter to go out weekly via email (this year).
  • Working on helping parents arrange carpools (likely shoot for next year).
  • Email parents directly to see if they would like their children called by a teen with a personal invitation to a particular event or youth ministry in general (next year).
  • Linking each leadership teen with a few new teens in a mentoring set up (next year).
  • Looking at the possibility of an informal discussion group meeting at a coffee shop along the bus lines immediately after school between class and after school sports (next year).
These are the ones I remember off the top of my head, we've got pages of notes and more specific brainstorming to work on over the spring and summer.  I'm excited. A little wary of all that is going to land on my plate, but terribly excited at the energy of all the parents, teens, and volunteers.

On a side note, I just have to share.  I got a dog on Saturday from a local rescue.  Today she woke me up at 4:30 am.  Loved that.  However, now she is quietly laying on the floor as I work.  I feel guilty for having to put her in her crate in a couple of hours when I go into work for the afternoon and evening, but until I know she's totally housebroken she spends the night in there and the time I'm at work.  Without further ado, meet Gracie.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Best Laid Plans...

Before the 5:00 pm Mass last night I was talking with a co-worker.  She asked after the youth group, what we were going to do that night, etc.  I talked about our grand plans to dive into the conversion and messages of St. Paul.  Then I said as an afterthought, "You know, I usually have three outlines for any given Sunday in the back pocket.  The main plan with the content, discussions, etc. the leadership outlines.  Then there's the 'the kids are nuts' or other worthy reason that leads to a social night of Apples to Apples or the like.  Then there's the something has happened so we need to deal with it, outline."  She laughed and Mass began.

Then we hit the homily.  Okay, right.  The little boy, about age 10, in front of me turned to his mother and asked, "What is Father talking about?"  What was he talking about, sex and sexuality.  As there were a significant number of teens at this Mass and word spreads quickly after Mass (blame texting and iTouches), I felt a train wreck coming.  Oh, and did I mention that about three-quarters of the kids have exams this week?  Right.

Then there was the question nagging me since earlier in the week.  A teen in our area was brutally attacked.  I hadn't heard from any in the youth group regarding this.  I wasn't sure what level of impact it would have on the teens.  Sometimes these things don't really sink in, others it is the center of their world.  

With no little trepidation, I went to unlock the youth room after Mass.  I took solace in making Monkey Bread for the kids and waited for the first ones to show up.  First boy to come in, had come straight from a funeral.  Next kid to come in was petrified about a math exam.  The rest trickled in.  Quickly the decision was made to go to Plan B: Movie night.  These kids needed to unwind and be able to just be for a while.  Luckily I had both Narnia movies in my bag as I was working earlier on the retreat.  

Then it came time to wrap up.  Our small group chatted a bit after I made some announcements.  A senior girl spoke up.  She asked us to keep the teen who was attacked in our prayers.  In turn, I see 'my' teen on the verge of tears.  I assure her we will pray and we finish the night.

I walk up to the girl, ask the simple question, "How are you doing?"  Unsurprisingly, this leads straight into tears.  Yet again, my heart broke.  With tears dampening my shoulder as she cries into the hug, there's not much I can do beyond let her know my door is open and my cell phone is on.  Her father comes to pick her up momentarily and she is out the door.

Then one of the first year boys comments about my expression.   I reply, "I'm worried.  I worry about you guys.  And times like this break my heart."

"Really, you worry about us?"

"Yes, of course I do.  I have seen enough to know that you guys have to face so many difficult things.  I worry that you will be put in danger like A (the girl who was attacked)."

"Do you worry about me?"

"Yes."

"Have you ever seen me in danger?"

"No.  But if I did I would do whatever was within my power to help you."

"Oh.  Have you ever called the police?"

"No, but I have had to call Social Services."

"Oh."

It was one of those nights.  

Now on my day off, I'm checking email, Facebook, and the local news to see what is going on with the teen.  I'm mentally preparing for various contingencies and constantly in prayer.

Yes, I worry.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

When Economics Meet Ministry

Not too surprisingly, budgets and economics are on the forefront of my mind.  It is the annual budgeting process for the parish.   Last week I met with our pastor and business manager with my proposed budget.  While, as it stands, my budget just has modest cuts in areas I can work with a reduced amount, there is the sword of Damocles hanging over my head.  Depending on how the rest of the budget meetings go, particularly the larger departments such as religious education and the school, I may face a significant cut in my programming budget line.

I know that I am not alone in this.  Some of my peers in the area, particularly where economics are worse than the national average, have a budget freeze.  I will still be able to operate, but it will be rethinking, retooling, and reducing what it means to minister to and with the youth and young adults in the parish.

While I am busy planning our retreat (Jan. 31-Feb. 1), I am already beginning the process of determining how to function with the worst case scenarios.  Perhaps that is a bit doomsday-ish of me, but I also believe it will help me to see where there are places for creative changes.  

Ultimately, that is what this economy is calling for from all who are in ministry - creativity.  We need to meet the current ministry needs of our people in addition to the growing need for those in crisis financially.  Changing long-standing programs and creating new methodology to reach those in our flocks is now, more than ever, a must.  

I am changing youth ministry programs and young adult ministries.  I'm working with our Director of Social Ministries to look at how we can help those dealing with financial difficulties in creative ways.  Given my love of blogs, that was my suggestion.  We'll be developing a blog with suggestions on how people can be financially responsible in areas like food, housing, transportation, personal care, entertainment, and communication.  These are not earth shattering suggestions - but even sharing the recipes of some of the Church-Generals, those women who lived through the Depression and now cook for all the funeral luncheons.  They have dozens of inexpensive, hearty meals they could share the recipes for to those interested.

As we continue down this uncertain and troubled road, I see a call for those in ministry to offer the comfort of faith and the pastoral help of dealing with the worldly problems.  Not an easy task, but ministry was never said to be easy (Mark 10.35-45).