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?"


"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."


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).