Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday's Gospel

Here is a beautiful post that responds to the shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Keeping It Together

I may have mentioned this. Once or twice. I am someone who loves organization. My dad is former military (over 20 years of service) and my mother has worked in finances for as long as I can remember. Organization is pretty much genetically ingrained in me.

However, there is a stereotype or perhaps an excuse regarding those in ministry to youth and young adults. We are not organized, we're creative. We're not organized, we're relevant. To quote my favorite half-giant, "Codswallop!"  If anything we need to be more organized. We face audiences that redefine procrastination, use of instantaneous communication, and parents that are raising the bar of helicopter parenting on a daily basis.

Do you have mechanisms in place to keep yourself organized? Do you know how you will communicate effectively and appropriately with those involved in your ministry? Do you keep accurate and accessible records?

A few of my tricks are these:

  • Levenger's Circa Notebooks.  I adore these things. They allow me to take notes, reorganize the pages, and keep everything together if I am jumping from meeting to meeting until I can get them into the appropriate file folders in my office. I also use the junior size one as my "Book." The Book goes everywhere with me. Some of the pages are personal information - books to read, quotes I like, grocery lists. Some are notes on work - calendar of all youth and young adult events, leadership contacts, etc.
  • Evernote. This is a blessing when it comes to digital organization. Check it out if you haven't already. Many youth ministry blogs have touted the uses and wonders of this program and app (plus the program is free though you can get an upgrade should you wish).
  • A workable old-school filing system. Some things need hard copies. Your parish and diocese likely give you some of those stipulations. I also have the "If Jenn Gets Hit By A Bus" set of folders - basically the next week to two weeks of programs all set to go so that if I end up with both legs in traction or attacked by poisonous caterpillars, the show can go on without me.
  • Email and texting mechanisms you can access from anywhere. Since our youth group is on Sunday, communicating changes (say cancellations due to snowstorms) can be challenging if I make the decision after our last morning Mass.  Using list servs, Google Groups, etc allow you to easily and effectively communicate via email. There are also some great new resources out there that will allow you to communicate via text message without forcing your poor little thumbs to scream out in rebellion.  I'm going to be giving Simply Youth Ministry Tools: Communicate a try. There are a few others out there. Plus these will allow you to send emails and text messages even when you're out of the country on a mission trip. Great to keep parents aware of your safety and the joy the teens are sharing.
Any tips you want to share?

Please note, these are my opinions and what I found useful. They are not an advertisement from any of the resources listed above.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


We are within spitting distance of our service trip to Guatemala. Luggage and carry-on bags are quite the subject of conversation - what to pack? What not to pack? What size? With or without wheels? Oh the details!

Today's Gospel has Jesus sending his Apostles out without even a spare set of clothes! But they could wear sandals - that was quite nice.  To go forth, to the unknown - the unknown people, places, and reactions. To go without any creature comforts. To go forth fully trusting that all you need will be provided. Now that is faith and trust.

Two things stand out to me about this. First, they would have what they needed provided. It may not be what they want, but it would be what they needed.  Second, while they went without material goods, they went together, in pairs.

My mantra to myself and the teens is to be open to the experience of these service trips. Our meals, lodgings, and daily tasks will be truly foreign in all regards.  They may not care for papaya juice or the nameless black bean log at breakfast, but they will be well nourished for the day's work. These trips that force us so far out of our comfort zone have the terribly unique and even brutal effect of making us realize more readily those times we mistake what we want for what we need.

After all these years it seems so obvious when Jesus would send his people out two by two. My Girl Scout camp counselor training where the "buddy system" was our standard operating procedure dictated the same action. I think, though, this was more than just a safety net. We are not meant to walk the journey alone. Whether it is a mission trip or the smaller mission of every day life as Christians, we walk it together. We forth together for comfort, for support, for reality checks, for all those little things we can provide for each other on the journey.

What wants are you mistaking for needs?
Who are you being called to go forth with today?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Quote of the Day

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
-Harriet Tubman

Friday, July 13, 2012

Leaving the Room

I ran across this line. The quote is from Meryl Streep speaking at Nora Ephron's memorial service:

“But sometimes you have to wait until your friend leaves the room to say how great she is,” she said, “because she absolutely would never put up with any of this if she were within earshot.” (From this article)

Though I am not all that old yet, I have had far too many friends and family leave the room. To them my words of gratitude and love will go unspoken. I like to hope that they knew what they meant to me.

But this line made me wonder if we let those we work with know how great they are before they leave the room - whether it is leaving for college or heading down a new path in life. Do we let our volunteer leaders know, regularly, how great they are? Do we find ways to authentically affirm the greatness of the youth? Do we show young adults their unique greatness?

Before someone leaves the room, how can you let them know how great they are?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Jar Under the Seat

When I was driving home from some errands this morning, I started to panic. I heard a clunking and rattling noise that made my overactive imagination jump to conclusions about the size of the auto repair bill I could expect.

After a few miles of this, just as I was nearing home. I realized I could not remember putting away a jar of garlic chili sauce I knew I had purchased yesterday. It dawned on me. That rather small jar of sauce must have fell out of the bag and was rolling around under my seat hitting various things and making that racket.  Sure enough, once home I searched and found that jar resting against some supports.  Once I pulled it out, I had no more noises.

There are moments in ministry, and any job or career I would hazard, where you see a problem and you instantly jump to momentous changes or worst case scenario planning. There are definitely times such leaps of imagination are needed. However, I think that for many, if not most of those moments, stopping that panic and addressing the situation from the simplest aspect first leads to a fruitful and effective conclusion.

As this is the time of the year when I look at our ministries and the challenges, causes, and other points of concern, it is important to me to remember that while dramatic, sweeping action may seem cathartic and effective, it can cause more problems than a simpler, smaller solution would. I find myself asking - is this an engine breakdown or is it a jar under my seat?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Here you go. The perfect storm of monsters, cookies, and sharing.  Courtesy of Catholic YM Blog. (Love what he titled his post on this - "Someone Call a Girl Scout.")

Monday, July 9, 2012

Remembering Why

Today is one of those days where I have to remember why I am literally giving myself a headache.

This is the day where all the paperwork for our Guatemala service trip is due. I'm getting packets of papers, most incomplete, turned in by parents and teens frantically running in the parish office door.  As I send out emails and tell them what is missing and how important it all is, yes, including having health forms & permission slips in triplicate, I feel the knot in my temples slowly and surely tighten.

All I want to do is go home and eat a large container of chocolate ice cream, preferably a variety with peanut butter.

As I have a conference call to be on tonight and am lactose intolerance, I will need to relax some other way. Likely with a cup of tea and a good book later tonight.

I just have to keep reminding myself of why this is worth it.

Guatemala is not an easy trip. Poisonous caterpillars, stomach viruses, less than ideal safety situations, and the general trials of travel make the week an exercise in patience and endurance. However, the rewards are immense.

I just have to stay focused on the positive - all the reasons why this is a very good thing. Even as I get yet another paper cut from the avalanche of paperwork.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Under Pressure, Facing Doubt

There are times when we face so much pressure in ministry. Some demand the numbers from us - attendance, budgets. Others look to us to be a source of spiritual wisdom and eternal significance, even if we  only slept three hours because we spent the past week orchestrating VBS or a school of spirituality. As the pastor of my campus ministry center always love to throw at the peer ministry team, "to those who have been given much, much will be expected!"

What can make those expectations even harder is the skepticism and doubt others throw as road blocks in our path. Though our faith in God, his work here, and the people around us may be solid; others may not offer quite that same faith. Their cynicism, doubts, fears, and (usually) abundant willingness to share those thoughts can deflate even the most faithful and energetic ministry (and minister) in record time.

I find comfort in today's Gospel. Jesus faced the same pressures. The challenge he sets before us, is that he kept working. We can too. it may be harder and we may not do all that we hoped to do, but we cannot give up our ministries to those nay-sayers. Jesus still did good in his native place. And we don't know what happened after he left. We don't know what those who were healed did with their new lives. We may not know what our ministries do, even when we fall short of our ideals. After all, we do believe that God has a plan.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Quote of the Day

Believe in the incredible
and you can do
the impossible
~Bishop Fulton Sheen

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday Highlights

As I was up late with one of those phone calls you can get in the late night hours when you work in ministry, today's post is going to be pretty easy. Here are a few things for you to check out:

A great post with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor on Philomena, The Greatest Saint Who Never Was. Love the takeaway points.

The USCCB's blog on Social Media and the Gospel.

For those in young adult ministry - check out the forum on young adult ministry sponsored by the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association (NCYAMA). You'll see me there!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Leggings, Guatemala, & Digital Communication

Today I am yet again reminded of the dangers of digital communication - email, social media, etc.

As we are getting within just days of our service trip to Guatemala, I had to send out information from the organization we are traveling with on this trip. In addition to some of their notes, there were answers to my questions. One is the ever charming fashion trend of leggings being pants acceptable for wear under all circumstances.

To be fair, I wore stirrup leggings back in the day of perms (I was in middle school, please forgive me). However, the accepted tops to go with said leggings were nearly to the knee sweaters and tunics. We were hot stuff, let me tell you. So while we girls were all aspiring to be Rachel or Phoebe or Monica, we at least saw that our rears were covered by our neon oversized t-shirts and color block sweaters.

Unfortunately leggings are back. We couldn't go for the fabulous twirly skirts of the 50s or the fun vamping of the roaring 20s? No? Let's bring back leggings but go for short shirts - that's a great idea (insert sarcasm)! As a youth minister this now creates modesty issues on a day to day basis. When heading to another country with different ideas of appropriate clothing, it can create serious safety concerns.

Thus this has been a subject that I sent another reminder about in an email today. I had mentioned that leggings were not allowed at our June meeting and in a previous email. As this email included the broader text from our travel group on what we should wear for work pants at the site, I just copied and pasted the whole section from the organization's original email.

If I can reference one popular TV series, I'll go for another. I know I sound like the Soup Nazi prior to this trip. The safety concerns force me to be more strict than usual.

Additionally, 8 of the 9 families sending teens on this trip are not regular youth group attendees. They have no point of reference for how I do things, my general attitude, tone of voice, or generally adaptable methodologies.  Thus, with this reminder I sent, a mother replied with all good intentions and in a kindly worded manner (thank you so much for that). She was concerned I was making assumptions about the expected behavior and that the fact that there are issues that, if violated, result in being sent home being reiterated to frequently.

Due to the electronic communication, my tone likely is a challenge to pick up in the email. Plus there was text I did not write. This reminds me of a couple things -

First, don't take those replies from parents personally. They, just like me, only want to ensure their teens are safe, happy, healthy, and growing in faith and maturity.

Second, always be conscientious when choosing your words in an email. Particularly when sending to those you are not familiar with how they will interpret your words or you theirs.