Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 18, 1999
A first for St. Paul
Youth minister reaches out over far-flung diocese
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
When Denise Wilson sat down to figure out where she was headed career wise, her parents said to go where her heart led her.
After working on the East Coast, then in Calgary, her heart led her to St. Paul.
"This is what I want to do," said Wilson, the new youth minister for the St. Paul Diocese. "I've always wanted to do diocesan service."
As the diocese's first youth minister, Wilson is starting from a blank page. There are no predecessor's shoes to fill.
But Wilson knows her mission isn't to be the youth minister for all of the diocese's 61 parishes and missions. Communities such as those in Fort McMurray and Lakeland have youth ministries.
"What I'm hoping to do is bring training opportunities and workshops, trying to link everyone together," said Wilson, who at 25, looks young enough to fit in comfortably among a group of teenagers.
But Wilson is the last person to support the statement that youth are the future of the Church.
"That drives me crazy," she said. "If young people are not part of the Church of today, there will be no Church of the future."
Some youth come to rallies and events to hear guest speakers and share their faith. Others come "to the rallies for the dance, to get a few phone numbers." But whatever the reason they're there for, at least they're there, said Wilson.
"You can't just go out there and get the good kids. You want to plant the seed in as many of them as you can."
Wilson admits it's unrealistic to expect every parish to have a full-time youth minister. However, parishes still need to look at what they can do to encourage youth participation.
Part of Wilson's plan will be to link youth ministries between parishes so that even the smallest, most rural parishes do not feel denied of youth ministry.
"We need to find ways to help them come together regionally, come together to share resources," Wilson said.
"We need to take care of our congregation. The youth are part of that. If a congregation can (hire a youth minister), they owe it to the congregation to do it."
Not only does she want parishes to take a bigger interest in youth ministry, but to also personally get involved in it.
"It's not just hiring a youth minister and saying 'Here, you take care of the youth,'" Wilson said. "We need to encourage teamwork, encourage everyone in the parish to get involved.
Wilson is still getting to know the parishioners in St. Paul. She expects to spend much of her time on the road visiting the various parishes in the far-flung diocese.
For the next 10 months, she will also work with the Redemptorist Youth Mission Team. The team travels across Canada helping youth ministries set up programs and events.
Wilson is familiar with the team having spent a year as a member when it travelled to Fredericton, N.B.
After her time with the mission team, Wilson came on board as the youth minister at St. Bonaventure Parish in Calgary. She was there for two years.
The decision to move to St. Paul was not an easy one for Wilson to make. She was leaving "a good thing at St. Bonaventure." But St. Paul also gave her the opportunity to realize her dream of doing diocesan work.
Wilson grew up playing teacher in the basement of her home. When she entered the University of Alberta, she intended to spend her working days as a teacher.
But her final year of university gave her something to think about. The year before, she had what she called "the best six weeks of my university life" as a student teacher in a junior high school in Stony Plain.
In her final year she had a less than memorable internship at a high school. But the experience did help her discover her true calling, youth ministry.
"People always ask me when am I going to start teaching," Wilson said. "They think this is just an in-between job until I get a real job teaching. It seems irrational to people that I would be doing this when I could be teaching.
"But this is what I've been called to do. This is my dream job."