Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
January 25, 2010
Joy, frustration fill youth ministers' work
While working with youth brings personal rewards, the rewards are often hidden or delayed
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
ST. ALBERT - Colm Leyne, coordinator of youth ministry for the Saskatoon Diocese, likes his job, even though it sometimes could be a thankless one.
"This is a place where I can be who I am," he says. "I can be silly or I can be serious."
That seems to be true for most youth ministers. They always seem to be in good spirits and genuinely happy. And maybe they have to be because their job is to help bring Jesus Christ to young people.
Leyne, 26, is one of about 40 youth ministers who took part in the annual conference of the Western Canadian Association of Catholic Youth Ministers (WCACYM) at Star of the North Retreat Centre Jan. 14-17.
As someone who practically grew up in youth ministry, Leyne feels totally comfortable in the position.
"I like the spirit of joy, coming to conferences, coming to meetings, just sharing your heart with people that understand where you are at and your passion, and being in an area where your heart is in the right place."
Like most youth ministry coordinators, Leyne meets with volunteers at least once a month to pray, share what's going on, do professional development, share resources and "share some of the struggles. "I think one of the big things for youth ministers is to not feel alone, but connected."
But for all the responsibility, youth ministry is sometimes a thankless job "because you go unnoticed," Leyne said.
"It's not a job where you can concretely say, 'I achieved this' because we are here trying to help people in their spiritual life and that's a hard thing to quantify. It's difficult to measure success."
Unfortunately, a lot of people look towards youth ministers to ask, "What have you done, where are the numbers, what have you achieved?"
"It's important to see the successes in the programs but in the end youth ministry is very relational," Leyne stressed. "It's a continuous kind of effort so it's not like you can say, 'I'm done.'
PLANTING THE SEED
"We are much like the seed planter or tilling the soil for we rarely will see the fruit. You may encourage someone to discover their vocation but you probably won't be around when that happens."
Lance Rosen, the 24-year-old coordinator of youth ministry for parishes and schools in Medicine Hat says the key to successful youth ministry is building healthy relationships with young people.
"If they trust you, if they see you as 'legit,' they are going to open up to you and hear what you have to offer."
One disappointment is that after all his efforts, many young people still don't show up for Mass on Sunday. Another is that many youngsters in the schools are not even baptized.
To remedy this, Rosen has had to allow youth ministry to expand to "almost like a family ministry" to include parents, who are the primary educators. "Contrary to popular belief, it may not be the youth minister's job to bring the kids to the Church but the parents'," he said. "If you involve them, they are going to bring the kids."
Disappointments aside, Rosen loves his job because he feels he is making a difference. "If one child, one youth comes to Christ and feels the love of God and acts on it and pursues it, that makes it all worth it; that brings you hope," he says.
Brittney White, coordinator of youth ministry and pastoral associate at St. Albert Parish, said rather than going around pushing religion on teens, she tries to act as a witness to Jesus and Jesus' love and hopes young people see that witness.
Over the years, White has changed many young people's lives by taking them to missions in Guatemala or to the inner city to serve soup to the homeless.
But their ministry is not always successful. "It's hard to teach the youth because a lot of the times I feel like they see God as abandoning them or God is standing still in their lives."
Lucero Young, the youth ministry coordinator at St. Bonaventure Parish in Calgary, said she learns a lot from the young people who have an excellent sense of right and wrong.
"They know what's fair and have high ideals, especially the teenagers."
But Young said she hurts when the teens hurt.
"I worry for them. I feel for them when they are not valued for who they are because they are young."
The most hopeful sign in working with young people today is the fact "they go to church because they want to, not because their parents tell them so," Young said. "When they do decide to get involved, they give 100 per cent."
What's the most discouraging sign?
"They are so busy; that's the biggest hurdle," Young pointed out.
Andrew Papenbrock, coordinator of young adult ministry for the Edmonton Archdiocese, said young people make the Church come alive and that's one of his biggest joys.
But Papenbrock gets disappointed when people demand to see results for youth ministry "through numbers rather than results through change that is happening."
The most hopeful sign in working with young people today is "young people do believe in God and that's reflected in how there are responding to each other," the Edmonton youth leader said.
"The most discouraging sign is the fact more and more young people are saying they don't believe in God at all. That's more saddening than discouraging."
Leyne, the Saskatoon youth minister, finds hope in the energy and the passion of youth.
"When they buy into something, they just put all their effort, all their energy into it and they inspire you to do things for them," he said. "There is nothing like seeing the youth on fire, especially for Christ and seeing their sense of being unstoppable."
Letter to the Editor - 02/08/10
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