ST. FRANCIS — Four months after his Jan. 4 installation, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said the archdiocese needed to call together a summit of people involved in the ministries serving youth and young adults. He saw the energy present in the ministries, but felt the leaders needed a central place where they could share ideas and learn from each other the best ways to minister to these age groups.
The archbishop’s idea came to fruition Oct. 19 at the first Youth and Young Adult Ministry Summit, when 150 people gathered for a day of prayer, networking and idea sharing in the form of roundtable sessions and exhibits at the Cousins Center.
“We needed to bring you together to be able to offer what you’re doing to others, to listen to what others are doing so we can feed that energy together, we can challenge that energy for the good of the church and for the good of our young people in terms of their relationship with Christ,” Archbishop Listecki said as he addressed the group.
“… We have to be kind of a conduit to make sure that (youth and young adults) have a relationship with the church … we help them to understand that they’re desired and loved by the church, they belong to the church and they’re challenged by the church,” he said, explaining that this can be done by examining the parishes and ensuring that not only are they inviting to young people, but that the people involved in youth and young adult ministries are also inviting.
It’s OK to have fun, says archbishop
A successful Catholic youth ministry, the archbishop said, must be based in prayer, the Eucharist and confession, but that it’s OK to have fun.
Jesus is the absolute model for all of us, Archbishop Listecki said, but Mary, his mother, is the one, at age about 13-16, who said “yes” and made the “most monumental decision in the history of all humanity.”
It’s challenging to help the younger generations understand that success and happiness aren’t found in material possessions or things, “But it’s found in the relationships that are developed – you as youth ministers understand the value of relationships. You do,” he said. “You’re never going to go away from that relationship, because at the heart and core of that relationship is Jesus. …and there are ways that we, in terms of youth ministry, kind of bring in people to that relationship.”
“People working with confirmation students, for example, need to help the students understand that service hours aren’t an obstacle they must overcome to get confirmed, but their responsibility as Catholics. Helping their brothers and sisters in Christ’s name is part of their duty because they see him in them, and share one common thread: “They belong to Jesus. They belong to the church. They are part of our family,” Archbishop Listecki said.
Difficult to get teens to ‘open up’
Amanda Gronemeyer, 22, who helps in the Life Teen ministry for high schoolers before confirmation at St. Frances Cabrini Parish, West Bend, was interested in learning the best way to minister to the teens participating in Life Teen. Her proximity in age to the group with which she works is an advantage, but she still struggles to reach them, “and specifically, how to get them to open up, because a lot of times it’s hard to find the best way to make them feel comfortable to just be honest and authentic about what’s going on in their lives,” she said in an interview with your Catholic Herald.
After she earns a theology degree from Marian University in Fond du Lac, Gronemeyer wants to work full time in parish ministry.
“I see that the youth ministry and young adult ministry has really grown in the past couple of years, specifically, in our area – West Bend,” she said, explaining that formation of local Catholic young adult groups like Water’s Edge in West Bend, and Nazareth Young Adults in Fond du Lac, make it easier for those who can’t always attend meetings in Milwaukee. “…now it seems that each area has some young adult ministry, so it’s nice.”
Gronemeyer, who’s in the “very preliminary” stages of working with Fr. Luke Strand of Holy Family Parish, Fond du Lac, to start a women’s discernment group in West Bend, said she would like to see the archdiocese work more “to let teens and people know that religious life is an option.” And seeing the young priests and religious is helpful, Gronemeyer said. “That’s really a testimony for people because they see, ‘Oh, maybe these people are happy in their ministry, maybe this is something that is an option for me as well.’”
The summit allowed her to compare how other youth and young adult ministries work and what’s effective in their parishes in regards to the “declining morality in today’s world.”
“We really have to get out there the truth behind morality and what it means,” she explained, “Not just say that this is wrong, but tell them, within our faith, why it’s wrong.”
Limited by staffing issues
Jane Helminiak, 62, director of religious education at St. Mary Parish, Belgium, said she’s limited, as many parishes are today, being the only person on staff. The biggest challenge for Helminiak, though, is trying to get others, young and old alike, to awaken the love that drives her personal commitment to the church.
“It’s always looking for how to increase the connection between the church and people so that it becomes a value in their lives, too,” she said in an interview with your Catholic Herald.
Helminiak benefited from attending summit roundtable discussions like “Creative Strategies to Connect Young Adults to Parish Life,” led by Julianne Donlon-Stanz, director of adult faith formation/young adult ministry in the Green Bay Diocese, where she could learn about things happening in other parts of the state. She was drawn to the discussions involving young adult sharing groups.
“I guess that’s someplace where I see a real need and wanted to see what good things were happening in that area that we could, perhaps, apply simply in our situation since we’re a small-staffed parish,” Helminiak said, explaining that the archdiocese offered more opportunities for gatherings like the summit in the past.
Ministry in archdiocese has been ‘scaled back’
Bill Thimm, 60, a youth minister for grades six through 12 at Sacred Heart Parish, Horicon, said that after 26 years of service in youth and young adult ministry, he also knows what the ministry used to be in the archdiocese.
“We have had it scaled back dramatically because of the lack of finances and the archbishop has said very clearly that if he could, he would start a youth ministry office right now,” Thimm said in an interview with your Catholic Herald. “… I saw that there was some deterioration in terms of leadership and visioning for us and it’s nice to see a swell of return in whatever form it can take, because that’s so critical that you get that sense of leadership, vision, dynamics from the top, that’s energizing you.”
Limitations have existed at all times, though, the archbishop said in his talk, noting that the apostles and saints encountered them, too.
“They knew who they were committed to and who they had a responsibility to and in youth ministry, you help them to do that, you help your young people to understand that great power in Christ empowers them to do so much,” he said.
The archbishop told your Catholic Herald that while financial resources have been cut, youth ministry activities in the archdiocese haven’t been cut.
“People are still accomplishing,” he said. “That was one of the aspects of bringing this summit together, to demonstrate that youth ministry’s very alive in this diocese and it is happening. So now, we discovered that, we work together with it and we work with that energy. We help maximize it for the good of the church.”
Use technology to reach youth
People in youth and young adult ministry face the challenge of living in a “culture that denies the teaching of church,” Archbishop Listecki said in his talk, explaining that young people tell him in confirmation letters that they go into schools where religion, faith, practicing faith and human life don’t mean much. This is where, he said, “your influence, and your relationship with them, means everything.”
Technology, used in a responsible and ethical way, can be a useful tool in their ministry, said the archbishop.
“St. Paul today would be involved with the technology that is present,” Archbishop Listecki said. “You know, he’d be Blackberrying it, blueberrying it and strawberrying it … he’d be doing just about everything in relationship to that, and why would he? Because he would have one catch to bring people to Christ. You’re youth ministers, you bring your young people and young adults to Christ.”
Summit is way to network with others
For Brock Elstro, 28, campus minister at St. Joseph Catholic Academy, Kenosha, a K-12 school, the day was a way to meet others and collect resources to use in his campus ministry work. Elstro didn’t know anyone at the summit, but is already looking forward to the “next” meeting or gathering.
“I guess one of the biggest things for me is that there’s not a lot of people who do what I do, because I don’t know any other K through 12 campus ministers at a Catholic school,” Elstro told your Catholic Herald, explaining that while some people’s issues in the ministry may overlap his, “there’s not another person that’s dealing with everything that I’m dealing with.”
That feeling of being alone is one aspect of the ministry that Archbishop Listecki had anticipated.
“What we hoped for today is to bring, literally, the leadership of youth ministry in the diocese together; that’s why it’s called a summit, a summit of all the leaders, and then allow the day to help individuals connect in terms of almost like a networking of the wonderful things that are going on in the diocese – that itself energizes people because people sometimes think in terms of youth, ‘I’m the only one doing anything in the diocese,’” he said. “…all of a sudden they see 150 people here who are all functioning in some way, and so it’s inspiring to them and it charges them with energy.”
Archbishop Listecki asked for about seven or eight volunteers to create a networking committee that will meet to keep the dialogue and idea sharing going; 12 people signed up that day.
“I could see something like this say in another year, being 200 people or 250 people because now people kind of are inspired to be doing things because of this networking committee,” he said.
Thimm, who led a roundtable discussion, was grateful that Archbishop Listecki showed his commitment to the youth and young adult ministry by spending the day with leaders. He was leaving with “a lot of high energy and that’s what’s really critical,” he said.
“To have our wonderful archbishop, who by this action, by calling this together actually shows his true desire and respect and support of the youth ministry and young adult formation in the archdiocese – that is tremendous,” Thimm said. “That is such a pat on the back, such an energy boost for all of us that are in this and that’s just wonderful … you wish you could capture it all and put it in a book so that it would be easily accessible.”