How to Create a Sustainable New Ministry at Your Parish
Jesus became a friend of mine during college at University of Colorado. We were introduced through friends and FOCUS missionaries. My involvement in a FOCUS Bible study stirred me to keep introducing Him to others.
Since graduating college I’ve been actively involved with youth ministry at my parish. I started as a youth group leader at a suburban parish, and then taught confirmation at my urban parish, Saint Catherine of Siena. Working within the existing systems at my parishes helped me learn the ropes and build rapport with the pastor and leaders. But for the last year I’ve felt drawn to lead the confirmation kids deeper in their personal relationships with Christ, something that large-scale classroom catechesis, which only meets every couple of weeks, has not permitted.
As I enter a crossroads in my journey of sharing the Gospel, I want to venture into uncharted territory to share the love of God with the youth at my parish in a different way. . I’m not sure what is in store, but I’m going to give it a shot.
Over the next few months I’ll be sharing what I have done so far to start something new at my parish and how I am moving forward. Hopefully this will be helpful on your journey of lifelong Catholic mission.
Sustainability Step One: Assess the parish’s needs and your gifts and then create a plan
A beautiful quality about God is that He works within reality. If He is calling you to start something in your parish He will be combining the particular needs of your parish with the unique gifts He has given you. It may take a year or two to get to know your parish and what will best engage the community.
I’ve found that I can serve youth in many ways: youth group, casual hangouts, or community outreach; but in the case of my urban parish, those options do not entirely address the needs of the youth. These kids’ lives are wrought with problems like divorce, gang violence, drugs, and life circumstances that can make the Church seem irrelevant. I know that what they need a close relationship with Christ and other Christians.
When it comes to sharing my faith you will find me in coffee shops or on long walks sharing life with fellow sojourners. I sometimes find highly programmatic activities draining. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some good catechesis, but I’m a fan of casual outreach; that relational evangelization that FOCUS is always talking about.
Starting a Bible study is an option that seems to best combine the youth needs with my gifts. First, the confirmandi can be immersed in The Word of God, and second, it’s a consistent and personal group that encourages personal growth and relationship with mature Catholics and ultimately Christ. Plus, I’m convinced that consistent community is key in nurturing a faith life.
Sustainability Step Two: Draw on the wisdom of others
Even if you cannot find someone who has done the exact ministry you are starting, talking to someone who has experience will help you to think through some of the factors you may not have considered. I have led Bible studies for college students and even young adults, but leading youth Bible studies will undoubtedly be different.
Part of my daily job as the Alumni Relations Manager is talking to alumni about their experiences in the parish. I hear about the struggles and concerns alumni encounter, and also about their successes. I decided to draw wisdom from someone who had been both challenged and blessed in his work with high school students, Father Brian Larkin.
Father Brian is a priest who was ordained just over a year ago in the Archdiocese of Denver and is among the first FOCUS missionaries to become a priest. Though newly ordained, he’s already had notable experience with youth. At the parish where he served as a transitional deacon, he and a friend identified the need for greater depth within youth ministry, so he trained young adults to lead high school Bible studies. They started with just two studies and now that parish has nearly 40 meeting regularly. I figured he would be perfect to call.
Over a twenty-minute phone call Father Brian gave me a wealth of valuable information about how to get going, but there were two things that really stood out to me. First, he insisted that I need to find a person to work with. He said, “You need someone to work with you who will suffer with you and who is in the mission with you. In my experience, even if we failed we failed together and there’s something to that. It becomes so much easier to be discouraged if you’re “on your own.” Immediately I was reminded that I’m trying to go at this alone. I made a mental note to look more seriously for someone to help.
The second thing he said is that I am not going to know all the answers. “The most important thing is not figuring everything out so it works perfectly; the biggest thing is that someone cares enough about it to suffer it to be made a reality.” After he said that, I realized how afraid I really was. I want to do this perfectly, but at this point perfection is not an option. G.K. Chesterton said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” How true! I’ve got to be willing to take steps forward even if I’m not sure they are impeccable. Resisting an expectation of perfection is the only way this thing is going to get off the ground.
Sustainability Step Three: Make clear and actionable next steps
Now that I have an idea that fits the youth and my personality and a better idea of how to move forward, I have some serious work to do. My plan is to work with 6-8 parishioners who will lead Bible studies for the 35 confirmation kids. Here are the concrete next steps:
I’m looking forward to sharing the joys and struggles of this endeavor with you. Stay tuned for updates!
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How to Create a Sustainable New Ministry at Your Parish
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Since the pontificates of Pope Paul VI and John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church has been commissioned to engage and embrace the world with God's message of love once more with ‘new methods, new ardor and new expression.’ It has come to be phrased, 'the new evangelization.'
For FOCUS, this means meeting college students across the nation where they are and challenging them to examine the meaning and purpose of their lives. Through personal relationships and friendship, we offer college students the true peace and fulfillment they seek in the good news of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Catholic faith, inviting them to answer His calling in their lives.
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