By TAMI QUIGLEY
The diocesan Office of Youth, Young Adult and Family Ministry (OYYAFM) hosted the newest workshop from the Center for Ministry Development – “Calling Youth to Mission: Equipping Young Disciples” – Nov. 12 at St. Mary, Kutztown.
Parishes and Catholic schools are called to form young people as missionary disciples in the world. Approximately 25 laity and religious sisters attended the daylong workshop that shared effective ways to engage youth and empower them as young disciples growing as witnesses to their faith.
The day included vision and practical ideas for these topics: Calling Youth to Missionary Discipleship, Growing as Leaders in Our Relationship with Jesus, Transforming Youth Ministry into Disciple-Building, Supporting Families of Disciples, Knowing Young People Today, Equipping Young Disciples, and Accompanying Youth.
Joan Weber was presenter for the day. Weber is coordinator of National Workshop Series and the Lifelong Faith Formation at the Center for Ministry Development, Gig Harbor, Washington. She also serves as co-coordinator for Young Neighbors in Action.
She holds a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska and a certificate in faith and justice. Weber is the former president of the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association and content editor and author for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ book “Connecting Young Adults to Catholic Parishes.”
On hand for the day were Sue Matour, director of OYYAFM; Alexa Donscecz and Samantha Hennis, assistant coordinators of OYYAFM; and Mary Fran Hartigan, secretary of the diocesan Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization.
Weber noted in his address of Sept. 13, 2014, Pope Francis said this “is what Jesus wants today: missionary disciples.”
The first session, “Following Christ – Mini Retreat” noted as leaders, our attention to our own conversion as disciples is the source of our ministry. This session began in prayer that followed Jesus’ call and formation of the early disciples. Participants recalled their encounter, the communities that deepen their relationship with Christ, their experience of the practices of discipleship, and their engagement in mission and ministry.
In the second session, “Calling Youth to Missionary Discipleship,” through exploration of the research and shared experience of faith communities, participants explored the process for engaging today’s youth and helping them grow as disciples.
The third session was “Becoming a Disciple Building Parish.” To help young disciples grow, we change the way we look at all aspects of our ministry with youth and families. Participants reflected on their parish ministries and imagined new ways to support families of disciples and engage in new methods for helping youth grow in their relationship with Christ. This included presentation of tools and resources for growing disciples.
The fourth session was “Disciple Building Action Plan.” Each community has what it needs to support and form young disciples. In this final session, participants developed a step-by-step plan for accompanying youth in their response to Christ’s presence in their life.
Presenting the morning session “Calling Youth to Missionary Discipleship,” Weber said to grow young disciples, it’s important to provide encounters that engage, relationships that deepen, practices that form and mission that energizes.
“Provide encounters that are giving them opportunities to experience Jesus personally,” Weber said.
She explained like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, young people are often bewildered and filled with questions. They long to encounter Christ, and they want to have someone walk with them in their questions. They want a first-hand experience of God, and they want that experience to be connected to their everyday life.
“Youth and young adults encounter God in sacraments, prayer, community, in the Word, nature, service, witness, friendship, acts of kindness, hospitality, silence, creativity, art and music.”
“Family members and mentors can provide relationships that deepen faith,” Weber said.
She said youth and young adults hunger to belong, to have a community that cares about and accepts them. “Like all of us, young Catholics can feel insecure and wonder if they are worthy of love and friendship.
“They experience God’s presence in a community when they experience being welcomed, accepted, affirmed, and challenged. Relationships deepen their experience of God and provide models for discipleship.”
Weber said youth and young adults experience belonging in their family, the church community, friendships, mentor-relationships, peer relationships, and a variety of communities in which they gather for common interests and shared action.
“Practices that form include prayer and reading Scripture and the sacraments,” Weber said. “For younger children, it can be helping with Vacation Bible School.”
Weber said youth and young adults hunger to know and understand what friendship in Christ really means in their life. They want to know the Gospels; they seek the teachings of the faith. They long for a way to find answers to their questions.
“Youth and young adults grow in their faith understanding when they experience faith in action, when they learn about Scripture and when they learn about the teachings of our church. They are formed by the practice of discipleship.”
Weber’s advice on providing a mission that energizes?
“Give them a mission that gives them goosebumps – a mission that is noble, captures the imagination and ultimately builds up the kingdom of God.”
Weber said youth and young adults hunger to make a difference, to be able to contribute and share their gifts. They learn about their gifts through relationships and through the community. Someone trusts them and gives them a chance to do something that matters – something that makes a difference for someone.
“Young disciples experience a chance to serve others through acts of service, ministry and leadership,” she said.
In the ensuing discussion period, Weber noted that encounters, relationships, practices and mission “are not a linear process” that have to occur in that order, but “encounters are always the heart.”
“Parental involvement is so important – we have to involve the parents,” she said.
Weber said other important points to remember are affirmation – assuring children they can do it; making sure children are involved in the parish, diocese and the larger Roman Catholic Church; having children spend time with their pastors; and involving youth more at Mass.
The Center for Ministry Development promotes the development of ministry and catechesis with youth and families through leadership formation, service learning, and resources rooted in Catholic tradition and Scripture. Several free resources from its Youth Ministry Access and Fashioning Faith subscription websites – such as PowerPoints, handouts and other resources from the workshop – are available at www.cmdnet.org/cytm-resource.