Here’s the news from the Director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM), Bob McCarty, as delivered during the opening gathering of our conference this year. I’m rewriting it from Scott’s notes from that session, with my own comments.
He says that there have been three significant shifts in youth ministry in the 25 years that the Federation has been in existence.
1. The shift from “A Vision of Youth Ministry” to “Renewing The Vision”; these are the documents produced by the US Catholic Bishops in the late 70’s and then the 1990’s. The image that was central to the Vision document was Emmaus, Christ’s walk with his disciples, the presence of Christ in the body of a human who was a stranger to them. In Renewing, the central image was less of ministering to kids and more about leading them and preparing them to take on their own role of discipleship.
2. The shift in methodology from Youth Groups to many groupings of and for youth. It’s a change from one-size-fits-all ministry to comprehensive ministry for every young person in a parish community, even if they never darken the door of the Church. EVERY kid, even those who wouldn’t be caught dead at a youth group meeting.
3. The shift in emphasis. Central to youth ministry in the past was “creating a sense of community”- a process of bringing in. Today’s youth ministers know that only a small fraction of our ministry can happen in the church building, because only a fraction of a young person’s time is spent in church. Creating one more community in amongst kids lives, already full of temporary and permanent communities like teams, clubs, and organizations is not the goal anymore. Instead, our focus has shifted to that of evangelization and catechesis, and an emphasis on service and justice. Instead of bringing in, our goal is sending out.
He also reminded us of three challenges that currently face our ministries and professions:
1. We must shift our efforts from considering ourselves missionaries to youth, and instead realize the call to be advocates for youth in our parishes, church, and society.
2. The comprehensive approach to Youth Ministry is a model we have not quite figured out how to do yet- the challenge is still with us to “do church right for kids”. The focus we were charged with was to present a catechesis of head, hand, and heart, rooted and anchored in a spiritual home.
3. The renewal of parish life is a challenge in our ministries. No longer are we “youth ministers”, but we must consider ourselves pastoral ministers to all generations, because we know that adolescents do not thrive, nor live, in a generational vacuum. Parish life has taken a “hit” from the rocky path set before us at Vatican Two. Again, the vision for renewal at the parish level is on the horizon- we see how it might look, but it remains far off, and something to be worked toward.
There is good good news, and there are challenges and hard work to be done. The most encouraging news of all is this Youth Ministry community, over 2500 strong at this convention. Work and study and teaching are being done and they will change the future for our ministries, our parishes, and our Church. Youth Ministry is doing a lot of things well. The future is bright.