This week I met with a young woman who I met when she was a middle schooler in my first parish. I remember her a slight, sweet girl with a happy smile- at the time I was doing an A-Z model for middle school youth group, where each week we did a different letter of the alphabet for our theme: apathy, bummers, caring, etc. The nights topped off with "can you __________ this?" It was "can you throw this?" "can you eat this?" etc. She beamed through every game and seemed like she loved it. I remember her smiling up at me and telling me how much she liked youth group, saying "You have the best prizes!"
She's an adult now- has gone to and graduated from college, and is now married to a Navy man and living in Virginia! She told me that she and her husband have found a church that they love down there, and she's feeling strong in her faith life, with this new faith community.
I asked her a question that I also recently asked another of my former youth groupers. "Do you still consider yourself Catholic?"
Of the three young women that I keep in touch with from this era/parish, one went to a Catholic college and the other two went to secular schools and/or Gordon College. Both of the non-Catholic school girls said, when I asked them that, "Not really." Both still have some connection to the Catholic Church through family and attend Mass when they come home from school, but they seem to have a deeper identity with Christianity as a whole, than with Catholicism.
I don't necessarily believe that staying Catholic is the mark of a good/effective youth minister, but it does make me think that YM's must must must focus on Catholic identity- helping kids find and form their identity as Catholic.
I'm not sure how this can happen- the young woman who has remained Catholic (enough to seek out Mass to attend while living in NYC on her own over the summer) comes from a strongly Catholic family, a Mass-going family. I imagine there's nothing a YM can do to trump a Catholic family, but... there must be something we CAN do.
As soon as I figure it out, I'll let you know...