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Tapping into a yearning and fulfilling it. That’s youth ministry.
The last 25 years saw significant development in ministry to youth in our diocese; and, with the plans for Bethany House, greater things are yet to come. The annual teen issue of FAITH seems the ideal time to review all this for our readers. Eighty-two of our 95 parishes have a “coordinator of youth ministry” on the staff, a full-time position in some parishes and a part-time position in others. Their work has been promoted and assisted by the Office for Youth Ministry in the diocesan Department of Education and Catechesis.
This office was headed by George Rand from 1976 to 1982, by Brother Thomas Giumenta, C.S.C., from 1982 to 1985, by Brian Singer-Towns from 1985 to 1997, and since 1997 by James Corder. An annual Youth Convocation (shortened to “Youth Convo” after a couple of years) was initiated under Rand’s leadership in 1978. Teens by the hundreds were attracted to 10-hour days of faith and fun at one or the other of the Catholic high schools in Flint, Jackson or Lansing. Seven Convos were held until the high schools could no longer accommodate the crowds. It was my pleasure to address every one of these enthusiastic meetings and, in my cassock, one time even to join a group of girls as they danced the cancan.
This annual event gave way in 1986 to the series of Youth Jamborees begun by Brian Singer-Towns. He jazzed up both the name and the program. He moved the event to the fall on the calendar and moved the site to the Lansing Center, close to the cathedral and large enough to handle the crowds of upwards of 800 teens who regularly attend. At the same time the series of Youth Leadership Camps was begun. These are held in early summer on one of the Catholic college campuses nearby.
Parish youth ministry coordinators send select boys or girls from their local youth group for special training in organization and promotion of youth activities. Some 200 leader types attend each year. Evidence of its value to the parishes can be gauged by the response of pastors. A penance service is held during each leadership camp, and Jim Corder annually looks for 10 priests to volunteer to hear the confessions. For this year’s camp at Siena Heights University in Adrian he got 32 volunteers.
The World Youth Day in Denver with Pope John Paul II in 1993 was a highlight for youth ministry in this country and in this diocese. Over 600 teens from the Lansing diocese attended, along with lay chaperones, some sisters and several priests. The Pope is really at home with young people, and some of them who went to World Youth Day with us still mention Denver to me when I meet them. The worldwide response of youth to Pope John Paul shows that the young have a yearning for the spiritual, even though many of them don’t realize it. The purpose of youth ministry is to tap that yearning and fulfill it. The opening of Bethany House in DeWitt this fall holds great promise for our youth and for their future.