by Johnathan Sumpter
Diocese of Dallas Young Adult Coordinator
As a Catholic young adult minister (to those typically in their 20’s and 30’s), whether in a parish, a diocese, or a non-parish community, there is often immense pressure to do MORE to all on all sides of the aisle. There is pressure to do MORE to bring young adults to Mass, from those in the building on Sundays. There is pressure to do MORE to bring the Church outside of the building, by those who are not present. There is pressure to provide MORE opportunities to go deeper into faith and community with peers, by those young adults who have been around for a while. On the most part, everyone wants MORE.
However, there are also pressures expressed to do LESS on all sides of the aisle. There should be LESS money, time, and resources spent while doing MORE, from the people in the pew. There should be LESS churchy stuff, while providing MORE genuine experiences of community, personal development, and faith, from those outside the walls. Finally, there should be LESS non-churchy stuff, while providing MORE genuine experiences of community, development, and faith, from veteran young adult ministry folk.
Sometimes, more-or-less, you just can’t win.
This is an extremely long, multifaceted, and complex conversation. However, let’s just look at this one part of this problem: the miss-aligned expectation/perception/action problem. The expectation is what we believe should or should not happen. The perception is the actual personal experience. The action is what we do once we have perceived the situation through our expectations. Sounds kinda nerdy, but stick with me.
For us “pew-sitters,” we often get used to ministry as seen through the lens of captive audiences as in religious education and youth ministry, or geographically entrenched communities in campus ministry (i.e. youth often have to go because parents make them, and college students are often confined to the same general area where ministry is happening). Young adult ministry is neither captive nor geographically entrenched. Thus, it will more-or-less look differently. The perception that happens when a young adult group does not look like religious education class, that signifies anything, simply shows that we’re not listening to what is actually happening in the group. The action point then is to find ways to discover what that ministry looks like for your parish/group.
For those of us “outside the walls,” there could be hundreds of different combinations of possible expectation/perceptions. Some often have the same expectation for the Church to provide something like Vacation Bible School, with “cliché” or “out-of-touch” experiences that they simply do not want to invest in. In truth, that does happen sometimes. Very often, people don’t participate because they simply don’t have time to meet during the traditional hours. Sometimes people don’t participate because they feel stilted by the Church for one reason or another. Sometimes people have been hurt for one reason or another by someone/something/an event in their lives in relation with the Church. There are hundreds of reasons why people may/may not participate. Another task, then, for those in the pews and in the YAM programs is first and foremost, to LISTEN. Pastorally discovering what those reasons are, reaching out, and helping the person find the avenues that lead to healing through the Church should be our task. Not simply to have more numbers in attendance. For those “outside the walls” who are searching for something, just have some conversations with people. You don’t have to commit to anything to have a conversation. You might be surprised what you find.
For those of us who have been around the YAM world with the desire to delve deeper into faith, is also not as simple as simply doing it. This a recipe that calls for part opportunity and space, part involvement from others, part knowledge of facilitator in Scripture and the Deposit of Faith, and part a delving deeper into self. No one can do that last part for you. We can listen to how to address the others, improving process of planning and developing ministry. We can bring in speakers or educate staff to be better facilitator. But, all we can do is show the avenues of faith. You must take it. The action points here are for those in the pew and the experienced YAMers. For those in the pew, again, how are we listening? Do we respond with opportunity or enforce program dictates? What works for our community? For YAMers, be patient, this is all new stuff. Also, don’t be silent. Speak up. It might not happen at first, but without airing out the laundry, we end up with mildewy programs. Secondly, for YAMers, perhaps there is also a growing, stretching point personally going on that is drawing you deeper. Explore that. Seek some spiritual direction, small sharing groups of like-minded people, etc. The Church can only provide opportunity for you to participate. You have to jump in. Biggest action point for us all is to jump in.
Recap summarization of Action Points for all sides of the aisle:
1) Listen, don’t assume
2) Have patience to explore creative possibilities that don’t fit the typical mold of ministry
3) Be pastoral not just programmatic
4) Take personal responsibility for your part of it all, without blaming another side of the aisle
5) Don’t be afraid to have open and frank dialogue about needs in ministry
6) Be intentional about planning and participating on all sides, seeking exterior guidance, direction, and support
7) Not specifically stated previously, but as always, do all through proper prayer, discernment, and consultation.
Aside from the large amount of other aspects that are part of this discussion, if we could align these perspectives and expectations with adequate action responses, what would be the outcomes?
by Sonia Mijares
Young Adult at Mary Immaculate, Farmers Branch
Choosing to dedicate the entirety of my life to being a faithful servant to God has not been as easy as I initially imagined it would be. In fact, in the course of this past year I’ve realized that, if I don’t remain in constant, intimate relationship with Him, through prayer and other forms of conversation, (I highly recommend Eucharistic Adoration as a great way to remain connected to Him, end plug) I am likely to find myself blatantly attempting to do exactly what Jesus warned all of us we could not do in Matthew 6:24.
No one is able to serve two masters. For either he will have hatred for the one, and love the others, or he will persevere with one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
He drove this point home recently for me as I found myself feeling especially discouraged about my work performance due to some negative feedback I had received from one of the parents I train at my daytime job. On top of that, I was also stressed out over an upcoming end of the year evaluation because I was certain that my supervisor would be expressing her disappointment regarding what I felt was my less than stellar productivity for the month. She had been so kind as to take time out of her hectic schedule each week to mentor, guide and encourage me. I could not help but worry about not meeting her expectations of me.
In short, I was feeling absolutely miserable.
Now, it is usually His way to just let me sit in my worry and confusion for as long as I need to. He knows me well enough to know that I will wear myself out so much that I will eventually, finally turn to Him for comfort, guidance and answers (yes, I prolong my suffering but that is a discussion for another blog post). This time was no different. So, after throwing myself the required pity party, and spending the better part of a day weighed down with confusion and frustration, I finally prayed that He would give me clarity as to what, if anything He was trying to teach me during this especially difficult time.
His response? Who is Your Master?
I initially felt the urge to argue that of course I only answered to one Master and how could He even think that I would ever serve another?! That was soon followed by His gentle, yet firm, prompting that I sit and think about the question He’d just placed in my mind. After all, Jesus never speaks to us unless He has something to say. Boy, did He have something to say to me that day.
The reality is that serving Jesus is as much about CHOICE as it is about commitment and awareness.
Despite my initial denial, all the evidence indicated that somewhere along the way I had become slave to other people, including the parents I trained and my supervisor. Though it pained me to admit it, I was also no longer seeking to please or serve Jesus, but was more concerned with working to get the positive feedback, encouragement and validation of the goodness of my work from others. What’s worse, I could not deny that I had been aware, on some level, that my focus had shifted from Jesus. After all, I had dropped daily scripture readings from my schedule because my days were just so busy; and yet, that had not been enough to clue me in to what was happening. Surely, the fact that the majority of my time in Eucharistic Adoration that week had been spent worrying about work responsibilities and whether or not I would meet my supervisor’s expectations should have knocked some sense into me. Why, I lamented. Could I not have realized this sooner? How could I have allowed myself to replace God my True Master with mortal people? Thank goodness for Jesus’ loving, compassionate heart and the graces that He so readily pours over us (plus Reconciliation). Otherwise, I’d still be going through yet another episode of sinner’s condemnation.
The reality is that serving Jesus is as much about choice as it is about commitment and awareness. By that, I mean that we initially must choose to live to serve our One and Only Master and it is a choice that has to be made over and over again. Unfortunately, it may be a choice made more difficult by circumstance or because (insert obligatory, ‘you just don’t know my boss/teacher/friend/significant other,’ reason here). Nevertheless, we must continue to commit to making God the focal point of our work, even as we continue to struggle against the demands placed on us by our bosses, significant people in our lives and even the people that God called us to serve for Him. An awareness of the moment we are starting to draw away from Him can also ultimately save us a lot of grief and confusion in the long run and can ultimately spare us from living out the horrible realization that we are living for people and/or things that are temporal and flawed.
Even though Labor Day is now behind us I invite you who are reading this entry to think about the work that God has called you to do and imagine God asking you the question that led to the near rending of garments of this young Catholic and, subsequently, the writing of this piece.
Who is your Master?