Young adult ministry: no simple answers

by Jeff Hedglen

7/1/2015

 
 

I clearly remember the year I began to feel like an adult. Two events marked this transition. First, I was 27 years old and I was driving in the car with some high school youth, and a great song came on the radio that they had never heard; it had come out when they were children.

The second event happened a few weeks later while having dinner with one of the parish families. During dinner I discovered the parents and I were talking about a topic in which the teens at the table had no interest. I was having a grown-up conversation. These two events signaled that maybe, just maybe, I was becoming an adult.

The struggle to move from being a carefree young person to a responsible, full-fledged, confident adult is hard for almost everyone, and this is why I love journeying beside folks in their 20s and 30s today. I remember the difficult time so well and want to help this current generation navigate the ups and downs; all while helping them deepen their faith.

The task of Young Adult Ministry is a daunting one. We are charged with people from age 18-39. This is a huge age range encompassing many different stages of life: college students, folks who went right into the work force, post-college professionals, young singles, young marrieds, older singles, divorced, single parents, young families, and a few others, all with unique and specific spiritual, emotional, and physical needs.

Another nuance to ministering to this age group is that in addition to the different stages of life, there are differing stages of connection to Jesus and the Church. Some are “all in” and attend Mass every Sunday and Young Adult events, as well as being involved at the parish in liturgical ministries, as catechists, and in other capacities. But this is a small sample of the group of kids who were brought to the baptismal font as an infant.

Most young adults are not attending Mass regularly, if at all. Many have not entered a church since their teenage years. Many would call themselves “spiritual but not religious,” but many others would say they have abandoned faith in God altogether.

This is the reality that we face as a Church. As a matter of fact, I’ll bet a good percentage of the people reading this are parents of a young adult, and you know exactly what I am talking about.

Countless times I have been asked by the parent of a young adult “How can I get my child to return to the sacraments?” Every time I’m asked this question, I wish with all my heart I had a fantastic one-size-fits-all answer. But the reality is that each person has his or her own path back into the arms of the Savior. The best I could offer is that they pray for a person to enter their offspring’s life that can bring them back. Also, continue to invite them to Mass whenever they visit home.

I was very lucky. Three months after I graduated from high school my parish started a Young Adult Bible Study. It was this group that kept me grounded, while the rest of my young adult life seemed to be tossed by one storm after another. It was not an expensive program. It was one man with a passion for the young adult church who gave us an opportunity to gather, learn a bit about our faith, find community, and stay connected to the Church while we found our way.

You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child? Well, it takes a Church to raise a Church. We are all called to reach out to the young adults in our lives.

Whether they are people you sponsored for Baptism or Confirmation, or colleagues at work and school, or even your own children. Invite them for coffee and ask them about the last time they went to Mass or prayed, or thought about God. Send them a spiritual book that has meant something to you. Or just drop them a note or text letting them know you prayed for them that day.

Don’t be pushy, just be inviting, welcoming, open minded, interested in them, and, most of all, be like Jesus when he looked at the rich young man: look at them and love them.

I clearly remember the year I began to feel like an adult. Two events marked this transition. First, I was 27 years old and I was driving in the car with some high school youth, and a great song came on the radio that they had never heard; it had come out when they were children. 

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