I think high school ministry was easily the area most commented upon in last spring’s parish survey regarding what should be improved. In addition to the many comments on the survey, I have had numerous people approach me since I arrived to mention their concern that something more should be done for high school students in our parish. In response I have had several spontaneous conversations with parishioners about youth ministry overall. But a couple weeks ago I met more formally with a small core group of parents and high school students, in order to see what might be done to respond to this felt need.
Although the Faith and Family program which started many years ago has many positive aspects, it seems there is consensus that some more dynamic high school activities should be offered. We talked some about the possibility of offering some activities in addition to the current Faith and Family program [It was stated that the extra activities offered last year were hardly attended by the end of the last academic year]. But my own opinion is that in the long run it would be somewhat difficult to maintain both the current program and a more dynamic high school program. I envision something like a modified Life Teen program that blends the necessary components: prayer, catechesis, service, fellowship. The Faith and Family program currently seems to cover the catechesis pillar, and perhaps in a small way the prayer pillar, since prayer happens to open up and close sessions. Everybody I spoke with likes the idea of a high school youth director. But then there are still other questions to ask.
I am starting to ask questions such as, “Do we have a young adult or two in the parish who could head up a high school youth program?”; “What would bringing our high school youth ministry to the next level cost; and can we afford it?” Because of the importance of high school ministry, with our youth at such a crucial, impressionable age before their college years, it seems to me we would want somebody with some training in theology and youth ministry. (Of course, there are resources available, such that we could give somebody the necessary training , so long as the person seemed to be a good fit.) It might not be possible to get this without paying some sort of stipend for the position.
So here is the status of the discussion thus far. The Faith and Family program will continue through this next semester, while we continue to research and network regarding the possibility of another program. We will also try to offer some additional high school youth activities in the meantime. It is hard to know how soon resources could fall into place for our next step. Please pray for clarity as we try to improve high school youth ministry. If you have any helpful input in this regard, let me know.
On another note, you can see at our Paulding campus that the new confessional is coming along nicely. The “Introduction to the Rite of Penance” indicates that confessionals ought to be prominent, so as to remind people of the connection between Penance and Eucharist. The new confessional in the nave of the church will do just that. The lit indicator light on the outside of the priest’s booth will make it all the more obvious that confession is available.
I have similar plans for our Antwerp campus. The current setup, with confessions being heard in the old altar boys’ sacristy, is hardly used, although I have been in the confessional for a full hour before every Sunday Mass at Antwerp. I believe part of the reason for so few confessions is that it is not that easy to see whether the priest is in that sacristy or not; and the tiny, half-hidden indicator light is not very useful. Plus, people are probably a bit reticent at the possibility of traipsing through the sanctuary, only to find out that the priest is not in, or another penitent is already there; so the would-be penitent has to turn around and traipse back through the sanctuary. So we are building a confessional which will be placed over where the statues of Mary and Joseph are right now. The statues of Mary and Joseph will still be prominently displayed for veneration up in the left cove above the baptismal font.
These improvements in the confessionals will certainly make the sacrament more accessible for everybody. I will also be looking for other reasonable time slots (Wednesday evenings?) to offer confession each week. In addition to making the sacrament more accessible for parishioners, I will feel much more confident serving in a confessional where penitent and priest are clearly separated by a screen. In the times in which we live, I think the face-to-face-in-a-closed-room model for confession is simply imprudent.
At our Payne campus the main confessional improvement we have planned is to add an indicator light on the outside of the door frame somewhere, so that people from a distance can see that the priest is in and waiting for penitents. Right now, it is not all that clear; and people will often step into the room to ask if I am in, and when they learn that I am indeed available, they return to the door to shut it, and then come back in to celebrate the sacrament. An indicator light will make things much more efficient. We have already changed out the very low chairs that were in the Payne confessional; and we replaced the lamp that had the broken shade.
I continue to visit the Divine Mercy School every week after the school Mass. I spend about half an hour in each classroom. In each class I share pictures and news centered on the Holy Father. Then part of the half hour is dedicated to some doctrinal content at each grade level. I continue to be impressed with the atmosphere of the school: eager and well-disciplined students (hands are always going up to answer the questions I pose); and super-dedicated teachers who go above and beyond to give the best academic training possible, as well as general support to educate the whole human person. On December 8th, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, after the morning Mass, all of the students who were eligible were given the opportunity to go to Confession, preparing them to celebrate well the upcoming Feast of the Incarnation (Christmas!).
Have a great week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,