Catholic Youth Ministry in COVID Times Part 1 of 3
“The most dangerous phrase is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” – Grace Murray Hopper
Grace Murray Hopper wasn’t a youth minister or theologian. She was a pioneering computer scientist in the 1970s and ’80s whose work helped craft some of the most foundational programming language. She was known to encourage ideas beyond “We’ve always done it this way.”
This pitfall has always threatened us in Catholic youth ministry as well. But in 2020, doing things the way “we’ve always done it” is not an option. Status quo doesn’t exist. This is frustrating. It’s scary. And it’s a gift.
This is not to say that a pandemic is a gift. Loss of life, economic fallout, and widespread insecurity are not blessings. We never want to minimize these things nor be a Pollyanna.
And it probably doesn’t feel like a gift right now. Doing youth ministry in the time of COVID-19 is not what any of us had in mind. You probably didn’t sign up to be a youth minister to spend your days on Zoom. The word “virtual” probably isn’t in your job description.
So where’s the gift?
It is a gift to be forced to look at ministry afresh. It is a gift to have the opportunity to ask yourself and ask the Lord, “Is what we are doing really meeting teenagers needs and leading them to Jesus?” It is a gift to have a chance to try something new. This isn’t just a theory. Youth leaders around the country are already stepping out in faith.
“I’ve been a youth minister for 16 years and have been wanting to start YDisciple for at least 5 years, but we’re nervous about trying such a new model. COVID handed us the opportunity to try something new.” – Tessa, Wisconsin
This wrestling with difficulty of present circumstances is beautifully articulated by author J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
This is the time that has been given to us. So what should we do?
Ask for guidance.
Pray the Novena to the Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire you in what to do for your ministry this year. Want to do something really crazy? Ask Him specifically to show you what needs to change.
Don’t discern alone.
As a youth ministry leader, you may feel like the weight of ministering to young people is singularly on your shoulders, but there are other people in your parish who are concerned about teens as well. Ask your volunteers, key parents, and other faithful adults to pray with you. Ask for their input. You are not alone.
Try something new.
We can fall into the trap of perpetual discernment if we aren’t careful. Discerning what the Holy Spirit is calling us to should lead us to action. Do something. If you are looking at a ministry calendar that is all in pencil because nothing is certain, use this as an opportunity to try something new. Have you always toyed with the idea of doing more small group ministry but been uncertain of how it would work in existing structures? This is the year to try it since your existing structures might not exist anymore! A small group can more easily transition from in-person to online and back again. Have you wanted to reevaluate your confirmation program, but never had the time to? Now’s your chance.
Nobody knows what this year holds, and if there is anything that a pandemic has taught us, it is that nothing is certain. You’ve been given the gift of not being able to do things the way they have always been done. Don’t waste it.