Sunday, December 9, 2012

be a reservoir

Yesterday, I attended an afternoon Advent retreat hosted by Adam and Lori Ubowski and the Catholic Young Adults from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.  I feel like I'm still recovering from Thanksgiving, NCCYM and trying to pull off a few new Advent traditions with youth ministry at St. John's and by the time 2:45 p.m. rolled around, I just wanted to crawl back into bed.

Plus, between columns and programing, I felt like I had done nothing BUT write and think about Advent.  The second candle hadn't even been lit, and I was advented-out.  I crammed to come up with 172 more words for the Island Packet column due that afternoon and reluctantly trudged out the door.

I sat down to hear Father Chris LeBlanc begin the retreat and realized that in all the rushing of the past few weeks, I hadn't thoughtfully prayed or listened for God yet in this season.  Sitting there, without a pen or paper or laptop open for brainstorming and scheduling, I finally stopped thinking about how to explain or encourage others to engage Advent and actually think about the state of MY soul.


In The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, OCSO, he states:

"Is there anyone who does not know St. Bernard's saying, to apostles [apostles here is used to describe all in ministry, both lay and consecrated]:  'If you are wise, you will be reservoirs and not channels.'...  The channels let the water flow away, and do not retain a drop.  But the reservoir is first filled, and then, without emptying itself, pours out its overflow, which is ever renewed, over the fields which it waters.  How many there are devoted to works, who are never anything but channels, and retain nothing for themselves, but remain dry while trying to pass on lifegiving grace to souls!  'We have many channels in the Church today,' St. Bernard added sadly, 'but very few reservoirs'."

As I work through the "second first year" at my new parish, the temptation to be seen "doing" is very strong.  I feel like it's important to be at the office for "regular office hours" and not be seen just sitting in Church when I should be working.  However, the relief and peace that came from taking time sitting and listening to a talk about my own spiritual growth (NOT the growth of a ministry or program, which is not the same thing) reminded me, once again, of the importance of being a reservoir.

For what good is it if you have the best ministry events calendar in the world, but in the process lose your soul?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Continue the Conversation...

raise your hand if you're excited about NCCYM!  As much as we all love trips with the kiddos,  this conference is such a great couple days of just geeking out with fellow youth ministers.

Geeks that we are, we don't even stop for lunch.  I'm excited to be joining a panel discussion sponsored by eCatholicFlocknote and outsideDAbox (which I like to pronounce in a very self-aware hip-hop influenced accent) during lunch on Friday.  These guys have put together a great set up-- they'll pick you up from the hotel, you get to have lunch and chat it up with fellow youth ministers and pose some questions to this panel of fabulously good-looking people-- AND you're back in time for the next session.  The menu is distinctively not pizza and it's only $15.00 IF you use the discount code "GRIZ" (look, Mom.  I have a discount code!).

To learn more and sign up, visit this their registration site. 

(and, if you have questions about youth ministry that you'd like answered, post them below so I have time to google some answers before the panel!)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

i wasn't aware there'd be math on this test...

If you’re in Youth Ministry—either as a Director, Coordinator, CORE, Volunteer, Parent, Pastor, you name it—maybe you’ve logged onto Facebook and have seen a status like, “loved having bible study with 356 of our High School Freshman Tonight!” or “can’t wait to bring our 476 high schoolers to camp this week!” and you may think, “ay yi yi yi yi…  What are they doing, iPad giveaways to get that many kids in the door?  Sheesh…”  (I mean mean, maybe.  I don’t know.)  However, keep this in mind when you’re reading “stats” from fellow laborers in the vineyard.

1.     How big is your parish?  This is a reality check I’m constantly taking right now, having recently transitioned from a parish of 2500 to a parish of about 450 families.  While I definitely hope to reach out to those not in our parish, it’s just not realistic to expect hundreds—or even dozens—of kids to attend at first.  So, when I get 12 kids to a youth night, I’m doing a jig, because that is realistic for where I am.  While it is important to keep numbers, be sure that you’re evaluating them in a realistic framework.
2.     Kids are not numbers—they’re souls.  We say it so often, but do we really take it to heart?  “Even if one person is reached, this is all worth it” but when it’s the awkward kid walks through the door with his friend—and you realize that might be your only attendees that night—do you take that message to heart and adapt your plans, or phone it in, running through the list of excuses for why the kiddos you expected are no-shows?  Be fully present to the kids who are present. 
3.     Be sure your pastor shares your vision.  This goes without saying, but especially in a smaller parish.  If your pastor thinks you’re going to form a group of 50 from a parish with 200 registered families, you need to have a serious heart to heart about numbers…  However, don’t be afraid to discuss reasonable, concrete goals  such as, “this summer, we are going to get seven kids to camp and this is how we’ll do it!
4.     Know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em.  Sometimes, there’s just not enough folks.  A lock-in with two kids would be awkward.  Reschedule.  A service project with two kids could provide some great time for relational ministry.  My favorite example of this was the feisty Dominican Sister at my previous parish who was undaunted at the thought of bringing almost as many adults as teens to the March for Life (I think we had something like six kids and five adults…)  The next year, we had a bus of 50.  Thank goodness she wasn’t afraid to just do something, rather than wait ‘til the next year “when there was more interest”. 

Thankfully, kids encounter Christ when He reaches out to them—not when enough of their peers show up.  Pray hard, dig in and stop stressing over your friend’s updates.  They live in like, New York City, and there’s 300 kids within walking distance of their Church.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

they grow up so fast...

This year has been interesting, because while I begin as a youth minister in a brand new parish—learning the ins and outs how to not make a lock-in conflict with volleyball and (this is a new one) trying to figure out a “pastoral” response to illegal spear fishing stories—I’m also watching some of my “first” kiddos experience their first year in the real world via the Twitter and Facebook.  The sixth graders who came to youth group when I was 23 and part-time at my first parish are now all grown up.  So, in the midst of the steady stream of humility that is life as a first year youth minister, I’m also rejoicing in these moments:

The text message that my blog on chaste dating was helpful.

The facebook status update about voting (pro-life) for the first time.

Finding out they’ve applied (and been accepted) to Franciscan University.

A beautiful instagram photo with the caption, “The Lord is everywhere”.

If you’re new to youth ministry and overwhelmed with just how…  young… the kiddos are and find yourself wondering if getting pelted with dodgeballs and shouting a lesson over the din of middle school giggles is EVER going to yield any fruit, know that one day these gangly sixth graders are going to be adults.  And while their parents are the most influential, you may be able to look at their facebook statuses and imagine that the retreats, conferences and conversations you dragged them through did something positive to form them into the Catholic adults they have become.  That is an awesome feeling.

So to all you 23 year olds who are surviving on cold pizza, entry level youth minister salaries and sheer grace, dig in.  The first couple years are tough, but you’re making a difference.  I wish you’d believe me when I say that, but I didn’t so you probably won’t.  However, put prayer first and don’t lose your soul, put yourself second so you don’t burn out—and you’ll be amazed that these kiddos who you once caught playing “lemonade pong” on retreat are now mature, Catholic, adults.  And once you see that first round grow up, the dodge balls don’t feel quite so hard.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Happy Feast day!

This morning I'm sitting at a desk in Panama City, Florida but my heart is in the Fieldhouse at Franciscan University of Steubenville where right about now almost everyone on campus is gathered for a mass celebrating the feastday of St. Francis of Assisi.

I'm thinking about how I'm about to dive into the day-to-day tasks of youth ministry-- cleaning up from Confirmation class, making an XLT songsheet, filling out purchase orders and finding a vacuum to get the sparkles out of the carpet (don't ask)--  but I'm also thinking about how much joy this gives me.  How much joy my Catholic faith gives me.  And how much of this I owe to St. Francis and the many who modeled his way of life for me, especially during my time at Franciscan.

The "yes" of St. Francis to the call of God to "Go and rebuild my Church" has been echoing in the Church through the lives of so many priests, religious and laity, and I was able to see it up close for four years through the Friars who said mass, heard our confessions, led us on mission trips and were simply always present on campus.  The Sisters-- especially Sister M. Johanna-- who showed us the importance of preaching the gospel with both deeds AND words.

This witness continues to inspire me, every day.  St. Francis said "yes".  They said "yes".

For this I am profoundly grateful.  Grateful and challenged to add my own "yes" to the story.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

friendship & all my single ladies...

In what was a mostly tongue in cheek #catholicgrlprob tweet, last night @JackieFrancois tweeted about that “awkward moment at Mass when you’re between your boyfriend and best friend and don’t know who to give peace to first”.

This prompted a range of responses--  @ATLenahan answered, “always the boyfriend first!  If she is a besty she’ll understand”. 

I replied that I disagree, stating “bff before bf.  unless there’s another friend, creating a row of 4.  Then normal laws of balance apply”.  @CatholicDrinkie agreed with me, and @LT_TheBiblegeek sided with @ATLenahan, saying he was correct, “bff ought to support discernment, unless they are unhealthily codependent… ;)

This conversation was evidence of a lot of things.  First, look at what happens on twitter when it’s not retreat or conference season…  We spend Saturday mornings analyzing Catholic habits, presumably hyped up on caffeine…  However, I also thought @JackieFrancois’ tweet…  and the subsequent responses (and I only shared the highlights—there were more) brought up something important:  the importance of friendship-- especially among single Catholic ladies.  As girls complain more and more about the "drama" among them, the gift that is friendship can be overlooked*.  And it shouldn't be.

I know that each vocation holds it’s unique challenges, but for a second I want to address single Catholic women in their late twenties / thirties/ (and up) and the friendships that form, should you find yourself in this state of life.  Unlike our peers who found their soulmates in college or soon thereafter, we have navigated the “lawless post-apocalyptic wasteland” that is dating in the “real world”.  We’ve attended more wedding, bachelorette and baby related functions and been privy to more conversations on NFP and children than I believe men in “equivalent states of life” could possibly understand.

It is these friends—these fellow single Catholic ladies—that you call or text when you have just come home from a long day of work where co-workers have asked and told you you’re  still single because you were too picky to go out with their neighbor’s nephew a second time—after he spent the first date asking you, “what, dude, you’re Catholic?  So like, you believe what that guy in Rome says about like, condoms and stuff?” and you arrive home to find a mailbox stuffed with wedding and shower and baby related communications and you’re ready to settle and go out with whoever asks you next—if that even happens-- or just join the convent already.

It is these gals that you call to regain your sanity.  They remind you that you’re not crazy for feeling overwhelmed.  Or lonely.  Or frustrated.  Or just really really tired.  And, it’s these ladies that remind you not to settle.  To wait for the right guy.  To not settle for “almost”  and to wait for “God’s will”. 

Then, when you do think you’ve met Mr. Right, they’re the ones that talk you into going on the second date (even though you’re worried about being disappointed) and help you see how this person’s gifts complement yours.  The friend who can listen to you talk on and on about how a date was just right—when their last one was catastrophic.  The friend who googles temperaments and helps you understand that “those weird things he does” are actually part of his God-given personality and what makes him just right for you.  The friend who helps you realize what’s best for you when—as we girls can sometimes be—you’re too spastic to come to this conclusion on your own.  We do it with shoes, dresses, careers and dating.  Do guys do this too?  I don’t know.  But it's not dysfunctional-- it's that we girls are relational and the more complex our lives get, the more we need a good friend to help us.

This isn’t co-dependence.  These are friendships that are necessary for Catholic gals these days.  These are friendships that a boyfriend needs to understand as an ally in your discernment.  And in a world where being a single Catholic girl is pretty darn difficult, I’m going to honor these friendships every chance I get.  

I know that this twitter thread was mostly tongue-in-cheek, and I know that in the grand scheme of things, who you give the sign of peace to is not a deal breaker for any party involved.  However, I needed to articulate why I give my “bff” the sign of peace first.  They know I love them both.  But it’s the “bff” that helped me stay sane enough to find the “bf” in the first place.   

Plus, as my “bf” said, “we hug longer.  It’d be rude to keep her waiting”. 

(Chivalry for the win.)

*a footnote…  Ladies, if you’re still a teenager or a young’un in college, understand that this is why even though you may “like your guy friends more cause there’s less drama”, it is SO important to have good girlfriends.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


In the past three months I led my first international mission trip, finished the youth ministry job I had held full time on Hilton Head since something like 2008, moved to Panama City, Florida and have begun my second ever full-time youth ministry gig at St. John the Evangelist in the Diocese of Pensacola Tallahassee. 


Now, as I sit here sipping coffee in a lovely little apartment right on a bayou furnished far beyond my expectations due to the generosity of friends here, I’ve reached that point where I feel grounded enough in the present to be able to reflect on the last couple months and a share a bit. 

The Mission Trip

20 youth and adults traveled to Mustard Seed Communities in Nicaragua this past June.  From one youth minister to another, let me recommend this.  While we’ve had great experiences with domestic mission trips, the experience of traveling to another country really challenged us all and made us more aware of just how universal our Church is. Something unique about our trip was that we had a lot of diversity:  our youngest participant was a rising 9th grader, we had teens, young adults who were married, single, in seminary and retirees.  The variety of gifts and perspectives was really enriching.  While I didn't plan to have so many different ages present, if I could do it again I'd make it a point!

I'd really recomend  Mustard Seed Communities as well—from a logistics perspective, they are attentive to our “first world problems” and take great care to provide meals and accommodations that kept us comfortable.  For years I had been afraid of an international trip, because I was all too familiar with the many things that can go wrong.  However, I never worried with Mustard Seed and would encourage youth ministers on the fence to take the plunge.

In addition, their ministry is very special-- serving the most vulnerable of society.  The home in which we stayed in Nicaragua housed teens and young adults with disabilities, and it was a real gift to interact with the kids and staff everyday.  There is a innate respect for the dignity of the human person present in this community.  Watching the staff care for the children was a powerful testimony to the reality that our worth doesn't lie in what we do but who we are.  

In case you missed some of my reflections on this trip:

An Air-Mattress Free Summer

It seems that youth ministry and busy summers are inevitable.  Besides the actual move, this summer was the first July in years that I wasn’t spending most of it on the road.  Because of the timing of my move, I didn’t attend Steubenville Atlanta or Bosco and while I missed the community with my partners in catechesis, it was awfully refreshing to spend two months without constant demands on my nights and weekends.  While I’m excited to plunge back into a “normal” summer schedule next year, I’m also going to be a little more prudent with how much I commit to and remember how great it was to actually see friends and family (which is what I hear most people do in these lazy months).  

Transitioning Parishes

While I was sad to leave my hometown and a parish that had been so good to me, I’ve felt abundantly blessed in this process.  My parish hired a talented youth minister to replace me and she spent three weeks shadowing me part-time and was able to join us on our mission trip.  While I’m not sure how much I actually “taught” her in my scatter-brained pre-move, pre-mission trip state of mind, seeing how well she bonded with the teens, parents and staff left me confident that the youth ministry was in good hands.  As much as we try to not feel possessive about ministry and keep reminding ourselves that it’s all God’s, the reality of this cannot be escaped when the time comes to actually hand the keys to the office over to someone else.

Now, it's interesting to begin that "first year" in ministry again, this time with a bit more perspective.  As I begin a second first year, I'm finding that my priorities are very different from my first first year.  When I began as a young'un in my first parish, my priorities were to meet teens and fill a schedule.  This time, my priorities are prayer and building a network of volunteers and a Core team.  It's nice to approach ministry with the understanding that the Holy Spirit does this all a lot better than I do.  It's also nice to be in the business of getting to see, first hand, just how God provides.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

leaving town...

I just cleaned off most of the top of my desk, and the surface was suddenly so inviting that it seemed like as good a time as any to pen a “good bye”.  That, and a chance to procrastinate from wiping off the dust bunnies hat have apparently been breeding in the corners that haven’t been touched since I moved into this lovely office  (For those who remember, the water holding the Holy Water is still resting where it dropped.  Still not sure what to do about that one.)

In addition to discarded sacramental containers, I’m encountering permission slips, fliers and pictures from events that I can hardly even remember the details of, because the memories of my time at St. Francis began when I started part-time in the fall of 2006 and surpass the 18 month average life span of a youth minister by quite a few years (I’d give you exact numbers…  But I’m a youth minister, not a mathmetician).  I have loved every moment here—  every retreat, every dodgeball, every slice of pizza discovered months later, wedged in the cushions of the couch…  even the night at camp that my air mattress was stolen and hidden in the ceiling of the boy’s sleeping quarters.  (Disclaimer:  it was found and returned in compliance with Diocesan safe environment policies).

I’ve been blessed to work with a wonderful and holy pastor, and priests who are a gift to the Church and a talented staff and parish community that has always been incredibly supportive of both me as an individual and the mission of youth ministry.  From volunteers who seem to work 80 hours a week to bake sales that net around $4000— it’s clear everyone in this parish loves to serve, especially when it’s for the kiddos. 

I say all this to assure everyone that my decision to move away from so many wonderful people was not an easy decision to make, nor do I think of it as even a “decision”, as much as God introducing new people and places into my life, showing me that while I am certainly comfortable here and it will always be my hometown, that it is when we leave the familiar that God works in ways we never imagined.  I am excited to share with the my facebook/blogging/twitter & anyone else I haven’t seen in a bit, that I will begin youth ministry at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Panama City, Florida in mid-July.  As much as I loathe the cliché, it is can only be described as bittersweet to be simultaneously saying “good bye” to family and friends here and be so warmly welcomed to the Florida panhandle by those I’ve begun to meet.   (Did I say that right?  Is it “The Panhandle” or “The Emerald Coast”?  I know it’s definitely not Disneyworld…  I may need to get a map.)  The point is, I’m very excited about where God is leading.

Although busy with packing and final transitions, the next few weeks are going to be a blast—I am currently working with a very talented youth minister who will be taking over as the director at St. Francis in July and get to spend my last week as youth at St. Francis leading 20 youth and adults on a mission trip to Mustard Seed Communities in Nicaragua from June 23-30.  I’m excited to be able to attend one more mass and fellowship Sunday when we get back into town on July 1 and, God willing, I’ll be moving to Panama City the first week of July to begin at St. John the Evangelist the next week.  

I tell myself that this isn’t really a permanent departure from Hilton Head (this is also what I tell my parents, as I stack boxes for them to store as I transition) since I’ll obviously be back to visit my parents and grandmothers.  I’ve loathed saying “good bye” to people, preferring instead to say, “I’ll be back to hang out”.  But behind that pithy response is the very real sadness to leave such wonderful family, Church and friends-- as evidenced by the fact that I’ve even started hugging people.

If I may selfishly ask for your prayers—for our new youth minister, for safe travels and an enriching mission trip, that housing in Panama City works out as I hope—but most of all that I, who much prefers sarcasm to sentimentality, can actually give a heartfelt “good bye” to all who have been so good to me for so many years.

But seriously, I really will be back to visit.