Like many St. Louisans, George Capps returned home.
Capps grew up in St. Louis, but moved to California for college and stayed there nine years for graduate studies and work. Unable to resist the gravitational pull of his family-friendly and uniquely cultured hometown, he moved back in the spring of 2012.
Capps, a devout Catholic, had no trouble finding a community of faith-filled peers in his "new" city.
"I was very impressed with how vibrant and welcoming the Catholic young-adult scene is in St. Louis," he said. "I went to the St. Louis Archdiocese Young Adult Ministry website when I first moved to the area and found out about Theology on Tap. I couldn’t believe how well attended it was!"
In no time at all, Capps felt like he was at home.
Capps is pleased that he and his friends have learned more about the faith, participated in community-service activities and been challenged to grow in holiness.
"The strong social connections fostered by the young-adult ministry allow us to meet other young adults in similar life situations, with similar spiritual needs and struggles," Capps said. "Through these connections, we can help to edify each other’s faith."
It turns out that divine Providence was at work for Capps and others.
Like most dioceses, St. Louis did not have a separate office for young-adult ministry. It only took two years in St. Louis for Archbishop Robert Carlson to change that. In August 2011, he opened a separate office.
According to Brian Miller, director of the young-adult ministry, Archbishop Carlson was responding to a need that had been there for a long time.
St. Louis is a youth-ministry kind of town. It has been ever since Blessed John Paul II’s 1999 visit to the city, which ignited the area’s youth. The Office of Youth Ministry was born not too long after the late Holy Father left, and now it is rare for a St. Louis parish to be without some form of teen ministry.
Phased out of high school and college faith groups, the first fruits of the saintly Pope’s visit are now young adults, Miller said.
"All of these people impacted by the Pope are looking for something more now," he said. "They are looking for new ways to get involved in the Church."
A young adult himself and a former missionary with Fellowship of Catholic University Students, Miller knows from personal experience how difficult it can be to get involved.
"Unfortunately, the parish is not the easiest place for young adults to feel involved and be involved," he said.
Miller is creating a model for parish young-adult groups — just one of the many things that he hopes to accomplish.
Theology on Tap, the event that Capps attends, happens once a month and draws more than 150 young people. Catholic singer and songwriter Audrey Assad performed a concert this past May, and the second "Hearts on Fire" retreat was held last June.
St. Louis young adults travel to the March for Life, and they host praise-and-worship nights for college students in the summer. STLServe is another part of the ministry, which is more social justice-oriented.
On top of all of this, the office is planning a variety of young-adult education classes and "Encounter," a regional conference co-hosted with Franciscan University of Steubenville, in the spring of 2014. According to Miller, these big gatherings bring young adults together and remind them that they are not alone.
Miller places an emphasis on event marketing to let young people know that they’re not coming to "some stuffy church event." He places less emphasis on "vocations pushing," simply hoping to give young families and single men and women the opportunity to grow together in holiness and to find the vocation that naturally flows from that.
In his State of the Archdiocese Address to the archdiocesan Curia at the end of May, Archbishop Carlson spoke optimistically about the success of the archdiocese in engaging young adults.
Miller shares this optimism. "We have good momentum," he said, "but there have been teaching moments as well."
One difficult hurdle comes with the definition of "young adult." According to the U.S. Church, a young adult can range in age anywhere from 18-39. "They all need to be ministered to in different ways, and we need to bring Christ to them in different ways," Miller said. "They all need Christ and the sacraments, but in different events and types of programs."
Prayer has kept the ministry going. Upon taking the job with the archdiocese, Miller called contemplative religious orders, asking them to pray for the new ministry.
Recognizing that St. Louis is a city with its own "culture quirks," Miller hopes to tap into those in order to draw young people to Christ. "How we go about it depends on where they are," he said.
Zoe Myers, a senior at St. Louis University, is ready for more of what the ministry has to offer: "Theology on Tap provided me with the opportunity to hear a great talk and have great, meaningful discussions with people who I would normally not come into contact with."
Mary Frances Moen
writes from St. Louis.