Young-Adult Apostolates: Made for This Moment
Meet six Catholic outreaches that rebooted their approaches during the pandemic.
Three months into the global COVID-19 pandemic, Catholic apostolates aimed at young adults have adapted quickly and, for the most part, effectively, to continue their work under new circumstances.
Ministry leaders say they feel uniquely well-positioned for the future, as they discover creative means to reach new people, harvest the talents of their members, and provide continued support to beleaguered young adults. The Register interviewed young-adult ministry leaders in six cities about how the coronavirus has affected their outreach. An overview of each ministry and their responses follows.
An outreach that serves the young-adult community surrounding six Catholic parishes in the Boise, Idaho, area.
The goal of FirePit Ministries is to point young adults toward God, one another and, eventually, a Catholic parish through accessible events that make it easy to invite friends. Instead of rock climbing, small-group meetings or a traditional Theology on Tap event, the coordinators have been considering the needs that people have expressed during the stay-at-home orders and designing solutions accordingly. When they realized that stopping and praying during the day was helping them to maintain their own peace amid the rapidly changing world, they translated this into “Daily Digital Devotions” inviting young adults to hop on a call and pray together with the daily Scripture readings or a Divine Mercy Chaplet.
A member of FirePit Ministries in Boise, Idaho, participates in a virtual Theology on Tap event.
Other initiatives have included an online retreat experience, frank Zoom discussions facilitated by FirePit’s priest chaplain about difficult topics like homosexuality, and virtual Theology on Tap events. With that, says Teresa Nygard, one of the coordinators, “We engaged some people we were surprised to engage.” Parents of young children, for example, were able to participate from home. Nygard says that the creativity and deeper engagement brought about because of the pandemic have been unexpected “blessings.”
Crossroads 4 Christ
An apostolate headquartered in Columbia, Connecticut.
Before the pandemic, Crossroads 4 Christ (C4C) was trying to build faith communities for young adults through weekly in-person chapter meetings. The meetings would consist of people sharing “glory stories” about how they see God working in their lives; a 15-minute talk based on one of the group’s four pillars (catechesis, relationship, the spiritual life, and practicing virtue as the saints did); a half-hour of small-group discussion; and then a time of Eucharistic adoration. Now, Alex Soucy, the group’s co-founder, says that they are continuing much the same format using Zoom, but substituting prayers like the Rosary instead of adoration.
Another big change for C4C was the decision to move a live conference in June with 300 expected attendees to a virtual conference in May, when many people were isolated at home. Rather than having a one-day event, organizers released keynote talks daily throughout the week and hosted live discussions each evening. The conference, “Reason for Hope,” drew 1,100 attendees online, including Alex Mees, a rising senior at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix who participated from Colorado.
“Due to travel restrictions, being far away from the East Coast, and timing with classes, I would not have been able to attend the conference if it had not been online,” Mees said in a testimony. “My experience throughout the weeklong virtual conference was amazing. It offered me flexibility with my daily schedule, time to connect with friends and the opportunity to ask questions related to the ministry, my community and personal life. I personally thought the structure of the Crossroads 4 Christ virtual conference was creative and a great way to share everything they offered. From the keynote talks that were available all day to the livestreamed Q & As in the evening and ending with a worship night in adoration, it encompassed a Catholic young-adult conference feel. I felt comfortable asking my questions in the group about discernment, faith, hope and much more.”
Soucy says that “COVID has made our mission even more important than it already was,” revealing alternative possibilities for evangelization. “Over the past two months, I’ve learned that with the virtual capabilities that we have, it’s much easier to remain in contact with people, accompany people and provide leadership development virtually. That gives me hope for our expansion.”
St. Angela Merici Young-Adult Ministry
A parish-based apostolate in Youngstown, Ohio.
When the pandemic first started, the young-adult ministry at St. Angela Merici met for a Zoom happy hour once a week. As quarantine wore on, though, that shifted to “Coffee and the Gospel” — a Sunday morning time of Scripture reflection together. Young-adult minister Diana Hancharenko says that in the midst of experiencing loneliness, unemployment and missed milestone events, young adults started asking about what faith-based resources they could pursue at home. Some of them have started reading more Scripture, others are newly learning Catholic devotions, and others still are discovering Catholic podcasts and videos on sites like Busted Halo.
They have also stepped up to serve. “We’ve had young adults save the day during this,” Hancharenko says. A young filmmaker who was previously on the fringes of the parish donated time to make video messages for Holy Week. Other young adults volunteered to organize a blood drive and take groceries to the homebound.
Hancharenko, who is chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Advisory Team on Young Adult Ministry, says, “This has solidified for me that our young adults are closer to the Church than we think and willing to serve when called. … Maybe some who have fallen into the category of ‘disaffiliated’ are not out of reach; they might just be looking for a way in.” She says young adults are often struggling silently and that young-adult ministry is “everyone’s job.” So she is encouraging parishioners to reach out to the young adults in their lives during the pandemic through cards, calls and conversations. “Now is a great time.”
A digital media apostolate especially for young adults disconnected from the Church, based in South Bend, Indiana.
A young apostolate — at two and a half years old — the Grotto Network provides resources to “accompany” cultural Catholics who are not practicing their Catholic faith and whose digital lives do not include faith-based content. When the pandemic started, says senior editor Josh Noem, Grotto tabled all of its planned content and began putting out resources directly related to its audience’s new and changing realities. “We want people to say, ‘I can see myself in this community,” Noem explains.
By covering topics like long-term financial well-being, feeling stuck at home, and mental health (sometimes, but not always, with a spiritual tie-in), Grotto wants to connect with people’s human experiences and thereby build a positive association between young people and the Church. It’s a form of “pre-evangelization” discussed in Christus Vivit — Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation about young people — that many parish-based young-adult ministries currently lack. The team at Grotto hopes that campus ministries and active Catholics will share their content online as a form of “walking with” their peers and “building trust” — a crucial step in evangelization through sharing one’s faith.
Christus Ministries (Los Angeles)
A Los Angeles-based apostolate of the Jesuits West Province that helps parishes support and nourish young adults through Ignatian spirituality.
Christus Ministries has a two-pronged approach: providing encounters with God through retreats and service immersions and helping parishes become better spiritual homes for young adults and young families. Since stay-at-home orders began, they have offered a modified three-week retreat “experience” online based on one of the in-person retreats. They also created a new initiative — an online prayer series called “Breathing Gratitude” — aimed at facilitating spiritual conversations and online prayer through Zoom. One participant said the series helped her shift focus from loss during the pandemic to seeing how God is actively working in her everyday life. The plan is to expand such online offerings both outside and within parishes.
Jesuit Father Tri Dinh, the director, says he and his fellow retreat ministers are learning that people really can connect with God and each other through online ministry. “Persecutions in Jerusalem and interventions by the Holy Spirit propelled the first Christians to spread the Good News in places they never imagined,” he says. “Likewise, the Spirit is teaching us during this pandemic to respond to people’s spiritual hunger in creative ways we have never known before.”
Young Catholic Professionals
A national network with chapters in more than 20 cities whose events support young-adult Catholics in their vocation to work.
During the pandemic, “there has been a need to surrender and let go ... and for young people, it is a great lesson,” says Jennifer Baugh, the founder of Young Catholic Professionals. In the past YCP has focused on in-person connections like executive mentorship, networking happy hours and a monthly speaker series. But members have expressed gratitude for a quick shift to virtual events and location-specific response to the virus that was made possible by YCP’s decentralized model and the creativity of local young-adult leaders, according to Baugh.
A recent panel discussion put on by YCP Chicago examined the virtue of “justice” in light of the pandemic. Mark Balasa, co-founder of a leading wealth management firm in Chicago, who is a national board member and an expert in financial planning, created a video that offered an informed, prayerful perspective about the state of the economy. YCP is actively expanding this year, hosting info sessions for prospective chapters through Zoom, complete with breakout rooms that shuffle participants so people can meet each other. Baugh says, “It’s neat to see how we can still make connections during this time.”
Young adults gather at a Young Catholic Professionals event in Detroit.
Kathryn Elliott writes from Indianapolis. She is a freelance journalist and small-business owner.