Faith Ablaze at City Lights

Diocese of Allentown, Pa., mixer brings together young-adults for fellowship and fun.

Bishop John Barres addresses City Lights attendees.
Bishop John Barres addresses City Lights attendees. (photo: John Simitz)

How do you pack a room full of young Catholic adults?

Try having a party.

That’s what the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., did last weekend.

City Lights, a dress-to-the-nines dance mixer, prompts young people to clear their calendars to make room for the annual event, strategically placed post-Christmas — this year, Jan. 10 — when everyone is back to work and missing holiday fun.

Taryn Gilbert, 24, wouldn’t miss it. “It’s just always a lot of fun. Everybody is really friendly. It’s a great place to meet people who are like-minded and also to meet people who might think a little bit differently than you do. It’s just a great way for people in the same age group to get together and have a good time — you don’t have to go out to a bar.”

No night club offers such a deal either: professional entertainment, appetizers and cocktails, all for $10.

And it’s never the same party twice.

Mary Fran Hartigan, director of adult formation for the diocese, says the organizers “mix it up to keep it fresh.”


New Year’s Party

The first event was held just four years ago at the sophisticated Allentown Art Museum. Attendees could wander the museum at will and view the stunning European, American and Asian collections. Later, they mingled and danced to the high-energy Celtic rock band Scythian.

The next two years brought City Lights to Steelstacks, a brand-new event facility built on the ruins of Bethlehem Steel and radiating a funky, nightclub ambience.

This year, to open it to 18-year-olds (post-high school), City Lights went home, so to speak, decking out the large social hall of St. Joseph the Worker parish in Orefield. Those with valid IDs got wristbands showing they were eligible for cocktails, served by members of the Knights of Columbus. Christian comedy duo Dave and Brian entertained. The act itself is not overtly Christian, they say, but it is clean: “We do the same act at bars as we do at churches.” Apparently, it works. A video of their act recently appeared on Good Morning America.

City Lights attracts roughly 150-200 adults, ages 18-35.

Sue Matour, coordinator for the diocesan Office for Youth and Young Adult Ministry, is quick to point out that, although most of the guests are single, its purpose is not a singles mixer, per se. Couples, seminarians, priests and religious sisters are part of it, too.

“It’s all about helping young adults develop friendships and participate in the multiple social, service and spiritual opportunities that exist, thus allowing them to grow in their faith and a deeper relationship with Christ,” Matour said.

She estimates that this year’s participants came from more than 30 parishes, from the Allentown Diocese and beyond.

Marissa Baldassano brought friends from the nearby Archdiocese of Philadelphia. “It provides an environment for young Catholics to network and to grow in their faith together,” she said.


Meet the Bishop and More

Bishop John Barres greeted each participant as they walked in the door. Bishop Barres has a youthful way about him and is genuinely interested in each person he meets.

As far as he’s concerned, if singles meet at City Lights, all the better. He laughingly remembered how, the first year, a couple of guys noticed how nice the young women looked. “What are you talking to me for?” he told them. “Get going!”

Nathaniel Menendez and Kelly Morgan met at a friend’s house just two weeks before City Lights last year. Menendez says that when he talked to Morgan at City Lights, he knew he wanted to get to know her better. This year, they attended the event as an engaged couple.

Msgr. Andrew Baker, rector of the Cathedral-Church of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown, enjoyed watching the vibrant mix of singles, couples and religious.

“We’ve got to encourage good families and vocations. What other age group is going to be receptive to that call from God?” he said.

Getting them together as friends is key to their faith formation, he added. Even though young adults often spend hours communicating with each other through social media, they long for more personal relationships: “Person-to-person contact is at the core of evangelization, and to do it in the context of the Church, their faith, with the bishop here and some priests and seminarians, really puts the seal of the Church on this kind of activity.”

“It has definitely energized the young-adult ministry in the diocese,” said attendee Joseph Marlin. Marlin and his girlfriend, Kathryn Stimpfle, help lead a group called Salve Young Adults. It often happens that people get to know each other at City Lights and then are drawn to other events — whether it’s Salve Young Adults, Theology on Tap, a Holy Hour or a service project.

City Lights shows that there is no dichotomy between faith and fun.

Rebecca Kanzenbach, a recent transplant from Wisconsin, said, “This is a great way to meet people!”

In the words of Bishop Barres, “Get going!”

Susie Lloyd writes from Whitehall, Pennsylvania.