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Youth ministry training
Reach youth where they are at

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

Youth ministry groups can take many forms, but they typically have one goal.

“It’s reaching kids where they are at and doing it in a way they can understand,” said Eric Heckman, director of evangelization and faith formation at Brainerd Lakes Catholic Church in Minnesota. “There is no one way to do it.”

Heckman will facilitate a Youth Ministry Training Day sponsored by the Diocese of Sioux City from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., May 5, at Sacred Heart Parish in Spencer.

Even though it is just days away, diocesan officials say there is still time to attend the training. If you plan to attend, register online this weekend at www.scdiocese.org/youthministrytraining .

Karmen Darwin, assistant director of youth catechesis and evangelization, said in the last year she has had several parishes contact her about helping them establish a youth ministry program.

“A lot of parishes want to start reaching out to their high school students even more and this training day is in response to that,” she said. “But for parishes that already have a strong youth ministry program, they will be able to walk away with something too. They will also be able to offer their experience to others.”

Heckman, who has experience in youth ministry throughout the country as well as internationally, will present three talks and each of those sessions will be followed by time for questions and answers. The day will also include time for prayer and lunch.

The training day is not only designed for priests, deacons, youth ministers, catechists and those who work with parish youth, but also anyone interested in becoming involved.

The speaker’s first session, Youth Ministry 101, will focus on why youth ministry is important especially in the context of the new evangelization. The second talk is titled, Small Group Discipleship and Relational Ministry.

“I will talk about why it’s important to build relationships with teenagers in order to share the Gospel with them and also take a closer look at what it means to disciple people,” said Heckman, who added he will discuss the importance of raising people up to model after Christ.

His final presentation will center on helping parishes plan and establish youth ministry programs to fit their particular parish or cluster of parishes.

“Eric will end the day with helping them make a plan for their parish’s youth ministry programs and help them go through the best practices and programs out there,” Darwin said. “There will be a lot of information that will be jam-packed into the day.”

Heckman stressed the importance of effective youth ministry programs in the Catholic Church.

“In our modern time, for the first time, we have an existence of an extended adolescence where the responsibilities of an adult life are postponed,” he said. “It has created somewhat of a subculture where at this time in their life they are still making critical decisions on who they are, what they want to do with their life, who they will marry, where they will worship or if they will worship at all.”

He referred to the years of 15 to 25 as a critical decade.

“If we are not doing ministry in a way that tries to enter into that specific realm of life, then we are missing something,” Heckman said. “We have to bring the Gospel into their lives in a way that they can relate to it and understand it so that they can make a decision that will affect the rest of their lives.”

Given that most youth are confirmed by the time they are 16, Darwin said many parishes seek for ways to keep teens connected to the church especially in years after confirmation.

The speaker mentioned even Pope Francis spoke of the importance of establishing new methods and expressions in ways that meets the culture today, including the subculture of youth.

Darwin acknowledged it is difficult to put specific numbers on the number of youth ministry programs in the diocese. She explained many parishes do not have youth ministry programs, but many do offer programs that incorporate youth ministry activities.

“Each parish does something different, but there is interest in growing and expanding it,” said Darwin, who added that youth ministry programs can help youth foster a personal relationship with Christ. “Youth ministry programs can help build enthusiasm, direct enthusiasm and helps form them as they make a transition from high school to college.”



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