Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Catholicism of the 2000's

I was recently accused of making our Catholic youth activities "protestant".  Apparently making things a little more fun, exciting, and even a little on the crazy and loud side is just "not Catholic"... 

After 7 years of parish ministry, and after 3 years of working with a group of over 200 each week, I've come to grips with one thing - You can't please everyone with everything.  I took an end of year survey where side by side were the kids that LOVED music and wanted more, while next to them was the stack of students that HATED the music, and wanted to completely eliminate it.  There were kids that LOVED small groups and wanted more, and kids that hated them and wanted the large group setting.  Every person is different.  They all worship different, they pray differently, they participate differently, they're interested in different topics and they're all at different levels of their faith.  Some come for the friendships, others come just to receive a sacrament, others because their parents make them, and others because they want to learn what the Catholic Church teaches.  Some come for the food, others for the music, the games, others for the talks and the discussions.  It's amazing the diversity of students we have, and the challenge of ministering to all of them throughout the span of 2 hours - and reaching every student. 

First, I want to share that causing someone to "stretch" is a necessity in ministry.  If we stayed within everyone's comfort zone, they'd never grow.  We grow when we stretch and are challenged to do something we're unfamiliar with.  I remember my first day at camp in 1993 and being thrown into a group of 50 high school teens I had never met before.  They were all from Dallas and many of them knew each other - and here I was this little country guy from Coleman, Texas who didn't know a soul.  I had never sang "camp songs" or played "camp games" so trying all these new things were a little uncomfortable.  With time, I realized everyone else was doing it, and seemed to be having a good time, so I allowed myself to break some barriers and participate.  Over the years, I've adopted the concept of challenging students to stretch and try new things.  Once they're able to pray in front of a small group, they may be willing to pray in front of a larger group.  Once they pray in a larger group, they may even be willing to randomly stop someone on the street to pray.  We play games to break boundaries.  We sing songs to glorify the Lord and the Goofy songs to break our barriers so when we get to the "praise songs", its way easier then singing a goofy song with hand motions, and it may allow us to actually pray the song rather than feel so uncomfortable.  It's like a rubber band that stretches.  At the peak of the stretch, the tension is at it's highest point.  When the rubber band comes back to its original position, it's not as tight, and it's way more comfortable then being at the highest point of tension. 

Secondly - Just because we try and make things "fun" doesn't mean we're trying to be like the protestant churches.  I was a little unsure of what she wanted...  Does she want her kid to come into a classroom with old school CCD lessons, untrained catechist and read out of books?  Is that what is most effective to her child?  For a very small minority, that's exactly what a student might want and need, but for the majority, something a little more upbeat is much more effective.  The protestant churches have a lot of things right!  They started hiring youth ministers over 40 years ago, where the Catholic Church didn't until the late 80's.  The Protestant churches have invested a huge amount of their resources to build youth rooms, and gathering spaces where most Catholic churches give the extra building or room that is not being used.  If something is effective and working, it should be duplicated.  If kids LOVE going to their protestant "youth groups" then there is something that they're doing right that maybe we could learn from.  Just because we're trying to make things fun doesn't mean we're becoming protestant. 

The Church of the 2000's can and should be more updated.  Liturgy should be more vibrant and get to the heart of signs and symbolism.  I think churches can have screens that aid in our worship.  Having screens in a church does not make it less Catholic - it makes it more engaging.  We're going to be Catholic whether we have a screen in our church or not.  The Eucharist is still the Eucharist, the source and summit.  We still have our sacraments, our crucifix, our liturgy and our prayer.  I think we should have relevant teaching that takes the Catholic teachings and brings it into a modern usefulness.  We're not in the year 300 with shepherding and casting nets along the shore as our primary industries.  We're in a different time, and a different age and must be relevant to this time and age.  It doesn't mean we wash out our teachings and conform to the age, but we must be able to relate to the upcoming generations and meet their needs of engagement. 

Change is never easy especially when it goes against something we once thought to be true.  Our churches are sacred spaces - so does adding a screen and projector make it less sacred?  I believe it might, but now we get into a moral issue - is it better to have the screens and be more engaging or to not have the screens and lose the attention of those we're trying to minister to? 

The eventual result will be individuals connecting to the church, or feeling a disconnect with the church.  Which is more likely to bring individuals closer to Christ?  In 3000 individuals, you won't make everyone happy - but what will be the most effective balance?  The teens of today are the NOW of the church and not just the future.  If we lose them now, there will be no future.  How can we make our churches more engaging without losing the sacred tradition, prayer and sacraments that we hold so dear? 

1 comment:

  1. Amen, I have grown up in youth groups and it was the music and engaging discussions that got me more interested in my faith. Even today music helps me pray and grow more. It was because of those youth groups that I want to continue learning more about my faith.