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Young adults ‘on fire’ for Jesus

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

By Carmen M. Hubbard

ARCHDIOCESE — They’re 20- and 30-somethings who are “on fire” for Jesus. Whether young adults are busy earning their college degree, finding a full-time job, getting married or living single, their stages in life vary as much as ways to accommodate their spiritual needs.

The archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry has been organizing events to gather young adults together to facilitate fellowship and discussion about their journey with God as it deepens.

“Very few parishes have young adult ministries. People are interested in engaging young adults,” said Bob Wurzelbacher, associate director of the Cincinnati office.

“We can help them communicate with each other, and we want to know who they are and let them know we have resources for them.”

Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr meets with young adults. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

The office is hosting a four-week series of Theology On Tap that began July 9 at Fricker’s in Dayton. Another four-week series will begin July 22, at 7:30 p.m., at Boston’s Bistro and Pub in Dayton. It’s a come-as-you-are event in a casual setting for young adults to listen to a guest speaker discuss the Catholic Church and being a Christian.

The Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry in Dayton is also working to host a Theology On Tap series in the Sidney area.

“The reason Theology On Tap is important is because young adults are pretty much underserved by the church. There is lots of stuff for young children, teenagers and middle-aged adults, but few materials for people ages 18-39,” said Andrea Parker, associate director of the Dayton office. “It’s really important for us to begin to address the needs of young adults.”

Parker said the lives of young adults are so vast and unique the Catholic Church needs to engage them in their own spiritual life.

Sean Reynolds, director of Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, said the Theology on Tap has been an introduction or stepping stone to invite people back the church to discuss Christ. Still, the question remains how does the church, and even the archdiocese, keep young adults engaged?

Representatives from the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, along with Coadjutor Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, recently met with young adults from the Cincinnati and Dayton areas to discuss ways the office can accommodate their interests.

“We’re here to work with you but there must be a grassroots effort,” Archbishop Schnurr said to the group that gathered on May 19 at Champps American restaurant in West Chester Township.

Nationally, the Catholic Church hasn’t done enough to keep young people involved in church, the archbishop added. While it’s common to view children and young adults as the future of the church, Archbishop Schnurr said they are “the church now.”

“That’s the mentality you have to generate. Those of you involved in young adult ministries, you are doing a fine job. You are the church now,” he added.

He also said it’s important to have young adults represented on the various councils of a parish. Archbishop Schnurr said when parishes become completely inclusive then parishioners’ creativity and skills can expand to address concerns of the church. Young adult ministry can be complex to define, but it shouldn’t be narrowed to the point that it would exclude others. A ministry for young people should include social activities as well as serious study or discussion, he said.

“It has to be a blend of both for an exploration of faith to be involved. Without that, you’d have a young adult social club,” Archbishop Schnurr said. 

“I would like to see and explore trying to get new people connected,” said Jeff Davis, coordinator of the youth and young adult ministry at Good Shepherd Parish in Montgomery. “It’d be nice to get someone excited and fired up.”

“Theology On Tap is great, but it doesn’t build a community,” said Bernadette Sacksteder, a parishioner at St. Anthony Parish in Dayton. “Having a small faith community is the answer we’ve been looking for.”

Wurzelbacher said his office plans to host another meeting with Archbishop Schnurr in the future.

In the northern part of the archdiocese, Mike Meyer has been a youth ministry coordinator for 15 years and has seen many of those he has served make the transition from teenagers to young adults. He said young adult ministry was a natural progression for young people.

“In the north, the main thing has been that students during their high school years have been connected to youth ministry. Some connect to Christ while in college and some connect at the parish level. They want to connect with each other on a spiritual level,” he said.

Meyer is a member of St. Remy Parish in Russia, the youth ministry coordinator at St. Denis in Versailles and the young adult ministry coordinator at Holy Family in Frenchtown.

He said young adults in the northern area of the archdiocese participate in three or four events per year that are mostly retreats. In between events, they communicate through social networking websites like Facebook, he said.

“They have a hunger for God and find people their own age. It’s nice to have a support system. There’s a whole world out there that is counter-cultural to the church,” Meyer said. “People want to share the same values and feel empowered to uphold those values that are true to their heart.”

In Cincinnati, the St. Gertrude Church 20s Group for people ages 18-33 meets at 8 p.m. every Thursday in the parish center Madeira. Holy Hour, with eucharistic adoration with contemporary Christian music, begins at 7 p.m. in the church. After the meeting, the group extends their fellowship and meets at a nearby restaurant or pub.

“The main purpose of the 20s group is to grow closer to God,” said Annie Mitchell, president of the group.

Dominican Father Michael Dosch is the associate pastor of St. Gertrude and chaplain of the group. He said while the group is many things, the one thing it’s not is a singles group or a dating service.

“This is a transitional age for the most part. Some are recent college graduates and haven’t married yet,” he said. “(They are) people in their 20s who have left college and are looking for a community that’s their own age. It’s a privilege for me to have given counsel to men who enter the priesthood. It’s great being part of their lives.”

The group also has a listserv of 400 people on its website that features upcoming events and Scripture readings.

In the four years the group has been meeting, some members have entered religious life while others have married.

Father Dosch said he’s impressed to see the dedicated young people who gather in Christ’s name week after week.

“People who are active are wonderful people,” he said. “They’re giving up their Thursday evening to be in a faith-filled community. They are the church — an age of vibrancy and budding careers.”

Dominican Brother Joseph Fussner has been attending the 20s Group for almost three years. At the time he joined, he had earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Purdue University. He said he tossed the idea around of entering religious life several times. After attending a young adults retreat, Fussner answered God’s call last August.

“I think it’s a good way to meet people and interact. The people are fun to be with,” he said of the group. “This keeps my faith going. It’s amazing how things worked out and fell into place. Religious life is a great gift.”

Mitchell credits the 20s Group with helping her to find a job. In 2007 she and a friend participated in the Right to Life March in Washington, DC. She made other friends on the trip and was told about the 20s Group. Mitchell mentioned she was looking for work in her field. Through word of mouth from a friend in the group, Mitchell heard about a job opening at Sacred Heart Radio.

“God gave me my job. I had to learn to trust in God,” said Mitchell, who is the news anchor for the Son Rise Morning Show on Sacred Heart. “I think the 20s Group helps people find what they want to do. Others have applied to the seminary and couples have married. We’re not trying to be a vocation (group) or matchmaker. God is still using His work in that way.”

For more information about young adult ministry in the archdiocese, call 513-421-3131 in Cincinnati or 937-223-1001 in Dayton.

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