Strategies for Closing the Loop: The Parish
In our blog post, “Closing the Loop”, Zack Stachowski reflected on some philosophical concerns regarding how communities engage with the youth of their parish. Reflecting on the philosophical problems is one thing, offer solutions is another thing entirely. In this three-part series, "Strategies for Closing the Loop," we will make recommendations for how to engage young people in parishes, Catholic high schools, and college campus ministry programs.
In the best of all possible worlds, all parishes would be able to send every youth musician to a program like One Call. In this dream scenario, we would have limitless budgets, full pastoral and parish support, and a multitude of ministerial opportunities to make use of all this newly developed formation. Obviously, this is rarely the case for many - if not most - parish communities. However, even in the midst of extreme limitations there are ways to become a One Call parish:
The Personal Invitation
When I think of those of us on the One Call leadership team, we first started attending programs like Music Ministry Alive!, the NPM conventions, or NCYC, because someone we trusted and who believed in us, invited us (many times). We do not expect that a teenager sitting in front of their computer, scrolling through Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds, will come across our One Call webpage, fill out the application and drop a check in the mail. This is how your advocacy begins long before and long after the summer institute takes place. Speak with your students, tell them not only how they will benefit, but how they will benefit their parishes by attending. Speak with parents; talk about how these leadership and ministerial skills are not only beneficial for the parish and schools, but for their entire lives as they progress through college and beyond. Sure, go ahead and put out blanket announcements to the whole group, but also focus on those individuals who you know demonstrate an elevated aptitude for this work and this mission. Invite sincerely, and invite often.
An Internship Structure
Most likely, the first question you’ll encounter as you advocate for students to attend One Call, is “How much does it cost?”. Keep in mind, the $600 student tuition cost includes all food, lodging, instruction and recreation. This cost is in line with, and often much less than the other sports and arts camps that students participate in yearly.
There are of course the traditional methods of fundraising –the bake sales, the car washes, the concerts. In addition to these things, you might also explore creating an internship structure for One Call students.
When I first started advocating for the formation of young people at my parish, I wanted to create something that I could sell to the finance council and the pastoral staff. I decided that any student who I sent to a summer institute or conference would be Youth Interns. I made clear with the students that the parish would support then in their formation, and in return, students would serve for one year as interns. This has taken many different forms over the years depending on parish needs, but generally, students would be on call to help assist with various parish events, they would help plan and execute prayer services, they would assist in liturgical planning and organization, etc. This does two main things: first, we create a pool of individuals who are reliable and dedicated to parish service. These students are known throughout the parish, and the parish becomes aware of the benefits of forming young people. Second, this is a big step forward in “closing the loop”. These opportunities for ministry and service provide a built-in way that we, as advocates, can continue to accompany our young people and to utilize the skills and tools they have formed at One Call.
At my parishes, once I have found a handful of students willing to partake in these formation events, I have them sign a covenant detailing our expectations of them throughout the year. We all struggle with the pervasive over-scheduling of our young people. In this covenant, I ask that a student be willing to count this internship among their top scheduling priorities. I make sure the parents are aware of this as well. I have found that a committed group of young people like this is an incredible boost of energy to parish community.
Don’t be afraid to think out-the-box with this idea. Think not only of the general parish finance council, but all those auxiliary groups that maintain budgets (Knights of Columbus, men’s and women’s groups, social committees, etc) that might benefit from a committed group of young people.
Becoming a “One Call Parish”
Our mission at One Call is to form young people and their advocates to maximize their gifts of music and leadership in service to the liturgy. This can only happen if a parish is ready to receive these students once they return. This means not only having a music program, but an entire liturgical ministry program that is accepting of the gifts of young people. I am fully aware that this is a loaded proposition. Often the schedules and communications styles of young people are quite different than those of the adults who usually operate our liturgical ministries. We must be willing to adapt and to provide accessibility to our young people.
Within our music programs, we often categorize and divide our ensembles according to age. This makes sense for many reasons. However, we believe that once a student is a graduate of the One Call program, they will be able to serve in any musical capacity that a parish provides. Generally, if you look at how you divide your musical ensembles, you might see that the age of the group generally correlates with the commitment level of the group. While not true of all parish music programs, often, the older the group, the higher frequency of rehearsals and services. In my program, any student willing to make the commitment to the “adult” choir is welcome. Did this create headaches as far as abiding by policies concerning child/adult interaction? Yes, but it was one worth resolving.
So often, we have isolated our young parishioners to special youth groups and separate masses. As I wrote about in my earlier blog, we are often not equipped with a strategy of transitioning these students into “adult” parish life once they’ve aged out of their youth group and special masses. Often, they go off to college, where they find another insular community in their campus ministries. In a worst-case scenario, it is not until they get married (if they choose to marry in the church), or need to register for the baptism of a child, that there is a sudden, and oftentimes clumsy re-entry into parish life. By becoming a One Call parish we can begin this transition now.
-- Zack Stachowski