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Encouraging Youth in Ministry  
Lisa Calderone-Stewart  
   

When my son was in high school, music was his life. He played the trumpet in the school band and attended local orchestra camps.

When asked by the parish music director, he joined the music ministry of the parish. He and two other teenagers, a keyboardist and clarinetist, met with the music director monthly. They looked at Sunday's readings, talked about the scriptures and possible songs, and chose music they knew or wanted to learn. The music director transposed the music to keys that worked for their instruments, and they had a practice session to prepare for each liturgy.

That Mass was my son's favorite all month. He knew the scriptures, he was prepared, he was providing ministry, and he was proud to be a contributing member of the parish.

When that music director left the parish, her replacement was not as welcoming to young people. She expected youth to contact her. When they did, she selected the music and expected them to be prepared, even though they often did not have music in the key of their instruments. Not surprisingly, these three teenagers lost interest in music ministry.

What a difference it makes when you are welcoming and you empower young people to develop their skills!

I know a parish that invites young people to join liturgical ministries every few months. They are asked to shadow an adult on a Sunday. That adult would proclaim the word, or serve as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, or as a hospitality minister. While shadowing, the youth sits up front, pays attention to what the adult does, noting how voice, body language, and facial expression show reverence and humble service. Later, with the adult, the youth gather to walk through everything in an empty church, getting used to the feel of the steps, and the flow of their actions.

All the young people serve in their new liturgical role on the same day. Already a bit nervous because it's their first time, they won't need to be thinking, "I'm the only teenager up here doing this."

Several teenagers provide liturgical ministry at all of the Masses, working side by side with seasoned adults. It's a gentle way to introduce young people to the ministry and to their new parish role, with maximum support and minimum awkwardness. It's also a wonderful way to affirm adults who are good role models and to remind all adults in liturgical ministries that potential apprentices are carefully watching them.

How wonderful to have supportive parish staff and successful programs for young people! But suppose your parish is not as youth-friendly as you would like . . . . How might you encourage young people to take the risk and get involved in liturgical ministry?

I know a young person whose father proclaims the word on Sunday. He would like her to become a lector. She is an acolyte but says she is too shy to read in front of so many people. This parish has no program to train young liturgical ministers other than acolytes. So what can this dad do to encourage her?

He can still invite her to shadow lectors. She can sit up front a few Sundays, and watch what the adults do before, during, and after they proclaim the word. When the church is empty, a seasoned lector can coach her in reading from the Lectionary. She can proclaim a reading into the microphone, and see what it feels like . . . in a completely empty church.

Even if one other teenager—perhaps a friend—is willing to do the same thing with her, that would help. They could both rehearse at the microphone, learning how to slow down the pace of their voices, practicing how to pause for emphasis, and gaining confidence together.

They might try proclaiming the scriptures at a daily Mass first—in the summer, on a day off, or during Christmas break—when the church isn't as crowded. That might seem a little less intimidating.

Even without a formal parish program for young people to enter the liturgical ministries, it's still possible to make the way gradual and painless, so young people begin to feel at home in a new liturgical role.

We need to affirm the gifts of young people; we need them to inspire us with their faith and their willingness to serve. They are not too young. We need them to enter into leadership roles today, so the church of tomorrow will continue to have experienced and faithful leaders.

Lisa Calderone-Stewart, EdD,
is director of youth leadership at House of Peace, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her book series, In Touch with the Word (St. Mary's Press), is a guide through lectio divina.
 
         
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