Wednesday, July 30, 2014

For Christ and Kids: Young Life Hosts Catholic Adult Guests at Rockbridge

“My first impression was WOW!” noted Al Forsythe, a Catholic diocesan official from Knoxville, TN, as he stepped onto Young Life camp. “Being at Rockbridge was for me a ‘taste of heaven,’” remarked Melinda Prunty, another diocesan director from Kentucky. For these Catholic leaders, it was their first experience of Young Life and it left them energized for a future where collaboration, not competition, marks the relationship between Young Life and the Catholic Church. “We can begin to build relationships and model to our young people that we are one body working together,” Forsythe reflected. And the time is now. “Let’s do something big” he said, “together!”

A little history was made last week when Catholic diocesan directors of youth ministry, Catholic clergy and lay people gathered at Rockbridge (VA), one of Young Life’s twenty-six camps in North America. These Catholic leaders celebrated Mass, conversed with Young Life leaders from around the country, and were immersed in all the energy of Young Life camp. Translation: they were surrounded by five hundred rowdy teenagers, many of whom had never shadowed the doorway of a church. This special adult guest initiative gave Catholics an inside look at Young Life’s incarnational approach to these kids – meeting teens where they are, earning the right to be heard, and sharing the greatest love story every told, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The experience made an immediate impact. “Jesus didn’t say to stay there in the upper room and share the message with whoever comes by,” one diocesan official exclaimed. “We need to go outside the walls of the church and bring Jesus to the streets!” This is precisely the vision of the new evangelization, the Catholic Church’s official and global strategy of bringing the light of Christ to the nations in the twenty-first century. Pope Francis exhorted:

We cannot become starched Christians, those over-educated Christians who speak of theological matters as they calmly sip their tea. No! We must become courageous Christians and go in search of the people who are the very flesh of Christ.[1]

For nearly 75 years, Young Life’s commitment to excellence in youth ministry has forged a path for the evangelization of millions of unreached, disinterested and disconnected youth. Considering the precipitous drop in religious participation for each successive generation of Catholic youth today, the need has never been greater for Young Life and the Catholic Church to join hands and labor together in this important work. “We in the Catholic Church are, for the most part, effective in teaching about our faith [but] I believe Young Life can help us reach those who never come to us or who might have been baptized without any real [conversion] or exposure to the Church,” one Catholic leader said.

Whether a young person has a church background or none at all, the effective collaboration between Young Life and the Church is vital to the ambitious project of the new evangelization and the spiritual future of all of us as the body of Christ. The time is now for Christ to renew and unite his Church. Let the kingdom work begin!

[1] Pope Francis, Vigil of Pentecost, 2013.

1 comment:

  1. I think people who are not familiar with Young Life have to see it in action in order to appreciate it. My daughter is on summer staff at a Young Life property and we had an opportunity to visit her for a few days. It had been many years since I'd seen a Young Life club and my husband had never seen one. I watched as he grinned from ear to ear the entire time. Equally cool was meeting the dynamic, faith-filled young adults on the staff. I was just a guest, an observer, an occasional helper, and it had a profound effect on me and I left grateful for having been there. While there, a woman asked me where we went to church. I answered St. _____. She asked what kind of church that was and then I told her. It was awkward for me and her. That wasn't the answer she was expecting but she was gracious about it. There is so much understanding that needs to happen.


Thanks so much for your input. I pray that this dialogue may be a blessing to you personally and to the ministry you exercise in Christ.