Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Face of Unity: How Young Life and the Catholic Church Are Coming Together

“Catholics and Protestants are learning to interact with one another in gracious ways,” notes Evangelical theologian John Armstrong. “They are forming friendships not possible before. They are actually learning how to love one another.” All across the country Young Life staff and Catholics are discovering that what unites them is far greater than what divides them. In a groundswell movement of the Holy Spirit, we are beginning to experience the reality of ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all' (Eph 4:5-6).

Here’s just a snapshot look at what God is doing.

Alaina Smith – Traverse Bay, Michigan
At winter weekend, we took our Catholic kids to Mass. After camp, our relationship with their parents was so much stronger. Now they see us as being “on the same team” in helping their kids grow in their faith. We take our Catholic kids to the Adoration Chapel for 10 minutes and then go out for coffee together. Their parents, teachers and our priest are so appreciative that we are encouraging them to spend time in Jesus' presence. We invited the priests to club and then met with them afterwards to talk about the relationships we’re building with kids.

Aaron “Hop” Hopkins - Eagle River, Alaska
Last year I met a Catholic woman whose son is autistic. I went to talk to her about Capernaum only to find out she runs a similar program in the parish for kids with special needs. So we decided to work together. Now she’s connecting me with the local bishop!

Pete Johnson – Regional Director, Lone Star Region (TX)
I made a major paradigm shift to see my Catholic friends as brothers and sisters in Christ, not the other side of the fence. We are followers of Christ together. I’ve paid attention to my language. I’ve become more comfortable in relationships with Catholics and have been so surprised how many donors, committee members and volunteers were active in their Catholic parish. The impact of our desire to build bridges with Catholics has CHANGED EVERYTHING!

Matthew Seifarth – Hagerstown, Maryland
After meeting Michael at AD school, I went back to my area and set up a meeting with the local Catholic priest. And it was great! A real relationship formed. I met monthly with Fr. Marty to catch up, talk about life, ministry, pray with one another. I was invited to his birthday party, a celebration of his 10 years in the priesthood, and to a diocesan discussion on The Joy of the Gospel. Through my relationship with Fr. Marty I was able to meet with the director of student ministry's in their church and start talking about ministering to lost kids together.

They gave me a key to the local prayer chapel a mile down the street from me. I go in there all the time now. The gift of being able to go to a place of the Lord 24/7 and I’m not even Catholic! That’s amazing. All because I engaged them, became friends with them, and kept showing up.

Andy Chittick – Edinburgh, UK
We have kids from Catholic schools coming to club, camp, and leader training. We are praying about starting contact work in Catholic schools here in Scotland. God open the doors!

Patrick Mollison – Grosse Pointe, Michigan
Our vision is that YL could be a venue where Catholic kids can encounter Jesus and live out their faith in the Catholic Church. I ask my Catholic students what their favorite part of Mass is. I encourage them to attend Catechism even if it is at the same time as WyldLife. During interviews with potential leaders I explain our desire to focus on Jesus and not the small differences between denominations. I specifically bring up our Catholic friends and how we want to encourage them in their Catholic faith. If leaders aren’t able to commit to that, I have stated that I don’t think it's a good fit for them to lead with us.

Coleman McIntyre – Indianapolis, Indiana
I do Young Life in a Catholic school. One of the big things I have been doing is consistent, clear conversation with school administration about what Young Life is and how it is working alongside the Catholic Church. I am proactive about reaching out to administration, making sure YL is represented by a person and not by a message online. I do contact work with them - grabbing coffee, catching up, building relationships. We respect their boundaries and honor their requests. This principal is now helping us start YL at another Catholic school. 

Rick Beckwith – Regional Director, Metro DC
I built trust by showing up at their events. When they feel like I’m not competing for their kids but trying to help them reach kids better, the door is open for mutual sharing. More Catholic parishes are calling on me to consult and help them.

Lori Kornack – Quad Cities (IA, IL)
We have Catholic kids in EVERY school we’re a part of. I’ve been learning about the culture of the Catholic Church – going to Masses, a prayer group, a women’s event. I’m trying to earn the right to be heard and spend time on their turf before I invite them into ours. It’s given me a new language to talk about YL and the Catholic Church that isn’t ostracizing but fosters connection and understanding. Then I spent a week at Catholic Adult Guest Camp with a group that changed everything. Now the priest wants WyldLife in his parish school.

Chris Theule-VanDam – Regional Director, Western Great Lakes
I’ve started intentionally hiring Catholic staff. Our staff and volunteers should reflect our communities. I always think about Catholics in everything we do and work to become more inclusive. We’re welcoming more Catholic committee members, recruiting more Catholic leaders, and reaching out to partner with Catholic parishes.

Nathan Gunn – Syracuse, New York
We’ve seen HUGE fruit partnering with the Catholic Church. Enormous WyldLife and Young Life clubs. Big increases in camping. Huge winter trip to El Salvador with tons of Catholics. We take priests to summer camp and have Mass for our Catholic kids. We’ve experienced growth in leadership and local committee. We enjoy the spiritual support of our priests. We’re taking kids and leaders to World Youth Day this summer. It’s huge.

Corey Harouff – Rapid City, South Dakota
I pray at the local Catholic retreat center all the time. It’s my favorite place to get away and connect with the Lord. It was there that I met Fr. Mark. We quickly became friends and recently he connected me with the local bishop and all the major priests of the diocese. It was incredible. We’ve created a committee and the bishop is discerning the possibility of formal collaboration to reach kids!

Joe Wilson – Harlingen, Texas
I questioned Young Life’s “expertise” when they decided to hire a chubby white Baptist kid from the prairie and send him to the Rio Grande Valley where 90% of kids are Hispanic Catholics. But when I got to know Catholics - their heart, their urgency, and their passion to reach kids - I realized that we were after the same thing.

Young Life has been plowing new ground for 75 years now. But when you stop and think about it, the Catholic Church has been doing the same thing for centuries. They have been a safe-haven for millions in overwhelming places like the mission territories of S. Texas. They are like our tour guides and we have the privilege of coming alongside them to help reanimate the faith of Catholic kids. I’m so humbled.

Bishop Daniel Flores – Diocese of Brownsville, Texas
A great number of young people today are unconnected to anything. They are lost. They need to hear that there’s somebody to help them get connected to the Lord and to the Church. That’s why this relationship with Young Life is so important. Young Life is an organization that has a long history in the United States announcing the kerygma and, through a process of friendship and accompaniment, getting teens connected back to their faith tradition.

Jesus prayed that we may be one so that the world would know the love of God. We’re working on it Jesus! One heart and one relationship at a time.