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Youth ministry going strong even during COVID-19

Stephanie Blaquera

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

I have been a part of the Youth Ministry program at Nativity of Our Lord Parish since 2011. I started as a teen, attending the program. Now I help lead it. As a person who struggled with change, I was ill prepared for what was to come. I saw youth ministers come and go, leaders come and go, teens come and go. We adapted. We grew. We “survived”.
Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we must adapt once more. But it isn’t just us this time. It is the entire Church. With churches all around the world closing their doors as a means to respect the safety of others, dioceses are finding ways to continue their pastoral mission.
Youth ministry, like any ministry, is no different.
On Sunday, March 22, I joined my youth group for a Youth Ministry live-streamed event hosted by Project YM. With about 7,000 people tuning in around the world, this was definitely one of the biggest youth nights to date. It began with the hosts, husband and wife Michael and Crystal Marchand, welcoming all viewers to the live-stream. We played a game that left me with some awesome fridge art (images below – and, no, I will not give any context!).
This was followed by praise and worship led by Dave Moore from his own recording studio. Paul J. Kim, our keynote speaker, gave a powerful talk regarding technology. He began talking about how we tend to “love objects [like our phones, social media accounts] and use people [for likes, affirmation, approval] when it should be the other way around.” He warned us about the love of objects and how that self-satisfying tendency turns into selfishness. He emphasized the importance of human connectivity and how self-giving is an expression of our love – not only for others, but also for God. After his talk, we gathered in prayer and a final blessing, before ending the live-stream with another worship song.
However, that is not where the youth night ended for Nativity of Our Lord. After the live-stream, Courtney Strom, youth minister at our parish, hosted a conference call inviting the leaders and our youth together. There we debriefed the live-stream and discussed how the teens' lives and faith are being affected by the pandemic.  After a 45-minute discussion, we ended the night in prayer.
It is a dark time. As Cardinal Thomas Collins describes it, “We’re going through the valley of tears.” As our first youth night wrapped up, I was reminded of a few things.

We Adapt.

Although March 22 was a unique experience, it was still familiar.  It's true, none of us had ever done a live-stream youth group event before, but with the exception of “family” dinner, this past Sunday did mirror our typical youth nights. On paper it seems almost identical. Obviously, there was a missing component: in-person, human contact. Fortunately, that night Paul J. Kim was there to remind us: we should use the tools that we have (aka objects) to love people – NOT the other way around. Use objects. Love people. Although our circumstances have changed, there are things that won’t. Connections we make never change. Our message – to love as God loves – never changes. Our mission – to journey with our teens – never changes. We just have to find a different means to accomplish it.
“It was a great way to feel connected with everyone,” said Sinead Costello, a grade 11 teenager from Nativity of Our Lord who shared her thoughts of the online event. “[It was like] I was sitting down to groups on a Life Night.”

We grow.

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein
I was reminded of this quote as we brainstormed action plans with our youth minister. With the end of March break, their "schedule" now opens up a wonderful opportunity to delve deeper into their faith.
“We need to journey through the storm with our teens,” Courtney Strom, our youth minister, said, “and give them hope and Christ’s light during this time of uncertainty.” This is the unique chance we are given. We get to journey with them on a weekly – maybe even daily basis. Since March 22, there has been more initiative on the youth ministry front. For example LifeTeen hosted their first youth night on March 29 called Anchored [which you can replay here]. It was different, but still powerful. And one big takeaway I had from comparing my experiences of both events: just like every person is different, every ministry is different, too. We have to understand what works for our ministry and our teens.
Three weeks since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, we are still brainstorming and testing our action plans. We know the importance of consistency to build good habits. We hope to create a realistic schedule that will allow our teens to further explore their faith, and a schedule that they can keep up when they inevitably go back to school – that’s the key part. We will not allow fear to keep us from planning for the future. Planning for the future instills hope in me that, as in the face of other changes...

We WILL survive.

The irony of this pandemic is that even though we must physically isolate ourselves, I am reminded how united we truly are in our faith. When we have purpose, together we can overcome insurmountable obstacles.

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