PROJECT UPDATE: Insights from our Partner Parishes

As we reflect on the last year of ministry with young adults, here are some of the biggest lessons and insights from our partner parishes:

“When it comes to young adults, they are in a variety of lifestyles. Because of this age range, we have everything from single to married, married with and without children, professionals, living on their own, with parents, with roommates, etc. With such a variety, it can be hard to offer something that everyone wants to come to, however, when we incorporate the values of listening, genuine caring, and accompaniment into whatever we do, they respond! This is what we are trying to add in everything that we do: to be truly intentional and authentic with every Young Adult that crosses our path.”

“Young adults need community. Community is something that cannot be reduced to a program or an event. It is personal, and it takes a long time to build. Consistency and trust are key.”

“Sometimes you have to just keep doing the right things and trust that, eventually, the fruit will come (or, perhaps, is already there but just hidden). There were some harder moments this year when we had unusually low attendance at a couple social events in a row and our young adult bible study was floundering, but we took the long view and just kept at it. Not too much later, in walked a couple of young adults ready to dive right in while, at the same time, I discovered an older gentleman was accompanying a young adult and taking him under his wing.”

“We need a core team (leadership team) that represents all stages of young adult ministry, including college age, young parents, career-minded adults, etc. Personal invite is the key to active participation.”

“It is evident that this is a process not a one-and-done situation. As the young adults involved transform and new participants join, the group will need to transform how it ministers to each other and how each individual can be part of the parish life. Like any relationship, it is ever changing, and hopefully all involved are growing in love of God and each other.”

“I think it is important to follow where the spirit leads and not necessarily where logic leads. I’m not implying to abandon reason…but ministry is simply different than other facets of business in that it is led by the spirit. Make efforts to discern where the spirit is leading and be sure to take time to listen to where the spirit is leading…He might surprise you!”

“Steve Angrisano said, ‘We shouldn’t focus on proving we’re worth it to them, but that they’re worth it to us.’ That insight has been important. In some ways, while respecting young adults’ scheduling and personality differences, the more I see them as active parishioners, the better I am at inviting them to the work and joys of parish life.”

Young adults are extremely busy outside the parish with school and work. That is one of the challenges with forming/creating a Core Team [leadership team]. They come to worship and to volunteer in parish ministry. Between those activities, work and school, there is not much time for anything else.”

“The model of small group discipleship over large events/programs seems to be more effective at lasting ministry. Investment in people’s lives, accompaniment, praying together, and doing life outside of the church setting is where we see the greatest response and effective means to share the Gospel. We’ve also learned the importance of equipping and training our leaders with tools they need and helping to build them up as witnesses in the Church. This will be a focus going forward and helping our leaders understand missionary discipleship.”

“It is important that young adults feel like they have something to contribute and can take ownership. Giving them opportunities to serve, whether it be in helping in youth ministry, leading Bible studies, organizing social outings, or participating in community service/volunteer projects seems to give them a sense of purpose.”

BLOG: What is on the hearts of our young people?

One of the main focuses of the Young Adult Initiative is accompaniment. (See our previous blog post on accompaniment to learn more about this ministry model.)

In order to accompany young people, we need to know what they care about. We need to know what is important to them. We need to know their struggles and hopes and challenges and desires.

We need to listen, and we need to care.

___________

Saint Meinrad recently attended the SEEK Catholic conference in St. Louis where 17,000 participants – most of them college students – gathered to worship, share in community, and learn about our common call to discipleship.

At the Saint Meinrad booth, we had a prayer intentions wall, and we invited attendees to write down (1) what was on their heart or (2) who needed their prayers. We gathered more than 800 prayer intentions by the end of the week! After the conference, we sorted and tagged the prayers to see what our young people are praying for.

By and large, participants offered prayer intentions for the people they care about: for conversion/reversions to faith; for healing in mind, body, or spirit; for healing and reconciliation of families; for the vocations of their friends and family; for healthy marriages and pregnancies; for the deceased and for those who mourn. Participants also prayed for themselves, most especially in the areas of vocational discernment, growth in virtue, the desire to know and trust God, and peace in the midst of anxiety.

Overall, these prayers look much the same as mine.

As I reflected on this data and looked through the stacks of handwritten prayer intentions, a few things struck me:

  • As isolating as our experiences can be (grief, addiction, mental health issues, loneliness, anxiety, uncertainty, and confusion, to name a few), we are more united than we realize.
  • There is a deep longing among our young adults for a relationship with God.
  • Young people perceive the need for healing and conversion in their families, communities, and in their own hearts. By turning to prayer, they recognize that this healing is not within our power; we have to turn to God.

This is only a snapshot of what our young people bring to prayer, but the more we know about their lives and their hearts, the better we can accompany them.

-Cassie Schutzer, director of the Young Adult Initiative

A Letter to Ministers in the Season of Advent

Dear Minister,

How are you doing this Advent?

Are you taking time to prepare your heart for the Savior?

It’s so easy to slip into a routine of busyness during the Advent season. It’s almost automatic, comfortable for us. There is always an event to plan, a gift to buy, a card to write, a service project to coordinate. If we aren’t careful, we can blink and miss the season altogether.

But in the midst of what can become a time of frenzied preparation, we are invited to stop. To rest. To feel the nearness of the Lord, the nearness that was felt by all those in the stable.

Each of us is a minister because we had an encounter with the Lord. The One who brings us peace that the world cannot provide. The One who is always present to us, always receptive to our deepest longings. The One who calls us to be more, to trust ourselves to Him in order that He might do great things through us. The One who chose us to minister to His people.

He is near, dear friends, and He wants nothing more than to be welcomed into our lives and our hearts.

So how do we answer, in this season of ministry? How, practically, do we take time for ourselves and our prayer life? Here are a few ideas:

  • Slow down your yes. Okay, I know this is easier said than done, but hear me out. Before committing to additional programs or responsibilities, take a moment to reflect on whether it serves your own spiritual life during this season. It’s not selfish to take moments of rest. Remember: you cannot give what you do not have.
  • Make time for prayer each day. This is a given, as all ministers should have a healthy and active prayer life. During the season of Advent, try to set aside some extra time to spend with the Lord, perhaps at daily Mass or Adoration, opening yourself to His graces.
  • Engage in spiritual reading or an Advent devotional. The liturgical seasons of Lent and Advent are a great time for focused reading and reflection. Even though there are only a couple weeks left of Advent, it’s not too late to pick up a book or start a daily prayer devotional. (Shoutout to the Behold Advent journal, which I’m using this year!)
  • Don’t be afraid to delegate. Letting go is tough for some of us, especially when it feels as if our programs depend on us. During this season, offer these moments up to the Lord and trust that He will provide the people and resources. And remember: perfection is for heaven. The more intentional we are about creating holy spaces rather than planning perfect events, the more our communities will grow and flourish. Use this as an opportunity to recognize the gifts in others and invite them to be a participant in their own ministry.
  • Take a moment each day to reflect. Look back at my initial question: “How are you doing this Advent?” I hope this isn’t the first time you have been asked that question, but for some of us, it is. I encourage you to take a moment each day, perhaps right before bed, to reflect on your day. Find the moments where God was at work. Recognize the gifts that were shared by you and others. Pay attention to areas where growth is needed. Ask the Lord to tend to the places that are hurt. And above all, give thanks for His constant and abiding presence in your life.

I hope you have a blessed Advent.

– Cassie Schutzer, director of the Young Adult Initiative

REFLECTIONS FROM OUR PARTNER PARISHES: Where did you see God?

Leaders from our ten partner parishes were asked, “Where did you see God at work in your life this month?”
Here are their testimonies:

“Honestly the past 4 months have been such a challenge personally with sickness, various family crises and all the rearranging, rescheduling and omitting that must happen when dealing with not being at ‘100%.’ God is speaking to me so clearly about prioritizing, letting go, trusting others and trusting Him. Some of it seems relatively insignificant — like allowing my husband to cook almost all the Thanksgiving meal or volunteers at church contacting me to take charge of things that I usually get all set for them. They were all happy to do so, and nobody died because I did not personally manage (control) it all. But God had to ‘force’ me to see that. I can forget He is in charge, not me. I cannot and should not do it all. There is so much value in letting things play out, creating community by sharing responsibility and staying aware of God in every moment. BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD. Amen!”

“One Sunday, we had more than 50 young adults at our 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass. I was so excited that they find a home here.”

“God is helping me to reach out to a friend interested in becoming Catholic. The Holy Spirit is definitely at work during difficult conversations and is helping me share the Church’s teachings with love and compassion.”

“This past month, God has used my mentors in the faith to challenge me and spur growth in my faith journey. I am always happy to lend a hand at church when my schedule permits, but this past month, my mentors have been asking me to pray about where God really wants me to invest my time. One of my mentors told me, ‘It’s not really about whether I have enough volunteers — if the Lord asks you to do something, that’s what you should be doing, and trust that he will take care of the rest.’ As I go into this Advent season, my prayer is that God will reveal where he wants me to invest my gifts for the coming year.”

“I have seen the power that prayer truly can have in people’s lives. In Alpha, we recently had the healing night. And I witnessed physical and emotional healing through the power of prayer.”

“This month has been filled with the Holy Spirit. Last week, we got to pray with someone who had lost their faith a couple years ago when she lost her father. Her mother was now sick, so we prayed together for her healing. At that very moment of us praying while she was getting a second opinion from the doctor on her illness, she was completely healed and felt zero pain. This has led to beautiful conversations about her newly-found faith.”

“I have been actively discerning the direction of ministry in our parish for a while now. Between great conversations and prayer at the gathering at St. Meinrad and a few very spirit-filled and inspiring meetings…I feel like many of my prayers have been answered and I am able to see the movement of the Holy Spirit for where the youth and young adult ministries may be headed. I am still listening and feeling hopeful and excited for where the Spirit is leading.”

“One of the ‘older’ young adults in our parish (about 35) is going through the process of becoming Catholic, and it has been a blessing to witness the healing work of the Holy Spirit in this person’s life — just an abundance of incredible grace, plus their own grace-aided courage and vulnerability to face and receive it.”

“I have been given opportunities for rest and reflection.”

“I have seen God in the generosity of so many people to those in our community in need: from the Giving Tree to the blanket drive.”

REFLECTION: On Friendship and Community

Kate and Fr. Corey in Rome

by Fr. Corey Bruns, parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Bowling Green, KY (a Young Adult Initiative partner parish)

Some six years ago, as a seminarian in Bowling Green, KY for a summer, I started a young adult group, which met on Thursdays. We’d meet at a local bar for pints and conversation – usually with prayer – but our focus was community and coming together to support one another in our faith and life.

That summer, Kate from Kansas was completing an internship in town and would join us for our Thursday gatherings. We had a blast and formed friendships that have lasted years and even continents. 

For the past week, I have been on a pilgrimage to Rome with a small group, and I have been praying particularly for our Young Adult Ministry with BGCatholics in Bowling Green. While in Rome, I was able to celebrate Mass in the Clementine Chapel at Saint Peter’s Basilica (the altar connected to the tomb of St. Peter in the crypt church), as well as visit and pray at the tombs of so many faithful saints and heavenly friends.

While connecting anew with heavenly friends whom I have begged intercession from for years, and at times being moved to tears as I knelt in the holy places of their tombs and martyrdom (thanks JPII, St. Cecilia and St. Francis of Assisi), I was also able to connect with earthly friends striving for holiness and living now in the Eternal City. 

Kate from Kansas is now a member of the Apostles of the Interior Life and is completing her final years of formation and study with the community in Rome. We met up for coffee and conversation on Sunday afternoon and picked up where our Thursday pints had left off. 

Kate shared with me how crucial that summer of community and pints and laughter was for her in helping her hear the invitation of the Lord to consecrated life. God spoke to her that summer, and she opened her heart to a life of deeper faith, love and prayer. 

I was struck while visiting the tomb of my patron, St. Francis of Assisi, of the beauty of his being surrounded by the tombs of his brothers (literally in a circle around his tomb in the crypt chapel). Even in death, he is surrounded by his first friends to join him in the Order of Friars Minor, who encouraged him, built him up, loved and supported him by their prayer and friendship on the road to heaven. 

Kate’s story also stresses for us the importance and value of our ability to create community for young adults in the Church in a world that stresses individualism. Without community and friendship, without the support, love, and prayers of peers, the road to heaven can be lonely and arduous. But with friends, that road becomes that much sweeter. 

Please keep Kate in your prayers as she finishes these last few years of formation and conforms her life more to the Lord as his consecrated bride. 

 

Saint Meinrad alumnus Fr. Corey Bruns is the parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Bowling Green, KY. His parish is a current partner parish in the Young Adult Initiative.

BLOG: Who Do You Work For?

by Cassie Schutzer, Director of the Young Adult Initiative

When I first became a young adult minister in 2019, I would get an anxiety pit in my stomach before every single event.

My stages of stress were like clockwork:

  1. Worry that no one would show up.
  2. Worry that everyone would show up and we would run out of food.
  3. Run to the store to buy more food. And we need decorations too, right?
  4. Arrive too early to set up, just to stress in a new location.
  5. Jot down some talking points that I would never actually use.
  6. Question all my life and career choices that led me to this moment.
  7. Make it through the event on adrenaline just to find out that all my fears were unfounded.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

For about a year, this cycle happened so regularly that it became almost familiar to me. Ministry became synonymous with anxiety, which led me to question whether I had discerned my vocation correctly.

Thankfully, I received the peace that I needed when God put a question on my heart: “Who do you work for?”

I realized that I had been trying to do everything on my own, under my own power. I was trying to create perfect programs instead of simply offering space for conversation and encounter. I was trying to avoid awkward silences and uncomfortable situations instead of trusting that young adults — who are adults — can manage their own interactions with each other. I was trying to compete with other events in the lives of young adults rather than asking them what they needed from the parish.

I was an events planner, not a minister.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;
it is not from works, so no one may boast.
For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works
that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

This is not from you. This is not from you. This is not from you.

Paul reminds us who we are and where we fit into the story. It was God who chose us, not the other way around. It is God who equips us for His service, not we who prove our qualifications to Him. It is God who saves us, not we who save the Church or each other. It us under His power that we act, not our own. And when we are present to one another, it is His love, His presence that we reflect.

This doesn’t take away our importance — not at all! By our baptism, we have been called as disciples and each of us — whether we are paid ministers or not — are essential in the work of the Kingdom. We just always have to remember who we work for.

So if you are a minister who feels the burden of perfection or the stress of putting on another event, take a deep breath. The more we can release our grip and allow God to work, the more we can accomplish under His power.

REFLECTIONS FROM OUR PARTNER PARISHES: Where did you see God?

Leaders from our ten partner parishes were asked, “Where did you see God at work in your life this month?”
Here are their testimonies:

“I have seen God at work in our current Alpha. This is the youngest Alpha that we have ever had. We had 20 people under the age of 25 sign up and another 20 more under the age of 35. It is super amazing to see so many young adult open to exploring faith.”

“On a personal note, I went to Chicago for a business conference for a week. All I was doing was helping a friend run it and it had nothing to do with the faith, however, the Lord showed up. In the middle of my small group Zoom meeting one night for my MA course, we brainstormed on the scripture from Luke that talks about how every minute of every day is supposed to be in prayer. We discussed what that might look like, and it came out that most of my small group doesn’t pray at all. This floored me but also went in a direction I had not anticipated. God convicted my own heart and prayer life and broke me in that moment. Yes I pray in the morning, evening, before meals, in adoration, at Mass, randomly throughout the day, but He convicted me as to the quality of my prayer life, specifically the listening component. After our Zoom call, I sat for an hour looking at the city of Chicago and weeping. I don’t weep. Ever. The Lord allowed me to draw close to Him without any words or seemingly any signs and yet I hadn’t felt this close to Him in a long time. I went to Chicago for a business meeting and I encountered the Living God.”

“I see God in my family, especially my wife who works at home so selflessly and my daughter who is developmentally delayed but has made so much progress in the past few weeks that her teachers are experimenting with reducing her accommodations.”

“I see God in so many ways…. in the ministries forming… in the transformations I am witnessing… and in the beautiful way the Holy Spirit takes hold of situations and empowers change.”

“This is a personal and professional testimony. My youngest son was baptized this month! It is such a wonderful thing to see my entire family (both by blood and by faith) witness such a beautiful and important moment in my son’s life. This moment was truly full of grace as I watch my son be born into God’s family and in doing so, gain such a wonderful faith community that has meant so much to me. I cannot wait to see what God has in store for my little one and to watch this wonderful community continue to surround him with faith and love and support as he grows.”

“I see God in how He has placed me where He needs me in conversations with parishioners every weekend.”

“Personally, God had blessed me and my family with a happy and healthy baby! As well as a job that I can work from home to bring in some income. With ministry, God has brought so many new faces to our group! So happy to see our ministry growing this year!”

“I see God in lots of ways, but pertinent to the Young Adult Initiative, engagement and accompaniment with these young adults. I’ve just come from a funeral for a stillborn baby. And speaking directly to the mom and dad of this little baby reminds me of the hunger so many people have that faith assists in filling.”

“God has been at work through the people around me. It has been a very rough month personally — registering over 400 students for our K-12 programs, bringing on a new Director of Religious Education, then a death in my family alongside contracting COVID for the 2nd time. With all of this, my support system of wonderful volunteers, staff members, friends and family have been prayer warriors and amazing hands and feet on the ground. Thank you Lord for those you have intentionally put around me!”

“God has been so faithful during this busy season in my life — I am working multiple jobs, and my PhD dissertation was due to my thesis committee. At times, it was tempting to cut back on young adult events and commitments because my schedule got so busy. However, when I took my concerns to God in prayer, I got a sense of peace and heard his voice saying “trust me.” And just like the widow with Elijah who had just enough oil and flour to make bread during the long drought, God provided just enough time this month for me to complete all my work and dissertation deadlines without having to cut back on my ministry priorities.”

BLOG: Accompaniment

by Cassie Schutzer, director of the Young Adult Initiative

When I moved to Indiana in June, my closest friends from home sent me off with a bundle of letters with instructions for when to open each one.

Open when…you’re finished unpacking.
Open when…you are lonely.
Open when…you make a new friend.

And that was only a few of them.

When I opened this gift – the best gift I had ever received – I was overwhelmed with gratitude because it was more than just a stack of letters. This was a visible sign of my friends’ presence in the next season of my life, a season I would be navigating without them around me. These letters represented unknown future moments in which my friends would still be accompanying me.

Accompaniment.

This word is being used more often to describe how we minister to young adults. It’s the new “model,” inasmuch as we have a model these days. But what does it mean to accompany someone?

To accompany simply means to walk with. To be present. To receive. To love.

It sounds simple, perhaps even unremarkable, but true accompaniment is something that we all hunger for and its importance should never be discounted or underestimated. According to a 2020 study by Springtide Research Institute, young people are experiencing overwhelming levels of loneliness. 1 in 3 reported feeling completely alone much of the time. (And this was before Covid.)

The reason is simple: We are built for community, and we were never meant to live a life of faith on our own. We desire spaces where we are seen, welcomed, and known. We desire people in our lives who love us despite the qualities we deem unlovable. We desire a place to share our God-given gifts with others.

This kind of model does not happen overnight, and it takes a certain amount of patience and persistence to build a community where its members accompany one another. It takes a commitment on the part of every single person to encounter their neighbor, hear their story, share their own, and walk forward together in pursuit of a common goal. But imagine that kind of community. Don’t you think it’s worth the effort?

BLOG: An Invitation to Join the Journey

by Cassie Schutzer, director of the Young Adult Initiative

Hey, y’all! If you couldn’t tell by the greeting, I am a North Carolina girl born and bred. I attended the University of North Carolina (Go Heels) and spent seven years in a parish in Chapel Hill doing communications and young adult ministry. I am excited to be a part of Phase 2 of the Saint Meinrad Young Adult Initiative…in fact, I left my home, my church, my family, and my friends because I believe so much in the mission of this project and feel called to be here with you all.

In thinking back over my life, there are big decision moments that stand out: what college to attend, what major to declare, what job to apply for. Decisions like this can be paralyzing because there’s the pressure of choosing “correctly.” It felt like one wrong choice could lead to a lifetime of unhappiness. In order to avoid making decisions, I developed this strategy where I only gave myself one option: apply to only one college, choose a major that sounds interesting and stick with it, apply to one job after graduation. There wasn’t a lot of thought on my part; it had just never occurred to me that there was another way!

What this created in my faith life was an undercurrent of absolute trust. I simply walk through the next door that opened into a new season of my life.

What this also created was a complacency, a sense of comfort, and a lukewarm-ness to my life and my faith. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVED my life. I had a job that I genuinely enjoyed, a circle of supportive friends, and a community of faith who truly cared for me. I mean, who doesn’t like to be comfortable and happy? But I was coasting. I wasn’t growing in trust because I was too comfortable. I was taking my life — and my Lord — for granted.

In my prayer, I asked God for an opportunity to say “yes” to doing something for Him. I asked for an opportunity to move out of my comfort zone, to sacrifice for His glory and for the good of others. I didn’t expect such a clear or quick answer; it was only a few weeks later when I saw the posting for this position. (Take it from me — Be careful what you pray for. Seriously.) Fast forward a few months, and I am moving away from everything and everyone I know into an unknown future.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I think to truly know and understand a person, we need to listen to their story. We need to ask about how God is working in their life. We need to know what their hopes and dreams and challenges and struggles are. In this five-year journey of the Young Adult Initiative, we are truly on a journey together and I want you all to know me.

I’ll be posting regular blogs and reflections from my life, as well as personal testimonies and stories from our partner parishes. Each article title will indicate what type of post you’re reading, and I’ll include the name of the author so that you can become familiar with our companions on the journey.

I am equal parts humbled, excited, nervous, hopeful, and curious about what’s in store in the Saint Meinrad Young Adult Initiative. But most of all, I’m happy to share the road with all of you! Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you connect with something that I share, or if you simply want to share your own story.

Please keep us in prayer as we strive to live out our mission to accompany parishes as they minister with young adults.

NEWS: Saint Meinrad Hires New Young Adult Initiative Staff Members

Saint Meinrad has hired two new staff members for Phase 2 of the Young Adult Initiative.

Cassie Schutzer will serve as the project administrator, providing an overarching vision for the second phase of the project. Cassie has a background in young adult ministry and communications, and she spent the past seven years working for a parish in Chapel Hill, NC.

“I cannot wait to contribute to the good work of the Saint Meinrad Young Adult Initiative. I am constantly in awe of the vibrancy, authenticity, vulnerability, and holiness of the young Church. There is a deep desire to know Christ, a deep desire to belong. I am grateful for the opportunity to accompany parishes as they learn new ways to minister to their people.”

Johnny Sherfick will serve as the program manager for the Young Adult Initiative, responsible for administrative tasks and day-to-day operations at Saint Meinrad. Johnny has a background in teaching and has worked in various Catholic organizations over the years.

“I feel like I have always had a strong calling to not only be a part of, but also help create and facilitate the growth of a strong Catholic faith community. As a husband and father, I have a desire to help create a transformational community so that other young adults and families have a place to learn and grow in their faith.”

We are excited to welcome Cassie and Johnny to the Saint Meinrad staff! Please keep them in your prayers.