The following is final reflection paper by one of our Youth Ministry Interns, John Barrett. Through God’s grace and the collaborative efforts of Dr. Sheila McGinn, Chair of Theology and Religious Studies at John Carroll University, we were able to create an amazing hands-on, experiential learning experience for college student with the desire to work in parish youth ministry. John received 3 college credits and learned some valuable lessons that he will never forget. It was a blessing to have him join our team for the semester. Read below to find out more about what he learned and experienced. Enjoy!
It is exciting to look back on the last six months and recognize how much I have grown and developed in my role as an intern at St. Ambrose Parish. As I am sitting down to write this paper, I cannot help but to think about one of the first telephone conversations that Jurell and I had regarding the internship. The conversation took place toward the end of December. I remember pacing back and forth in the Murphy Room, listening to Jurell’s description of the potential work that I would be doing. I felt excited, intrigued, and happy. But most of all, I felt nervous. I did not know what to think about youth ministry and the demands of the internship. The only thing that I really knew was that Jurell and Dr. McGinn would never put me into a situation that would cause me to fail. Having trust in my mentors, I gave the internship a shot. It is May now and I am once again sitting in the Murphy room, writing this paper. Yet, there is something different about me. My nervousness has departed, I know more about youth ministry, and most importantly, I feel even more willing to express how excited and passionate I am about embracing my fellow brothers and sisters on journeys with Christ. The goal of this paper is to present how I have come to feel the way that I do today by reflecting on what I have found to be the three most important aspects of youth ministry: meeting the young adults where they are at, being a thorough (yet flexible) planner, and maintaining a healthy personal spiritual life.
Throughout the entirety of my experience as an intern, Jurell reminded me to “meet the teens where they are at.” I heard this phrase so often that it has almost become a type of mantra. The message has been ingrained on my mind and heart and I do not think that I will be forgetting it anytime soon. I have always understood the meaning behind the message. However, it took me awhile to understand how to fully apply it to my experience as a youth minister. As I said in our latest meeting, I find much consolation, excitement, and passion in both theology and the Catholic tradition. However, I found it challenging to have to remind myself that the teens may not be as excited or as interested in theology as I am. I do not want to make it seem that I learned that one has to “dumb down” his or her theology around teens. Rather, I learned that it is necessary to appropriate the faith in such a way that is presentable, understandable, and meaningful for the young adults whose presence alone at youth ministry events expresses their desire to have some type of experience with the divine. Furthermore, I learned that it is not always an easy task to meet the teens where they are at! There were some days where I just could not figure out what was going through the heads of some of the teens. For example, I found it hard to understand why some teens found it to be more interesting to interact on their IPhones than with their peers. I also found it hard to understand why some teens were so focused on personal image and “not being good enough” to have a relationship with God. Yet, as time proceeded throughout my internship, I found it easier to meet the teens where they are at in situations like these. I learned the importance of being present in meetings and events. How can I ever meet a teen where he or she is at if that teen and I do not have a relationship in the first place? I found it to be so important to develop relationships with the teens so that I could have the opportunity to meet them where they are at and then grow and develop towards Christ together.
I also learned a lot about the importance of planning in ministry. On our last retreat, Jurell told me that “your ministry is only as good as your planning.” At first, I thought that this statement was a little extreme. However, between bible study and the FIAT night that I was in charge of, I could not agree more. I learned that one has to put in much time and effort in planning a meaningful event for the teens. This planning is so much more than a “checklist.” I say this because while planning for events, a youth minister is literally creating space for an experience with God. In other words, a youth minister is a creator of the potential for divine space. I also discovered the importance of being flexible while carrying out a planned event. There is so much that can happen unexpectedly in ministry. There have been times when none of the teens seemed interested in our plans, times when they were more interested in one activity than another, times when nobody showed up, times when our attendance went beyond expectation, etc. The point is, I learned to have an open heart and mind and a flexible schedule in order to accommodate the vast range of potential surprises.
Lastly, I learned how important it is for a youth minister to maintain a healthy personal spiritual life. There were a few times when I forgot to put my heart into my job. For example, sometimes when I was planning bible study, I was treating the scripture like a homework reading. That is, I was racing through it in order to get a job done. Like I said before, ministry planning cannot be treated like a checklist. When this happened, my ideas were less meaningful. Therefore, I learned that in ministry, I must “practice what I preach.” If I forget to pray, forget that youth ministry is about creating space for the divine, or forget that I can be a role model with my faith, then I will be a lazy youth minister. I believe that youth ministers should be energized by their personal spiritual lives if they desire to make a positive impact on teenagers.
In conclusion, I could not have asked for a better internship experience this past semester. I learned many valuable lessons, like the importance of meeting the teens where they are at, the being a quality planner, and maintaining a healthy spiritual life. I will always cherish the meaningful relationships that I have developed with the teenagers of St. Ambrose and I hope to work with them again sometime in the near future!