Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If I were in charge of a church youth group.....

I have some ideas for setting up a youth group for a Catholic parish, based not only on my own memories as a former youth group member in a Protestant church -- very fond indeed -- and my experiences with working with teenagers, which have been quite positive, for the most part, with enough negative in there to make me aware that teenagers require a lot of looking after, particularly the ones who appear to be a sweet as cordial cherries.

Here's what I'd do:

1) I'd begin by having them pray the rosary -- THE WHOLE TWENTY MINUTE ROSARY, CAN YOU IMAGINE SPENDING TWENTY MINUTES IN THE CONTEMPLATION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, OMG?!?! -- before the Blessed Sacrament in the church, but here's the thing: I wouldn't just plunk everybody down and hand them some beads and just say, "Okay. Let's get to it."


I would teach them how to pray the rosary. As in, what is the deal with these "Mysteries"? Does that sound weird, or is it just me? And is any of this stuff in the Bible? And what about the vain repetition that my friend from the Church of Christ warned me about?

And then I'd teach them how to PRAY the rosary, not just SAY the rosary. I'd teach them that, with any sort of prayer, whether it is the rote form or extemporaneous, it is possible for one's mouth to be rambling on and on while one's mind is engaged on having a little snack later, or how long the lines will be on the opening night of New Moon. How to you recall your thoughts to the contemplation of the life of Jesus, which is what the rosary is all about? How do you pray so that it really registers as something other than a faint buzzing in the ear of God?

Adults -- chaperones -- need to be present in the church with the kids, about one adult for every four students, in my opinion. Not drinking coffee out in the narthex. Not running copies back in the office. Not arranging chairs in the youth room. If adults don't make it a priority to come into the church and pray with the group, how will the students ever be convinced that prayer is important and necessary to their lives as Christians?

2) After twenty minutes of prayer, the kids will be ready for something livelier, so I'd gather them all in the youth room and answer some kind of Faith Question of the Week. Ideally, these questions would be ones that kids had written down on a piece of paper and put in some kind of box, with one question drawn out and read to the group the previous week, to be answered the next week. Teenagers have lots of questions about their religious faith and they are ready and willing to believe anyone who can explain things clearly and with fervor. If the Catholic faith, in all of its depth, breadth and beauty means something to the adults, it will mean something to the students.

High school students need to know that it is okay to ask questions about their faith. That's part of their growth in their personal relationship with Jesus. They also need to be taught what sources they can go to find reliable answers. What is not okay -- what is NEVER, EVER okay -- is wallowing in ignorance about one's faith, which either results in becoming a crappy, tepid Catholic or, worse yet, a person who leaves the sacraments behind and goes to some other church "because they have a worship band and there's just so much energy there."

3) After this, a weekly contest would be a nice thing to have. The winner or winners of the previous week's contest would get their prizes (generally some sacramental items like rosaries, rosary books, bottles of holy water, etc., along with some candy to sweeten the deal) and the new contest would be announced.

Contests would consist of things like:

1. Praying a rosary personally during the previous week

2. Reading a book about a saint's life (the Vision series, intended for middle school students, is really nice for this. The books are short but really excellent)

3. Making a holy hour at the church

4. Going to Adoration

5. Praying a family rosary

6. Twenty minutes of Bible reading, beginning with the gospels

7. Going to Confession once a month for six months (long term contest)

4) Next, it would be a good thing to address some kind of pro-life issue, watch an informative DVD, listen to a speaker, etc. There are tons of resources available from Indianapolis Right to Life.

5) Next would be a short talk on some aspect of the faith -- a saint's life, the liturgical season, someone's conversion story...there's just so much to talk about. Catholicism is so deep. It is practical and mystical, earthy and sublime, spiritual and historical. There is no lack of topics to choose from. The problem is actually narrowing it down to one topic per meeting.

6) Last on the list would be social time with an array of snacks, about half an hour or so. The snacks need to be delicious and the adults need to be PRESENT RIGHT THERE AMONG THE KIDS. Again, chaperones are of no use whatsoever if they're somewhere else in the church. Kids will be kids and there are things that can happen, such as ugly things that can be said, unless there are adults standing by. Plus, the students have to see that the adults are invested in what's going on. If the grown-ups can't be bothered, I can guarantee that the students won't be bothered either.

7) Before leaving the church, everyone needs to go back in for another brief prayer.


After youth group, which in my opinion should last two hours (hard to do all the things that are important to do in less time than that, while more time just leads to restiveness and restiveness ALWAYS leads to trouble), there are other things that can be planned for. Like service projects. Plans made to travel to the March for Life in January of each year. Retreats in the area -- and please, no overnight boy/girl retreats. Can we be serious about this? I am horrified by the proliferation of overnight retreats these days. Why do we need overnight retreats if they're taking place in this area, no more than half an hour from anybody's home?

Overnight retreats are no new thing. I used to go on overnight retreats with my Protestant church's youth group. And adults -- idiots, every single one of them -- used to innocently think that since we kiddos were all GOOD LITTLE CHRISTIANS, you know, kids who had been taught that sex outside of marriage was wrong and bad and would make Jesus cry, so there was no need to worry about any shenanigans going on, with boys and girls sneaking off together when they were supposed to be at lunch or listening to a two-hour sermon and then later creeping out of their rooms after the chaperones went to sleep. No need to worry about that kind of thing at all!

Stupid. So ridiculously, obliviously, look-at-my-head-down-here-in-the-sand stupid.

Adults? Overnight retreats are practically an invitation for many kids to see just how much they can get away with. And if you are really strict and manage to keep them from making out in a stairwell or even brazenly on a sofa in the dark lounge, they'll stop up the sinks with paper towels and flood the bathrooms. Or quietly tear pages out of hymnals. Or find some other sort of mischief to release their sexual tension at knowing that there are girls. Girls! Girls in pajamas! Girls who are naked under their pajamas! Girls who might be up for a trip to first base, maybe even second! RIGHT THERE DOWN THAT HALLWAY!!!!

And the girls can be just as bad, my friends. Only the girls paint their boyfriends' names on the furniture with nail polish.

Oooh, that vent felt good!!!!


I also have opinions about teenagers doing craft projects, which is, like, never. As in EVER. Teenagers have had an entire childhood in which to color with markers and paint with paints and t-shirt and banner painting is, in my opinion, an insult to their intelligence and a not-so-subtle statement of the adults' low expectations of what teenagers are capable of. Banner and t-shirt painting is ridiculous, a time-wasting kind of busywork that takes the place of an activity with substance and real meaning. If craft time is needed, the kids need to be taught how to make rosaries. Rosaries are always needed -- for the elderly in assisted living centers, for hospital chaplains, for our troops overseas, for the millions of people who are given aid by Catholic charities around the world.

The supplies for rosaries made with plastic beads are cheap, rosaries are easy to make, and it is a "craft" project that actually means something.

No frikking t-shirts. No banners. Kids have enough ratty t-shirts (do you really think, adults, that they kids are actually going to wear those shirts? They're not only a waste of time, they're a waste of money.) If a classroom needs to be decorated, the adults in charge need to do it. This isn't the third grade, where everyone wants to make a handprint in a primary color and scrawl their name under it with a magic marker. Give me a break.


Okay. Those are my many thoughts. I've been typing so long, I have totally overshot my time for a shower by half an hour. I've had no breakfast, haven't done my chores and this is the last day of Shakespeare class. Eeek!!!

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