Workshops held to renew youth ministry efforts in the archdiocese

The parable of the lost sheep is one of the most challenging calls to evangelization in the Gospels. It emphasizes that those who stray from God’s path are still called to be saved, and the Good Shepherd is he who would risk even 99 sheep in order to save one that was lost.

It is important that we ask ourselves, as Christians of all ages must, how we can apply such a parable to our own time. Speaking to over 50 persons gathered from across the archdiocese, Fr. Santo Arrigo, CSsR asked this very question at a recent workshop on youth ministry.

But Fr. Santo noted that, in youth ministry today, it may seem that Christ’s parable of the lost sheep has been reversed. Now it is the 99 that are outside of the fold, and only the one sheep still remains with the shepherd. Therefore, the main tasks for those engaged in youth ministry today are about reaching out to the 99.

“The experience today is that the 99 are not with us anymore, they are ‘out there’,” Fr. Santo said during his Oct. 14th presentation, held over Zoom with attendees from all five deaneries of the archdiocese. “There may be a tendency in our ministry to only ensure we don’t lose the one sheep. This can be problematic. We have to ask how are we called to take care of the 99 who are not with us, and foster a sense of community and a sense of faith among them.

“The church is a building, but the Church is also the people of God. So when the people of God are no longer in the building, we have to ask: how we are called to go out?”

Attendees to the Grande Prairie workshop: Kristen Henry, Beatriz Fernandez and Janelle Durda.

Fr. Santo’s presentation was the first in a series of workshops prepared by the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis (OEC) to foster and renew youth ministry efforts at the parish level. After the Oct. 14th online workshop, two in-person workshops were held: one in Grande Prairie on Oct. 21st and another in Peace River on Oct. 28th. The in-person workshops featured talks from R.J. Mallannao, April Fogle and Fr. Ed Eherer.

For each of these speakers, the heart of youth ministry was described as the need to encourage young people to live as missionary disciples and to participate in the life, mission and work of the Church.

“Our hope is to inspire and arouse more people to take part in the beautiful ministry of support and fellowship with the young across the Archdiocese,” the OEC noted in their prepared invitation.

Fr. Santo began his presentation with a painting of youth on a boat that has just landed ashore. On one side of the painting is the hand of Christ reaching out to them, on the other side – a dark and ghostly hand reaches for them. The image reflected the reality that if youth are not pulled towards Christ, there are other influences in this world that will reach out to them instead – and those forces are not always positive.

April Fogle reflected on this same message during her presentations. April brought to the workshops her 11+ years of youth ministry experience: two years with NET Ministries and nine years as the youth minister of St. Joseph Church in Grande Prairie.

“If we don’t tell youth that they belong here, they will go elsewhere; they will go where they do belong,” said Fogle. “So we need to make the church a place of community, a place that is safe, that has a sense of family. Young people are trying to discover their identity, the space where they fit in, where they are accepted. They want to find their clan, their tribe, and we can provide that for them.”

Attendees at the Peace River workshop take part in an exercise to bring together photos representing key principles of youth ministry.

Key to creating this atmosphere of acceptance is to first and foremost help young people foster a relationship with Christ, April emphasized, and that this relationship should come before catechesis and dogmas.

April notes that the best tools we have in helping young people achieve this is by utilizing the talents and gifts that come most naturally to us. She discovered this first-hand through the use of her own musical talents in much of her ministry and outreach.

“The best methods are always to use what comes natural to us – use our gifts to our advantage and do what is our strength,” she said.

Janelle Durda, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Church in Sexsmith who attended the Grande Prairie workshop, was particularly inspired by this message.

“What really stood out for me is when April said that we’re all youth ministers, and that we don’t have to be held back by thinking we have to do it all on our own,” said Durda. “I can utilize my specific gifts to help out where I can and rely on others to use their gifts.

Fr. Ed Eherer delivered the closing reflection at each workshop.

“My parish priest had asked me to come, so I’m here for him initially. But after coming here today, I feel the Holy Spirit is calling me to reach out to youth.”

From here, Janelle hopes to brainstorm with other parishioners in Sexsmith, especially those who have young children, and to connect with St. Mary’s Catholic School to see what best initial steps can be taken to incorporate youth ministry at her parish.

Tim Heemskerk participated as a Grande Prairie parishioner and representative of the Knights of Columbus, and he too was inspired by the message that the parish as a whole is called to youth ministry, with each person utilizing the talents that come most naturally to them.

“The Church is one body and we have to build each other up,” he said. “The thing I took away is that we are called to use the gifts we have. Don’t be afraid to use those gifts, because if you are doing God’s work – God will work with you.”

Peace River parishioner Jenny Oslie attended the workshop at her home parish on Oct. 28th, and too found April’s presentation particularly insightful, especially her emphasis on the importance of relationships and helping youth come to know Christ first and foremost.

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the November 2023 edition of Northern Light

The OEC plans to continue this initiative through further consultations with individual parishes hoping to grow their youth ministry outreach.