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The Young Church of NOW.

August 13th, 2013by Joe Ollier

When I tell people that I’m a youth minister, many well-meaning and wonderful people will say something like, “Oh that’s such important work. After all, the young people are our future.” Since those conversations usually are in passing, and by and large the folks who say things like this have the best intentions, I mostly respond with a smile and nod then say something affirming. But if I have a little more time, I like to politely disagree. You see, I don’t believe that young people are the “future of the Church” – and here’s why.

Every summer I get to spend time on a mission trip with teenagers. I’ve had the privilege of working alongside young people who have built houses, repaired roofs, installed siding, painted, cleaned homes and schools, served meals, organized food pantries and thrift stores, dug ditches, visited nursing homes, and taught vacation bible school. I’ve been able to share meal time, free time, and prayer time with them. Hundreds of young people all over the Archdiocese spend their summers the same way. They are not the future of the Church.

For 20 years I’ve led youth retreats for a number of parishes and the Archdiocese. I’ve been there with 25,000 young people at NCYC, and 75 at CREDO. And during these experiences I’ve helped young people lead small group discussions, prayer services, and team building exercises. I’ve heard them give powerful witnesses of conversion, faith, and reconciliation. I’ve joined teenagers in song, dance, Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. I’ve stood in line with them for Reconciliation. I’ve heard them proclaim the Word of God at Mass and I’ve received Communion from them. They are not the future of Church.

In my day to day work, especially during the school year, I’m challenged by young people who ask tough questions, search earnestly for Truth, and won’t accept being brushed off. They know when adults honestly care about them and when we are just putting on an act. They are not satisfied with a Church that is bland and lifeless. They are not the future of Church.

At parishes all over this diocese young people serve the parish as Eucharistic ministers, lectors, ushers, servers, greeters, and choir members. And if you were you at a church festival this summer, you know that young people helped set up, tear down, clean up, and work in booths all weekend long. They are not the future of the Church.

Crowd at Copacobana Beach for World Youth DayIf you saw any of the video or read any of the reports from Brazil over the past weeks, you know that the enthusiasm and fervor with which the young Church greeted Pope Francis for World Youth Day is something we all could imitate.

Young people, you are not the Church of the future. You are the Church TODAY. We need you HERE and we need you NOW. Your gifts, talents, questions, and answers are necessary NOW. Sure, you might be the Parish Council members and financial supporters of the future, but you are the lifeblood of the Church today and we adults are blessed to worship, pray, and serve alongside you. Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Photo credit: Crowds depart Copacabana Beach after Mass with Pope Francis. P. Jarzembowski photo. Used with permission.

Joe Ollier

Joe Ollier is the Coordinator of Youth Ministry at Ascension Parish in Kettering where he and his family are. He has 20 years experience in youth ministry and a Masters Degree in Theological Studies from the University of Dayton.