Successful ministry to young adults involves spiritual, social and service activities, whether on one side of the country or the other. That’s what those involved in young adult ministry have found in both the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, both of which have become known for effective ministry to young men and women from post-high school late teens through the twenties and thirties.
Taryn Kutish, 26, is involved in youth ministry at her parish, St. John the Baptist on 13th Street in Philadelphia. There is a special young adult Mass twice a month, but there is also a Bible study and rosary group for young adults. Meeting on a week night, participants recite the rosary, then focus on the Scripture readings for the following Sunday. Another group meets monthly to study Catholic classics, such as St. Francis De Sales’ “Introduction to the Devout Life” and G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy.”
But Kutish says the St. John the Baptist young adults also serve dinner once a month at St. John’s Hospice, a shelter for homeless men, and at St. Francis Inn, which serves the poor in another part of Philadelphia. They sort food at the Greater Philadelphia Food Bank, and cook dinner for the families of sick children staying at the local Ronald McDonald House.
Kutish says Catholic young adults face challenges in today’s society that make it important to be able to connect with other Catholics their age. “Having peers who share my beliefs and values has been enormously helpful to me,” she said, adding that her involvement has made her “a much better catechized Christian.”
When John Brust, 33, moved to San Francisco several years ago, he found St. Vincent de Paul Parish just by looking in the telephone book for a nearby parish. But when Brust attended his first Mass there, he noticed a bulletin item affirming its welcome to young adults. And another young adult at the Mass asked him if he would like to attend the young adult group’s next meeting. “She said it was a really neat group, and they put on good events,” he said.
Now Brust is involved in planning those events – such as bicycling through the wine country or whitewater rafting on the Yuba River. “We sell out every event we’ve done,” he says.
There is a special Mass for young adults on the third Wednesday of each month, and an annual young adult retreat. Brust says most young adults attend the 5:15 p.m. Sunday Mass at St. Vincent de Paul, even though it isn’t targeted specifically to them. Then, they linger afterwards to socialize, and many go to a restaurant to have dinner together.
Young adults from the parish visit and help the residents of a home for the elderly every week and help out at a soup kitchen. At Thanksgiving, they deliver meals to about 130 families, and their Operation Easter Bunny provides residents of homeless shelters with baskets filled with useful items.
In Philadelphia, the archdiocese not only sponsors events designed to attract young adults, but also trains people involved in young adult ministry in parishes, said Tricia Mannion, archdiocesan director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. The archdiocese offers an annual young adult conference, two retreats, and during the summer, a six-week Theology on Tap series that averages 150 participants. And, thanks to its leadership training programs, more than 30 parishes offer young adult ministry.
Mannion estimates about 1,200 young adults are actively involved in programs throughout the Philadelphia Archdiocese. About 2,000 receive its quarterly young adults newsletter.
A new event called the Hour of Power brings young adults together for a weeknight program that rotates to a different parish each month. Beginning with Eucharistic adoration, and followed by a program designed to deepen their knowledge of the faith, it concludes with time for fellowship.
Mary Jensen, director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, says they also offer both archdiocese-wide events and individual parish programs for young adults. The popular Theology on Tap approach to presenting religious themes in a non-church informal setting is offered, and topics can range from the place of faith in the workplace to issues such as stem cell research.
The San Francisco Archdiocese offers training for parish young adult leaders, because the goal of its efforts is “ideally, to connect young adults to a parish community,” says Jensen.
Although young adult ministry programs strive to keep young adults involved with church after high school, there is the realization that a great many will drift away for a time. “During their late 20s-early 30s, that’s when they start coming back to church, and we need to be out there actively inviting them,” Jensen says.
Forming social relationships or possibly meeting one’s future spouse can be a nice by-product of young adult ministry, but the primary purpose must be “to bring yourself closer to Jesus,” Jensen says. “If we lose sight of that mission, then none of the other things work.”