In the fall of 1993, following Pope John Paul II's trip to Denver for World Youth Day, the Catholic Bishops of the United States decided to write a plan for young adult ministry. As a distinct ministry in the church, young adult ministry had existed for no more than 20 years, and this was the first time the bishops had specifically addressed this area. The development of the pastoral plan took three years and was overseen by the Bishops' Committee on the Laity. During the development process the Committee held listening sessions with young adults and young adult ministers, consulted with groups involved in this ministry, and conducted a survey of diocesan offices. The final product incorporates the best and most up-to-date thinking about young adult ministry. Sons and Daughters of the Light was approved unanimously by the bishops in November, 1996.
Preface: A Message to Young Adults
While most of the plan is addressed to those who work with young adults (who may include young adults), the bishops' message is addressed to all young adults. The bishops begin by apologizing for the times when the church has failed to extend hospitality to young adults and they promise greater efforts to welcome young adults into church life. The message anticipates the theme of the plan: connecting with young adults. It also sets up a dialogue, stressing that the church has something to offer to young adults, while young adults have much to give to the church. The introduction of the "voices" of young adults further emphasizes the importance of dialogue.
The plan asks: Why speak now? It recognizes that coming to maturity today poses certain challenges, e.g., changes in family life, technological advances, changing social values. Young adults need the Church's help to be "light" for the world. The Introduction points out that young adults are looking for something spiritual in their lives, but do not necessarily connect this searching with the institutional church.
What the plan hopes to accomplish:
- To emphasize that all Church members must actively invite and welcome young adults into the life of the Church (the theme of CONNECTION);
- To describe the life situation of young adults, so that the Church can more effectively meet their needs;
- To develop a plan of action for ministering with young adults based on the four goals of connecting young adults with Jesus Christ, the Church, the mission of the Church in the world, and a peer community.
The audience for the plan is anyone who is in a position to carry out the strategies suggested in the plan, that is, pastors and pastoral staff; diocesan offices; leaders in parishes, movements, and organizations whose ministry connects them to young adults--as well as young adult and campus ministers.
Who are young adults? The plan identifies them as people in their late teens, twenties, and thirties who are single, married, divorced, or widowed, with and without children. The plan emphasizes the diversity of young adults as well as characteristics that distinguish this cohort from previous generations.
The plan also identifies four tasks of young adulthood: developing a personal identity, developing relationships, developing a meaning of work (paid and volunteer), and developing a spiritual life. These tasks are not new to this generation, but today's young adults undertake them over an extended period of time (e.g., marriage and childbearing are delayed, people take longer to launch a career) and often without the traditional support of family and society.
Finally, an awareness of this country's diverse cultures runs through this section, along with an acknowledgment of the particular challenges that recent immigrants face.
This part offers a vision of a life based on Christian faith. It draws on Christifideles Laici (The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful), Called and Gifted, and Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium. The latter two discuss four "calls" of the Christian: to holiness, community, service, and maturity. Holiness is to be in union with Christ; community is where faith is nourished; and service means witnessing to the power of the Gospel in the world. In living out these calls the young adult grows to Christian maturity.
The foundation of one's spirituality is Jesus Christ; we are called to commit ourselves to him. This connection to Jesus Christ is the first goal of the plan.
This part sets out a plan for ministry with young adults that is based on the understanding of young adults articulated in Part I and rooted in the vision of faith set out in Part II. It is directed primarily to parishes but can be adapted for ministry on campuses or military bases, or within Catholic associations.
The plan identifies 12 principles for ministry with young adults to serve as a guide when planning new initiatives or evaluating existing ministries.
The plan then sets out four goals for young adult ministry. Each goal has three objectives and is followed by specific, practical strategies.
WITH YOUNG ADULTS
Goal One: To connect young adults with Jesus Christ
Objectives: Spiritual formation and direction based on personal relationship with Jesus; religious education and formation to help young adults appreciate the Church's teachings and traditions; vocation discernment
Goal Two: To connect young adults with the Church
Objectives: Evangelizing outreach where young adults gather; forming the faith community by inviting young adults to participate in Church life; pastoral care that responds to the spiritual and developmental needs of young adults
Goal Three: To connect young adults with the mission of the Church in the world
Objectives: Conscience formation based on the Gospel and on Church teaching; providing educational and service opportunities to practice gospel values; developing leaders for society and church life
Goal Four: To connect young adults with a peer community
Objectives: To form faith communities of peers; to develop peer leadership; to identify young adult teams in parishes and organizations and on campus
The suggested strategies can relate to more than one goal and are designed to spark creative thinking about what might work in one's own setting. The strategies are based on several considerations:
- Young adult ministry is aimed at integrating young adults into the life of the parish. Young adults also need opportunities to be with their peers.
- Ministry with young adults may be done in large groups (monthly young adult Masses), small groups (Bible study, support groups), and with individuals (providing spiritual books and audiotapes).
- Young adult ministry can build on existing programs that already serve young adults (marriage and baptismal preparation, RCIA)
- Young adults are not just the recipients of ministry; they can also minister to others, especially their peers.
- Young adult ministry needs to connect with young adults where they are--in their neighborhoods, in the workplace, at Sunday Mass.
While Part III was directed primarily towards parishes, Part IV considers young adult ministry on campuses, in dioceses, and in organizations. It emphasizes the distinctiveness of campus ministry from young adult ministry and suggests strategies for making the transition from campus to parish life. It shows how dioceses can use their resources to help parish and campus leaders and urges collaboration among diocesan offices, since so many of them touch the lives of young adults. Structural issues are considered, with emphasis on the distinctiveness of young adult ministry from ministry with adolescents.
This section helps dioceses, parishes, and campuses to begin implementing the pastoral plan. It outlines ten steps to begin an outreach to young adults:
- Form a Core Team (step 1). This team will guide the implementation of the pastoral plan. Team members can include the pastor, parish staff members, young adults, members of the pastoral council and parish committees, and others who shown interest in an outreach to young adults.
- Assessment (steps 2 and 3). What is the present situation of young adults in the local church community? What programs already exist? Do young adults participate in existing programs? If not, why? What resources are available? What opportunities/obstacles are present?
- Educate (step 4). Suggested activities: form a core team, gather parish leadership together to study this plan of action, get input from young adults themselves, provide leadership training and small group skills.
- Act (steps 5 through 8). Determine how current programs can be improved to meet the needs of young adults. Invite and welcome young adults to church activities, making a special effort to reach those who are not currently involved. Build on current opportunities and offer new activities and programs. Identify peer activities.
- Review and Refine (steps 9 and 10). Establish an implementation plan with realistic objectives. Evaluate programs. Keep the vision of young adults ministry in the forefront.