By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published May 20, 2004
Exams are over. Homework is just a memory. Another school year’s completed and life’s distractions have been blissfully lessened.
But as summer provides a much-needed vacation, should teens be taking a break from their faith journeys?
The Office of Youth Ministry in the archdiocese adamantly responds to that question with an emphatic “no.” Instead, the office offers events and activities for teens that are geared toward both fun and faith.
From riding roller coasters, to learning to be better leaders, from making friends to exploring their relationship with God in a new way, there is something to appeal to each and every Catholic teen.
Meg Schroeder, who will be a sophomore at Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell and attends St. Peter Chanel Church, said that she thinks that summer is the best time for her to grow in faith.
“Throughout the school year we tend to fall into routines. Monday through Friday—go to school; Saturday—do stuff with friends; Sunday—go to Mass, then do homework. Mass begins to feel routine, and we do not get a lot out of it if we consider it just another item on the to-do list,” she said. “The summer is much less structured than the rest of the year. Sunday and Mass may seem more of a reunion. We may see people whom we have not spoken with since school got out. We are also returning back to God to tell Him that no matter what, we are going to be here to praise Him. On the other hand, one may have no schedule whatsoever for the summer beyond waking up, going to the pool, coming home and going to sleep. Mass can be a constant, like God. Something that always has been and always will be there.”
Meaghan Curry, who will be a junior next year and attends St. Stephen’s Church in Lilburn, also believes summer is a time for building her relationship with God.
“I think that we should always be striving to grow in our faith, and the summer is no exception. Actually, summer is a great way to grow in your faith because all of the stress during the school year is gone so you can concentrate on more important things, and there are so many great ways to grow in your faith,” she said.
Barb Garvin, director of youth ministry for the archdiocese, said that the summer is a time for teens to build community.
“The flow of the summer isn’t as catechetical as it is community-building,” she said. “It’s a time that our kids are off school and are taking a break and it’s a time for them to have a good time, but still to be enriched by their faith.”
But it’s not a time for youth ministers to take a break, she said.
“The summer is a critical time for youth ministers, because it’s a time for the kids to really get to know each other and their youth ministers,” she said. “It’s a time for real relational ministry to happen.”
And, she added, the summer offers a cornucopia of events for teens at all different stages of their faith journeys.
“”We have teens on very different levels, and the summer is designed with those different levels in mind,” she said. “If a kid is just starting out in his faith journey, he can go to Catholic Youth Day at Six Flags. If a teen wants to really grow in his faith, he can go to Sonfest. There is something for everyone.”
The following is a description of the major events offered by the archdiocese this summer.
Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
The annual beach retreat will draw over 500 teens together from various parishes. The four-day retreat includes witness talks, opportunities to experience the sacraments, small group faith-sharing, eucharistic adoration and community-building experiences, such as Ultimate Frisbee games and sandcastle contests.
Though she can’t attend this year, Meaghan Curry said that she has had powerful faith experiences at Sonfest in the past.
“For those people who are going to Sonfest, be prepared to have an amazing time,” she said. “I went last year and it was so amazing.”
“Sonfest is always powerful,” Garvin said.
EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS 2004
Saturday, June 12
GA International Convention Center, College Park
This year the teen track of the annual Eucharistic Congress includes speakers Jason Evert, Jeff Cavins and APeX Ministries.
Evert, 26 is a lay apologist who works for Catholic Answers, a nonprofit Catholic apologetics and evangelization ministry in San Diego, Calif. He has a master’s degree in theology and counseling and speaks internationally to teens on the subjects of chastity and Catholic apologetics.
Cavins is also a Catholic apologist and author of “My Life on the Rock,” and co-author with Scott Hahn, Ph.D., of “Our Father’s Plan,” a 13-week series on the historical periods of the Bible shown on the Eternal Word Television Network.
Teens in Atlanta should be familiar with Gene and Brad, the two multitalented young men who make up APeX Ministries, as they have performed at Steubenville Atlanta and last year’s Eucharistic Congress. The guys use a unique presentation style they call Christian vaudeville, which includes death-defying juggling, humor, sketch comedy, storytelling, audience participation and personal testimony.
Garvin said that the Eucharistic Congress provides an opportunity for teens unlike any other.
“The Eucharistic Congress is a chance for kids to really be a part of the bigger church of Atlanta,” she said. “It is one of the big events in this diocese that is really a family catechesis event. The parents come and go to the general track and drop their teens off at the teen track, so it’s a chance for the whole family to come together.”
Paul George, Southeastern Hub coordinator for LIFE TEEN will serve as the emcee, and music will be provided by Ed Bolduc and Band.
Life University, Marietta
The annual Steubenville Atlanta Conference moves to the campus of Life University this year, but promises to provide the same spiritual experience as previous years, minus the scorching heat. The weekend includes music, witness talks, reconciliation, Mass and Eucharistic adoration. Over 1,000 high-school-age teens from throughout the Southeast attend the event each year.
Stephen Lenahan, a rising senior at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fairburn, will serve as a Young Apostle at the retreat this year. The Young Apostles are a group of teens who help to lead the retreat.
“I have gone on the retreat before, but I’m especially excited this year because I have never been a Young Apostle before,” he said. “The Steubenville youth conference is definitely something I recommend to people who want to go deeper in their faith in a charismatic way.”
Other events during the summer include: Catholic Youth Day at Six Flags on June 19 where a discounted fee of $30.25 per person for Catholic groups includes an all-you-can-eat meal, admission and a return day ticket; and Christian Leadership Institute, a week-long experience for teens. Only teens recommended by their youth minister or pastor are eligible for CLI, which encourages teens to become better parish leaders.
Many teens are also doing activities with their individual parishes, such as mission trips, Catholic Heart Work Camp and volunteering at Vacation Bible School.
Gloria Tempka, a parishioner at St. Brigid Church, Alpharetta, who is a 2004 high school graduate, is looking forward to her summer, especially her parish’s mission trip.
“I am looking forward to going on a mission trip with my church to Nicaragua,” she said. “I have been on two other mission trips in my life—to Jamaica and to Montana. Both have been truly life-changing experiences that I hope to experience again.”
Christine Gryczan, a parishioner at St. Andrew’s Church in Roswell, will attend Catholic Heart Work Camp in Orlando for the second year in a row with her parish.
“Last year we went to Mobile, Alabama, and this year we are going to Orlando, Florida,” she said. “CHWC is an amazing experience for all people. The week is long and grueling, but in the end after you see the end results, the feeling is unbelievable.”
Teens who want to meet their Catholic peers or to grow in their faith this summer have many opportunities. And those who participate in summer events say that it’s important to remain faithful, despite the lazy days of June and July.
Gloria, who will head off to the University of Georgia in the fall, hopes that summer will give her a jumpstart on the faith she needs to sustain her through college.
“I think it’s better to try to grow harder in your faith over the summer because it will only help you when your life starts back up again in the fall,” she said.
For information about any of the events mentioned, talk to your youth minister or call the Office of Youth Ministry at (404) 885-7491. Information can also be found at www.atlyouth.org.