By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published August 16, 2007
Gregg Morgan isn’t just on fire—he’s melting. And he has a pretty daunting task ahead of him.
“I feel like I’m standing in the Sistine Chapel and I’m that painter guy—what’s his name? Oh right! Michelangelo!” he said with an enthusiastic laugh.
Gregg and some 75 other Catholic teenagers have just completed a week of intense training at the Christian Leadership Institute, held this year at Southern Catholic College July 9-13.
Gregg, a parishioner of Christ Redeemer Church in Dawsonville, was the only teen selected to attend the institute by his pastor, Msgr. Stephen Churchwell.
The upcoming senior recently moved to the small parish from Florida and has three teenage siblings.
“We pretty much are the youth group,” he said.
Teens at CLI spent the week learning leadership skills, said Barb Garvin, archdiocesan director of youth ministry.
Most of the teens that attended were selected by their pastor or youth minister and spent the week learning various leadership styles and communication skills.
“This is not a retreat. It’s an institute, and it’s a really intensive week for these kids,” Garvin said. “They spend time learning things like group dynamics, community building and Christian leadership skills.”
Garvin said the teens who were chosen for CLI were teens who were “already on fire for their faith.”
“A lot of these young people have a strong desire to serve God and want to share him with others,” she said. “They’re outgoing, and they have a desire to really share who they are.”
Group dynamics during the week, she said, were interesting, as the small groups were made up of eight or nine teenagers who were “used to being leaders.”
“For some of them it was quite challenging, but that gave them another opportunity to learn,” Garvin said.
At the closing Mass and commissioning ceremony held July 13, Msgr. Joe Corbett, vicar general, celebrated Mass in the SCC chapel.
Participating in the Eucharist, he reminded the teens, was the most important thing they had done that day. He told them to go home and do an Internet search for “eucharistic miracles,” for they would remind them that “little old you and little old me could do anything in (Christ’s) name.”
Christian leadership, Msgr. Corbett said, is about serving others.
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,” he said, adding that Christian leaders still needed to pursue high standards of excellence.
“Remember to ask yourself, ‘what is my motive for seeking excellence?’ Your proper motive should be gratitude to God—gratitude to God for our gifts, which can be shown by putting our gifts to good use.”
“Jesus’ model of leadership was that of humble servant leadership, and it was the most effective leadership we could ever hope to live,” he said.
Following the Mass, the teens came forward in small groups, while the adult leaders and Msgr. Corbett laid hands on them, commissioning them as leaders.
For many of the teens, such as Gregg Morgan, being a leader is an exciting opportunity.
“Our youth group is just starting. I’m excited. I can’t wait. I really think I can do this. I really want to try to get other kids involved,” he said.
Through CLI, he said, he learned that being true to oneself is the best way to be effective as a leader.
“People really like you best when you aren’t fake, if you don’t hide behind a wall. If you don’t open up, other people won’t open up,” he said.
Many teens from his area have been attending a church about 30 minutes away, he said. But Gregg hopes to change that.
“I want my church to get a little bigger. I want to draw them in and help my youth group become more active,” he said. “I can’t wait to dig my hands in.”
Josh Buce, 16, a parishioner at St. James Church in McDonough, was one of four teens from his parish to attend CLI this year.
“It makes me feel so honored to be recognized,” he said. “I feel really humbled by it. It’s a hard job to be a leader, but I know I can do it. I’ve stepped up to the plate before, and I think I can do it again.”
The hardest part, he said, is trusting his instincts.
“Sometimes knowing the world is crashing around you, just getting over that hurdle, that’s the hardest part, just taking that first step,” he said.
Michelle Samaritan, 16, a teen from St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn, said it meant “so much” to her to be selected for CLI.
“I learned this week that I’m more reliant on people than I thought,” she said. “But what’s so great about this is that you meet these people and you know that from now on they’re only a phone call or a prayer away. That’s so comforting.”
Garvin said the goal of CLI, which has been taking place annually for more than 25 years in the archdiocese, is to make the local church a more vibrant community through its teenagers.
“Our hope is that these teens will take what they learn and will go back to their parishes and make a concrete difference,” she said.