Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
Someone hands high school freshman Juanita Ramirez, right center, a pumpkin, which she handed off to Mary Ruth Jones, left center, the youth coordinator for the youth groups at St. Paul the Apostle Church, Cleveland, and St. Mark Church, Clarkesville, known as Youth Ministry in the Mountains. The youth participated in a Sept. 28 service project at St. Paul. They helped unload a truck of pumpkins for the parish pumpkin patch.


Two rural parishes combine resources to serve teens

By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published October 17, 2019

CLARKESVILLE—On an overcast fall day, more than 50 people stood along Washington Street in downtown Clarkesville holding up anti-abortion signs as part of an annual Life Chain event.

For one hour, participants from St. Paul the Apostle Church in Cleveland, St. Mark Church in Clarkesville and Camp Creek Baptist Church, Cornelia, silently prayed for those affected by abortions. This partnership between the three churches has continued for many years.

From left to right, Blaze McCue, Anthony Aguilar and Angel Aguilar stand in prayerful silence during a Life Chain event on Oct. 6 in downtown Clarkesville. This annual event includes teens from Youth in the Mountains ministry, representing St. Paul the Apostle and St. Mark, as well as members of Camp Creek Baptist Church. Photo By Samantha Smith

This was the second October event for teens involved in Youth Ministry in the Mountains, founded to support youth at St. Mark and St. Paul the Apostle Churches. Earlier this month, teens participated in the Fall Festival at St. Paul the Apostle, working a candy booth as a fundraiser. Bowling and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament will close out the October schedule of events.

We want the youth to be Catholics in the world, said Mary Ruth Jones, parishioner at St. Paul the Apostle and coordinator for Youth Ministry in the Mountains.

“Youth are the future of the church,” she said.

“My favorite things about Youth Ministry in the Mountains are being with other Catholic teens and going on retreats,” said Teddy Strange, 15, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Church. “This past summer we went to Catholic Heart Work Camp, and it was a good time for the guys in our group to bond.  I think I am growing in my faith and I always like learning more about it now,” he said.

Responding to a need

In summer 2017, parents from both parishes met to collaborate on how to support their teens. Two of those parents were Jones and Pam Hamilton, parishioners at St. Mark. Both have backgrounds in religious education.

“There were no activities for youth at the time in either parish and we wanted the opportunities afforded other youth in the archdiocese for Catholic spiritual development as well as occasions for socializing with their peers and for serving others,” said Jones in an email.

With support from both pastors, parish communities and parents, Youth Ministry in the Mountains was formed, serving teens in grades 6-12 in northeast Georgia.

Youth Ministry in the Mountains is not religious education for either parish. It serves as a supplement—combining resources from two parishes for outreach in the community, social activities and Catholic spiritual development.

Events are held two to four times per month, depending on availability and schedules of volunteers and teens. The parishes alternate activities between both locations. Fundraisers are held to support events.

“The kids enjoy each other,” said Pam Hamilton, coordinator for St. Mark Church. This is a chance for teens to learn more about the church, she said.

The ministry has its own logo and a presence on Instagram. Their t-shirts carry words by St. Teresa of Kolkata, the ministry’s saint. “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things, with great love.”

Location challenges

While they are neighboring parishes, St. Mark in Habersham County and St. Paul the Apostle in White County, the churches are nearly thirty minutes apart, a common travel distance in rural communities.

“Up here in the rural area, everything is a thirty minute drive,” explained Jones. “People start prioritizing where they’re gonna put their energy and resources,” she said.

Alana De La Torre, foreground left, hands a pumpkin to Rachel Thibodeau, as the youth help unload a truck of pumpkins as part of a September service project at St. Paul the Apostle Church, Cleveland. Although De La Torre is not quite old enough for Youth Ministry in the Mountains, she occasionally accompanies her older brother, Jeremy, to some events. Photo By Michael Alexander

In addition to the distance, schedules can make it difficult for more families to get involved.

“Almost every family has so much busyness,” said Hamilton. Families are juggling so many of the kid’s activities, she said. In addition, there is not a Catholic school close to either parish.

Nevertheless, Jones and Hamilton see the value of the ministry and spiritual growth of the teens. From trips to Steubenville and visits to other parishes, teens are learning there are more Catholics out there.

The kids really have a deep, spiritual side, explained Jones.

“We just have to give them the opportunity to connect,” she said.

Moving forward

With 12 families and 25 committed teens actively involved, Jones and Hamilton are hoping the ministry will continue to grow financially and with more involvement from teens, families and volunteers.

“We need young, vibrant youth ministers,” said Jones. By having young adults serve as youth ministers, teens would see this ministry as an option for them.

Many teens get involved with Youth Ministry in the Mountains because of required service hours for school or confirmation. However, Jones hopes that more will stay involved, even when their requirements are completed.

Upcoming service projects include packing shoeboxes with Christmas gifts for Operation Christmas Child and helping families in their communities with various tasks, such as yardwork, chores and preparing Christmas decorations.

“If our instruction is anything, it’s by example,” said Jones.

“I’ve really appreciated having a group of other Catholic teens that I can connect with and go with to spiritually strengthening events,” said Ellawyn Ketch, a high school senior from St. Mark. “Having this community has definitely strengthened my faith and I’m so grateful for that.”