Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The young adult ministry at St. Thomas More in Decatur met for a Holy Happy Hour, similar to “Theology on Tap” earlier this year.


Overcoming obstacles in young adult ministry

By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published November 14, 2019

ATLANTA—Fulfilling a need in their community, young adults from St. Joseph, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Thomas the Apostle churches came together to form Marietta Catholic Young Adults.

The newly formed ministry participated in a Habitat for Humanity build for their first event on Oct. 19. Between a Facebook group and a newly formed website, the group is looking to engage more young adults as the ministry grows.

“We want to have fun, but we also need to be challenged,” said Dan Fitzgerald, 28, an organizer for the Marietta young adult group.

The Catholic Church defines young adults between ages 18-39. Young adult ministries bring Catholics in this age group together to engage in their faith, fellowship and service projects. There are roughly 20 young adult ministries in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

This fall, the Office of Formation and Discipleship collaborated with The Georgia Bulletin on a survey for young adults in the Atlanta Archdiocese. Of the more than 700 young adults who participated, 83% attend Mass 3-5 times per month and nearly 65% are involved in parish life including and outside of young adult ministry. Events for young adults, service opportunities and news on Pope Francis are at the top of their interests.

Young adult ministry has helped me mature in my faith as a lay married woman, said Rizza Bella Hohenstern, a member of Ignite at St. Benedict young adult ministry since fall 2017.

“Meeting fellow young adults from various backgrounds and various personal experiences of God and the Catholic faith tradition allows me to understand my own faith and relationship with God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—in new and profound ways,” said Hohenstern.

“I’m moved by the desire for young adults to be involved in the life of the parish,” said Andy Otto, 34, pastoral associate for faith formation at St. Thomas More Church and member of their young adult ministry. “They remind me of the need for continual spiritual formation as well as the importance of the formation of friendships,” he said.

In 2018, the synod of bishops focused on young people, faith and vocational discernment. From this synod came Christus Vivit, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation written for “young people and the entire people of God.”

In it, the Holy Father writes that young people are the present of the church.

“They are at a time of life when they begin to assume a number of responsibilities, sharing alongside adults in the growth of the family, society and the church,” he said.

Ministry challenges

Because young adults encompass such a large age group, many young adult ministries find it difficult to find committed members. People have the desire but there are all kinds of obstacles, said Fitzgerald.

“Young adults can be in a transient stage in life,” said Hohenstern. “Moving away from home, starting graduate school, a new career, or a family may leave less time and energy to commit to building up a robust ministry.”

Members of Ignite at St. Benedict young adult ministry pose for a picture at a 2018 summer bonfire event. The ministry is based at St. Benedict Church, Johns Creek.

Another major challenge is confining young adults to their age group ministry versus incorporating them in other aspects of the parish.

“Young adult ministries that keep young people out of normal parish offerings does a disservice to the community,” said Otto. “We ought to invite these people to discover what it means to be an adult in a parish community.”

Despite the challenges, young adults are hopeful and look to the church for more support.

“The church needs to be mindful of the many ways 18- to 39-year-olds need to be ministered to and not be tempted to lump them together,” said Otto.

“The church must develop better ways to invite, incorporate and nurture young adults into the profound beauty of our faith and faith communities,” said Hohenstern.

Community and prayer

Fitzgerald has learned patience as he continues to develop the Marietta young adult group.

“What I think is the answer is not necessarily what God is inviting me or the group to do,” he said. He also encourages reaching out to parish leaders for support for situations you do not know how to handle.

“Building up Jesus’ church is not the result of following a formula,” said Fitzgerald.

“Get involved in your parish community to get a better sense of who is in your faith community and what it means to be a part of it,” said Hohenstern.

She also recommends collaborating with surrounding young adult groups.

Otto encourages social events in the early stages of a young adult ministry so peers can meet one another.

Prayer is important when involved with young adult ministry.

“Pray and keep praying,” said Hohenstern. “Let the Holy Spirit lead you and strengthen you,” she said.

Fitzgerald also encourages young adult leaders to have a spiritual director or mentor because it is “absolutely essential to stay rooted in prayer.”

My joyful hope for young people is that you keep running the race before you, outstripping all those who are slow or fearful, said Pope Francis in Christus Vivit.

“The church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith … and when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us.”

This story is the first in a series focusing on various aspects of young adults in the Catholic Church.