By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published September 1, 2021
ATLANTA—More than 9,200 people across 16 dioceses attended this year’s virtual Southeast Catechist Conference.
The Office of Formation and Discipleship for the Archdiocese of Atlanta has hosted an annual catechist conference for 15 years. Last year’s conference was virtual due to the pandemic.
This year’s virtual program, held Aug. 12-15, included more than 120 presentations, live conversations, reflections and space for prayer and worship. It represented dioceses from Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and New Jersey. Free registration for access to the conference has been extended to Sept. 15.
“The evangelizing ministry of catechesis is a ministry of the word,” said Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., during his welcome video for the conference. “As catechists, we proclaim and hand on the word of God, who ultimately is Jesus himself.”
Youth ministry post-pandemic
As catechists think and talk about getting back to normal, that’s really adult content, said Tom East, a presenter at this year’s conference.
“For adolescents, every year is a new experience because they’re experiencing so much change themselves,” he said.
East is the director of the Center for Ministry Development, a nonprofit that promotes the development of ministry and catechesis with youth and families rooted in Catholic tradition and Scripture. He also serves as project coordinator for the certificate in youth ministry studies program.
During his presentation titled, “Welcoming Youth Back to Ministry and Accompaniment Post-Pandemic,” East shared that many youth feel isolated and disconnected from their communities. This is evident in a deteriorated relationship between youth and their institutions, disengagement from their parents and a lack of caring adult relationships, he said.
There are many ways to address these issues, East explained. Suggestions included rebuilding trust, appealing to the diversity of youth interests and passions, being flexible, promoting accompaniment with young people and the parish and ministering to youth and their families.
All elements of parish life must include the needs and gifts of young people, he said.
“Youth ministry is rooted in the life of the parish,” said East. Youth ministers need “to become the face of Christ for young people and their families.”
Partnering with young people, parents
According to a recent study, 36% of Americans under the age of 30 no longer affiliate with any faith, said Leisa Anslinger, a presenter at this year’s catechist conference.
“This gives us a particular sense of urgency about finding ways to change the tide, finding ways to really be those disciple makers that we were called to be,” she said.
Anslinger is the associate director for pastoral vitality for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the founder of Catholic Life and Faith, a center for evangelization, stewardship and servant leadership and development. The title of her presentation was “Engaging and Partnering with Young People and Parents.”
A study facilitated by Fuller Youth Institute in Pasadena, California, looked at the practices of more than 250 Catholic churches that were growing and thriving with young people. This study, Anslinger said, was to find the “common threads” that made these parishes successful.
The study determined there were six core commitments the parishes shared—keychain leadership or bringing youth to leadership positions, empathy for young people, taking Jesus’ message seriously, fueling a warm community, prioritizing young people and their families and being the best neighbors.
Parishes that engage young people and their families experience more passion, are more financially stable, have better overall health and have parishioners who contribute more services and find ways to be innovative, said Anslinger.
“This is about the entire parish because engaging young people really helps the whole parish to, in the words of the study, ‘grow young.’”