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Grant Corsi shared his experiences during a discussion on racism in the parking lot outside Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park on May 31. The parish’s youth group gathered for the first time since quarantine.
Grant Corsi shared his experiences during a discussion on racism in the parking lot outside Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park on May 31. The parish’s youth group gathered for the first time since quarantine.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

This summer will take on ‘staycation’ feeling for youth ministry programs

Office of Youth Ministry provides resources to equip youth ministers in their work

Summer plans may have changed, but teens at Assumption Parish are still anticipating the “most epic staycation ever.”

In mid-June, teens will take part in a service retreat on the grounds of the parish in south St. Louis County. Assumption also recently resumed its regular Life Nights on Sunday evenings, which generally include a talk or reflection and praise and worship music. Prior to that, Life Nights were held virtually through Zoom meetings.

With limits on gatherings at parishes in the archdiocese and the cancellation of major summer youth events, parish-based youth ministers have been hard at work staying connected to the young people they serve and helping them keep strong in their relationship with the Lord.

Mia Hinkamper talked during a discussion on racism in the parking lot outside Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park. The youth group is using sign-up sheets to limit the number attending a given event.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Some parish youth ministry programs have resumed in-person gatherings, limiting them to 10 people or fewer per group and taking other precautions, such as wearing masks and hosting events outside. At Assumption, youth apostolate coordinator Caitlyn Sextro said that teens had planned on attending events that have since been canceled, including the Steubenville STL Mid-America Youth Conference, the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry’s Project Life service retreat and Life Teen Leadership Conference. (Some events have been rescheduled as virtual events.)

“Right now, my mission for the summer is to make Assumption their home,” Sextro said. “If they want to come out and hang out with friends or pray, they can come here. We’re making it a place they can call home and take some ownership.

“My hope is that even in the midst of the new guidelines, that we still face encounters with Christ and form them to go out and be disciples in the world,” Sextro said. “It’s been a gift to be there with them as they are grieving things like graduations and other things that have been changed. It’s an awesome opportunity to teach teens that there are hardships in life, but God is with us through this all, and we know He is going to bring goodness out of it.”

Amy Eschelbach, director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry, said that the office continues to offer resources for youth ministers as they work with young people. The archdiocesan Catholic Youth Apostolate is supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal. Regular in-person gatherings for youth ministers hosted by the office went virtual when the coronavirus outbreak reached St. Louis in March. Those meetings turned to weekly Zoom calls on a variety of topics aimed at helping youth ministers, including one with Kerri Gallen, a counselor from Saint Louis Counseling who spoke on supporting teens’ mental health during the pandemic.

Another Zoom call scheduled in June with the archdiocesan Peace and Justice Commission and Joyce Jones, program director for Racial Harmony, is aimed at equipping youth ministers to talk to teens about racism and related topics. The office also recently launched a redesigned website at stlyouth.org.

“Youth ministers recognize the importance of accompaniment, and especially during this time in our Church, young people need to be accompanied,” Eschelbach said. “They are fulfilling their call to serve the young Church.”

At Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Ferguson, youth minister Lorena Jimenez said that plans are being made for the youth group to start meeting at the parish again for casual gatherings. The group has been meeting online for the past few months to discuss the Sunday readings and connect with one another.

“It’s definitely been a blessing to be able to have the opportunity to minister to these kids,” Jimenez said. “Some of them might be planning summer jobs, or a lot of them will travel to Mexico in the summer to visit family. But we’re still hoping to have meetings and see one another. I know they are full of energy and itching to get out and see one another.”

Rachel Henry, director of youth ministry at Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park, said the parish’s youth ministry program is exercising caution as it resumed in-person gatherings on May 31. The parish created an electronic sign-up form limiting groups to eight teens and up to two core team members. Teens will rotate through the groups during the summer.

“We might have them go to a game night one week, and a bonfire the next,” she said. “We want them to have the experience of being together doing things, even though it’s not the same as before. We’ve talked a lot about that, and they know it’s harder to share things with one another through a screen.”

Henry said plans are being made to host a summer retreat at the parish. The core team also is looking at other creative ideas for bringing teens together with the new guidelines. “We have a lot of people with creative ideas,” she said. “We still want to give them an experience because they can’t do all the summer things they were looking forward to.”

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