Cedar Grove parish to start ministry for high school students
Local teenagers interested in the Catholic faith will soon have a new spiritual and social outlet. St. Catherine of Siena (SCS) Church in Cedar Grove is creating a ministry for high school students, set to kick off in September.
The new ministry will ascribe to a modified form of LifeTeen – a program used by over 1,200 Catholic churches across the globe, according to the Rev. Bob McLaughlin, better known around SCS as “Father Mac.”
“It’s about leading teens closer to Christ in a way that is engaging, enthusiastic and exciting,” McLaughlin said of LifeTeen. And it’s more about the “experience of religion” than the doctrine, he added.
The crux of LifeTeen is its Sunday night meetings, LifeNights, to be held the first three Sundays of every month from 7 to 9 p.m. The meetings are expected to take on a four-part formula, McLaughlin explained. There is a social ice breaker activity; the presentation of a topic – via watching a video, a guest lecture, or performing a skit; the revisiting of a religious teaching relevant to the topic; and an interactive component to build on that teaching. Each meeting will end with a blessing and prayer.
“This can be a debate night about a current social or political issue and why the church teaches what it teaches on this,” McLaughlin said. “Through role-playing and other activities, we can understand how to use this in our lives. Maybe a social issue like homelessness or hunger … for teens to get an experience they can bring out into the community.”
SCS had a youth group in years past, but youth ministers often came and left, causing a good deal of instability in the program, McLaughlin said. As a result, when he started his tenure at SCS last year, the priest decided not to continue previous youth efforts, instead training adults and young adults to be leaders on the SCS Core Team.
LifeTeen typically depends on one youth minister supported by a group known as the “Core” – adults that facilitate the LifeNight meetings. McLaughlin has tailored the Core’s function at SCS to avoid the need for a youth minister. The 28 SCS Core Team members have been divided into three Affective Core Teams to facilitate the LifeNight meetings. From those 28 members, McLaughlin has selected 12 to be on the Core Advisory Panel – charged with deciding the youth ministry’s direction and schedule, while recruiting more members to ensure continued leadership.
In addition to LifeNights, the priest said he hopes the youth group will pursue regular service activities, a weeklong service trip – perhaps with Habitat for Humanity – to another part of the U.S., and also a daylong excursion.
On Aug. 18, SCS invited teens interested in the ministry to a Summer Social at Community Park. The goal of the event, which consisted of a series of games and complimentary food, was to have the teens get to know one another.
Parishioner Dan Cirasa, 16, of Cedar Grove, was among those in attendance. Although he has never been a part of previous SCS youth groups, Cirasa said he is eager to join this one and has the sense that it is going to be quite successful.
“I feel like there’s a lot more people backing this,” Cirasa said, crediting McLaughlin for getting out into the community to spread word of the new group.
The 16-year-old is most looking forward to the ministry’s community service aspect. Rebuilding homes post-disaster, for example, is among the projects Cirasa dubbed as “cool.”
The first official gathering of the SCS LifeTeen ministry will be a Beach Blast party, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 16 from 7 to 9 p.m.
“I think kids who normally wouldn’t do such a thing, with a youth group, will see other kids doing it and think it’s fun,” Cirasa said.
Teens often find it hard to relate to people of other ages, he added, noting how the new group will give teens “someone to talk to … We can bond with each other and create friendships,” Cirasa said.
There are a couple hundred high school-aged parishioners at SCS, but the ministry is open to anyone who will be in high school as of this September, McLaughlin said. Non-Catholic teens who want to take part in meetings as a way to hang out with Catholic friends, or for personal enrichment, are also welcome.
“Sometimes learning more about other religions and customs teaches us more about our customs, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” he explained.
Many teens have already expressed interest in the ministry, according to church representatives.
“Growing up, I was involved with the youth ministry in my home parish. Many of the friendships I made in that group have survived until today because they were honest and true,” McLaughlin said. “I hope to recreate that same kind of environment where teens feel welcome and comfortable to gain support, strength, and guidance to face a very challenging world.”