Youth ministers adapt in uncertain time

Youth group members at St. Michael Church packaged meals earlier this fall for Love the Hungry, a nonprofit organization that provides nutrient-rich meals to children. (Photo Special to The Record)

In an effort to cope with the restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, youth ministers in the Archdiocese of Louisville have come up with creative ways to continue to meet the spiritual needs of the teens they serve.

Much of the traditional offerings of youth ministry: pizza parties, games and large retreat gatherings have had to be reimagined or set aside for the time being, said Karl Dolson, director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

“The current situation has caused everyone to rethink how we do ministry,” Dolson said in a recent interview.

Youth ministers have focused on intentional relationship-building and maintaining some sense of community in the midst of isolation, Dolson said.

Gwyneth Schulte, an eighth-grader at St. Michael School, packaged meals earlier this fall for Love the Hungry, a nonprofit organization that provides nutrient-rich meals to children. (Photo Special to The Record)

Jennifer Shelton, coordinator of youth ministry at St. John Apostle Church in Brandenburg, Ky., said kids just want a sense of normalcy right now.

Shelton urges her teens to “turn down the social media and turn up the prayer.”

“We try to remind them that, even though the world … is continuing to change all the time, God’s love for us remains steadfast. He is unchanged, so what better way to find stability in your lives in uncertain times than relying on God,” she said.

Shelton said youth from her parish are able to meet outdoors and have also set up a spot inside the parish gym where they can space out.

“We have spent time outside talking about how different life is from last year and just letting kids vent and discuss,” she said.

Aaron Frazita, youth minister at St. Michael Church in Jeffersonton, said the parish has resumed a number of in-person offerings including regular Bible studies, weekly drop-ins for high school and after-school rosary making — with the big difference being limiting the number of participants.

“We are doing our best to provide what we can safely offer, which means requiring masks, social distancing, temperature checks upon arrival, providing lots of hand sanitizer and cleaning the space each time we meet for in-person events,” Frazita said.

Olivia Shirk, left, and Ainsley Dean, both eighth-graders at St. Michael School, took part in the parish’s Project Hope Service day. They wrote cards to go with care packages for parishioners.. (Photo Special to The Record)

Online events, such as Just for Fun Friday trivia nights and Wednesday night worship events, have also been offered, he said.

Students crave connection and “true relationship with one another,” Frazita said, with adults who care about them.

“They need to hear that they are loved more than they could ever imagine by a God who chose to come to Earth to experience all the ups and downs of life and give his life for all of us,” he said.

Quarantine also provided the time for Frazita and other parish leaders to develop a podcast, called “St. Michael Youth Ministry Louisville,” to “reach out to where folks are,” he said.

Dolson said youth ministers and parish leaders recognize that students and parents alike are stressed. Many families are in survival mode and only able to focus on the foundational pieces of life: school, work and family.

“Youth ministers are consciously trying not to overwhelm families right now, but they are making things available, to give some respite or an outlet for teens,” he said.

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