WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Cheryl Perera was an early participant in the Point, a successful young adult ministry in Edmonton
Cheryl Perera felt lost after she graduated from the now-defunct John Paul II Bible School some six years ago.
“I really enjoyed having the community of young adults at the Bible school but once I left the school and came back home, I found it difficult to find that same sort of community,” the 26-year-old St. Albert woman recalled in a recent interview.
“I wanted to get involved in ministry but I wasn’t sure what to do because the only ministries you had were kid ministries, not young adult ministries for people around my age.”
Four and a half years ago, Perera enrolled at Concordia College, a Lutheran college in Edmonton, to study psychology. There she found many people interested in the Catholic Church but nothing she could plug into.
“The only thing there was for young adults (in the archdiocese) at that time was EXALT (an evening of praise and worship whose purpose is to get young adults to reflect on what God is calling them to).”
Perera and some of her friends attended some of EXALT’s sessions. “I really enjoyed it but my friends who didn’t know too much about the Catholic Church or weren’t Catholics found it was a very intimidating environment.”
At this point, Perera and some of her friends decided to join other young Catholic adults who had begun meeting in a basement. She felt she belonged there because the small group offered her a place to socialize and explore her faith in a non-intimidating environment.
From those early meetings would emerge The Point, which is now an official archdiocesan young adult ministry based at St. Joseph’s Basilica. The group meets in O’Leary Hall on the second Friday of the month at 7:30 p.m.
The Point is one of a growing network of groups within the archdiocese that helps young adults develop a stronger faith and closer relationship with the Church.
Those groups strive to meet the desires of young adults, not only to belong to the Church, but to do it in an informal atmosphere where community can grow.
But the obstacles are real. Young adults are often busy and transient, heading off to school or establishing themselves in relationships and careers.
Andrew Papenbrock, director of the archdiocesan office of youth evangelization, says, “For young adults, it’s a challenge to live their faith in the world that we live in and so we need to support them in that challenge by walking with them in any way that we can.”
Parishes are doing a “variety of things” to meet young adult needs, from sacramental and marriage preparation to groups specifically geared toward them, he said.
With the World Youth Day coming up, “we see that 30 of our parishes have young adults going (to Spain),” Papenbrock said. Parishes are supporting those people both spiritually and financially.
The Point now attracts close to 150 people. Its goal is to expose young adults to the Catholic faith by providing worship, community and catechesis in a comfortable, inviting atmosphere.
Perera is part of The Point’s steering committee. She helps plan the sessions and does promotional work.
“When you (become) a young adult you are battling moving out on your own and you are balancing career choices and relationships.
“There are lots of questions and it’s really good to have a community of people who are going through the same sort of thing,” Perera said.
Perera is happy the archdiocese supports The Point and says it should help set up similar groups in other locations.
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Andrew Papenbrock is director of the archdiocesan office of youth evangelization.
In addition to The Point, some parishes run programs such as EXALT, Into the Deep and Singles for Christ. St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta has been offering campus ministry for years.
Papenbrock says, “Because I define the World Youth Day groups as young adult groups, I’m going to say we have 40 to 45 parishes that are intentionally doing things with young adults, with World Youth Day being, of course, the key.”
Apart from World Youth Day, most parishes are reaching out to young adults through RCIA and by offering a myriad of opportunities to get involved.
At the archdiocesan level, there are regular potluck dinners for young adults before the Nothing More Beautiful evangelization sessions. There is also a Lenten mission with Archbishop Richard Smith planned for March 12.
Alan Fester, director of youth ministry at St. Mary’s Parish in Red Deer and director of LEAPS, a group that offers retreats for young people, is familiar with Perera’s struggle to find community.
“I noticed that even when I was at the Bible school, there were a lot of people that left from the Bible school and ended up falling away because they didn’t have that strong support system, that strong community,” he said.
Fester, 30, studied at JPII in 2001 and stayed as a staff member for the next five years. He served as youth ministry coordinator in the Diocese of Prince Albert and started LEAPS before joining the staff at St. Mary’s last August.
“From my experience, young adults have a need to be a part of something, to belong to something,” he says. “They want to know the truth.”
As a youth ministry coordinator, Fester helps meet the needs of young adults by offering them opportunities to serve.
At St. Mary’s, he has a core team of young adults and young people that “I set up so they can help in the youth ministry and have that opportunity to belong, that opportunity to be a part of the Church, to give that service to the Church.”
The parish also has a World Youth Day group. In addition, a group for young adults is starting at Red Deer College.
In a recent meeting with his core team, Fester learned about the obstacles in ministering to young adults.
The biggest hindrance is that there aren’t a lot of activities for young adults, he noted.
“We have youth ministry, we have groups for youth and for kids. But when it comes to the young adults, unless they are plugging into being a part of a core team or unless they are in an area like Edmonton, where they can plug into The Point, there is not a strong young adult thing,” he said.
“(As a result) they tend to lose the faith because they don’t have that support system.”
Fester thinks the archdiocese should place a stronger emphasis on the evangelization of young people and perhaps establish “a school of evangelization or a place of evangelization that is similar to the John Paul II Bible School.”
“I think that would be a beneficial thing in all honesty because I know that’s where young people get formed and that’s where they get that desire.”
Mike Landry, youth ministry coordinator at Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove/Stony Plain, has 21 young adults heading to World Youth Day this summer. When they return, he plans to organize various activities to keep the fire burning. But creating a group specifically for young adults is out of the question for now.
“You would assume if you have a successful youth ministry program that would turn into a successful young adult ministry program but young adults leave,” Landry said.
“That’s our biggest obstacle. We’ve tried (to establish) young adult groups and our big challenge is that most of them are going to school and often move to Edmonton for school.”
Another obstacle in young adult ministry is busyness. “If they are going to school, they are often going to school and working part-time jobs four or five nights a week.”
Most of the young adults who stay at Holy Trinity are involved in ministries such as youth ministry, the RCIA team and children’s liturgy.
Young adults don’t want theories or big statements, according to Landry. “They are looking for community and for ways to learn, to discover and to share their faith in the real world.
“This is why something like Theology on Tap tends to be so successful because it’s in a comfortable setting where they build community and it gets to the heart of something.”
Amanda Lutes, youth ministry coordinator at St. Dominic Savio Parish in Edmonton’s northeast, has seven young adults, aged 18 to 23, preparing for World Youth Day. This group, she notes, “is the only real thing we are offering (for young adults) within the parish as a program outside of Mass.”
But Lutes, 25, says the parish encourages young adults to volunteer with other youth activities within the parish.
In Lutes’ experience, “young adults are more likely to gather where there is a larger group of young adults.”
In recognizing that, last year St. Dominic tried to establish a young adult group, but numbers were low and it died off. So the parish encourages young adults to join activities in other parishes.
“Young adults need to find support within the Church from other people who are going through the same thing as they are.”
A native of Falher, near Peace River, Lutes has been in ministry since she graduated from high school. She went to the John Paul II Bible School for a year and later served on the school’s outreach ministry. Then she went to Scotland to serve on a retreat team ministry before coming to St. Dominic Savio.
She contends the Edmonton Archdiocese has one of the largest contingent of paid youth ministers in Canada. “We also have a lot of volunteer youth ministers. It’s quite encouraging to see.”
Throughout her faith journey, Lutes always felt the Church was meeting her needs, especially during her stint at the Bible school.
The best way to keep young adults engaged “is to continuously seek them out and provide them with opportunities to serve their community whether it is the community that they live in or their parish community,” she said.