I was at the FOCA convention in Columbus, OH this past weekend. At their assembly, Dimitrios Rentel gave a presentation of the Youth Survey he has been conducting with our parishes. So far over 1600 people have responded. He also spent the summer visiting some of our camps and attending other youth-oriented activities. He spoke with many of our youth during this time.
One of the main themes he spoke on was how so many of the kids and survey respondents emphasized how much the kids loved going to camp. The number one motivation was that camp was a place that kids could be loved with people they love to be with. The bonding that goes with making friends was so important to campers. There was great appreciation for the counselors and staff at the camps he visited. There is a connection made there that makes the kids want to go back.
The downside of his comments was that when it comes to kids in parish life, there is not this same sense of connectedness. He described that a number of kids he interviewed could not remember the name of their parish priest. I too encountered this when several kids I spoke with at camp could not remember the name of their parish. I know I have overly simplified this. It is not as if all our kids don’t know their parish name or the name of their priest. But I was struck by the fact that there is a connection kids make at camp that may not be made among some kids in parish life. How common or prevalent this is is hard to tell.
The possible reasons for this are complicated and multifaceted. I am going to spend a couple of weeks speaking on these reasons. One important reason is that when at camp, kids are in a communal environment where all the temptations of daily living presents are not there. Kids are put in an environment that in a good way fosters closeness and making friends among each other. To foster this environment in parish life can be hard given the distances people live from their parish and the daily busyness of family lives. Parishes simply cannot be camp. But how can we work to help our children experience a greater sense of connectedness with their parish (assuming the above is at least partially true)?
One thing that comes to mind is doing things that help kids to take ownership of a ministry or service. They can be empowered to serve. Dimitrios told the FOCA assembly that service is a big value of our kids. They want to help. They want to serve. How, even in a small way, can a parish empower kids? What can they do in the church to claim as their service and help them to connect to the parish?
The Blessing of the Lord be upon you,
The unworthy +Paul