Sr. Mechtilde O’Mara, ministry director of Faith Connection, says her organization fills the gap in youth ministry. Register file photo

Faith Connections fills the youth ministry gap

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  • April 3, 2017

Young adults ministry can be difficult to facilitate, but Sr. Mechtilde O’Mara says this is precisely why this ministry is essential.

“I’ve been at the university many years, both as a student and as a teacher, and I know that is a formative time for me and for many people,” said O’Mara, ministry director of Faith Connections and a member of Sisters of St. Joseph. “We see them as important to the future of the Church and it’s a time when young adults make decisions in their lives that determine for the rest of the way they go.”

Faith Connections, O’Mara said, fills a gap in youth ministry the Sisters of St. Joseph had seen in their work with young adults.

Church ministries often categorize young people as those between the ages of 16 to 39 years old. However, youth ministry is often geared toward teenagers. The outreach came from Catholic schools, confirmation catechesis programs and existing parish youth groups.

But when young people graduate from university or college, the normal structures of Catholic outreach are less obvious.

“I think the thought was that we would transition our youth from youth and campus ministry into the life of the parish and that’s the ideal model, but the reality was that we were missing some of that middle generation,” said Vanessa Nicholas-Schmidt, former Faith Connections program director.

Nicholas-Schmidt and O’Mara agree the biggest challenge in reaching young adults is finding them where they are. In order for young adult ministry to be successful, Nicholas-Schmidt says that ministry leaders have to respond to the needs of young adults with eyes wide open.

“I think we do a lot of young adult ministry that’s not being called young adult ministry,” said Nicholas-Schmidt. “There’s a lot to do on this bracket of young adult ministry and it’s not up to just one group... like marriage preparation courses, a lot of lay movements, baptismal preparations courses.”

The key to Faith Connections, O’Mara said, is about being flexible and constantly looking for potential opportunities to engage with young adults wherever they are in the Church.

Faith Connections has grown a certain expertise in creating an active network of young adult groups across the Greater Toronto Area. It often partners with campus chaplaincies, social justice groups and other lay movements to facilitate events in the city.

One of its most successful initiatives is The Busy Person’s Lenten Retreat, a partnership with Regis College and the Sisters of St. Joseph Toronto, to provide one-on-one spiritual direction during the season of Lent.

Another popular program is the Theology On Tap speaker series in which young people gather at a local bar or pub to discuss topics like “Doing the Right Thing” (March 27) and “Our God is Human” (April 10).

“There are parish groups, and they want to be their parish group, but they come to all of (our events). That was true of many ministers,” said O’Mara.

“I said to a young man who was a youth minister at a parish, ‘What do you do as a youth minister?’ And he said, ‘I round the people up and bring them to Faith Connections.’ ”

Faith Connections, a part of Fontbonne Ministries, was established in 2005.

Faith Connections’ young adult network can be accessed on their website, faithconnections.ca.

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