Pros and cons of life in youth ministry

By  Amy Crofts, Youth Speak News
  • August 26, 2008

{mosimage}CALGARY - The position of youth minister, often vital to parish life, can be overlooked or undervalued. It requires long hours, evening and weekend work, dedication, patience and a love for children and adolescents alike.

Daunting as it sounds, many youth ministry co-ordinators in the Calgary diocese allow the pros to outweigh the cons.

“I love it,” said Dawna Richardson, former youth ministry co-ordinator at St. Luke’s parish. “It is great experiencing the spiritual growth of adolescents into very good young people, and helping them find their gifts along the way.”

The role of the youth ministry co-ordinator however, does not solely involve the planning and execution of youth ministry nights and events. According to Bryana Russell, the youth ministry co-ordinator at Holy Spirit parish, they are “building community faith formation by making the necessary resources available for youth to grow in their faith.”

Depending on the parish and co-ordinator, responsibilities may also include helping with sacramental preparation and office work and being required to act as support staff to keep everything running smoothly.

“Youth ministry is a place where youth feel welcomed and accepted. Commitment and consistency are key to building this relationship,” Richardson said.

But while commitment and consistency seem like the elements for success, they can also cause some problems.

“American statistics suggest that those in ministerial positions often hit burn out in about 13 months,” said Susan Suttie, Youth Ministry Director for the Calgary diocese, although some say that retention of youth ministry co-ordinators is relatively high in the Calgary diocese — some positions stay filled for up to eight years at the same parish.

Reasons for leaving often include the decision to pursue other vocations such as starting a family. There are also reasons to keep people from applying in the first place. Since there are approximately 12 paid full- or part-time co-ordinator positions in the diocese, fresh graduates from post-secondary schooling look for careers that will help them pay off student loans and enable them to purchase a car and home.

In many cases, according to Richardson, “the youth ministers do not get paid what they’re worth.”

A formal youth internship program started by Russell at Holy Spirit parish lessens the burden on formal youth ministers. Russell looks for senior high youth or older with existing involvement in the community, as well as an interest in education as a career choice. Interns get to see the preparatory and planning side of youth ministry as opposed to the receiving side.

“It is a long-term investment in the next generation which is promoted at the peer level,” Russell said.  In this way, those involved can assist their youth minister while gaining valuable experience.

The diocese also offers resources and services for sustainability and longevity.

According to Suttie, “the Diocesan Youth Retreat Team works on 100 to 110 retreats per year and mentors about 8,000 young people in a variety of retreats for sacramental preparation.”

The retreat team not only aids youth ministers in special events but also helps build the foundation of youth ministry in community parishes.

Forty-five of 64 parishes in the diocese report having some form of youth ministry, whether it is work with altar servers, families and their children or scouting groups.

A certificate program for youth ministers is available at St. Mary’s University College providing courses in conflict management, communication and theology.

(Crofts, 18, studies biology at the University of Calgary)

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