Steubenville has launched a new, sacrament-based young adult conference. Photo courtesy of Steubenville Conferences

Young adults engaged in new ‘Encounter’

By 
  • June 12, 2014

Steubenville Conferences is on its way to fulfilling its ultimate mission — “engaging Catholics from teens to eternity,” says John Beaulieu.

Most popular for its multi-city, weekend conferences that cater to high school students, Steubenville has now launched Encounter, a young adult equivalent to the youth conference. Encounter events are meant to keep Catholics engaged with the Church and committed to deepening their re-lationship with God.

Beaulieu is director of partnerships and engagement at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, where five conferences are also held for adults. He told The Catholic Register that by the time Catholics reach age 28, the majority of those who were active with the Catholic Church as teens will no longer be affiliated with it.

“So in the first 10 years of graduating from high school, young adults are falling off the map. We are hemorrhaging faith. The Church is trying to respond to that and the university wants to support that by providing op-portunities for young adults to gather, to pray, to talk very bluntly and very clearly about the issues of their generation and culture,” he said. “The challenge is that in between those two conferences, there’s nothing: we had youth and we had adult, (but) we had nothing for young adult.”

Encounter is for Catholics age 19 to 29, with some sessions during the conference subdivided by age to better accommodate the issues of a 20-year-old versus that of a 28-year-old, for example. Ev-erything from sex to marijuana is up for discussion, said Beaulieu, and with different speakers, it won’t be a replica of the youth conference.

The first Encounter was held in St. Charles, Missouri, from May 30 to June 1, with 550 young adults in attendance.

“What that says to us is that there’s a great hunger for these kind of conferences. People are willing to invest in order to get there,” he said.

And with 47,000 people attending 16 youth conferences across North America, the hope is that as the teen population ages, they will feed into and grow the young adult conference.

Encounter promises to make more time available for young adults to mingle.

“We know one of the cries at the heart of young adults is community. They are very fractured, even as they get more connected through technology, they become more isolated in their actual life experience,” said Beaulieu, adding that once out of college it is harder for young adults to connect with each other. “Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s enough ways where the Church tries to engage young adults and provide these places where they can plug into the Church.”

The next full Encounter will be Nov. 8 in Milwaukee. But in Canada, the Steubenville Atlantic conference, which has been running for eight years, is experi-menting with the addition of a young adult track to the regular conference.

On July 4-6 in Halifax, Steu-benville Atlantic is inviting up to 200 young adults to attend an Encounter-based program in a separate space at the same venue as the regular conference. For sacramental celebrations, the two groups will join.

“The same desire that we have to do the young adult track is driving the desire for the Encounter weekends,” said John Stevens, regional organizer for Steubenville in Halifax. “Young adults out there who still haven’t found their sense of place in the Church, sense of their Catholic identity and mission and need a place to do that with their peers.”

Stevens is also manager of pastoral life and new evangeliza-tion in the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth. He says that sales for the young adult conference will be different than the youth conference. For youth, churches buy tickets in bulk and then sell the tickets back to their young parishioners. The young adults, however, buy their tickets directly.

“We’ve reached out to people by telephone a couple of weeks ago. We’re going to do it again next week,” said Stevens, who says the response sometimes has been “I’m interested and I want to go, but I just don’t want to sign up right now,” because they are uncertain about where work and life will lead, which is “very re-flective of the young adult reality right now.”

Steubenville Atlantic, open to youth across the country, will provide young adults with the option for on-campus accom-modations. Depending on the turnout, the young adult track could potentially turn into a full Encounter event, said Stevens.

There are currently 20 youth conferences in 15 different locations each year. Beaulieu hopes that one day there will be 15 Encounters a year across Canada and the United States.

“True Catholic evangelization is not just bringing young people to a relationship with Christ, it’s bringing people to a deeper rela-tionship with the Church. And so our youth conference is all sac-ramental based,” said Beaulieu. “Young adults and teens aren’t the future of the Church; they are the Church and they need to be embraced and incorporated into the life of the Church because they bring so much.” 

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