A group of youth ministers gathered recently for an event in the Diocese of London. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of London

Youth ministry program takes a fresh approach

By  Danielle Rivest
  • May 29, 2019

Youth ministers have to be a jack-of-all-trades in a parish community. 

They work as a bridge between parishes, schools, parents and priests while empowering youth to be full, active and conscious participants in the parish. 

Given the immense responsibility of youth ministers, the Diocese of London partnered with the Catechetical Institute of the Franciscan University of Steubenville to introduce a new certificate program that aims to standardize the training and education of the youth ministers for the diocese. 

“If we plan to have a Church in the future, we have to make sure that the professional standards that we set for the people working with (young people) is adequate,” said Claire Bondy, Family and Youth Ministry Specialist for the Diocese of London. “It’s too valuable to leave to chance.”

The need for this certification, Bondy said, stems from the recent shift in the focus of youth ministry. The traditional youth group model no longer fits with the diocese’s current generational focus on family and service. Rather than have a youth minister at each parish, the new vision is to have one youth minister for each family, according to Bondy.

“We need to be engaging young people in the entirety of the work of the parish and seeing them as not simply throwing a tag on them as young people, but seeing them as parishioners,” she said. “We’re looking a lot at a model called ‘the accompaniment model,’ accompanying youth and training teens within the parish to fully embrace and evangelize young people.”

Bondy has been working with the Steubenville university (which is the birthplace of the Steubenville youth conferences) to customize a program that will fit the needs of the London parishes. 

The Youth Ministry Certification, which launched in January, is an online program which takes two years to complete and learners are welcome to join at any point during the year. 

In the first year, learners will explore spirituality and evangelization. They will learn how to engage youth and work with families through inter-culturality and effective catechesis. Youth ministers will gain strategies for engaging with youth to better serve and participate in the local and universal Church.

The second year takes a closer look at the role of the Holy Spirit in adolescent development, service and vocations. Youth ministers will be trained in practical skills such as counselling youth and understanding the workings of the local church. They will learn fundamentals about the liturgy, the sacraments, Catholic morality and an introduction to Theology of the Body. 

The certification also requires that each online learner is matched with a local mentor. These mentors are familiar with both the diocese and the vision of youth ministry. Therefore, they can best support and guide their learner. 

“The piece that’s often missing from online learning, that human element,” said Bondy. “For each year of the program, there are three formation gathering days. We’re taking three of the courses from each year and sort of enhancing the learning that will happen so that there’s some good, practical formation pieces.”

The Archdiocese of Toronto runs a similar program through Franciscan University of Steubenville to train its youth ministers. 

Bondy said that in previous years, many youth ministers gained experience through NET Ministries Canada. Though NET provides youth leaders with some training in evangelization ministry, Bondy believes the certificate program can take it a step further.

“It sets a level of professionalism that has been missing for a couple of years,” she said. 

About five youth ministers are currently enrolled in the program. They are matched with one of about 15 youth ministers who are currently working in the London diocese. Though no one has yet completed the Youth Ministry Certificate through the Diocese of London, Bondy is hopeful this certificate will empower the full, active and conscious participation of young people, the “now” of God.

(Rivest, 23, is a first-year teacher candidate at Western’s Faculty of Education-Althouse in London, Ont.)

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