With the Diocese of Burlington transitioning the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation to sixth grade, it has become imperative for parishes to create opportunities for youth to continue growing as disciples of Jesus Christ in the 21st century.

Confirmation is a sacramental grace that strengthens, aids and fortifies a relationship – in this case, one’s relationship with God. Moreover, this sacramental grace “unites those who receive it more closely to the Church, to her apostolic origins and to her mission of bearing witness to Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1313). The Church’s role is to provide the fertile ground (c.f. Matt 13:8) by which this faith can produce an abundant harvest. Parishes need to become “firm foundations” (c.f. Eph 2:20) and centers of fellowship where youth find spiritual formation, accountability among peers and opportunities to live the Gospel through service to the poor and vulnerable, but also opportunities for wholesome and joy-filled encounters.

Every parish has been asked to consider a multi-pronged approach to serving youth and families in their journeys of faith. Like individual embers that die apart from the fire or cut branches that wither apart from the vine, so too will young people spiritually wither without an ‘all-hands on deck’ approach to formation and discipleship. Change is needed to not only keep our youth engaged, but to grow our parishes and bring the Gospel to many who linger and languish, like the idle servants in the market (Matt 20:6), and subconsciously long for the truth and life of the Gospel. New modes and modalities are needed to create a spark that will burn into a spiritual flame throughout Vermont (c.f. Lk 12:49).

Where “youth ministry” is happening well is where relationships are being formed and youth are known by name, places where stories and struggles are shared and adults care deeply for the young. This concept of youth ministry is not programmatic. The bishops and Pope Francis have called the faithful to consider the story of the Road to Emmaus (c.f. Lk 24: 13-35) as a model and template for “walking with the young,” learning their stories and longings, sorrows and struggles. Programs, Bible studies and youth groups are helpful, but without an overall approach of accompaniment, our initiatives will falter.

Youth want to be around people who care for them. They want parish communities that communicate they are important, valued and cared for. Successful sports’ coaches call players to greatness and excellence and communicate that each and every player has a role to play on the team. May our parishes instill the same sense of belonging that many of our sports teams do!

A streamlined approach to lifelong faith formation is another key step in creating localized visions moving forward. It is imperative that parishes transition away from compartmentalized programs that have little connection to an overall parish vision. The Diocese encourages any youth program ideas to be incorporated and grafted into a larger vision for parish faith formation. A youth group is not the answer to the challenges faced moving forward. Though youth groups can serve an important function and opportunity in a parish, not all youth will be drawn to a particular youth group – thus, parishes should strive for youth “groupings” and multiple levels of youth involvement among all parish communities.

A primary and fundamental question for every ministry needs to be: “How can our ministry aid the formation and discipleship of people today and how can we incorporate youth into this particular ministry?” Thus, after confirmation, parishes should have various offerings and ministries prepared to engage young people as they continue their journeys into middle and high school.

Every parishioner has a role to play in reaching young people. Indeed, this is not just for the pastors and parish leaders, but a call to all the faithful. Prayerfully consider how you can play a role in bringing the Gospel to young people here in the Green Mountain State.

—Originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

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