Let me set the scene:
It’s the parish staff meeting. Its always bright and early… 9am, even if you had Bible study until 9pm last night. Everyone grabs coffee and the conversation begins with the process of going around the table talking about “calendar items”. Then, the topics go to things like who didn’t put the chairs away last night or to the roof leaking again. If it’s a good week, there aren’t any references to your youth being loud or leaving trash around. The meeting goes longer than expected, and at the end, you wonder if anyone on the staff has any idea at all what you do as a youth minister.
Been there? Done that?
Often it can be hard for a youth minister to fit in on a parish staff. – especially a new youth minister. So much of the life of a ym is being out with the teens, getting to know their lives, being available to them, constantly saying yes to invitations, and looking for open doors to share the Gospel at just the right time. Suppose it’s that weekend retreat… your many invitations finally fell on that one teen you’ve been trying to get to come and the weekend was powerful. The teen finally opened up to God and you begin to see some real conversion. Those moments can make youth ministry all worth it! But being back in the parish office, it can seem like no one else understands. The parish staff just doesn’t seem to get it, and there is no one with whom you can share the joy. You know it isn’t your place to judge, but in the back of your mind, you wonder, does anyone else around here ever pray?
As a parish priest, it is often easy to see this frustration in a youth minister as they try to integrate into the parish staff. The last thing we want is to have one of our team feel left on the outside. And the enthusiasm and openness of a youth minister can add a great dynamic to the staff.
The Emperor got a new groove—here are a few ideas for finding yours:
- Get to know the staff one at a time. Make it a point to stop in and visit staff members in their office. Ask them if they want to have lunch, take a mid-day walk, or make a run to get a Coke together. Get to know their lives. This will open up many chances to share your own experiences and your own faith with them. It will also show that you realize they had value to the ministry of the parish too.
- Avoid the temptation to take the “easy way” of connecting. One of the easiest ways to connect to a staff member is to fall into the trap of gossiping about another staff member or parishioner. It is hard for us as priests, too—so be heroic on this one and help set the example! Refuse to fall into the trap. When it happens, do your best to change the tone of conversation or remove yourself from the situation gracefully.
- When its time to share the calendar, turn it into a request for prayers! Just last week in a staff meeting, our DRE introduced her upcoming events by saying, “we have a catechists’ retreat starting on Friday at 12pm and going until Sunday. If you could make a note in your calendar to pray for us during the opening at noon on Friday, that would be great!” It was a great way to share what mattered and still get the “work” of the meeting done.
- Ask lots of questions, especially if you are new. Ask for advice from more experienced ministers and others. The secretary who has been there through the last six priests can fill you in on the history to just about every Confirmation class since the Second Vatican Council. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from everyone—it shows humility and collaboration.
- Invite members of the staff to your events, or to be a guest speaker. Ask the receptionist to come talk about Christian hospitality. Ask the social justice coordinator to come talk about a mission week activity. Invite the pastor to lead the Bible study for one week.
- Post your calendar, or use a white board. This way a teen or parent who stops by and your staff are able to see that you really do work when you’re not in the office.
- Be yourself. You bring an energy and excitement to the parish and the staff that is contagious. Don’t ignore protocol or be disrespectful, but also be yourself and be honest with your colleagues.
Keep up the good work… your priests are praying for your ministry!