As I climbed the high steps, I felt that something grand was about to happen. With each step I felt the pounding in my chest of anticipation. As I entered the large double doors my breath was taken away and my senses overloaded. All around me was an expression of the glory of God. I was sixteen and my perception of God’s glory was forever changed as I experienced the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome for the first time.
If you have been in St. Peter’s, or any number of other Catholic Cathedrals or Basilicas you know the feeling. People often wonder why we spend so much time and money on such elaborate churches. The question is commonly asked, “Why don’t you just give that money to the poor?” The answer of course is that God gave us art as an expression of truth and beauty. It is through this expression that the faithful can sense, feel, and see a piece of God’s greater glory. We are sensory people and our experience of the faith as Catholics comes in and through all of the senses.
Set Apart: It’s What Catholics Do
Our Churches historically – minus a few decades in this past century – have been built with the mindset that they are places “set apart” from the ordinary world. When we walk into Church it ought to feel and look like something special, a place marked for an experience that is out of this world. Indeed the mystery of the Mass is an experience all together out of this world, as we step out of time to participate in the timelessness of the Paschal Mystery.
Our Priests are set apart as well. Set apart for a work that is indeed out of this world. This is why our Priests wear the collar and the vestments at Mass. In the same way too our religious sisters and brothers as well are marked for something greater in the wearing of a habit.
Is Your Meeting Space Set Apart?
When your teens enter the space where you have Life Teen do they have a sense of something special happening? Would they enter and think, “Something big is going on here” or, “They really went to a lot of trouble for us”? Or do they enter a bland room perhaps seeing the dingy floor, the cracked ceiling tiles, and worn out whiteboard with the Life Night title on it? Do they enter the same space week after week and think, “What is so special about this?”
Teens just like the rest of us (probably even more so) are sensory people. Their world is the world of catchy music, flashy TV shows, and interactive computer ads galore. The distractions are numerous and the reasons not to come to your Life Teen program are just as numerous. It’s not because they don’t like you or what you do, it’s because they’re always looking for something “better” to do.
Spending time, talent, and treasure on the environment for your Life Nights and retreats is of utmost importance to the success of your ministry. It is not the environment that will change their hearts of course, but it is the environment that will set the tone, capture their attention, and help them remember the night.
Here are things to remember when looking at how to do an environment:
- You don’t have to spend a ton of money. Paper, balloons, markers, poster paints, string, hooks, and some creativity go a long way. Also, if you ask around many parents and parishioners probably have left over items that are stored in their garage that they will loan or give you.
- Re-use environments. You can use one re-usable environment for a few weeks or even a whole semester which cuts back on cost and time put into the environment each week.
- Focus on one to three areas of your meeting space and make those look great. Example: we often focus on our lobby area, the center of the room where the teens often mingle, and our stage area.
- Evaluate the size of your meeting space. If it is a small space make sure to do things that will make it feel bigger and don’t use lots of large objects that take up room; rather hang things from the ceiling. If you are in a large space do things to make the room feel intimate while still allowing the size to also give a sense of something “big” happening.
- Have fun. My favorite part of our Core meetings is when we start coming up with ideas for environments. Most of the ideas are goofy and not usable but some real gems come out of those brainstorms.
Let your teens know that something special is about to happen this Sunday. Let them know that they have come to a place “set apart” where they can come to know Christ and His Church in a deeper way.