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The Vocation to Lay Ministry in the Church

June 20, 2018
IF THE CHURCH WANTS TO CONNECT WITH AND ATTRACT MORE YOUNG PEOPLE, IT NEEDS TO PROVIDE MEANINGFUL OPPORTUNITIES FOR INVOLVEMENT AND MEET YOUNG PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE.
Every individual engages in their faith differently. Made in God's image, we are all called to use our gifts in some capacity or another. For many people, especially young people, it is difficult to see how and where our gifts can contribute to the life of the Church. It has been said in social media and among my friend group that millennials are looking for their work to be "meaningful". This can imply many different things, but for most, it means pursuing endeavours outside of their professional lives wherein they find personal satisfaction by working on projects that fulfill their desire for something more. Personally, I express my faith through music, specifically as an organist and choir director. After completing a business management degree, I managed a full-time professional career as a buyer in the retail industry for many years. Once my day job ended, I worked in the evenings at a city parish practising the organ in preparation for weekend Masses and assisting in the development of music ministry. I have been fortunate to have pastors who have always supported and utilized my gifts. This past spring, I was blessed to have been offered a full-time position working as Social and Community Coordinator for my home parish.
I don't believe that I'm alone in scenarios like the one mentioned above. Oftentimes, roles at parishes are filled by individuals who work a full-time job and volunteer their time running parish programs after they've finished their 9-to-5. It begs the question: "why the Church and not a non-profit?” What is it that calls young people to work in specifically lay ministry instead of in another industry? For me, I was captivated by the tangible opportunities for ministry growth and development available at my parish, and I was deeply attracted to the sense of belonging offered by this special community. I was able to see how my gifts and skills could help grow the ministries of the parish. I feel a true sense of purpose and ownership in the success and growth of its ministries and outreach programs. I truly believe that the parish lives by the message of the Gospel and that in living it out, we are greater than the sum of the individuals. I feel welcome to come as I am on Sundays for Mass, and I know everyone else feels welcome to come experience their faith as they are called to. These are things that I, along with other young people, value greatly.
Connecting with young people is relatively easy today. Social media is often viewed as the best tool to reach younger individuals. As the current generation ages, it is important to keep in mind that the manner in which they communicate will likely evolve past the methods that they are used to now. It is important that the Church make an effort to communicate with these individuals in the channels with which they are familiar and comfortable. This means that there will have to be a serious effort to not only follow but also lead in terms of communications.
If the Church wants to connect with and attract more young people, it needs to provide meaningful opportunities for involvement and meet young people where they are. There needs to be a concerted effort to involve young adults in every aspect of parish life, from planning liturgies and sacramental preparation to social justice programs and parish social groups. I believe it is important that these opportunities not be separate, nor that they alienate them from the parish community. Having young adult ministries may unconsciously reinforce the feeling that young people are not part of the parish community as a whole. It is important to evaluate these programs and the opportunities they present. What happens when you're no longer a "young adult"? Where do you fit in then? We must ensure that people involved in these groups do not begin to disappear from the fabric of the parish in search of another community to belong to.
So what do these opportunities look like? They'll vary from community to community, but ultimately, their purpose is the same: finding a place where young people are invited not only to explore their gifts and talents but also feel supported in a capacity to grow within the community. Almost as important as what opportunities are offered is how they are presented. As much as possible, opportunities should be presented in a genuine manner. Pastors should actively seek the energy of young adults and solicit their input, not because they are young, but because they are valuable members of the community who will grow into a spirit of service within their spiritual home. Visibility of these young leaders is equally important, especially given that students or young adults are not likely to give their time if they do not see a tangible opportunity for personal growth and development.
Attracting young individuals to work in ministry is not as difficult as it may at times appear. By providing opportunities for meaningful interactions on a day-to-day basis, we will naturally create leadership opportunities for individuals who have the gifts to nurture as well as sustain the growth of young people involved in parish life.
MICHAEL PIRRI is a lay minister for St. Basil’s Catholic Parish at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, where he serves as the Social and Community Coordinator. He graduated from King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario with a Business Management degree. He currently serves as chair of the Toronto chapter of the Royal School of Church Music Canada. In his spare time, Michael dedicates himself to work in liturgical music and the organ.
This article was originally published in our 2017 Salt+Light Magazine: Youth Edition. To view the full magazine, visit our website www.saltandlighttv.org or click  HERE.

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