The session for Black Catholic Youth Ministers was led by Ron Landfair (sponsored by Our Sunday Visitor) and me. Along with us, we had Vincent Guider and Tiffany Swann-Covington serving as small group facilitators. Brian Johnson, the Director of Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of Galveston/Houston, was a keynote at the conference and was present in the workshop as well. Also in attendance were Valerie Washington, Executive Director of the National Black Catholic Congress, and Sr./Dr. Jamie Phelps, Director of the Institute of Black Catholic Studies of Xavier University of Louisiana. Also, present at the opening ceremony of the conference was the Supreme Knight/CEO of the Knights of Peter Claver, F. DeKarlos Blackmon. There was power at this conference, and the Black Catholic Community was well represented. We broke the session up into 4 topics: Formation, Technology, Intentional Gatherings, and Where Do We See Ourselves in 5 years.
The overall discussion revolved around the need for resources in our community focused on helping our young people see a connection to their faith and their place in the church so that they will stay involved as they get older and participate in leadership roles in the church. Here are summaries of what was discussed in the small groups:
Somehow the thirst for knowledge and improvement needs to be created among our adults in our youth ministry community. We need to always be "growing" in our faith so that we can be better servants to our youth. This group also discussed somehow connecting with publishers to promote "Black Catholic friendly" training materials. As a community, we need to promote education/training for all our ministers, but specifically to our youth ministers. These trainings need to be affordable and easily accessible (a locally and/or regional form of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies (IBCS) for those who cannot attend in New Orleans). It was suggested that the national Black Catholic organizations create a fund to help people attend trainings and/or events like NCCYM so that we can be present and our voices can be heard at these national gatherings.
This group talked about how technology is the realm in which young people and young adults live. No longer are they stationary at a PC, but everything is mobile and on the go. So how does youth ministry connect with this reality? This group discussed using websites, video conferencing, social conferencing, etc. to reach out to all communities and to focus our efforts as a youth ministry community. They also suggested that our national Black Catholic organizations help lead the effort in making this happen.
Based upon the participants' experience at NCCYM 2010 a consensus was reached that the NCCYM conferences should suffice for a national gathering of Black Catholic youth & young adult ministers and those ministering to those demographics. There is really no need to develop something new or to 'reinvent the wheel' as the current model works well. Steps are being made to make sure this conference is more inclusive of our Black Catholic heritage and spirituality. People who attended from our community felt like they were actually "a part" of the event because of what was on stage and the type of music and exhibitors that were showcased.
The main need for being at NCCYM is we, as a community, need to practice the ministry of presence. It is up to us to be at any and all Catholic events so that our presence is felt and our voices are heard. If we are not there, then our needs can be overlooked, and our youth can be forgotten. Right now the push for "diversity" is about including the Hispanic/Latino community because they will be the majority of Catholics in this country in a few years. That is understandable, but we need the same attention given to the needs of our people, especially on a national level. It is up to us!! It is up to us to support our conference, but also to be at conferences such as NCCYM and NCYC because they are our conferences as well.
Where Do We See Ourselves in 5 Years?:
This group discussed where we should go in the field of youth ministry. The realization is that many of our parishes are financially strapped, but resources should be dedicated to a vibrant youth ministry program (whether it is to hire somebody to be dedicated to this ministry or provide financial resources for events). A suggestion was made to ask all the national Black Catholic organizations to figure out a way to get grants to make this happen because the trend is that many of our young people become young adults and leave the church, and a vibrant youth ministry is key for young people to feel a sense of ownership in the Catholic Church.
In late January, some of the team met with the Membership of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) at our Annual Meeting, and we presented these findings. Several of us from around the country have been working on a project, the Black Catholic Youth Ministry Vitality Project (BCYMVP), for the past few years. This project looks at our needs and suggests resources on how to increase the awareness and vibrancy of Black Catholic Youth Ministry nationwide. We presented this project as well. The end result is to present a document outlining the realities of Black Catholic Youth Ministry to be shared with our Catholic community so that all entities involved can rally around this cause because it is all about serving our young people and helping them to understand that this is their church. In the end, the call to unity was the resounding message from all these events/meetings. We are asking all the "competing" entities vying for the attention/attendance of our youth ministry communities to come together for the sake of our future. It is up to us to make this happen. It's time to leave the egos at the door and come together and unite as a people. Our ancestors didn't fight and sacrifice for us to hate on one another. It is all about coming together to provide better opportunities for our youth so that they can take our Black Catholic church to the next level. Remember it is not about us, but about what God does through us. "Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable."
Ansel Augustine is the Associate Director and Coordinator of Black Youth Ministry for the CYO Office of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. If you want more information about the work of the Black Catholic Youth Ministry Vitality Project Task Group, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.