Blog/CYM Blog Celebrating Persons by Perry Rihl “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common… They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-43, 46-47). A couple years ago, I went on a mission to Togo in West Africa. It’s a tiny little country that you’ve probably never heard of, but 15 of us spent a month there doing everything from shoveling gravel to giving witness talks. Our favorite part was walking the little alleyways of the village, getting to know families, bringing Communion to the sick, and experiencing how the people lived and loved. What struck us most was that there was such a deep feeling of community throughout the village. Families were more tight-knit, but even the connections between different families were stronger. There was no such thing as a private suffering or a private victory because everyone experienced the highs and lows of life together. When someone was in need, he was taken in by a neighbor. When a family had more than they needed, they knew who in the village could benefit most from the surplus. There was no thought of “mine” and “yours.” The people we stayed with saw the needs of others and knew how to react. The most beautiful thing was that the Church stood as the central hub of the community. Prayers were not general or abstract. The entire community would pray for this person’s bad harvest and for that person’s illness. The offertory didn’t catch people fumbling in their pockets for a couple of loose coins. People brought fruit and diapers, tools and money, all to be distributed by the Church to those most in need. There was no sense of needing to escape the village or move on to bigger or better things. On the contrary, the loss of a person by death or transition was experienced by the entire community, and the addition of a person through birth or settlement was celebrated as a victory for all. THE TAKEAWAY What I love about our Church is that she understands the importance of community. Man was not meant to be alone, so Christ established the Church as a community, as a family. It’s why we are encouraged to celebrate the victory of the saints, and mourn in common with the souls in purgatory. That sense of community hits me at every Easter Vigil and every Baptism as people are called by name and added to the family tree. But sadly, it seems that we have otherwise lost this sense of community within our parishes. People sit equidistant from each other in the pews until they are forced by tardiness or proximity to move closer to someone else. We don’t even know the name of the person to our left, let alone his/her needs or what they need prayers for. We shake hands at the sign of peace, but then get frustrated with those same people as we drive out of the parking lot. As ministers, this should appall us. We should be fighting this tide, but I know as well as anyone that I avoid eye contact with the sneezing person so I don’t have to shake their hand. TURNING THE TIDE The best way to help establish your Church as a place of welcome and a place of community is within your youth ministry program. We are being presented with an opportunity to celebrate and mourn with our teens. We are in a position to let them know that their victories are our victories, and that their sorrows are ours as well. We should make a deliberate effort to seek out the good news in the lives of our teens, and celebrate as a community. Let’s give a round of applause for the girl who made the varsity field hockey team. Let’s go to the band concert of that quiet kid who wouldn’t invite you on his own. Sing happy birthday! Have everyone give a fist-bump to the kid who ran his first half marathon or just set a record in backstroke. But let’s also be ready to mourn and pray with teens when a relative passes, or when a parent walks out. Be ready with open arms when their school is rocked by tragedy or when that teen you thought was solid has his first big crisis of faith. Do we need to know every detail of the teens’ lives? No. Nor do we need to broadcast every little thing to the entire youth group. Everything has its time and place. We just need to be open, available, and aware of what is going on just below the surface so that we can better serve our teens and help build community. We need to be with them on in their successes and their failings. As youth ministers and as volunteers, we can ask questions about their lives and passions. We can get our hands dirty in the muck and mire of life in order to show they are not alone. Ministry is a blessed mission in which we can go beyond serving our teens, and serve persons. We can help build community and friendships that last a lifetime. When our teens see that they are not simply floating though life alone, and that there is a youth group and Church that cares about them and for them, they will learn to support and pray for each other, and the Church as a whole will flourish, grow, and be truly apostolic.