As the synod on young people was ending in Rome at the end of October, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was beginning an expansion of young adult ministries in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. On Oct. 24, he met with Sean Allen, director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry, and young adult representatives from 14 different parishes to listen to their perspectives on the state of parish life in the area.
All of the young adults present were trained through the Intentional Discipleship program and active in at least one young adult ministry. Developed from the content of Sherry Weddell’s book, “Forming Intentional Disciples,” the series included presentation material, training videos and practical skills for sharing one’s story and God’s story, as well as one-on-one mentoring. Allen described it as a “series designed for young adults who are already trying to follow Jesus as His disciple.”
“The sessions focused on two goals: personal growth and reaching out. The participants learn the stages of a faith journey in order to recognize these stages along their own personal journey and identify the next step for them to intentionally grow in discipleship. Using the same stages of a faith journey, they identify where others are along their faith journey in order to determine the best way to meet them where they are and accompany them to the next stage.”
The young adults gathered for dinner, conversation and evening prayer with the bishop. Coming from a variety of backgrounds — some cradle Catholics, some converts — the majority were single women. They attended more than one parish, including weekday Masses. Allen said the timing of many young adult programs and commitments were difficult for many young families with children, who often found a niche in parish life via school programs.
Since the Intentional Discipleship program began in the fall of 2015, more than 80 young adults have participated, from Elkhart to Mishawaka. Allen expressed appreciation for their passion and hopes to continue growing the program.
“The series is for young adults who are leaders or potential leaders within the young adult community and in their parish. Those who participate are regular participants in other diocesan young adult activities in order to be considered. Pastors can also recommend people who will be working in young adult ministry, since this series doubles as ministry training for reaching young adults,” he explained.
The Intentional Discipleship program has made a significant impact on their present lives, the participants said.
“(It) rekindled my desire to have conversations with others about the Lord at the water cooler at work and in new settings. The tools have been helpful in engaging others in conversation about faith,” Liz Loughran mentioned.
Stephen Horton found, “(The Intentional Discipleship program) was a confidence booster; a safe place to talk things out and to take fears away (as we trained).”
Mary Flynt agreed, recalling how the program “gave me the words to map and understand where people are at with their faith, how to phrase things …. And helping me to get them to the door of the church.” She found learning “how to evangelize was super helpful,” especially after learning about “the situation of our generation.”
Flynt felt compelled to act and aid “to set afire to the Church. “What are we going to about it?” she asked herself.
A personal commitment to the new evangelization was expressed by many young adults, focusing on a pro-active approach. Once they knew and loved the Lord, they deeply desired to share this true joy with their peers.
“The solution is obviously us. Christ himself invested in 12 people,” Joseph Torma said. He shared how he encountered difficulty finding a niche in his local parish and so turned outward to begin a Bible study to share his faith with others. “You have to put yourself out there,” he encouraged, echoing the call of missionary discipleship.
Setbacks and disappointments with the current state of young adult life in many parishes were also expressed. From feelings of isolation and a lack of “being understood and belonging” to a committed place, the young adults shared stories of wanting to be known and loved. Bishop Rhoades asked to know more about the roots of their emotions, hearing that many felt pressure, stress, broken relationships, a lack of trust and constant moving were some of the many challenges.
Bishop Rhoades expressed his gratitude for their faithfulness to Christ and His Church, as well as the great depth and breadth of their conversation. He asked them to continue sharing their unique gifts with their parishes, reaching out to their pastors asking how they can help and praying for the development of the young adult ministry.
“It’s not just business as usual,” he explained. “It can’t be. Young disciples, stay rooted in your prayer. The cross is a part of it, too. The cross is our saving cross. The Church needs you!”
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