When I was a teenager, my mother worked as the youth minister at my parish, so I ended up going to every service project and every prayer service we hosted. We weren’t a big group. There were four of us on the core committee, with others coming in and out when they needed service hours for confirmation or graduation. I remember having a lot of fun.
While we ran service projects, such as collecting coats for the homeless in the fall and painting Habitat for Humanity houses in the spring, a lot of other groups in the parish requested our help, too.
Often, they’d ask us to do the boring work, like setting up chairs and taking out the garbage at a parish dinner. While we were more than happy to help, mom always made it clear to the parishioners that whatever the kids were involved in, adults had to participate, too, and vice versa.
Volunteers couldn’t just use us as “cheap labor” to do the things they didn’t want to do. She thought it was important that we got to be an integral part of the church community from a young age.
Because of mom’s view, many of the members of our youth group still are active in the church and in community service.
My mom knew something that isn’t always obvious to adults: Teens are talented and have a lot to offer.
But why have some teens moved away from the church? Some say it’s because homilies are boring and don’t apply to teens’ lives. Some say it’s because what the church says doesn’t apply to modern life and modern problems. Those complaints have some validity.
Adults forget. They don’t understand. For many adults, teens seem like space aliens. That’s where the boring homilies and boring service projects come from. When teens walk away from places like that, the rifts in our communities grow wider and deeper, and everyone suffers.
A true community is not one where everyone thinks, acts and looks the same. Good communities have and celebrate variety.
The best, most welcoming church communities are those in which young people have a consistent and open dialogue with older generations. In these places, young people are on parish councils, learning about and offering their opinions on the challenges facing their lives and communities.
In these places, young people talk about their experiences at youth conventions and involve the parish in their service projects. In these places, teenage enthusiasm lights up adult cynicism.
In these places, the generation raised on constant access to information and new technology can offer new perspectives and solutions that others may not have thought about. In these places, teens are included and made to feel they’re a part of something much bigger.
If that doesn’t sound like your parish or school, you can change that by getting involved.
Teens have to remind adults of their worth by stepping up, getting involved in their communities and reminding everyone that being young is about more than just getting ready to change the world in the future. It’s about changing it in the present.