Too Much of a Good Thing
The deceptive thing about standing
on the ocean shore and looking out at the water is that it looks
as if the water ends. In reality, though, what we can see is only
a very small part of an ocean that extends for miles beyond our
view. The many streams, lakes and rivers that empty into the ocean
must also be taken into account. All added up, something that
from the ocean shore looks so comprehensible is actually much
This fall, the National Conference
of Catholic Bishops waded once again into the waters of young
adult ministry by passing an extensive 77-page pastoral plan for
young adults entitled "Sons and Daughters of the Light: A
Pastoral Plan for Ministry With Young Adults." Bishop Tod
D. Brown of Boise, chairman of the laity committee, introduced
the pastoral plan at the meeting and explained that it was so
extensive because young adults are in so many stages of life.
According to the document, young adults
currently make up approximately 30 percent of the total U.S. population.
When speaking of young adults, the bishops refer to men and women
in their late teens, 20's and 30's. That group is further defined
to include single people, married couples--with children or without--and
those considering vocations.
The bishops developed the plan after
holding a series of town-hall type meetings with forums of young
adults. Insights gained in those meetings are included throughout
In the Introduction of the document,
the bishops list three goals which they hope to accomplish with
this pastoral plan: 1) firmly state that young adults deserve
the Church's attention, and that we, as members of a community
of faith, must actively invite and welcome them into the life
of the Church; 2) describe briefly the life situation of young
adults so that the Church can effectively respond to their needs
and concerns and 3) develop a comprehensive and workable plan
of action for ministering with people in their late teens, 20's
and 30's based on the four goals of connecting young adults with
the Church, Jesus Christ, the mission of the Church in the world
and a community of their peers.
Michelle M. Mystkowski of Patchogue,
New York, who is quoted in the document, says, "As a young
adult in today's dynamic society, I, like so many other young
adults, am hungry. I have felt a strong spiritual hunger, a hunger
which stems from the need to discover who I am, who is my God,
and what is my purpose in society....It is my hope that the Catholic
Church will help guide me through this transitional period of
my life....It is also my hope that the Catholic Church will provide
us, as young adults, with the opportunities to truly feel an integral
and necessary part of the Church community; to provide us the
chance to gather with other young adults so that we may share
and reflect on our life journey and self-discovery together."
One example of ministry offered in
the plan is to form support groups, send anniversary cards and
have an anniversary supper for young married couples. "This
shows an ongoing concern for the couples and helps to keep them
connected during the early years of marriage, when the divorce
rate is highest," the document states.
a Good Beginning
To its credit, the plan recognizes
that ministry to young adults has been lacking for quite some
time. By advocating reaching young adults with peer ministry,
mentoring, use of the Internet and e-mail, the bishops have shown
a true desire to reach out to young adults where they are in life.
But by addressing the plan to those
in leadership positions in the Church, such as youth ministers,
campus ministers, pastors and pastoral associates, the bishops
are asking more from a group that is already overburdened.
The document is full of comments such
as Mystkowski's stating that young adults are longing for and
willing to take advantage of opportunities to nurture their faith
lives. They also express a need for support from the Church. That
desire and willingness should fuel this plan. Unfortunately, the
responsibility of initiating "Sons and Daughters of the Light"
is left by the bishops to Church administrators. And given the
plan's length and comprehensiveness, how many are likely even
to read this document, let alone to implement it?
For example, the plan deals with issues
such as Confirmation preparation, college, marriage, vocations
and the Baptism of children. The needs of those preparing for
Confirmation are quite different from those preparing for marriage,
and the same ministers can hardly deal effectively with the problems
of teenagers, the engaged and young married couples all at the
same time. Also, combining these very different age-groups seems
a failure to recognize the distinct problems and challenges that
present themselves at the many different stages of young adulthood.
Matthew T. Dunn of Beavercreek, Ohio,
points out, "Today's young adults are at a disadvantage....There
is a story and a face with each one of these lives....We are the
generation which has grown up in broken families. We have gay
and lesbian friends who want to be accepted for who they are....We
have friends and family members who are divorced, we have friends
who are single and pregnant...."
With this pastoral plan the bishops
have taken an important first step in addressing the needs and
problems of young adult ministry. More must follow. We need to
recognize the distinct demands of each group among the young.
We must recruit and enable capable guides to minister to them
and mentor them in their journey of faith. Most importantly, we
must encourage and inspire these young adults to develop their
own faith lives both on a personal level and with their peers.
With "Sons and Daughters of the Light" the bishops have
given young adults the resources and opportunities; now it's up
to the young adults to take on some of the responsibilities.--S.H.B.