Mercer County youth groups kick off with new activities, faces
By Jennifer Mauro | Associate Editor
A little paint, a lot of mud and some music, food and friendship are familiar signs that a new year is underway for teens in St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton – and this year is no different.
“Our tradition is usually a messy kickoff,” Gez Ford, parish youth minister, said of the Life Teen event held in September to usher in a new year of ministry.
The parish is just one of many across Mercer County not only settling into familiar routines but welcoming new programs, fresh faces and exciting opportunities for the Diocese’s youth as well.
Ford, for example, said he is looking forward to new faith-sharing events to build upon the many weekly meetings already in place. Life Teen meets Sunday evenings after Mass – a service the teens are heavily involved in whether it’s as a reader, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion or performing in the Life Teen band. The group meets again Thursday evenings, which begin with fun and games and are followed by discussions that look at the upcoming weekend’s Scripture readings and how they relate to the teens’ everyday lives.
Two Wednesday evenings a month, high school girls meet for faith sharing; boys meet two Wednesday mornings. And amongst it all, Ford said it’s not unusual to find a group of teens who have gathered on their own for prayer discussions or in the parish’s perpetual adoration chapel.
“It makes your job so much easier when they’re so motivated to grow in faith,” Ford said.
One of the new events he’s looking forward to this year is the “Mass Sandwich” – an all-night lock-in set for December featuring worship, presentations, small-group discussions and a movie on the Nativity. The event will start and end with a Mass.
Ford said the event will fit in with the overall theme of the year – “Unfinished.”
“If you feel that you’re struggling or that your faith journey is on a roller coaster, the good news is that the Lord is not finished with you,” he said.
The theme – in addition to plans to focus on the Blessed Mother throughout the semester – ties into the “Mass Sandwich,” especially by focusing on the Holy Family during Advent.
“Jesus and Mary are real, identifiable people,” he said. “He loves so much that he becomes human – someone we can identify with, and Mary even more so because she was human.”
Ford said giving thanks and praying for grace are good measuring sticks when it comes to the holy endeavor of staying in God’s presence.
“I’m trying to tell teens that ‘Jesus loves you’ and for them to make a response. When you do that, you constantly remain faithful to the endeavor,” Ford said.
New to Town
While Ford, who has been a youth minister for 11 years, looks to the new year with some familiar faces by his side, Alexis Duffy is taking a new direction – a BOLD new direction to be exact.
Duffy, a recent graduate of Holy Cross College at Notre Dame, Indiana, relocated from Georgia to take on the role of coordinator of BOLD Youth Ministry in Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton.
Though youth ministry is not new to the parish, this is the first year it decided to join BOLD – a statewide program that brings leaders and youth together from different parishes.
“I’m excited to be the new face of BOLD and to see how the parish handles the program,” she said, adding that she has received positive feedback since arriving in June.
In order to to discuss best practices and plan events, Duffy meets once a week with the youth minister from St. David the King Parish, Princeton Junction, one of a handful of BOLD Youth Ministries in the Diocese.
“Hearing from other leaders with more experience than me is helpful,” said Duffy, who majored in theology with a minor in education. “But also, I am young, which helps me relate to my youth group.”
In an effort to not only relate, but encourage other young leaders, the parish’s youth group meets every other Monday. Twice a month, the group meets as a whole for prayer, discussions and activities. The remaining two Mondays are set aside for the peer servant team – sophomores and older who want to take on more responsibilities in the group.
In addition to these weekly groups are the statewide BOLD events, such as the fall retreat set for November. Duffy said one benefit of the coordination between parishes is for teens to be surrounded by hundreds of their faith-based peers.
“Sometimes, it’s not considered cool to be a Christian, especially in high school, where teens may not feel comfortable talking about their faith,” she said. “But getting 200 people together who believe in the same thing shows them, ‘Hey, there’s a spot for me in this world.’”[[In-content Ad]]