Young adult ministry expert offers advice at ARISE workshops

Young adult outreach “is the critical problem in the Catholic Church today,” according to Father John Cusick, Director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Young Adult Ministry. Father Cusick spoke throughout the Archdiocese of Boston during the week of April 20, at a series of workshops entitled “Preparing a Place: Becoming a Young Adult Responsive Parish.”

These workshops were offered to all parishes of the archdiocese in response to a survey taken at the onset of the ARISE Together in Christ process of spiritual renewal. In that survey, almost 40 percent of parish respondents felt that it was important to, “engage young adults in our parish faith community and address the needs of young families,” ranking it in the top three out of 10 stated parish needs.

Priests and leaders from more than 100 parishes came to hear practical strategies for inviting young adults back into the life of the parish. Father Cusick was the keynote speaker in a line-up that included Kathy Motyka and Sr. Honora Nolty, OP, representing RENEW International, and Father Matt Williams, Director of the Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults in the archdiocese.

Father Cusick is considered one of the preeminent experts on young adult ministry in the United States. He is best known for his role in the founding and expansion of Theology on Tap, a popular young adult ministry that has spread across the United States and beyond. He has written books and consulted to the United States Catholic bishops on the topic of evangelization of young adults. Father Cusick also serves as a consulting presenter for RENEW International, the Catholic organization that developed ARISE Together in Christ.

Father Cusick shared his insights into the religious attitudes and behaviors of young adults gained through his many years as a parish pastor and as a minister to young adult Catholics. Acknowledging that young adult Catholics have become less affiliated with organized religion, with many young people considering themselves, “spiritual but not religious,” Father Cusick offered attendees a message of hope that this group, while sometimes hidden, is definitely reachable.

Topping the list as the most important dimension for young Catholics coming to Sunday Mass is their desire for hospitality. While “singable” music and a good homily are also important to this age group, they are especially drawn by the sense of being welcomed and valued. In his own parish in Chicago, Father Cusick promotes communion among the people by encouraging parishioners to reach out to those they do not know. He also invites members of his parish staff to welcome people after Mass once a month and take referrals on areas in which people need assistance.

For many young people, their opportunity to re-encounter the parish occurs in the sacraments of matrimony and baptism. Father Cusick describes the three “moments” that sacraments provide which can draw young adults into greater involvement in their Catholic faith. The first moment is preparation; the second is the actual celebration; the third is follow-up. Father Cusick promotes this so-called “3rd Moment of a Sacrament” by actively building relationships with young adults in the years following the sacrament, to send the message, “you matter and I care.”

Inviting young adult Catholics in their 20s and 30s into the life of the parish has never been more important than today. This group’s talents and energies are needed for our Church’s present and future.

“We must find our replacements and mentor them.” Having a “preferential option for young people” means that when the next spot opens up for a lector or eucharistic minister, the pastor can tap into a young person to fill that spot, Father Cusick said.

The “Jesus method” of organizing works best: direct personal invitation. Jesus began his public ministry by preaching, but, “He did not invite people to put their names on a sign-up sheet for a meeting Tuesday night in the basement of the synagogue,” joked Father Cusick.

Finally, Father Cusick spoke about the ongoing opportunity for religious education using the phrase, “Presume little; explain lots.”

For example, he said, each parish could prepare a brochure explaining every symbol, statue, and window in the church so when the child asks the parent, “what’s that mean?” the parent has a ready answer.

Likewise, when the young person asks, “Why should I go to church on Sunday?” Father Cusick’s short answer is, “We go to church so we will remember who we are. We are people of God.” Father Cusick addressed this important question with a gathering of young adults at a Theology on Tap event at Hennesy’s, the popular Boston watering hole, on April 22.

Commenting on her experience, Pat Kennedy, who attended the training session on behalf of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Newton, said, “I am so thankful for this dynamic workshop. It covered truths we have known, but presented them in a wonderful way. I am now excited and hopeful about reaching young adults.”