St. John Paul II had a special closeness to the heart of the youth of this world. He understood the trials and concerns of the youth better than others, and he had a beautiful message of hope for them. In one of his World Youth Day addresses, he said, “You young people have in a special way the task of witnessing today to the faith; the commitment to bring the Gospel of Christ — the Way, the Truth and the Life… to build a new civilization — a civilization of love, of justice and of peace.” Recognizing the importance of our youth as our future is essential to our parish. Fortunately, with Jeremy Vest at the helm of our Youth Ministry, we are giving hope to the future of our church.
We have two main components to our Youth Ministry — Life Teen for high schoolers and Edge for middle schoolers. Meetings and events take place with each of these groups. During the school year, Life Teen meets weekly on Thursday evenings. The students share a meal, play games, and have short talks about how they can encounter God in their experiences as teenagers.
“So many important things in life are centered around meals,” Jeremy says. “You even see this in Jesus’ ministry in the Bible. So we find that having a meal for them is just a way to engage socially. It’s a laid-back time to visit and catch up on what is going on in each other’s lives.”
After the meal, the youth enjoy some games and then talk about what it looks like to live the faith in today’s culture.
“We talk about the things that teens are experiencing and how they can deal with and encounter God amidst the pressures of school or their lives,” Jeremy says. “We really focus on making this a welcoming and safe space. I always say that we don’t have a litmus test at the door of how religious you are. You don’t have to know a certain number of prayers or come every single week in order to be welcome here. If our kids don’t feel comfortable being able to be themselves here, they won’t open up about their questions or concerns that they have.”
From these weekly youth groups, smaller discipleship groups have emerged, including Bible studies. These groups meet on different nights to delve deeper into their faith.
“This has grown out of the great big group that we have,” Jeremy says. “These teenagers are wanting to dive deeper and learn more. We have done a series on different types of prayer, a study of Jesus on the Cross, and this summer we are doing a study on the Gospel of John. One night, before we began our study, someone had a question and we ended up spending our entire time discussing that topic. This is exactly what we are here for. It is good that they have questions about our faith.
“If they feel comfortable bringing their questions here knowing that they will be received and listened to respectfully, then we are doing something right,” he adds.
Edge Nights are open to seventh and eighth graders, taking place every other Friday. The students also share a meal, then enjoy games and activities along with a short talk.
“Middle schoolers are nuts and it is great!” Jeremy says. “The crazier, messier, and wilder the games, the better. We mainly focus on them having fun and working to keep them enjoying their time at church each week. Middle school is when students are beginning to have their own thoughts and ideas, so we also work to have some of our high school students involved because they look up to them.”
In addition to the regular meetings during the school year, the summer months offer several big events for the youth. First, the high school students have the opportunity to participate in the Life Teen Camp Cove Crest trip to northeast Georgia. This week-long trip includes all of the summer camp staples of hiking, white-water rafting, and other great outdoor activities alongside daily Mass, praise and worship, and lakeside Confession. The students leave their phones at home for the week and just spend time in nature and seeking God.
“We have seen incredible things come out of this camp,” Jeremy says. “We are so thankful for the tremendous generosity of our parish. We fundraise as much as we can but costs increase all the time. We have 23 kids who attended this year. We are excited to see the fruit from this trip.”
Both Life Teen and Edge participants volunteer to help run the Vacation Bible School for the elementary kids of the parish. There is nearly a 1:1 ratio of older kids to help with the fun activities for the younger kids.
Summer events typically include the Steubenville Youth Conference in Orlando, though there was not a group attending this summer due to scheduling conflicts. This great event presents national speakers along with incredible opportunities to experience Jesus through the sacraments and adoration.
Finally, summer includes several social nights for the kids, with activities like bowling, beach day, or game nights — all fun opportunities for the kids to get together and have fun in each other’s company.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that we just want the youth to know that they have a place here,” Jeremy says. “They are welcome and wanted in our community.”
These programs wouldn’t be possible without the incredible adult stewards that we have in our parish. There are many roles to fill within this ministry, from helping to provide food to leading and mentoring the teens.
“We provide any training that is needed, but ultimately what our volunteers need is a desire to accompany teens in their faith,” Jeremy says. “The Holy Spirit works in incredible ways. But there are needs in our ministry that aren’t as hands-on. If you are willing and able, we will find a way to use your generosity of time in whatever way we can. We have one parent who loves to cook, so he helps by providing the food. You don’t have to be a theology expert or amazing with kids, you just have to be willing.”
For information on Youth Ministry events, visit the Youth Ministry page on the parish website. To find out how you can support our Youth Ministry, contact Jeremy Vest at email@example.com or 386-445-2246, ext. 111.