Praying and playing are both key to keeping it together when you are a youth minister, said US-based Life Teen coach and coordinator of diocesan collaboration Lily Hannan.
Ms Hannan was one of three resource speakers at the Life Teen Aotearoa Training Convention on April 12-14 at St Peter’s College in Epsom, Auckland. The others were Life Teen CEO Randy Raus and youth ministry expert Doug Tooke.
A total of 171 people, who were mostly in youth ministry, came from throughout the country for the training.
Ms Hannan came to Life Teen first as a teenager who always felt like an outsider because her family moved around so much.
“When I was 16, we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. I was probably a little bitter, a little jaded, tired of being on the outside. We were going to church and I didn’t want to go to church. I just want to be at home and watch TV and not go to church. I was sitting on the back seat of the car and I was praying that we don’t find a church,” she said.
“But we did. We found it. And I actually, probably, had my first God moments at church that day. It was during the Consecration. I felt this warmth and this peace and this love come upon me,” she recalled.
Ms Hannan said a Life Teen youth minister came up to her after Mass and invited her to join a Life Night Mass.
“I came to Life Night and I actually left Life Night early because I felt alone and on the outside and it was awkward,” she said.
She said this experience kept happening and she was getting jaded and bitter until another teen reached out to her with the suggestion of a retreat.
“I made it to this retreat because this teen reached out to me and invited me and said that she’ll be with me. I finally entered into relationships with other people in that youth group,” she said.
It was at that retreat where she learned that the warm feeling she was experiencing in front of the Eucharist was due to the presence of Jesus.
“I recognised that it was Jesus and he loved me and he forgave me of my sins and that I belonged to him and I belonged to his Church. All that longing for community and feeling like I wasn’t accepted just started to go away, and I felt like I belonged,” she said.
Ms Hannan said that often people will ask her for help to launch Life Teen at their parish at short notice.
She said it is important to understand that youth ministry “is not an event that happens at church once a week”.
“It’s a team job. We need time to develop your vision, share that vision, recruit core members and train them in relational ministry or accompaniment,” she explained. “That all takes time.”
She said youth ministers build individual relationships with core members and build a core community.
Life Teen’s goal is to lead teens closer to God, she stressed.
“That happens through relationships. Through core members. When God sent his Son, he didn’t send a video recording. He didn’t gather us in a classroom. He sent his Son, a person,” she said.
Ms Hannan said teens will show up for an “authentic community”, which youth ministers should build.
“We can have fun. We can [be] social. But don’t let that be the only thing. [The goal] is Jesus,” she said.
Ms Hannan said youth ministers can often feel overwhelmed and under-resourced. Her advice: Pray.
“I’ve been in youth ministry maybe 12 years now, and I still, like, fight for a daily prayer life. When I don’t pray, I feel bitter, overwhelmed, tired . . . when I do pray I feel loved, cared for, energised. Everything’s going to work out for my good and for God’s glory,” she said.