June 9, 2017

New director of youth ministry hopes to lead youths closer to God

Scott Williams, bottom row left, new director of youth ministry for the archdiocese, is pictured with members of the Archdiocesan Youth Council at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis in November 2015. Also pictured to the far right in the bottom row is Kay Scoville, former archdiocesan director of youth ministry, who Williams is succeeding. (Submitted photo)

Scott Williams, bottom row left, new director of youth ministry for the archdiocese, is pictured with members of the Archdiocesan Youth Council at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis in November 2015. Also pictured to the far right in the bottom row is Kay Scoville, former archdiocesan director of youth ministry, who Williams is succeeding. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The disappointment and anger that some young people showed during a moment seven years ago has stayed with Scott Williams, shaping him still in these early days as the new director of youth ministry for the archdiocese.

The moment happened when he was helping with a group of sixth-grade boys as part of the youth ministry program at SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, shortly after he had graduated from college in 2010.

“I couldn’t be at one of their events, and when I came back, a couple of the kids were mad I wasn’t there,” Williams recalls.

“That was my first indication that you play an active role in these kids’ lives. I felt I was accountable to them. It became less about getting the assignment I was to teach, and turned into being with a group of young men I was walking with in their faith.”

From that moment on, Williams says, “I developed a love of journeying with young people—learning about what was going on in their lives and their relationship with God. I just connected with that.”

That love of a journey of faith with young people will continue to guide Williams, who became the archdiocese’s director of youth ministry on May 16.

“My greatest hope is that by the time someone graduates from high school in our archdiocese, they will become some of our greatest leaders and take their faith with them to college, their workplace or wherever they go,” says Williams, who is 30.

“I really hope we can continue to develop a strong network and community of people to work in youth ministry. We need to champion that, and celebrate that. It goes back to the reality that God loves each and every one of these young people so much. We exist because God loves us, and we’re called to share that love with others. We need to teach and empower our young people to share their faith at a young age.”

It’s a goal that comes with major challenges, he says, starting with “a lot of pressure in our culture to be a certain way, to make a certain amount of money.”

There’s also the challenge of conveying the beauty and the depth of the Catholic faith to an age group that is known as Generation Z, a high-school-and-younger age group of about 60 million Americans.

“Our young people are changing the way they communicate and the way they grow up in our culture,” Williams says. “They communicate in pictures, sound bites and 10-second videos. They also learn more through visuals. So how do we hand down our tradition-rich faith to them?

“Some of the experts in the field talk about ‘snackable content’—these bite-size pieces. How do we bring the beauty and truth and goodness of the Gospel in these snackable messages? I’m still learning. We try to model these things in the programs we offer and through social media. The essence of youth ministry hasn’t changed, but the way we do it has.”

Change has also been a part of Williams’ involvement in youth ministry in the archdiocese. After working closely with the individuals in his youth group at SS. Francis and Clare Parish in 2010, he became the director of youth ministry at St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis from 2011 to 2014, leading a program that involved 600 youths.

“I was afraid I was going to lose that connection with the kids, but I found I was always on the front end of things. It’s humbling to be part of a young person’s life in that way.”

Since 2014, he has served in the archdiocese’s office of youth ministry, an experience that has included leading 104 youths on a 12-day pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Poland during the summer of 2016.

Those experiences are just part of the reasons that Williams is a great choice to lead youth ministry in the archdiocese, according to Matt Faley, the director of young adult and college campus ministry for the archdiocese.

“Youth ministry requires a great sense of both faith and vision. These are Scott’s greatest attributes,” Faley notes. “Having worked with him since he started in parish ministry at St. Jude and even more closely over these last three years at the [Catholic Center], Scott has an incredible vision for ministry for our youth. And that vision and the courage it takes to pursue it comes from his life of faith that moves him forward in creative and effective ways.”

That combination of vision and faith was especially evident as Williams planned and led the Indianapolis Catholic Youth Conference (ICYC) in 2016, Faley says.

“I have been to a lot of conferences in my life in the Church, and ICYC was on the top of the list in both creativity and effectiveness for the archdiocese.” Faley says. “The youth and those who serve them are in great hands.” 

Williams is now one of the point persons for the archdiocese as it prepares to host the National Catholic Youth Conference—and about 25,000 youths from across the country—in Indianapolis on Nov. 16-18.

He approaches such challenges as opportunities to help young people move closer to God, all the time relying on certain constants to guide him, starting with his wife Elisabeth, whom he married on May 28, 2016.

“We make it a priority to pray together,” he says. “And the greatest part of our faith is learning to be open to what God has willed for us in our lives.”

In his office, he relies on a map of the archdiocese, the mission statement for youth ministry and his coffee pot.

“I believe that many great things come from a conversation over a cup of coffee,” he notes. “I find great joy in talking, brainstorming and dreaming up new ideas in ministry while sipping on a good cup of coffee.”

He especially relies on his faith, which has deepened during his journey of the past seven years—a journey in which he believes God is always leading the way.

“God calls you to do this, and you say, ‘Are you sure you want me to do this?’ All along the way, God has opened these paths for me.”

It’s a foundation of trust and faith that he wants for the youths in the archdiocese. †

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