July 14, 2017

Camp ‘commissions’ high schoolers as missionary disciples

The students of the Missionary Disciples Institute get hands-on service experience helping local children paint a mural on the DAT House, an Indianapolis community center, on June 15. The immersion experience was offered by Marian University in Indianapolis. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

The students of the Missionary Disciples Institute get hands-on service experience helping local children paint a mural on the DAT House, an Indianapolis community center, on June 15. The immersion experience was offered by Marian University in Indianapolis. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

By Katie Rutter (Special to The Criterion)

This was the fourth day that they had woken up at seven in the morning. Considering that these were high school students on summer break, that early morning rising alone was monumental. Even more shocking was the energy that these young people had at this early hour.

“I love it so far!” said Elliana Aleski, her eyes sparkling with excitement. Elliana is a member of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood and will be a sophomore at Indianapolis’ Roncalli High School in the fall. “The talks are just so engaging, and you just get a wide variety of views from all these different people, and it’s just really interesting to hear their takes on everything.”

Thirty-five high school students journeyed to the campus of Marian University in Indianapolis from across the state as well as Ohio and Kentucky. They were the inaugural class of the new, weeklong Missionary Disciples Institute on June 12-17 hosted by the staff of the university. The goal of the camp, which was funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, is to equip young people with the theological knowledge and practical skills necessary to become ministers in their own communities.

“We’re really digging into ‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ ” said Adam Setmeyer, referring to the 2013 apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis also known as “Evangelii Gaudium.” Setmeyer is the campus minister for Marian University and the project director of the camp. “Pope Francis says, by virtue of our baptism, we’re no longer just missionaries or just disciples, we’re all called to be missionary disciples.”

The students quickly absorbed the idea of this “missionary discipleship.” For them, the key was learning how to serve.

“Service allows you to take what you have learned and instead of a believer, you are now a disciple,” explained David Clayton of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis, who is also a student at Roncalli. “Whenever you are doing it for the common good with your team in solidarity, that’s when you become missionary.”

In a unique move, camp organizers gave the teenagers power to direct their own learning. Each student was asked to choose a breakout group, or “track,” based on the aspect of ministry they wanted to focus on.

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“The five tracks are the five types of ministry found in the Acts of the Apostles,” explained Setmeyer, who had helped to name each group with a Greek word. “The ministry of Diakonia, which is service, the ministry of Didache, which is teaching, the ministry of Leitourgia, which is prayer, the ministry of Koinonia which is sometimes known as community and sometimes known as partnership, and the ministry of Kerygma which is that of proclamation.”

The first three days of the camp revolved around keynote speeches given by experts and missionaries working in the field. Following the presentations, the students broke into their tracks, which were led by Marian University theology teachers, and dove deeper into the topic through discussion and reflection.

On the fourth day, each track group headed out to different sites across Indianapolis and the surrounding area. The goal of this “immersion day” was to put into practice the principles that had been taught all week.

“The idea is to really do ministry on the ground today so that they’re formed in an experience that changes them, so when they go back to their parishes they will be ready to do ministry in a new way,” said Matthew Sherman, the Marian University professor in charge of the Diakonia, or service, track.

A blank wall of a community center for a low-income neighborhood was the subject of the Diakonia track’s experience. Recruiting local kids to help, the students traced their silhouettes in black paint then brushed vibrant hues in the background for a bright kaleidoscope-like effect. Laughter filled the air as some of the students ended up nearly as colorful as the mural.

“I’m serving with a purpose, and I’m serving with joy, and I’m willing to serve,” summarized Patrick Scheidler, a member of St. Bernard Parish in Crawfordsville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

Another group, the Didache, or proclamation track, helped to lead fellow high school students in a theological book discussion at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis. The teens studying preaching on the Kerygma track worked with middle school students at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis to find creative ways to express the Gospel.

The Leitourgia, or prayer, track headed to Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove where the Benedictine sisters taught them about a specific form of prayer and gave them a tour of the monastery.

The students learning about community on the Koinonia track visited a community of women who were recovering from addictions, imprisonment, homelessness and other trying circumstances. These students met some of the residents of the Unleavened Bread Café in Indianapolis, a building that functions as a coffee shop, a home for women, and a meeting place for people who want to turn their lives around.

“We all have our own personal demons, so it was kind of cool to be able to compare our struggles in life to their struggles in life,” said Hadley Hawkins, a senior at Bedford North Lawrence High School and member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford. “It was very hopeful.”

“It’s like the Lord has hand-picked these students to come,” said Elease Womack, the founder of the café, who had arranged for several women to give testimonies to the students. “They all were so attentive to what we were saying. It’s like they can see, ‘Wow, she’s been through something, and how can I be of help?’ ”

Other adults also spoke highly of the high school students as they increasingly embraced the role of missionary discipleship throughout the week. The staff of the Missionary Disciples Institute started the camp because they believed that the teenage years are the perfect time to train young people to be leaders in the community.

“It’s coming to that age where they’re realizing they’re going to have to take charge of what they’re doing, take charge of what they believe,” said Kevin Effron, an assistant track leader and the children’s faith formation coordinator at St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield. “They’re still very open to learning about the faith, but they’re recognizing that if they don’t take it on themselves now, they aren’t really going to have it once they reach college.”

“Archbishop-designate [Charles C.] Thompson said, ‘The youth is not the Church of tomorrow, they are the Church of today,’ and I honestly believe that,” agreed Rachel Gehret, a member of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis and a religion teacher at that school. “So many people can be inspired by these high schoolers.”

Many of the students agreed that the camp made them feel more equipped to handle ministry roles within their community. Some departed with concrete plans to put their knowledge into action. Emma Lashley, who is a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington, said that she wanted to inspire her fellow members of a girls’ youth group.

“I want to get more people involved and more people to experience what prayer and the Gospel and service can do,” Emma said.

The camp concluded with a “commissioning service” that, mirroring the actions of Christ to the Apostles, sent 35 young people into the world to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

(Katie Rutter is a freelance writer and member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington.)

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