September 9, 2022

Catechesis Supplement

Conference draws people from various backgrounds who serve youths

Marian University students who are part of the school’s San Damiano Scholarship program pray with Shannon Wimp Schmidt before she gives a keynote address on Aug. 13 at Marian during the archdiocesan-sponsored Into the Heart Conference for people from many backgrounds involved in the lives of youths. (Submitted photo)

Marian University students who are part of the school’s San Damiano Scholarship program pray with Shannon Wimp Schmidt before she gives a keynote address on Aug. 13 at Marian during the archdiocesan-sponsored Into the Heart Conference for people from many backgrounds involved in the lives of youths. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Parish youth ministers can play an important role in forming teenagers so that they embrace the faith now and as they grow into adulthood.

But leaders in the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry know that a wide spectrum of people are needed to accomplish this important goal in the life of the Church.

That’s why the office recently held its third annual Into the Heart Conference on Aug. 13 at Marian University in Indianapolis. The event’s 130 participants and presenters came from a variety of backgrounds, from youth ministers to teachers, athletic coaches and parents.

“The accompaniment of young people does not fall to a single youth minister or a core team of volunteers,” said Paul Sifuentes, the office’s director. “The entire community is called to accompany our young people on their journey of faith and as they encounter the Lord. When ministering to a community, it is not about finding the right program but rather it is about calling, equipping and supporting people.”

Shannon Wimp Schmidt, a keynote speaker at the conference, appreciated its approach, calling it “uncommon,” in an interview with The Criterion.

“Most of the time, we kind of get siloed in the Church and in ministry,” said Wimp Schmidt, a parish vitality coordinator for the Archdiocese of Chicago. “There are benefits to that. We can get really focused on things.

“But the beauty of this approach is that you can come and share across different ministries to talk about best practices that might translate from one to another, and to really think outside the box.”

Wimp Schmidt, a mother of four, has served youths in a variety of settings, including previously as a youth minister at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

“There’s so much that translates across,” she said. “Things I learned about being an effective teacher helped me be a better youth minister. Things I learned about youth ministry re-shaped how I thought about the classroom, seeing it as a welcoming place to do ministry, rather than just a place to disseminate information.”

Ellice Bedel, youth minister of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield and a mother of five, attended the conference with two youth ministry volunteers from the Indianapolis West Deanery faith community.

“The sessions applied to my work here at the church,” said Bedel. “They also spoke to me as a parent, too.”

Bedel has served at St. Susanna for 15 years. That experience, combined with her life as a mother of growing children, makes the mission of accompanying and strengthening youths in their faith journey all the more important for her.

“It’s something that’s across-the-board important,” she said.

This ministry is also important for Adrianne Spahr, who has served as the youth minister for St. Agnes Parish in Nashville for 18 years and is a mother of four.

While many studies in recent years have shown a growing number of youths and young adults moving away from the faith and no longer identifying themselves as Catholics, Spahr is encouraged by a group of teens in her Bloomington Deanery faith community who are looking forward to taking part in the next World Youth Day in 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal.

“They’re willing to share their feelings and thoughts about what’s going on in the world,” said Spahr, who attended the conference with volunteer catechists from St. Agnes. “A lot of them are not on board with a lot of the stuff that’s happening [in society].

“It’s really uplifting for me, because it’s terrifying to think that even my own children may not choose to identify as a Catholic. It’s that important to me to live out your faith. So, it’s great to see that in the teenagers at St. Agnes.

“There is still that fire, that love of Jesus and a willingness to come together for youth group on Wednesday nights just to talk about the Gospel. I look at that as a very big win.”

With a high value being placed on accompanying Catholic youths by people like Spahr, Bedel and other participants, Sifuentes sees the Office of Youth Ministry offering the conference in the future.

“The need to inspire and equip adults [who work with youths] is not going away,” he said. “And this event is one way to help address the need.”
 

(For more information on the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry, visit www.archindyym.com.)


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