By Fran Lavelle
There are some things about working directly with college-aged young people that I will forever miss. Clearly on the top of that list are the opportunities to be present and to really hear their stories. I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with the National Evangelization Team (NET) who came to our diocese for a high school retreat entitled, “Fully Alive.” The retreat was held at Lake Forrest Ranch in Macon. The team spent Friday night in Starkville and, still having my home there, I invited them to come to dinner.
It was a lovely evening. The team was made up of 12 members aged 18-23. Members represented several States from California to West Virginia; and, from Minnesota to Florida and various States in between. My heart filled with gratitude as each bright, cheery faced young person disembarked from the van, hand extended, followed by a warm, “Hi, I am…”
These types of gatherings a few years ago were quite common at my home. I have been away from full time campus ministry for two years now and it was quite clear that I miss these opportunities.
Abbey Schuhmann, Coordinator for the Office of youth Ministry was responsible for bringing the NET Team to the diocese. She was also the leader of the caravan to my house. It was truly a gift and blessing to share not just a meal but our mutual love for God’s young people. Abbey brings so many gifts to ministry, including a gentle reassuring presence. In addition she is has excellent organization and planning skills. Since day-one she has been busy planning and preparing for a full calendar of events for the youth in our Diocese. The Fall Retreat was her inaugural diocesan youth event since she joined the chancery staff in May.
Having had experience with NET Ministries in her youth ministry job in her parish she knew NET would be a great fit for the diocese. Word on the street is the weekend was well received by youth and the adult advisors. The take away from a weekend like this, especially for youth, is recognizing that they are not alone.
There is no substitute for taking the opportunity to be present to God in a truly magnificent environment with amazing youth and a great retreat team. Our youth heard great talks, spent time reflecting and sharing in small groups, playing games, singing, going to Reconciliation, and celebrating Mass with friends old and new. Times like these create touch tones that both youth and adults will think back on for years to come.
In thinking about the gift of the weekend and the many graces shared, I was reminded how important it is to encourage our young people to think about this kind of service. NET is one many ministries our young people can volunteer for a more extensive experience. NET teams, for example, are formed in mid-August and complete their work in mid-May. No matter what your interest, education, health care, pastoral care or evangelization, there are so many opportunities to spend a year or two after college graduation or in between college.
A great resource for finding volunteer ministry experiences is the Catholic Volunteer Network (https://www.catholicvolunteernetwork.org/). They publish an annual book, RESPONSE, which lists volunteer opportunities. The website also includes a database of opportunities. In being exposed to these sorts of options, young people are given a greater insight into how they may come to serve the Church and one another as adults.
I have known many young folks over the years that did one or two years of volunteer service. Face it young people, you have years of gainful employment to look forward to. Why not give of your time and talent to serve the Church in a way that you personally find meaningful? Often times these volunteer opportunities provide loan deferment so you can put off paying back student loans until after your volunteer service is completed. In meeting the dynamic NET Team that came to Mississippi I was also reminded of how good it is to be exposed to people from other regions. It breaks down stereotypes and challenges us to see one another as part of God’s family.
If you are looking for a retreat opportunities for youth or need more information on volunteer service opportunities, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be happy to help.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson. See page 15 for a story and photos from the Fully Alive Retreat.)