So here’s a weird story that was a wake-up call for me:
I was getting the high school kids signed up for youth group, and one of the forms was a bit of information from the parents — contact info, are you available to chaperone, does your kid have dangerous food allergies, etc. Necessary stuff. Now right after the parent email and phone number lines was:
Preferred method(s) of contact: ____________________________________
Because I am a bad person, I answered the question honestly.
Preferred method of contact: In person.
Now allow me to say right now that I don’t actually expect our youth ministers to personally hunt down me and every other parent of a student in the program just to let us each know that they need someone to bring plastic cups this week, thanks. I do live a little bit in this century. (And I solemnly promise to clarify that on the form before I turn it in tonight.)
But this lapse of mine got me thinking. Why was my writing that answer such a radically crazy, even potentially offensive or alarming thing to do?
Let’s review the facts:
- The youth ministers and our family attend the same parish. We’re part of the same Christian community. (We even show up at the same Mass most Sundays — which defies the odds, but we’re lucky that way.)
- The youth ministers are taking on the task of mentoring our children through their final years of Catholic youth. Next stop is full-fledged adulthood.
- These are the years when kids make tremendous decisions about their vocations, their relationships, and even whether they’ll continue practicing the faith.
- For the next few years, it’s quite likely that after my husband and myself, the kids’ youth ministers will be the other set of practicing Catholics with whom my children have the most frequent and most significant contact on a regular basis.
This is a big deal.
What youth ministers do — their role in the work of the Church — is huge.
But our concept of communal life in the Church has become so watered down that I feel brazen for even suggesting that such significant persons in our children’s lives should speak to my husband and me in-the-flesh as an ordinary, habitual mode of communication.
We’re used to this. In my years as a catechist in a traditional religious ed program, I typically met my students’ parents one- to -three years after the school year ended. (Format: I’d run into the kid at a parish event and ask, “So are these your parents?” and that’s how we’d finally meet.)
Once I had the chilling-but-fortunate experience of being in the room while a parent explained to the DRE about a problem in my religious ed class the previous year. [Sadly: A problem I could have fixed if I’d known about it, but it was the sort of thing you can only know if the parent or student tells you.] The reason the mother felt so comfortable laying out her problem right there in front of me is that she had no idea I had been her child’s teacher.
Not knowing people is the norm in parish life.
This is wrong.
There are many causes of this problem and only one complicated, difficult solution: We Catholics need to spend more time living with each other.
That’s all I know for now. If our youth ministers hadn’t posed that foolish question, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about it, I’m so used to living with this problem, and so used to treating it like normal life. But at least now I’m more deeply informed of what’s not happening, and can start looking for ways to change my tiny part in all this.
Photo: Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons