The 2006-2007 academic year was a very interesting and challenging time for me as I embarked on my theological field education placement with the Redemptorist Youth Vocation Ministry. Redemptorist spirituality expresses itself in a desire “to evangelize and to be evangelized by the poor,” a dynamic orientation towards ministry that is rooted in community life. My responsibilities were varied: from creating workshops, helping with High School retreats, and “Liguori Circle” meetings at St. Patrick’s Parish, to writing on-line reflections for Advent and Lent. Life with the Redemptorists, the supervising team and the Young Adult High School Ministry Retreat Team, gave me a very good taste of the exciting, demanding and unpredictable life of a Youth Minister! Everyone I worked with demonstrated daily that they really care about young people and want to help in focused ways, and that they recognize their own need for formation as part of their ministry. So much energy, patience and flexibility are required in ministering to youth! We ministered in a variety of contexts: in boardrooms, chapels, high schools and at a parish. One of the highlights of my field placement experience was a wonderful introduction to the Redemptorist charism: Dialogue 2006, a weeklong gathering of young people and Redemptorists from across North America. I witnessed the “behind-the-scenes” work of leaders who facilitated large gatherings, social events and many workshops. Very quickly, I was invited to join in and become part of the leadership team. My placement involved a great deal of research, so I have learned a lot about the scope and variety of the religious and spiritual needs of young people in Canada. While needs can be quite specific with respect to particular age groups and social locations, there are also many points where the needs of the young intersect with those of people of all age groups. One example of this is our agreement about the need to resist the elements of our culture that promote individualism, materialism and consumerism. The more we engaged in meaningful dialogue, the more opportunities we found to discuss real needs, and to creatively generate some hopeful possibilities in responding to them. A large portion of my time was spent in the office: planning, writing, meeting with other team members, drafting and redrafting workshop agendas, preparing prayers and liturgies. The most challenging and rewarding experiences for me, however, were in interacting in real situations, responding to obstacles in meeting deadlines, making last minute changes and making sure that communication lines were kept open. My empathy with those who minister to, for, and with youth and young adults has grown, as I have experienced and reflected on my own needs as a minister with many responsibilities. In such a busy atmosphere, I learned that we must dedicate ourselves to the on-going shaping of whole and holy lives of prayer, reflection, communion and reconciliation—and that this has to happen within the context of community. This communal dedication increases our attentiveness to what is needed, assists us in raising difficult questions and gives us the courage to be imaginative as we make decisions in concrete situations. Nobody puts ministerial theory to the test like high school students on retreat! My ministerial profile has been strongly influenced by my experience of working with the Redemptorists and through my encounters with so many talented and dedicated young people. I find myself increasingly willing to challenge the stereotypes that are often used to describe this important group of people in our communities, and I am finding the courage to speak in praise of the many young people who minister in local and particular ways. I have learned so much from them and have found hope in their enjoyment of life, in their willingness to trust, and in their commitment to answer the call of the gospel in loving and serving one another in faith.
Kathy Perry is completing the final year of her Master of Divinity program and continues to pursue her love of writing.