When I was a full-time parish youth minister many years ago, Brian, who had been recently initiated into the Church, invited his younger sister Erin to our parish youth program. She was unbaptized and knew a little about Jesus through her family, who did not actively attend a church. Brian began by bringing her to our social events, where she was welcomed and began to meet “nice” teens, as well as fun, safe, and holiness-striving adults. As these relationships began to grow, Erin soon attended our youth group meetings and eventually our retreats. It was during these retreats that the love of Christ and his call became clear to her. Of her own free will, Erin decided to attend our weeknight prayer group. Little did she realize that this meeting was really a full, complete, and systematic unveiling of the teachings of the Church done in an attractive youth-ministry manner. We did not pressure her to attend; we simply invited her to our events and welcomed her when she participated. At all our gatherings, Erin heard us say that if any teen was ever interested in becoming Catholic, we would be happy to talk to him or her about it. For months, even though she was a regular participant at our social events, youth group meetings, retreats, and prayer group, Erin never said she wanted to become Catholic. Eventually, one day she came to us with the firm conviction to enter the Church. Since then, not only was she initiated into the sacramental life of the Church, she served the youth program as a young adult, did mission work, and is now a devoted young wife and mother. Watching Erin grow in faith was not only a joy, but was a living testimony of the Church’s wisdom as seen in the stages of conversion in the catechumen ate. If you are a coordinator of youth ministry, you are probably saying to yourself, “Oh no, this article is giving me another thing to do.” If that’s what you’re thinking, you are correct! However, what I want to discuss here is not another program to add to your workload but a process that will shape and define your ministry. In short, developing a teen initiation process has the potential of directing the entirety of our youth ministry to evangelization and conversion. To do so, we need to make initiation the heart of our programming for teenagers. In this article, I will first show how the parish youth program can be used as the foundation for a vibrant and solid teen initiation process, then demonstrate how the stages of the catechumenate can be the foundation for parish youth programming. I will also discuss how parishes without youth programs can serve teenagers who want to be initiated into the life of the Church. Second, I will highlight key components of an initiation process for adolescents, including important moments in the process and the issue of parent involvement.
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