A Youth Ministry In-Service was held this past Thursday, October 11th in Burke Hall at the Arlington Cathedral for all Youth Ministers in the diocese. The meeting focused on “New Evangelization” as part of the “Year of Faith” and an updated Code of Conduct for all diocesan employees and volunteers who have contact with children.
Jim Schuster, David Bristow, Meg Dalmut, diocesan youth ministers, and Soren Johnson, Special Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelization and Media discussed what is meant by the “New Evangelization” a major focus of the “Year of Faith”, which officially began this October 11th. The term was first used in a particular way by Blessed Pope John Paul II and brought up issues of self-reflection and a continuing call of conversion for the faithful as well as a new approach to Evangelization.
The question that this group of ministers pondered is what is “new” in the “new evangelization”. Is it simply a recommitment to approach evangelization with a renewed sense of purpose? Or are there actually some real concrete instances that make it different than “Old Evangelization”? Simply put, if what St. Paul and the early church did was the “old” way that brought us the past 2000 years of Christianity, was it really all that bad or in need of a “new” upgrade?
Kevin Bohli, Diocesan Director of Youth Ministry, presented it as a contrast between “Classical Evangelization” and “New Evangelization” underscoring that “new evangeliation” is not a new program nor simply a theme to incorporate or highlight in one’s ministry. During lunch, each group of tables held discussions to further develop understanding and raise questions.
A look at the documents on “New Evangelization” as well as Sherry A Weddell’s book Forming Intentional Disciples (to be followed by two speaking events later this month), brought to light a sense that the task of “New Evangelization” tends to emphasize a real encounter with the person of Christ, fostering a real relationship with Him and forming disciples as people intent on being inspired by and following this person with their entire lives.
This shift is different than a more traditional propositional approach by which Catholics are instructed by doctrine and prepared for sacraments culminating in a member of the church as a sort of product from an assembly-line.
There was some struggle to puts hands on concrete instances of how the “new evangelization” might look in one’s ministry. Often, attempts seemed to fall back on recommitment to an already existing value system. There was definitely some struggle to see something new.
One final commentator in this section of the meeting offered dealing with interfaith marriages as a good example of “New Evangelization”. In the “new evangelization” there is less focus on proselytizing the non-catholic and instead the emphasis is on the catholic member and how that person is a disciple of Christ through their different interfaith relationship. The manner in which one ministers to this married person as well as the children of this marriage is completely different and requires a completely different response than how it would have been addressed 10-20 years ago, or certainly before Vatican II. Many heads were nodding in agreement during this commentary.
Deacon Marques Silva, Director of the Office of Child Protection led the second half of the afternoon on the updated Code of Conduct for all church workers and volunteers who have substantial contact with children and youth. The updated code is several pages longer because it has separate sections for clergy and laity, more stringent definitions on adult volunteers and chaperones, specifications on when youth turning 18 come of age and how they can participate in youth ministry as adults.
By and large, the greatest area of concern dealt with an entirely new section on social media and the various protections that need to be in place and observed for interactions with minors for their protection and well-being as well as for the adults interacting with them through Facebook, email, text messaging, or other forms of social media.
Deacon Silva put it this way, while there are certain protections that clergy have for their private interactions with minors (in the confessional or in a pastoral counseling session, for example), “There are no legal protections [for youth ministers or DREs] for private conversations with minors.” “Their ministry may be personal, even one on one, but it is never private.” Thus, communication and social media interactions involving minors must be open and transparently public. Concretely, this means avoiding text messaging or Facebook chats or keeping strict public records of such interactions.
While the code of conduct, in conjunction with the full screening and background checks the diocese does may seem onerous, Deacon Silva gave a quite candid assessment about the development of the code and engaged youth minister’s questions about specific cases.
He also pointed out that it is the diocesan youth ministers (as well as DREs) who for the most part engage the highest volumes of children and adult volunteers in the diocese and thus bear the weight of that responsibility to keep children safe. To put the enormity of this task and responsibility in context, Deacon Silva noted that the top three areas for child-trafficking are Pentagon City, Fair Oaks Mall, and the Falls Church area. These are all in the diocese of Arlington.
The new code has caused many to eschew overnight retreats and lock-ins, cut down on off-site activities, choose different retreat centers, or simply wall themselves off from using Facebook or other social media in their ministries. However, Deacon Silva wanted to be practical and to acknowledge that many in the diocese have come to rely heavily on these tools as an important part of their ministry and outreach to youth. Like it or not, social media is a major area where youth spend their time and we must be equipped to meet them where they are.
Separate meetings have already been held with the clergy, parish liasons and DREs. The final group to be updated are school principals.