Youth ministers help teens focus, grow closer to God
Fe Guzman says youth ministry is about support and building trust between teens, parents and parishes. Her patience and faith have kept her going as the youth minister at St. Mark, Virginia Beach, since April 2015, and she isn’t talking about being patient with teens in her ministry.
“Be patient with yourself first and foremost,” she advised. “And hold on to that faith, that everything will be all right in God’s will and time.”
Guzman was a math teacher and started volunteering as an assistant catechist in 2008, when her children were in religious formation. She looks back at a time when she had just started as youth minister and remembers witnessing the teens, emotional in their prayers, during adoration at a youth event.
“I wanted to have that, too,” she said. She sees her own vulnerabilities in the vulnerabilities of the teens, and that connection draws them both toward the Lord.
“Fe is more like a parent to our youth here. It is delightful to see how the parents with their kids relate to her,” said Father Eric Baffour Asamoah, pastor at St. Mark. “She has done a lot for families to feel that they are part of the formation team. Parents have become more aware of their responsibilities in bringing their children into the faith and are very much involved.”
He said the importance of youth ministry is building relationships – not just among the teens, but also with families and with different ministries in the parish. He believes Guzman has made a big impact in these ways.
Phillip Brady, an 11th grader at St. Mark, said youth ministry is a place for kids to grow, learn and have fun in a Catholic setting. He said his faith grew immensely because of the youth ministry program and he channeled his faith into leadership because Guzman gave him opportunities to be an important part of the parish.
“[Mrs. Fe] has mentored me in leadership, organization – and her patience is inspiring,” Brady said. “That will always stay with me as I grow older.”
Marathon, not sprint
Patrick Drury has been the director of youth ministry at Incarnation, Charlottesville, since 2011, and has worked full-time in youth ministry for more than 21 years. He said the “ability to say no to things” has kept him going in youth ministry for more than two decades.
“You can’t do too much at once,” Drury explained. “Youth ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. There are always ups and downs in ministry, but I have never wanted to leave and do something else.”
Drury described participating in youth ministry as a high school student as a really meaningful experience. “My youth minister really worked hard to reach out to me and invite me to events and make me feel included. That really started me on my own journey of faith.”
Lenina Valle, community life coordinator at Epiphany, Richmond, admitted she was not active in youth ministry when she was a teen. “I was confirmed in eighth grade, so I had the attitude that I was done with that.”
She has been involved in youth ministry for about four years now, and said, “For me, it’s great to see the teens experiencing what I missed out on, and watching them blossom.”
Valle added, “It’s especially great seeing some of our more introverted teens come out of their shell and do what I wasn’t able to do as a teen, because I was too shy for that.”
Patrick Stearman, director of youth ministry at St. Bridget, Richmond, said he sees “youth ministry as both calling teens into the life of the Church, and also going out. You have to meet them where they are.”
“We’re not asking the teens to stop what they’re doing. We’re saying that whatever they like to do, whether it’s on a field or at a dance recital, they are walking with Christ and bringing him to others,” Stearman explained.
‘What you do matters’
The diocese’s Office for Evangelization (OFE) hosted a Youth Ministry Appreciation Night on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, to thank those in youth ministry who help lead teens closer to Christ. The program began with Mass at the Pro-Cathedral of St. Peter, Richmond, followed by dinner.
“Our teens are extremely blessed to have you,” Katie Yankoski, OFE’s associate director for youth and young adults, told the youth ministers at dinner. “I know you are praying for them and are doing everything you can for them.”
Bishop Barry C. Knestout celebrated Mass and was joined by Father Michael Boehling, vicar general; Father Matt Kiehl, vicar for vocations; Father Brian Capuano, judicial vicar and pastor of the Richmond Cluster including the Pro-Cathedral of St. Peter; and Father Ken Shuping, vicar of the Central Vicariate and pastor of St. Bridget, Richmond.
Bishop Knestout said he truly appreciates youth ministers because of his experience as a parish priest and overseeing the office of youth ministry in his previous diocese. “Youth ministers teach the youth that our faith is not a compartment of our lives that is reserved to Sunday,” said the bishop.
“Youth ministry comes at a critical time in teens’ lives and the Church should not be set aside during those times,” Bishop Knestout explained. “Popular culture is very strong around them and trying to influence them, so their faith needs to be even stronger.”
Guzman has attended the appreciation event each year since she became a youth minister. She said she is grateful the diocese shows support for youth ministers because it “gives us confidence, encouragement, and challenges us to do our job better.” She added that it is important to get to know other youth ministers so she can learn from them.
“You matter – and what you do matters,” said Yankoski. “Thank you for loving the teens of our diocese. Thank you for loving the parents when things get hard. Thank you for loving your parish communities as we all strive to grow closer to Christ.”
Diocesan Youth Conference: teen community in faith
One of the transformative events on the calendar each year for youth ministries across the diocese is the Diocesan Youth Conference (DYC). The high-energy gathering gets high school youth excited about their faith and gives them a feeling of strength in numbers.
The diocesan Office for Evangelization hosts DYC the weekend of Feb. 9-11 in downtown Richmond.
Fe Guzman said more than one dozen teens are registered for DYC from St. Mark, Virginia Beach. Guzman said she has attended DYC ever since she became St. Mark’s youth minister in 2015, and even before that as a volunteer chaperone.
Guzman said the teens who attend DYC are more respectful and connected with others, and become more involved in the parish.
Patrick Drury is looking forward to bringing more than one dozen teens from Incarnation, Charlottesville. He has brought his youth ministry group to DYC 11 times and said, “They love it! It makes a big difference for them to have that shared experience coming back to our youth ministry program.”