PRINCE ALBERT — Mike Patin, a speaker with 30 years’ experience in youth ministry, gave a dynamic and practical presentation Aug. 29 at St. Michael Parish in Prince Albert.
After presenting to the teachers of the Prince Albert Catholic School Division, an evening event was arranged for both laypeople and pastors in the Prince Albert diocese preparing to be involved or already involved in youth ministry.
Patin lives in Lafayette, La., and has worked in and for the church throughout his life. Following graduation, he studied in the seminary, then became a high school teacher and coach. He was director of youth ministry for the Archdiocese of New Orleans for 13 years, after which he became a speaker on youth ministry for another 13 years.
He opened his presentation by thanking everyone for their work, expressing that to be people of faith today is to be counter-cultural. When asked what support or direction they were looking for, youth representatives shared that they were looking for a practical way to begin in their parish. They wanted to renew their enthusiasm for youth ministry, avoid common pitfalls, and learn how pastors could best support ministers and how ministers in turn could support their pastors. They wanted to know the best components for a well-balanced ministry and how young adults could be encouraged to renew their faith.
Patin described teens as PITs: People In Transformation.
“They’re a mixed bag, teens: they’re energetic, searching, dramatic and hormonal. Puberty is the most explosive chemical and physical growth the human being has, besides the terrible twos and menopause.”
He said studies have shown that teen peer groups are moving from concrete to abstract thinkers. They’re searching for the fundamentals. If it’s not connectable or applicable, it doesn’t translate into real life experiences for them.
Patin spoke of senior parishioners doing their part as well.
“I would invite that lady from my parish, who never talks to the kids, and ask her to make a pie and say a novena for my kids in youth group. I would ask her to also come to the youth meeting and explain to them why she would do the novena and why the prayers matter. It’s about connecting people to young people, to each other and many other people who are just trying to live their faith-based experience. Not just the religious, but ordinary people like moms, dads, teenagers and college people.”
He said it is necessary to invite and make people feel welcome.
“We have to invite and tell people why we invite without slamming and pushing them. We have to include them and go with them. When we welcome people, we greet them, introduce them to others, include them in conversations, offer something to drink and eat. Do we do that in our churches after services or youth group or sacramental classes?”
He said Pope Francis is teaching the church to go back to the basics, to reach out and have a relationship with those who are different from us.
When planning presentations, Patin said he keeps variety, dialogue and movement in mind. He suggested a successful youth meeting would encompass the same elements. He said studies have shown the average attention span of a seventh-grade student is seven minutes and an adult 22 minutes — the typical television sitcom length.
“We like Happy Meals and snack-sized truth. The best of the old and the best of the new while we move people around.”
To encourage the involvement of youth groups, he suggested having them talk to one another and asking them questions: for example, what they liked or disliked about the talk. He also advised keeping younger children moving by using activities instead of lectures.
On supporting those leading youth in any capacity, he said to show interest in what they are doing.
“Ask questions, show up. When you hear or see something positive, say something about it during mass. Be an inviter like they are. Sponsor them to attend learning events. Ask them how else they need you to follow up.”
He spoke on the importance of supporting pastors, asking those gathered to remember that clergy have a vocation not many are interested in taking on.
“There’s a lot of loneliness in that vocation. They get invitations to be at every function, so don’t just put your calendar on his desk. When you are doing something with a common interest, personally invite the priest to be at that event. Be specific about what your needs are and what you would like him to do at the event. We have to help them help us. They are under a big burden; they are human beings. We have to help and affirm one another.”