By Wayne Topp, Director of Young Adult Ministry in New Evangelization
Life has certainly changed over the past couple months, and ministry to young adults is definitely not an exception. On Thursday, March 11th, the Office for Young Adult Evangelization and Discipleship was about to make their final preparations for one of their biggest events of the year, Behold. This evening of adoration and fellowship usually draws close to 300 young adults from across the Greater Cincinnati area and even some from as far north as Dayton. The host parish, St. Mary, Hyde Park, always provides a beautiful space made only more beautiful by the hundreds of candles which would provide all the light for the evening of prayer set up by the Seminarians of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology. Beautifully reverent music, confessions, and the opportunity for both personal and team prayer make the hour and a half of Eucharistic Adoration the perfect opportunity to have a real encounter with Jesus Christ.
It is this encounter which has allowed hundreds of young adults to begin (or continue) a process of healing with the One who desires to love them completely and exactly where they are. As the time of prayer winds down, the celebration of community begins in the church undercroft and courtyard. This Spring’s theme was Bockfest. Since Behold was happening during Lent this year, the celebration was marked by the Lenten traditions of Bock beer and pretzels, along with music and backyard games. This was going to be an awesome celebration that many young adults had marked on their calendar for months.
Unfortunately, March 11th also happened to be the day Governor Mike Dewine announced the first of many statements banning large public gatherings (beginning 4 days later).
That day was a difficult day for us. That day, we had to make the decision to cancel Behold. That day, we also received an email from a mother begging us not to cancel the event because of how long her two young adult children had been looking forward to it and needed it! The next day, the feeling was surreal. No event, no decorating, no set up, no tear down, no community. So, we adapted and we did so quickly!
By Sunday evening, all the ministry, all the community building opportunities we had been doing were now turned into Facebook Live events. Pints with Priests? Check. Theology on Tap? Check. Human Formation experiences? Baking demonstrations? Question and Answer sessions? Check, check and check.
The small groups we had formed prior to the pandemic also jumped readily into an online format. Young adults were coming together in new ways that allowed them to feel that sense of community they had quickly lost. Immediately, our office took the opportunity to remind our young adult friends of the chance to make their living space, a place where they could meet Jesus and abide with him. So, now young adults had a house they could call a home and a home they could call a domestic church.
Our ministry looks different today, but instead of being a sad thing, like we first expected and experienced, our ministry has become more robust and complete. We have been forced to creatively meet our young adults in new ways and with new avenues and yet, as this “shelter-in-place” time slowly comes to an end, our in-person ministry will jump into gear having been enriched by the experiences of these past two months.