“Shades of Color in Rural Youth Ministry” – By Monica Heitman
The picture of youth ministry in a rural area would be painted with the same colors as big city ministry, except the shading is just a little different. I have lived in a rural, small town all of my life and have served as a youth minister for close to 20 years. One thing I’ve come to realize is that In rural areas a youth minister is often a volunteer. Those who are paid often serve in several capacities to the parishes, such as a confirmation coordinator or religious education assistant. However, while these added positions appear more burdensome, they can actually be an advantage to rural ministry, as they allow for additional contact time with the youth.
Having youth spread out within a farm community and in nearby small towns can mean a youth minister must work harder to build community among them. To encourage attendance, consistency is very important, so we hold weekly meetings year round in two locations. Communication is often done through e-mail, Facebook, cell phones and bulletins.
We may have one problem that is not a huge issue with bigger parishes and that is finances. We must fund all of our events in full, or have the youth pay for them out of pocket. This can be a huge burden for some families, so we try to earn as much as possible to pay for those in need and ask for sponsorships from the community. Our fundraisers are a time to show community spirit and time to get to know the youth even better. A conversation while working in a concession stand may be the place a young person reveals the desire to look into religious life or that you discover his or her gift of music!
Being from the rural area, we have the opportunity to see the youth at the community pool, at varies sporting events, school concerts, out shopping or maybe our table’s waitress at the local diner is one of our youth. Their CCD teachers and chaperones to youth events may be a schoolteacher, or even the parish nurse, county social worker or the lab tech at the doctor’s office. What this means is that the youth never go very far without running into someone who they know will be praying for their spiritual life on a daily basis and will help them with living out their Catholic faith. While rural youth struggle with the same things as those in big cities, our hope is that the contact our youth have with many adults who cross over from the secular world into their faith life is a big help in keeping them on track.
It is so much fun to see the shades of color in rural youth ministry unfold! To watch the youth grow in faith and spread it to others in their school or sports teams is one of the special gifts of rural youth ministry. We have had three high school students join the Catholic Church in just the past two years. What a great blessing we felt knowing that their first contact with Catholicism was through one of our youth and that they had the experience of attending a retreat/conference with our youth group! I am blessed to be a youth minister in a rural area.
Monica Heitman is the youth minister/confirmation coordinator for the Tri-Parishes of St. Mary’s, Durand, Wis., Sacred Heart, Mondovi, Wis., and Holy Rosary, Lima, Wis.