Chicagoland

New office aims to bring young adults into church

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
July 25, 2018

Father Jamie Mueller speaks with young adults following the kickoff for Theology on Tap June 25, 2018, at the Fremont, 15 W. Illinois St. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Jesus, the Gospel of St. Matthew says, told his followers to “go out and make disciples.”

He didn’t tell them to preach to the choir, or to keep themselves barricaded in the upper room.

So when it comes to ministering to young adults — most of whom are not spending their Sunday mornings in Catholic churches — it only makes sense to try to find them where they are.

That’s the job that Father Jamie Mueller took on when he began as the first director of the Office of Young Adult Engagement in June.

The new office aims to engage young adults, especially those who were baptized Catholic and received the sacraments of initiation, and invite them back into the church.

“So much has changed in the world in the last 50 years, ways of thinking, ways of living, ways of speaking,” Mueller said. “I think the church is not made to adapt quickly. It didn’t shift as quickly as the culture did. The reason many young people felt disenfranchised is the church didn’t shift with the culture.”

But, he said, young people are still looking for something the church can offer — but only if the church concentrates on moving its mission forward instead of looking at the past with nostalgia.

“We have to ask how to speak the word of love in a new culture and in a new way,” Mueller said. “I have a great hope. What they want is something real. For some reason they haven’t felt something real, and the onus is on all of us. Jesus is not real to them. They have not experienced Jesus alive. If they had, they never would have walked away.”

To bring young adults back, the church must not only find them and invite them. It has to offer them something they need.

“What do young adults need? They need community,” Mueller said. “The church was the original community of love. What do we all want? We want happiness. What makes us happy? Love makes us happy. We want to be loved. We want to be perfectly loved. Who loves perfectly? Who can do that?”

The answer, or course, is that only God, who is love, loves perfectly, Mueller said. The difficult part is helping people who have chosen to walk away from the church see that.

“The first step, in my mind, is living that love,” Mueller said.

To that end, the office is building a small community of leaders through the Alpha program, a Christian small-group program aimed at helping people find their way to Christ. That community of 12 to 15 people of will begin reaching out to other young adults this fall.

The effort is an example of Renew My Church in action, according to Father Peter Wojcik, the director of the Department of Parish Vitality and Mission. Renew My Church is the archdiocese-wide effort to realign resources to better serve the church’s mission of evangelization.

The office will work alongside the existing Young Adult Ministry office, which works with parishes to serve their young adult members.

Mueller said his office might have more success encountering young adults who are not practicing because it’s something many parishes simply don’t have the time or the expertise to do. 

Much of it, Mueller said, is listening to young adults, hearing what they need and answering their questions honestly.

He jokes that his job is to go out to bars. There is some truth to that, he said. After the Theology on Tap kickoff event at the Fremont on June 25, he was circulating in the club wearing his Roman collar. When he approached a table, the people there asked him if priests are allowed to drink.He ended up spending some time talking with them before he realized they hadn’t come in for Theology on Tap. They just stopped in because the bar looked inviting.

“They’re curious,” Mueller said. “People think a lot of young people are anti-religious, and some of them are, but a lot of them just don’t know a lot about the church.”

Xuan Nguyen, one of the members of the Alpha community, said many of her friends are put off by the behavior of very visible people who claim to be Christians but act in a non-Christian manner, and a lot pf them just don’t know much about Catholicism.

“They have preconceived notions about what Catholics are and what Christians are,” Nguyen said. “It’s important for them to have an experience of real Christianity.”

She also thinks its important for all Catholics to listen to Pope Francis’ call to evangelize. “I used to shy away from that word,” she said. “It kind of scared me. But it’s important to share our feelings and beliefs.”

Maria Aranda, one of two young adult engagement coordinators who works with Mueller, said one of the advantages of working with Alpha is that leaders know it is their job to create a community where people feel safe sharing their experiences and their thoughts and feelings.

“It makes people feel like they belong,” she said. “Everyone has a story about why they don’t practice anymore.”

That doesn’t mean they aren’t interested, Aranda said. “People are thirsty to know. People are thirsty to fill the void in their hearts.”

To support the Office for Young Adult Engagement, visit www.givecentral.org/location/140.

Topics:

  • young adult ministry

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