Archdiocese continues to engage young adults during pandemic

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Young Adult Engagement ministry has not taken a summer vacation despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s edition of Theology on Tap was done completely online, with talks streamed on Facebook Live. The theme decided in the spring was “Voices on the Periphery,” according to Father Jamie Mueller, director of Young Adult Engagement.

That theme became even more relevant in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 and the protests for racial justice that swept across the United States, Mueller said, and the team changed the planned kickoff presentation to one highlighting racial justice.

“How Individuals Change Society: the Role of Faith in Transforming Racial Injustice,” which took place June 24, included presentations from Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry and Tanya Woods, executive director of the Westside Justice Center.

By the beginning of August, it had been viewed more than 5,500 times, meaning it reached a far wider audience than any other Theology on Tap kickoff event.

“We had a really great engagement and we had really positive feedback on it,” Mueller said.

The subsequent talks, held on the Wednesday evenings of July, were about Kolbe House Jail Ministry; Unlocking Communities ministry to Haiti; the Holy Spirit amid COVID-19 and racism; caring for the homeless and immigrants; and turning a curse into a blessing, from Wayne Smith, who came to the church after going blind.

The speakers were able to answer questions submitted through Google documents.

“Our overall theme was to give a voice to people who don’t have a voice and to hear from people who serve those on the peripheries,” Mueller said.

Most years, the archdiocese holds a Theology on Tap kickoff event and then weekly talks are held at parishes. This year, the office decided to offer the archdiocesan series online because parishes were mostly closed or just starting to reopen and not all of them had the resources to host virtual events.

Those that did, including St. Clement, got a good response. So did a couple outdoor Theology on Tap events that Mueller joined, he said.

Because the archdiocesan talks were streamed online, they were open to everyone, not just young adults and not just Catholics.

“I think that the participation has been more diverse and also more widespread,” Mueller said. “People could participate not just during the time that it happened, but they could also watch them afterwards.”

The downside was the lack of social interaction among participants, Mueller said.

“That has been one part that we have not been able to do with all of this,” he said, noting that traditional, in-person Theology on Tap includes time for participants to get to know one another instead of just listening to, or even asking questions to, a speaker. “The hard part is not being able to come together.”

The Young Adult Engagement team has been working to foster community among its leaders during the pandemic by hosting online Cor Nights, which, before the pandemic, were gatherings in a chapel with praise and worship music and the opportunity for private prayer or to pray with companions.

“It was meant to be non-liturgical, non-Mass time for people to come together in prayer,” Mueller said. “Initially they were just for the young adult leaders, to make sure we were providing as much spiritual renewal and nourishment for our leaders as we could.”

The nights were initially held at the chapel in the Catholic Charities headquarters, but Mueller said they will move to the John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago when it is safe.

The events also could be hosted at different sites, he said.

“We hope to replicate those throughout the archdiocese,” Mueller said. “If they wanted to replicate it, it could be someone’s backyard or even a restaurant.”

“There’s no denying that it’s a better experience in person,” said Xuan Ngyuen, who has led young-adult Alpha sessions and experienced Cor nights both ways. “It’s more peaceful and all-encompassing. But it’s an important offering during this pretty isolated time to have a space that we can virtually go to and try to shut other things off and go to a virtual spiritual space.”

Brenna Casey, who was raised Catholic but began attending a Christian non-denomination church, has been looking into Catholicism again since meeting her boyfriend three years ago.

“He really prioritizes his faith, and it’s been a journey to understand the Catholic faith in a new way,” Casey said. “The worship aspect has meant a lot to me in terms of my experience with the Holy Spirit and my growth as a Christian. When I’m worshipping God is when I feel the most myself. … When I went into these Cor nights where it was a Catholic setting, but it also had this worship music that I was used to and this environment where I really felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, it was a pretty profound experience for me.”

Casey and Nguyen both are looking forward to getting back to that in person.

“Faith is deeply personal, but it flourishes in community,” Nguyen said.

Mueller said he thinks that many church events, even those held in person, will likely have online components in the future, both for those who cannot attend and for those who may just be curious and hesitant about attending an event at a parish.

“I think that’s something we’ve learned,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be either/or. In the future, it will be both, so we can reach a broader range of people. There are more opportunities to reflect and to learn and to reach out to people in a real and more intentional way.”


  • theology on tap
  • young adult ministry

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