What do you get when you bring hundreds of youth ministers from around the world together for an inspiring four-day conference in the Valley of the Sun?
The answer is 700 people on their knees in adoration beholding Jesus, the Lamb of God.
And that’s just the beginning.
The annual Catholic Youth Ministry Training Convention June 8-11 at the Doubletree Resort in Scottsdale, sponsored by Mesa-based Life Teen Inc., was an opportunity for new and seasoned leaders to be renewed and affirmed in their ministry.
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The conference theme, “Inspire,” didn’t disappoint with its 60 breakout sessions lead by renowned youth leaders offering practical and comprehensive training.
Topics ranged from how to balance a budget and lead a youth group meeting to relational ministry and dynamic environments.
Not one to shy away from societal issues facing teens today, the conference also offered leaders a course on gay marriage and same-sex attraction under the heading, “Same Love, Same Church.”
Attendees had the opportunity to pick classes based on the needs of the teens they serve.
“Our goal is to completely transform the idea of what youth ministry is in our Church and what it can be,” said Stephen Lenahan, Atlanta-based Life Teen director of events. “It needs to be more dynamic. It’s not meant to be boring, but to be an experience on Sunday night and not just a class. Everything in our Church is so grand, why not for our youth on a Sunday night by showing them the beauty of our Church?”
The setup in the ballroom of the resort rivaled any big-ticket event. The three-screen backdrop was impressive with a beautiful image of an iconic Christ as 60 priests concelebrated daily Mass.
Worship leaders and former Diocese of Phoenix music ministers Ike Ndolo and Emily Wilson led spirited praise and worship whose infectious sound elicited a holy response from the participants.
Three bishops, religious and deacons also attended with another 100 people leading talks or hosting workshops, including Dr. Scott Hahn, professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and Fr. John Parks, chaplain and theology teacher at Notre Dame Preparatory in Scottsdale.
“There are two types of preachers, those who get up to say something and those who get up because they have something to say,” Fr. Parks said, advising youth ministers to be relevant, resourceful and real with the teens they serve.
“God called you to be here and He called you to preach to His teens, His flock. He called you to do this.”
Life Teen is in nearly 1,700 American parishes and in 17 countries. With a motto, “leading teens closer to Christ,” and a special emphasis on the Eucharist, the international ministry hosts training and workshops throughout the year and offers scholarships for priests to attend.
Youth ministers were not only formed in the head, but the heart. The conference was a spiritual renewal that offered adoration, reconciliation and daily Mass.
Chris Epplett from the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan, works with 100 teens in his high school program. He made his way to the Valley of the Sun where he said he was “renewed and given the zeal to do ministry.”
“Being able to dive into the theme, ‘inspired’ was good because it allows us to not just further inspire those teens we work with, but to be inspired,” he said.
The goal of the conference is give youth ministers the tools to lead, listen and nurture intimate relationships with God, thereby impacting their parish ministries.
St. Patrick Life Teen coordinator Scott Bagshaw has been involved in youth ministry since 1996 as a participant, leader and speaker.
He said the training is not only invaluable but necessary to know what works in youth ministry and how to implement it.
“That’s when the work really starts, when I apply all that I’ve learned,” Bagshaw said. “If we’re not staying close to God, our teens won’t either. We need an opportunity to recharge with each other and share, then we can go out and set the world ablaze.”