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Everyone is just a click away

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Youths and young adults are connecting virtually.

As most parishioners across the diocese enter their fifth or sixth week of social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic, youth ministers and young adult leaders are continuing to offer guidance, tools for learning and a sense of community — digitally.

“Everyone knows how to use Zoom now,” said Kevin Bohli, executive director of diocesan Office of Youth, Campus, and Young Adult Ministries. “Things changed so quickly. We had to jump into the world of videoconferencing and learn fast.”

SUPPORTING YOUTH MINISTERS

Bohli’s staff starts each day with a videoconferencing Zoom call where they pray for specific people, diocesan youth ministers and their tasks for the day. 

“The first thing we have to do is support the directors of youth ministry,” Bohli said. 

Every Wednesday, they have an afternoon Zoom conference with leaders across the diocese. The meetings have had nearly 50 people attend each week and include talks from priests and discussion of policy changes. The meetings also address the types of online interactions with kids that follow VIRTUS practices. Then, participants separate into “breakout rooms” by deanery for smaller brainstorming sessions to share ideas and ask questions before returning to the whole group to share.

“I give high praise for diocesan staff, and the level they have gone to help youth ministers,” said Sarah Ginther, director of youth ministry at St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg.

The first few weeks of teleworking and not being able to connect with people in person were “challenging and included a lot of long hours just trying to figure out how to use the technology,” she said. “Though we are proficient now with Zoom, we are still in the phase of transitioning things, such as fundraising, online. We are not only trying to learn how to use new programs, but also have to be able to teach others and delegate tasks to volunteers.”

CONNECTING WITH YOUTHS

A few ways parishes have continued to minister to youths is through virtual Bible study groups, playing family friendly games at jackboxgames.com, and hosting online watch parties for Mass.

“We are all trying to pivot and see what we can do to continue to meet the needs of our youths and come up with new initiatives in evangelization,” said Erin Johnson, director of youth ministry at St. Veronica Church in Chantilly.

“Parishes are doing a lot right now to meet the needs of the kids in their parishes and programs,” said Bohli.

NEW INITIATIVES

Though many of the initiatives to keep youths connected are digital, some new ways to connect are “old school” and low-tech.

“This is a great time for the domestic church, for families to pray together, and challenge each other with things like family talent shows,” said Bohli. “There are ways to continue social distancing, but still connect to people such as sending letters, care packages or cards, and calling people on the phone that let them know the church is still thinking about them.

A creative way that St. Veronica is challenging parishioners to stay connected is by creating paper chains that will literally be connected once people are able to come back together in person. Their goal is to create a chain long enough to wrap around the church building.

“Each link of the paper chain should include a prayer intention, or a work of mercy offered or received during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Johnson. “We are trying to help parishioners look forward to a huge celebration once we can come back together for Sunday Mass. We will have an ice cream social and connect the chains made by families in our parish at that time.” 

At St. John the Apostle, Ginther issued a challenge that will help families unplug during Holy Week.

“I live in a house with eight people, and everyone is online and in meetings constantly,” Ginther said. “How do we ‘unplug’ in a world where everyone is online?”

In response to that question, she created a Holy Week bingo game that has squares marked with challenges such as write a letter to the military overseas, spend a device-free evening with your family, clean a room in your house that isn’t your bedroom, and pray for someone you struggle to love. There will be rewards, such as a dollar amount off a future event admission, for kids who get a bingo line, or a bigger reward if the whole card is filled.

“We keep telling teens, don’t let this time pass and let it be a waste,” said Ginther. “Come out the other side of COVID-19 a better person with a stronger prayer life and family connection, set goals or start journaling, and continue to pray for those suffering. Don’t waste it.”

YOUNG ADULTS

Youths and teens aren’t the only ones the Office of Youth, Campus, and Young Adult ministry is reaching out to. To help this effort, they have created a COVID-19 resource guide that can be downloaded at bit.ly/YAMcovid19.

“It’s actually a really great time for ministry, and people are going to be alone — and we aren’t meant to be alone,” said Niru De Silva, coordinator of young adult ministries. “We should use this time to connect with people and evangelize.”

Digital opportunities to connect have been popping up around the diocese, and “small group meetings such as Bible studies and book clubs have been huge” said De Silva.

At All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, the young adult group started a “lunch break” 12-1 p.m. where anyone can join and have virtual lunch together. “Everyone is working from home, and there isn’t the comraderie of having lunch with your coworkers anymore, and this also helps break up the day,” he said. Some groups also started virtual happy hours or workouts.

On a spiritual level, you can join a daily rosary with the youth office at 8:30 a.m. to “give you that spiritual beginning to your workday.”

Church of the Nativity in Burke, St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington and the Basilica of St. Mary in Old Town are also leading the rosary on Instagram.

There are plans to move the Theology on Tap series online soon, as well as Trivia Night, once the logistics and technology issues are ironed out.

“It is really important to stay connected,” said De Silva, “now that everybody is just a click away.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020