MILWAUKIE — On one Saturday per month at Christ the King Parish here, it becomes clear that the young Church is stepping forward confidently.
The parish started a youth Mass a dozen years ago and has stuck with it. Because of that steadfastness, the liturgy has become a hub of spirituality and action for those from early teens into the late 20s.
Youths take roles like greeters, ushers and Eucharistic ministers. A choir of the young is accompanied by drums. A large screen shows the words to songs.
After Mass, the group has a meal and spends the evening bowling, skating, swimming or playing board games. Sometimes there are community service projects.
“This Mass and youth group are really good ways to connect with other kids our age who want to live their faith,” says Emily Pinder, a 15-year-old parishioner who attends Central Catholic High School. Doing something at Mass, like being an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, helps Pinder want to participate even more. Like many of the teens, she encourages kids she meets to come try it out.
Patrick Dowhaniuk, 15, enjoys welcoming and guiding younger teens into their faith. He saw his older siblings as leaders and wants to follow in their footsteps. Being in the Christ the King youth group, Patrick says, is seen as prestigious.
“I feel like we are part of the church,” he explains. “I’ve gotten stronger in my faith.”
On a typical Saturday night, 12 to 18 high school teens take part. They also meet every Wednesday in a group called Life Teen. The junior high group, called The Edge usually draws about the same number. The young adult gathering draws about 15 for Mass and a half dozen or so for a meeting afterward.
“The key is consistency,” says longtime youth minister Geri George, who as a day job also works as an Umpqua Bank office manager and receptionist. At the end of June, George leaves her youth ministry post after 15 years.
“I am so proud of these young people,” George says.
The youths at Christ the King created their own mission statement. It expresses resolve to welcome those who haven’t been exposed to faith, to make one’s own faith more apparent and to influence young people to serve.
Many adult parishioners come to the youth Mass intentionally.
“The kids get excited by the chance to participate and they get energized,” says Dr. Resa Bradeen. “They get excited about coming to church.”
“The youth are some of my favorite people,” says Ron Saenz, a parishioner who attends the Mass and helps George with the group. Years ago, when catechists were choosing the ages they would teach and most people avoided junior high, Saenz volunteered for it. The father of two boys now in their 20s, he realizes how important it is for teens when adults appreciate them.
Saenz sometimes guides discussions of scripture passages, trying to make the stories relevant for young people. For example, when it came time to talk about the Good Samaritan, he asked teens to think about a Ducks fan stopping to help an injured Beavers fan hurt in a post-game scrap.
The young adults group, for those from college age into their early 30s, began two years ago and is made up largely of former youth group members. While teens want freedom, young adults are searching for belonging, says Angela Neal, 25.
“I think of church as coming home,” says Ashley Schilling, who attended Linfield College. “It’s like a family.”
Marissa Dorau, 26, comes to the Mass and young adult group because of its energy, especially as expressed in the music. “I am looking for a community of people with similar values,” says Dorau, who moved from out of state.
“Young people get energized just by being together,” explains Colleen Keller.
But too strong an approach will scare some good people off, admits Neal, who is just back from college.
Msgr. Richard Paperini, pastor of Christ the King, is on the calendar to attend a movie and post-film discussion with the young adult group. On a recent Saturday, he sat around a campfire with high school kids and talked about life.
“Sometimes family life gives us a glimpse of what heaven is like,” Msgr. Paperini said during a homily at a recent youth Mass. “But it also at times makes us sure we are not in heaven. Our children are facing difficult choices much sooner than earlier generations.” Kids face divorce and crime, he said, and learn by what adults do. He asked parishioners, young and old, to pray for families.