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CoC Partner Conference 2014: A Participant's Perspective

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September 26, 2014

I first became acquainted with Catholics on Call as a campus minister at UTEP in El Paso.  We partnered with religious communities in El Paso to help give scholarships to two or more campus leaders each year so they could participate in the annual Young Adult Conference in Chicago.  Our students always came back more enthusiastic about their faith and the persons they met.  So I was delighted to take part in this year’s Partners’ Conference as a representative of our Franciscan province which is a supporting partner of Catholics on Call

This day and a half of prayer, talks, and small group work, was certainly full of energy and creativity.  This year’s theme was: “Vocation from Within – Finding Grace in Young Adult Culture.”  The keynote presenter was Jonny Baker, the Team Leader for “Pioneer Leadership,” in England.  Jonny is a married man and a member of a lay-religious community who has developed a leadership program that encourages creative ministry ventures in reaching out to young adults.  Just as there are gifts for administration and pastoral ministry, Jonny stressed there are also gifts in individuals and communities for “pioneering” new ways of expressing the Gospel today. 

Key to his insights was to see the approach of “cross-cultural mission” as an inspiration for approaching young adult culture as graced and full of God’s presence.  Several of the activities were to look at young adult culture (from Youtube videos, music, poetry, night club life, etc.) with “appreciative eyes and ears,” trusting that God is present there just as we trust God is deeply present before we enter a new mission area. 

Fr. Steve Bevans, SVD, also reminded us that a key Vatican II passage is in the “Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity,” Paragraph 11.  He reminded us that we are called to a “sincere and patient dialogue” with the cultures we enter.  Thus we will learn “what gifts God has given to others and at the same time add the light of the Gospel.”  Most of all, we are to approach one another and other cultures with an “appreciative inquiry” perspective that looks first for “what is good, what is working here, where is grace here” rather than what is wrong. 

Steven Leach is in the Pioneer Leadership Program and an Anglican seminarian as well as a DJ.  He witnessed to some of the projects they have tried, for example, having an Anglican Church open through the night on Saturdays in the middle of a seaside village that is full of nightclubs.  This “Church at Night” had various “stations” with food, lighting, music, artwork, etc. to create a place for prayer, conversation and spirituality.  Steve explained that they had 600 persons come by the first night. 

Jonny and Steven also led us in a multi-medium and interactive evening prayer that challenged all of us to name “where we are afraid to go” and pray for the grace to cross over into “new dangerous lands.”  These presentations opened my eyes to see young adult culture in new ways and to trust God’s presence in this culture.  Jonny helped to edit a book called The Pioneer Gift with Cathy Ross, and it is available on Amazon.com. 

I encourage all to look at the Catholics on Call website www.catholicsoncall.orgfor creative ideas in working with young adults and to consider encouraging young adults in your communities to make their annual Young Adult Conference in the summer at CTU.  I also encourage all supporting partners’ communities to continue to send representatives or to think about sending a representative to next year’s conference because the conversations, energy and prayer times among all of us assembled were truly animating for our work together with young adults.  Craig Gould, who directs Catholics on Call, and Birgit Oberhofer, the assistant director, are great resources in the office!  See you next year! 

Henry Beck, OFM
Franciscan Friars
St. John the Baptist Province
Cincinnati, Ohio

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