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 | By Danielle McGrew Tenbusch 

Journeying with Purpose

Relational ministry at the heart of Confirmation preparation

Young adults who leave the Catholic Church stop identifying as Catholic around age 13, studies show.

It’s an age when youth are grappling with the big questions in life:  Is God real? Does he care? Why do bad things happen? Why does religion matter?

Taylor Piotrzkowski, coordinator of youth and young adult ministry, understands that struggle.

“I think it was in seventh grade. That's when I made my choice:  ‘Okay, I'm done with this faith stuff. God doesn't care about me, because of all the suffering in my life,’” he recalled. “And so, I think this is the time to actually embrace those questions.”

But this crucial time is not only about acknowledging and answering those questions.

"This is the time to ... give [youth] a chance to grapple with that while also being surrounded by witnesses who actually believe in Jesus, believe in the Church and are living that out in a really dynamic way,” Taylor said.

And that, really, is the key. It’s what Kathy Russell, director of youth ministry at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Midland, calls relational ministry.

“Relational ministry is ... being able to be open with the kids. It means a lot of listening, being open, sharing your life experiences and being somewhat vulnerable. It’s being present, calling them by name ... and just really being interested in their life and faith journey,” she explained.

In other words, relational ministry realizes that relationships are a key foundation of conversion.

When Bishop Robert Gruss discerned returning to celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation in adolescence, Kathy and other youth ministers involved in the decision-making knew they wanted a program that supported relational ministry.

That’s when they found Life Teen.

Bringing teens to Christ

The Purpose program by Life Teen is designed to facilitate Christ-centered relationships, embrace the hard questions, cultivate a relationship with God and be formed in the love of Christ. Crucially, Purpose begins with a yearlong discernment process before focusing on catechesis the second year.

“We have two years with them ... to have an encounter with Jesus, to choose to follow him, to believe in him and to follow his Church,” Taylor said. “That’s the most important piece in all of this, is that they choose to follow Jesus, to be a disciple and to be in Jesus’ Church."

Purpose will help ensure the ground is fertile for the Sacrament of Confirmation to take root, as young people open their hearts to receive a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Kathy said what was most appealing about Purpose is that it was laid out in a youth ministry format. It includes games and icebreakers, discussions and catechesis, all with the goal of bringing youth to Jesus.

“But it’s really about relational ministry and accompanying the young people. That’s what youth ministry is all about,” she said. “We want them to have encounters with Christ. ... Knowing [about the Church and Jesus] is great, but having that relationship [with Christ] is what's most important."

Strengthening faith and friendships

Kathy is leading a small group of five young people from Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish through a pilot program with Purpose in the diocese. They’ve met seven times so far, beginning in January.

The evenings begin with icebreakers (to get kids comfortable) or games (to get them excited) geared toward building trust with each other.

“They have to have a trusting relationship because we want them to have some deep discussions,” Kathy explained.

Then there is prayer, followed by teaching and discussion. Purpose provides reflection questions, but it also gives the youth space to ask their own questions. Each session also includes quiet prayer, such as lectio divina or contemplation. For example, at the last session of the school year, youth participated in Eucharistic adoration and wrote a letter to God in the presence of Christ.

“Those are the times when you're hoping that they can have that experience [of] Jesus,” she said.

Youth are then encouraged to share their prayer experiences.

“To me, the greatest thing is watching them start to trust one another, talking more to one another. They are ... becoming a crew,” Kathy said.

Elizabeth Graveline, 14, is one of the five students in Midland’s pilot.

“It's a really good experience going through your Confirmation prep,” she said, adding that she has enjoyed learning about Scripture, ministries and serving others.

While she was nervous at first, Elizabeth said she quickly began looking forward to each Confirmation prep session.

“It teaches me more about our faith and what our mission is,” she said.

As an incoming freshman, Elizabeth is grateful to have a space where she can learn about what the Catholic Church teaches, especially with questions that arise in her everyday life. For example, when her class was studying genetics in school, Elizabeth wondered what the Church says about genetic modification and brought those questions to the group.

Elizabeth also believes that having friends that share her faith will help her follow Christ.

“I met my best friend through youth group. She's also Catholic and just having a Catholic friend that I can talk to ... I feel like that's really going to help me out, especially in high school,” she said.

Elizabeth is excited to receive Confirmation in the fall of 2025. Of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, she is particularly praying for the gift of courage, or fortitude.

“I’m a very shy person,” she said. “I feel like the Holy Spirit really wants to bring me courage and to stand up and own my faith, and not be afraid to share it with other people.”

Still, she knows that Confirmation is not the end of her faith journey.

"I want to continue to grow in my faith and keep growing in my relationship with Jesus and take one more step in my walk of faith,” she said.

Walking with Jesus beyond Confirmation

One of the reasons Purpose was chosen is that it’s not limited to Confirmation prep, Taylor said.

“It’s actually focused on evangelizing the youth. It’s bringing them ... into an encounter with Jesus," he said. “The Confirmation [prep] springs out from that.”

In addition to being rooted in relational ministry, Purpose has the added benefit of continuously updating its online content to remain relevant and engaging.

Taylor and Kathy see the new Confirmation prep as one important piece of building up youth ministry.

“I hope ... that decision of faith, those ‘yeses’ have a ripple effect in parishes,” Taylor said, adding that he hopes that those who go through Purpose will then participate in parish youth ministry programs, which will feed their desire to learn and grow in faith. “We’re just building on that personal ‘yes’ to follow Jesus and his Church.”

The friendships growing between students in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary group will ideally continue beyond Confirmation, especially because the parish has invested in youth ministry and keeps teens involved in the wider Church through events like the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC).

“I think it will change them and they’ll want to still be involved in the next step of youth ministry, because they’ll make connections with one another,” Kathy said. “It’s how the program is built— it’s relational.”

In addition to facilitating meaningful encounters with the Lord, keeping young people engaged in the Church and supported by Christ-centered friendships is critical.

“I fear for our kids. I just see the stress, the anxiety. I hear their stories. ... You take God out of their lives, you take away their faith, and what do they have to fall back on?” Kathy said.

She cited a 2019 survey by Springtide Research Institute:  one in three young people feel completely alone much of the time. Nearly 40 percent have no one to talk to, and 70 percent feel as if no one understands them.

“That's where I think youth ministry can be like a safe haven for kids,” she said.

As for Taylor, relational ministry was the catalyst for his own conversion. Though he had given up on God and the Catholic faith at age 13, he attended the Catholic Youth Summer Camp in Brighton. Taylor described feeling “depressed and broken at the time,” dealing with the aftermath of divorce, poverty and sin.

“My conversion came from the vibrant witness of the counselors, so full of life and joy,” he recalled. “Seeing their freedom made me desire the same joy they had. These counselors talked about Jesus like he was a close friend who they actually knew. I never thought that relationship was possible for me until I saw it first in them.”

He committed to paying attention during Mass and chose to join his parish youth group.

“This amazing youth ministry helped me grow out of my old life into a new one centered around Jesus,” he said. “That first ‘yes’ all those years ago has brought me so much joy and freedom, which can only be found in Jesus.”

That’s the type of situation Kathy has seen, time and time again.

“I can see my faith anew in the eyes and the hearts of the youth and it just gives me so much hope— and really, truly, joy,” she said. “[Relational ministry is] bringing them to find a comfortable, safe, trusting place where they can just be who they really are, who God made them to be.”


 

Preparing for Purpose

 

Frequently Asked Questions

By Taylor Piotrzkowski and Chris Pham

After three years of discernment, planning and piloting, youth in the Diocese of Saginaw have the opportunity to encounter the Holy Spirit through the “Purpose” Confirmation preparation program.

In January 2021, Bishop Robert Gruss commissioned a committee of youth ministers, faith formation and Catholic school leaders and priests to discern the best age for reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation. For about 20 years, children in the Diocese received the sacrament of Confirmation in second grade; this was called ‘Restored Order,’ as the sacraments were originally celebrated with Confirmation taking place before First Eucharist.

After considering the recommendations of the committee, additional consultations and prayer, Bishop Gruss concluded that the discernment and preparation for the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation should begin at a minimum age of 12 to 14 years and should not be tied to a specific grade level.

Receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation completes one’s initiation into the Catholic Church and empowers the recipient to live out the Faith. Through Confirmation you are “more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1285)

This Fall, preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation through Life Teen’s Purpose program opens to the entire Diocese. The aim of Purpose is to provide a youth ministry-type environment for students to encounter Jesus and the Holy Spirit, embrace their faith and prepare for Confirmation. Parishes will begin to launch their Confirmation programs in either Fall 2024 or Fall 2025.

Youth should begin the two-year process between the ages of 12 to 14 years old, though older high school students can join if they missed the earlier window. They can be confirmed between the ages of 13 and 18 after finishing the two-year discernment process.

Q: Why should I (or my child) receive the Sacrament of Confirmation?

A: When you were baptized, you received the life of God within you. You walk as a tabernacle of the Holy Trinity; there is nothing you are missing. Confirmation, however, will complete your initiation into the Faith, stirring up those graces within you and fully integrating those seven gifts of the Holy Spirit into your life. You will have not only the privilege but the responsibility to move from being a disciple who follows Jesus to a missionary who carries Jesus into the world.

Q: Why did the Diocese switch the age of Confirmation from Restored Order to this new age range?

A: Studies show that young adults who leave the Catholic Church stop identifying as Catholics at a median age of 13, long before leaving home. The age at which a child receives the Sacrament of Confirmation was changed primarily to bring youth at this critical age into an encounter with Jesus, to choose his Church and to maturely discern to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Q: Why was the Purpose program chosen for the Diocese of Saginaw’s Confirmation preparation?

A: The Purpose program from Life Teen was selected because it provides a youth ministry-type environment for students to encounter Jesus and the Holy Spirit while preparing for Confirmation.

Its evangelizing mission is designed around three key questions:

  • Why believe in God?
  • Why trust Jesus?
  • Why be a part of the Church?

It balances catechetical teaching, fun, relational ministry and opportunities to encounter Jesus. It is a program that, if done correctly, has proven to help create missionary disciples.

Q: Why must my child go through two full years of preparation for Confirmation?

A: The Sacrament of Confirmation is not to simply “check off” a box or “graduate” from faith formation. Rather, it is intended to help create lifelong disciples of Jesus and his Church. This requires both discernment and conversion, which takes time. The first year of Purpose invites students to make a personal decision to follow Jesus, embrace the Catholic Church and pursue the Sacrament of Confirmation. The second year builds on that personal decision of faith and focuses more on the Sacrament itself. The whole process, in the words of Bishop Gruss, is "journeying with a young person to foster an encounter with Jesus Christ, leading to intentional discipleship."

Q: When will the new Confirmation program begin at my parish?

A: Starting in Fall 2024, the Purpose program from Life Teen will become the definitive Confirmation preparation program throughout the Diocese. Catholic youth seeking the Sacrament of Confirmation must first actively participate in two years of Purpose at a parish. Although Purpose will become the Diocese-wide standard, individual parishes will decide when to begin offering Purpose. They may choose to start in the fall of 2024 or to wait based on a number of factors, such as waiting for more youth to become eligible. All parishes should launch Purpose by Fall 2025. Please contact your local parish to learn their planned start date.