Life Teen program draws large crowd of teens at St. Michael’s
By KARA KOCZUR, Globe staff reporter
Over 55 teens filled the chairs Jan. 18 in the parish hall of St. Michael Church in Sioux City.
They came to the inaugural Life Teen event filled with curiosity and expectations and some with excitement. Even Brandon Harvey, youth minister at the parish, had trouble containing his enthusiasm.
“I’ve been here since 7 a.m., so I’m a little tired," Harvey said. "I couldn’t sleep I was just so excited. I got up and was setting up all day.”
It took four months of planning, but all the hard work paid off, as Harvey thought the evening went great.
"I was just blown away by what Christ has done with these teens and with this team of adults,” he said.
From the laughter, smiles and noise in the parish hall, it seemed the teens thought it went well too.
“I thought it was awesome,” said Billy Danner, 14, a member of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta parish in Dakota Dunes, who was convinced to attend by a friend who said it would be fun. “It was great.”
Life Teen is an international youth ministry program that began in Mesa, Ariz. The purpose of the program is to provide resources and faith experiences to help lead teens to Christ. This is accomplished primarily through a Eucharistic spirituality, as well as other opportunities for youth to grow in their faith. Over 1,050 parishes in 22 countries use the Life Teen program.
The Siouxland Life Teen group is open to anyone and will meet for Life Nights every Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m., alternating between St. Michael’s and St. Boniface. Teens will meet for skits, a 10-minute lesson, small groups, snacks and prayer time. There will also be time for praise and worship music, along with adoration.
Last Sunday, the evening opened with a high energy skit, including crazy-dressed core team leaders, consisting mainly of college students and adults, and silly string. Harvey spoke about sacraments, which will be focused on throughout the semester. He explained what they are, why the church is necessary to receive sacraments, what grace is and the popular misconceptions about sacraments.
“So what is this grace?" Harvey asked the youth. "Well, there’s this grace called sanctifying grace, or grace that makes us holier. This holiness doesn’t hit us at a retreat alone or at adoration alone. Sanctifying grace works on our hearts our entire lives, from the moment of baptism, to help us be transformed in the image of Jesus Christ."
There are also sacramental graces, he added, which help build up the kingdom of God on earth. These graces forgive sins, seal and initiate.
He also spoke to the kids about feelings, especially in regards to their faith. Sometimes they can be right, and sometimes they can be wrong, he said.
“How do we know when to trust our feelings?” he asked. “The answer to that question is our fruits. What I mean by that is the result of our actions. Looking back into our life and seeing where Jesus has walked with us and at times has picked us up.”
Following the lesson, they moved into small groups where they got to know one another better and shared snacks. They also discussed why sacraments are important, what they can do better to prepare for the sacraments and what they wanted to learn this semester about sacraments.
The idea for Life Teen came about after Harvey took a youth group trip to a Steubenville conference last summer. The teens had saved up for a different retreat, but when it was cancelled, Harvey scrambled to find an alternative. Perhaps providentially, Steubenville was the only thing that would take them at the last minute.
“It was a lot of fun and the kids really got into it," Harvey said. "Some of them came back and wanted to do things like it, but with what I was doing in the youth group prior to that, I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t have the imagination on that level.”
Life Teen, and after researching it and talking to Father Gary Snyder, Harvey decided to give the program a try. It proved to be easier than expected, for as soon as he began looking into Life Teen, doors began to open.
While things began to fall into place, Harvey and the core team needed to find a way to advertise to the teens.
That meant meeting the kids where they’re at technologically. When Harvey thought of the normal ways to advertise, such as announcements at Mass, The Globe and bulletins, he realized a lot of kids don’t attend or read those outlets. Instead he started a Facebook group, blog and sends a text message reminder of Life Teen events.
“So many of them are on [Facebook] every day,” said Harvey, adding that he successfully did Facebook with the old youth group. “The internet and cell phone are so important to them. That’s how they get their news.”
For the first night, Harvey said letters, e-mails and phone calls were used to contact every youth they had an address or number for, and it worked.
"Prior to this we had 10-12 kids at each youth group," Harvey said. "At this one our chairs of over 50 were filled. It just showed that this is what we needed to do because this was the direction the Spirit was leading us in.”
The Holy Spirit continued to be present throughout the evening, especially during praise and worship and adoration. The youth praised the Lord with song while they adored him, taking turns kneeling before him and offering their prayers.
It was the favorite part of the evening for Danner, as well as Carlee Oakley.
Oakley, 15, a parishioner at St. Michael’s, said she has noticed that other denominations had strong worship services and has talked to Harvey about how the Catholic Church doesn’t seem to have as strong youth programs.
“I thought the worship was really good,” Oakley said. “I think as Catholics, sometimes we don’t get to see that side of it and it’s usually more traditional music. Tonight gave us a little taste that we can still have fun and worship at the same time.”
At the end of adoration, teens had the opportunity to sign a wood cross to mark the first Siouxland Life Teen group. The plan is that each year more and more names will be added to the cross. Teens also had the option of signing a card saying they would try to attend Life Teen when they could.
Harvey’s hope is that one day Life Teen in Sioux City will have grown so much that other parishes will be able to start it on their own or have their own form of youth group.
“Ultimately, I hope to see teens engaging in the new evangelization that John Paul II spoke about,” he said. “More teens getting into religious life or the priesthood, or taking relationships and marriage in a different way.”
The next Life Night will be at 6:30 p.m., Jan. 25 at St. Boniface in Sioux City.