By KATHY SCHMUGGE
BATESBURG-LEESVILLE — If one truly believes the youth are the future of the church, then the 45 junior high students who attended the diocesan Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) would have provided a glimpse of a future filled with enthusiasm for the faith.
During this five-day gathering, held June 28- July 3 at Camp Kinard in Leesville, the young participants had an opportunity to develop their leadership skills, deepen their faith, and make friends through Bible study, games and small group discussions. With a handful of adult youth ministers and a number of high school volunteers, the junior high students were immersed in a Catholic environment where they were not intimidated about sharing their values with each other.
Many of the young people say that CLI opened their eyes to possible church service as youth ministers, musicians, and as clergy, in the future, Nurturing and empowering young Catholics is one of the primary goals of the leadership camp.
“One day I hope to be a priest,” said Justin Loehr, an eighth-grader from St. James Church in Conway, who commented on how CLI affirmed his desire to preach the gospel. “I want to get the word out to people, but I want to make it interesting and fun like they do here,” said Loehr.
One of the new CLI counselors, Marie Donnelly, the youth director for the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and St. Mary of the Annunciation in Charleston, said she “was surprised how well-formed and mature the young people were in their faith.” She felt that many of the activities helped to develop those traits, such as the “Walk Through the Bible.” In this activity, a leader talks about the main biblical figures as ordinary people, many of whom were young, in a way that shows how God calls everyone to serve regardless of age.
There was also “Prayer Time” everyday, a quiet time for reflection. It was during prayer that the youth were introduced to the various ways they can communicate with their God. Jerry White, director of Youth and Young Adults Ministry for the Diocese of Charleston, would prompt the teens with a phrase like, “What are you thankful for,” guiding them through the traditional prayer forms of thanksgiving, blessing, petition, intercession, and praise. The prayers that the youth shared with the group were inspiring because of their depth and grasp of what is truly important. “God, thank you for being my daddy,” shared one youth. “Jesus, forgive me for losing my temper,” uttered another.
“You can take prayer time anywhere on the road, in school or at home. You don’t just have to be in church. Find a quiet place where you can pray,” instructed White. Humorously he added, ” I don’t recommend praying right before you go to sleep because after saying ‘Thanks God for my bed, pillow and blanket,’ you might start to snore.”
Music was integrated throughout the week under the leadership of Meredith Augustine, a middle school music teacher who is involved with the youth and music ministry at St. Joseph Church in Columbia. Since she grew up in the Charleston Diocese, Meredith has observed how the summer program has evolved since 1994. Working with youth, she sees how crucial the junior high years are in formation and is glad to see a program specially designed for this age group.
“The week has been life changing for me because it has renewed my faith. Seeing the youth come to know Jesus brings back wonderful memories for me,” said Augustine.
White never seems surprised by how gifted the young counselors are in the ministry work and how well they are preparing the next generation of counselors who will eventually take their place.
“They are really good kids who do not talk fluff, but challenge their peers,” said White of his volunteers. With the senior CLI and a large conference planned for next year, the youth of the diocese will be given numerous opportunities to show all the talent they have to offer in ministerial work.
One of the shining stars is Erin Welsh, a sophomore from Jesus, Our Risen Savior in Spartanburg, who has been involved as a CLI counselor for two years. She was given the difficult task at this gathering to speak on salvation. After doing some research in her youth Bible, Welsh was able to explain the controversy of “faith alone versus good works” in an understandable way that could have put to rest the age-old contentions between various denominations. “From God’s gift of grace is salvation, a free gift, something we did not have to earn. But in accepting the gift we give back to God our life and our works,” said Welsh.
One youth described CLI as an “oasis where there are no temptations.” After five days of building the confidence of the junior high students and showing them how to live a Christian life, the hope is that they can, by the grace of God, take that oasis with them and bring peace to the outside world.