Expanded mandate brings fresh challenges to Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry
By Brent Mattson
The B.C. Catholic
VANCOUVER--Youth ministry has a new name and mandate in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, and Gerard Garcia is just the man to help with this change.
Last year, the Office of Youth Ministry (OYM) officially changed its name to the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry (OYYAM), and with it came an expanded mandate.
"A lot of people who had gone through a youth ministry program or youth ministry at a parish were now wondering, 'Well, what's next for me?'" OYYAM director Clayton Imoo said. "They're in essence looking for something for them: a group to minister to them and with them."
With an expanded mandate, Imoo felt his office needed to expand its staff too. That's when they decided to hire Garcia full-time. Along with his years of experience in youth ministry at the parish level, Garcia was appointed to help with parish ministry formation.Garcia was born in Winnipeg and moved to the Lower Mainland when he was 9 years old. For periods he lived in Richmond, Surrey, Burnaby, and Aldergrove, attending nine different public schools and various parishes.
He spent most of his high school years in Aldergrove and his young adulthood living in Richmond. He currently lives in New Westminster with his wife Carolyn and sons Lucas, 4, and Bennett, 15 months.
He first got involved in youth ministry in 1993 at St. Paul's Parish in Richmond, where he joined Life Teen and became a leader in their youth ministry for six years.
"What got me into youth ministry in the first place was, funnily enough, a bulletin announcement," Garcia said. "The second thing was a welcoming group of young adults who were forming a leadership team for youth ministry."
It wasn't the fun and games that motivated Garcia to get involved in youth ministry, but the growing negativity and disillusionment in youth culture at the time.
"(There) was a sense of urgency or need to help the young generation at the time," Garcia said. "I felt the need to help out and I didn't go to Catholic school or any of that. I wasn't involved in youth ministry growing up, so for me to get involved in Church ministry it was just that God was calling me to go."
"The program we were doing, Life Teen, came out of the States, so the video that they showed us was pretty graphic. There were gangs, school shootings, suicides, and just a lot of hurts," he said. "You could see the young people were going through a lot of hurts and they just needed someone to look up to or someone to talk to."
Garcia continued to work in youth ministry at the parish level until 1999, when he started a half-time position with the archdiocese on the Youth Ministry Training Team and split his work between the parish and diocesan levels.
With the establishment of the OYYAM in 2010, Garcia began working with the archdiocese full time as a consultant for parish youth ministry and young adult ministry.
Garcia said that young people are going through the same trials and tribulations as when he started in youth ministry almost 20 years ago, even if the way it's expressed has changed.
"They're looking to be heard. They've kind of gone onto the Net," he said. "They post really short things about how they're feeling and they're almost asking people to ask them more about what's going on in their lives."
The impetus for the OYYAM began with a declaration by the Archdiocesan Synod in December 2006 that proposed the establishment of "a visioning committee of young adults, clergy, and religious representing the various regions of the archdiocese to assess strategies for young adult ministry."
After years of preparation at many levels, Imoo submitted the official proposal to the archbishop in Jan. 2010; it was accepted by the next month.
After spending the summer changing the names on their website, Twitter feed, and Facebook page, among other things, the name change became official with the release of the office's September outline and calendar.
The mandate of the youth office has always been to provide support and training for youth ministry formation, and they hope to have a full service plan for young adult ministry by June.
"We know what we want to accomplish in young adult ministry: the three C's: connecting, consulting, and convening," Imoo said. "Those are the three things that we've taken for the last six months and over the next six months.
Garcia hopes to see young adult ministry grow in the archdiocese as the office begins to reach out to a broader age range of people.
"What an 18- or 19-year-old is experiencing is different than what a 30- or 35-year-old is," he said.
"There's a lot of different issues, demographics, and needs, from college students to young single professionals, to married couples without kids, to couples with kids."
"It's a broad range of different needs that are out there," Garcia said. "How do we as a church address them and also call them to what the Church's mission is, and help those who are Catholic come back to their faith?"