I have been the DRE and Youth Minister in my parish for 26 years. And with 26 years of experience my question has become, “What do we do for the ‘old’ folks?” I am not talking about aging parishioners. Nor am I talking about our senior citizens in retirement homes. I am talking about those of us who have been in the ministry trenches for 20+ years, fellow ministers who feel drained and burned out. How do we re-ignite our desire for ministry? What can we offer these “old folks” in the way of new ideas? How do we teach old dogs new tricks? And are these old dogs willing to learn?
I attended the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry that was held in San Jose, CA this past December. I am always excited about attending this bi-annual conference, and have attended every conference since the one held at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs back in the mid-nineties. I feel this to be my reward for taking youth to the National Catholic Youth Conference in the odd years. Coming back from that Broadmoor NCCYM, I was on fire with my whole experience and I could not wait to return to my parish and use everything I had learned. And this has generally been the case over the years.
This year I noticed a definite change. The excitement level about going was still the same. But I didn’t come home with that fire I am used to. There was no excitement, no impatience to get home and put in to practice those new ideas that were shared. I spent time reflecting on what the matter could be. Was it the NCCYM conference? Were there no workshops offered for people with my years of experience? Did I over anticipate? Was it me? Did I miss something? Have I become too comfortable doing things “my way?” Why do I feel it is up to someone else to inspire me?
I have years of experience, a head full of learning, a heart full of love, and I know Jesus. But what is missing? I feel is if I am operating in a spiritual tunnel. How do I get out? I hate to say it but I have become one of the “old folks.”
So here is what I have decided to do to:
† Change my prayer time. Instead of giving God my leftover moments, let’s give him my first and middle and last moments of the day. Make Liturgy of the Hours an integral part of my day. Maybe I will return to attending daily Mass. This is to remind me that I am not in this alone.
† Change things up a bit. Start by re-arranging the furniture in my office. Then change things around in the Youth Room. I figure this would give me a new perspective on things.
† Commit to making my “day off” my day off. Don’t take phone calls; don’t check email; don’t run by the office for “just a minute.” When I do any of these things or a dozen more, I am not having a day off. I am not taking care of myself. Even Jesus took time away.
† Treasure hunt through your files and book shelves. Think about the times, when cleaning out your closet and you come across old treasures. Those treasures have value. We all have treasures hidden away in our files and book shelves and closets. Take them out. Dust them off. Think of the fun you had when you first discovered them. Use them again.
† Don’t be a resource hoarder. I think I have become one. I have resources I haven’t used and will never use. Let them go. Maybe hold a “Ministry Rummage Sale.” Put the word out to your peers that you are cleaning house. Make a list of the resources, put it out there online, and it’s theirs for the taking. Less clutter makes for a happier person. A happier person makes for a renewed person.
† Go on 2 dedicated retreats a year for yourself. Let one be a full weekend retreat and the other a full day retreat. You know your schedule, your life, your family, etc. Maybe that full weekend retreat should happen as you begin your year. The day retreat could happen before Lent – just as long as it happens. Don’t wait until you “need it.” That could be too late.
† Surround yourself with those new in ministry. They have the enthusiasm I seemed to have lost. We old folks tend to become “Negative Nancys”. We let out tiredness drag us down. The “new kids on the block” can boost us up. They can give us a new perspective on ministry.
† Try attending Mass at a different parish. Go to a parish where you are not known. Sometimes a new setting for worship will allow you to do just that – worship. How many of us attend Mass in our own parishes and throughout the whole Mass our minds are on work? This happens because we tend to worship and work in the same place. It can be hard to separate the two. Did I tell you the story of the lady who knelt down beside me during the Eucharistic Prayer to tell me about her contribution envelopes? Not even under the umbrella of area of ministry!
† Make sure you take a vacation every year. And leave work behind! Go somewhere exotic. It can even be your backyard and work in the garden. Don’t tell anyone if it is a “staycation.” You need time away, a change of scenery. Take a long drive. Go tent camping. Anything that is an adventure and gives you rest.
Bottom line is this… I have recognized the wasteland that I am in. And I need to be the one who takes steps to change things. I have come up with a few ideas. If anyone else has a thought or suggestion I would sure like to hear from you. I will let you know how this works out. You could be hearing that I am out of the tunnel and heading towards the mountaintop. Ciao.