Service learning is something that is near and dear to my heart. It is a form of ministry where both evangelization and catechesis take place. Service is of the head, the heart, and the hands. Engaging students in something that is tangible, like service, helps the faith to come alive in a real way. While service is a great way to get new teens involved in your program, how do you know where to start?
Find a Patron Saint
As in all things, we should begin in prayer. Finding a patron Saint to pray with you as you begin your service program will help you to keep your goals clear. It also doesn’t hurt to have an intercessor. Your patron Saint will also serve as a model for the teens of what it means to do works of mercy.
Pick your Project
Your project can be as simple as a morning at a soup kitchen, or it can be as elaborate as a weeklong immersion project. Whichever you choose depends on the culture and needs of your parish. Reaching out to your Outreach center or St. Vincent de Paul society may be a good place to start. The parishioners there should have an idea of what the needs of the community are and how the teens can get involved. If you’re looking for something bigger you can look into going on summer mission where teens will be immersed in service. This may be a good way to start off because it is something that your teens may not have been exposed to before. There are many ministries that offer weeklong camps where parishes can come and have a full experience of service, reflection, and prayer.
Get the word out
We all know that families are busy. Begin to advertise your project with enough time for parents to actually know about it. Speak at parent meetings for Religious Education, use social media, and reach out to a handful of teens that you know would benefit from your project. Having your regular announcements in the parish bulletin and at mass are also good ways to get the word out. Be sure to have all of your information available as well as whatever permission forms your teens may need to participate.
Keep it centered
Once you begin your project, it is important to keep everything centered on Christ. Service is generally meaningful because people feel good when they do it. While this is positive, we want our teens to remember why we as Catholics are called to do works of service. This can be done in a few ways. Opening and closing in prayer, as well as incorporating some sort of reflection is important. Depending on who you pick for your patron saint, you can incorporate his or her writings in your prayer and reflection. Reflection plays a key role in doing service, it allows the teens to work through the work they are doing on a spiritual level.
Jesus gave us the example of what it means to serve. Service can help teens to experience an encounter with Christ through those they serve, and inspire them to live out the faith in a real way. Your youth ministry can incorporate service in many ways. Whether it’s a Saturday morning project or a weeklong program that you prepare for all year, service has the power to change hearts.