Best Practices: Service & Justice with High Schoolers

This is the fourth in a series of “Best Practices” posts that will cover various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. (To see the all the entries in the series, click here.) Today, the Ampersand interviews Jason Kidd, director of youth and young adult ministries at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego, Oregon. 

Jason grew up in the desert of Phoenix with his family.  He studied Electrical Engineering at Northern Arizona University.  It was during his college years that he more fully realized God’s abundant love and grace and began to explore the depth of his Catholic faith.  Shortly after, he felt called to serve in ministry full time.  Jason married his high school sweetheart, Sarah, and they followed God’s call to Portland, Oregon.  Jason and Sarah have been blessed with four beautiful children, Hannah, Grace, James and Matthew and a growing community to call home.  In 2011, Jason completed his MA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame.  After a decade in ministry, he still yearns to share the radical call of Jesus and building His Kingdom.  In his free time, Jason enjoys basketball, eating his wife’s delicious cooking, wrestling with his kids around the house, theology and exploring the gorgeous Northwest.

What different successful service and justice activities have you included in the youth ministry program you coordinate? What made them successful?

We have done a number of activities during which the middle & high school teens have served including: assisted living centers (playing cards), homeless shelters, soup kitchens, poverty/famine retreats, summer mission trips, CRS rice bowls, and other collections of food or clothing. In my experience, there are two pieces that have helped make these experiences more impactful.

First, hands-on serving people face to face is invaluable. This challenges teens’ preconceived notions about poverty and those who live on the margins. When we see a young family without shelter in line for dinner, it breaks down walls. When we spend time with the elderly, they recognize Christ in them and recall their own grandparents whom they often forget. Interacting with people reminds our teens that regardless of the situations that them on the margins, they are still people; with a name, a story, and the longing to be loved.

From these relational experiences, God enters into our lives and it is harder for us to ignore or overlook our neighbor in need. We are now more aware than before of the need for justice; because its not just numbers, but there is a person we have encountered. Even more importantly, through these conversations we see our own “need” and brokenness. We recognize how God, through our neighbor, is working to restore us.

Secondly, teens must be prepared beforehand and debriefed after. It is important before we go to be reminded of why: as disciples of Christ – NOT to serve so we can pat ourselves on the back.  God wants to transform us through these experiences.  Serving the marginalized is one of the Church’s proper roles. One hundred years ago, it was the church directly that gave drink and food to the needy, sheltered the widow and orphan and cared for the sick.

Part of our prayer and worship of God is to go out and love our neighbors. Working directly with the “least of these” and doing adequate prep and follow up around the service has really helped our teens integrate charity and justice, not only into their faith life, but their whole life.

Why do you think including Catholic social teaching in the formation of young disciples is important?

Catholic Social Teaching is a beautiful hidden treasure of our church, but most especially we need to teach it to young people because Jesus clearly taught his followers to love and serve those in need.

With the push by the church for the “New Evangelization” we are being encouraged to personally renew our relationship with God, those who identify themselves as Catholic, and to share the faith with others. After hearing and reading Frank Mercadante’s book Engaging a New Generation, I think the key to this New Evangelization is Catholic social teaching in practice. He suggests that the older process of conversion (believe, belong, then behave) has been rewired. Postmoderns don’t first find Jesus then live that faith. Rather, they want to see the faith lived out and through that experience and find Jesus.

Pope Francis models this perfectly. He speaks and witnesses to being a “church for the poor” and look at how it has resonated with the world, especially young people! They fall in love with Jesus because he models Jesus’ sacrificial love, putting the other first.

Pope Francis visits a poor area called a favela during his trip to Rio.

What advice would you give to a youth minister looking to deepen his or her ministry’s involvement in service and justice activities?

First off, don’t wait. Organizing a service project is not difficult. Find a good non-profit and get the teens serving people face to face. There may already be opportunities in the parish.

Second, ride the wave of the “Francis Effect.” He has captivated the world’s attention, so intentionally use that in your promotion of the event.

Lastly, make sure to do the prep before (even 15 minutes before) about WHY we are doing this. Remind them to stretch themselves, get to know someone’s name and their story, and look for Jesus’ face in the people they serve.

Then process the experience after (even on the ride home). Questions like: “Where were you uncomfortable? Who did you meet? What surprised you? Was the service what you expected? Why/why not?” are perfect.

(Resource: 20 Questions for Reflection After Service)

Any favorite resources for forming young disciples in Catholic social teaching?

The Life Teen & Edge resources are great. They have whole semesters on Catholic social teaching that include teaching outlines, relevant small group discussion and great media resources. They have also started a number of missions across the country (Houston, Nashville, St. Louis & Atlanta) and one in Haiti where young people can go serve.

Catholic Relief Services also has a “Food Fast” retreat resource for free. World Vision (a Christian Non-profit) has a “30 Hour Famine” retreat resource with some great videos and activities.

We have used the Center for Ministry Development’s “Young Neighbors in Action” for our Mission trip this past year. Ave Maria Press’ Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter has a great chapter titled “Be Restorers” on how to get the whole parish serving outside the walls.



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