Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer - Laurie Marshanke, new Young Adult Ministry coordinator, greets those attending the adult chaperons meeting at the Catholic Center.
Trying to appeal to young adults in their 20s and early 30s remains a challenge for the Catholic Church, but the new director of Young Adult Ministries for the Diocese of Buffalo – Laurie Marshanke – hopes to prove up to the task.
“At that age, between high school and college or marriage, there’s so much seeking going on,” said Marshanke, who has served in the office for two months. “They’re asking questions, trying to figure out what their faith is. If we’re not providing opportunities, they find it where they can, and that’s when we lose people.”
Marshanke originally worked in youth ministry for St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Niagara Falls. With some educational background in psychology, she worked with the kids as they grew into teenagers, and even older.
“Doing youth ministry for as long as I had, the young Church I was ministering to started aging into a young adult population,” she said. “They were looking for opportunities to gather or do mission work. It came out of the natural growth of the teens I was working with. It brought all those pieces together.”
For those curious, the demographic for “young adults” in the Catholic Church generally falls between the ages of 18 and 35. However, Marshanke notes it’s not a hard rule.
“It varies depending on what kind of ministry you’re doing,” she said. “I look at where they are in their journey. There might be some 39-year-olds who are still in a place in their journey where they can do a program with 29-year-olds, and it’s OK. There are just so many different folks in that age range.”
One of the common refrains about that age group is many young Catholics seem to vanish shortly after making confirmation and reappear whenever they get married or have a family. Marshanke admits trying to engage young adults is a challenge.
“The challenges that age group faces are not knowing where they fit in. Sometimes they’re in the pews, but are they active in the parish? So much of what we do involves the personal invitation. As ministers in the parish, we can invite (them) to be a Eucharistic minister, a lector, a member of the RCIA team … any of those things where we can share their gifts and talents.”
Part of the problem is whether they are in college, starting a career, having an active social life or starting a family; young adults are frequently busy. Marshanke is trying to engage the age group through other means, such as posting social media, text and Internet updates or even going old school by offering a personal invitation to join the ministry. When Marshanke worked at St. Vincent de Paul, she sent young adult ministers a daily text that sometimes included a passage from Scripture.
“One of the things that we miss is the personal invitation,” she said. “The emerging adult is going away to college or to the military, and some of them don’t come back to the parish. Look at here in the Buffalo area. How many people have come to go to college, and are we ministering to them? We don’t know necessarily how to identify them, but it’s part of the gap.”
Now broadening that scope to the entire diocese, Marshanke wants to send updates out through parish bulletins and emails in addition to the social media and other avenues in which she worked. Expanding her responsibilities from one parish to an entire diocese may seem daunting, but Marshanke doesn’t see much difference between the two positions.
“Even at the parish, I don’t know all the people I need to minister to,” she said. “I don’t know all the people in the diocese, and the biggest challenge with that is trying to identify where they are.”
Although she is still new to the office, Marshanke has already learned much about young adult ministry and the many different types of people with which she works.
“My background came from the parish, so I was dealing with my students aging into their college years, but there are so many different aspects between single, married, single again, military, young families, baptisms … all those different pieces; I just didn’t have my thoughts wrapped around it initially,” she said. “Being exposed here at the office, I’ve been learning a lot more about those different opportunities to minister.”
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