Encounter evenings bring young adults together for prayer, fellowship

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | April 1, 2015

ALLOUEZ — Earlier this year, Phil Lawson, diocesan coordinator of Young Adult Ministry Discipleship and Formation, gave a talk to a group of 30 to 40 young adults in Menominee, Mich. During his visit, Lawson discussed with Fr. Ryan Ford, associate pastor of Holy Spirit and Resurrection parishes in Menominee, the challenges of ministering to the 18-39 age group in the city.

Musicians perform songs of praise during an Encounter gathering at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Oshkosh March 21. Encounter events are held at parishes around the diocese. (Jeannette Merten | For The Compass)
Musicians perform songs of praise during an Encounter gathering at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Oshkosh March 21. Encounter events are held at parishes around the diocese. (Jeannette Merten | For The Compass)

“Fr. Ryan shared with me that these young adults are spread over seven different Masses at the four parishes in Menominee. They never see each other,” explained Lawson. “So often, young adults feel isolated. What we are trying to do is intentionally bring them together so they can be disciples to each other and develop that peer support. It’s uplifting when they realize, ‘I’m not alone, there are others out there.’”

One of the intentional young adult gatherings in the Diocese of Green Bay is “Encounter,” an evening of worship and fellowship. The most recent gathering was held on March 21 at the Sacred Heart Church site of St. Jude the Apostle Parish, Oshkosh.

“It’s an idea that the young adults came up with themselves,” said Lawson. “We try to rotate them around regionally throughout the diocese. We have a core planning committee made up of all volunteers, engaged young adults who want to see more young adults engaged.”

Encounter, made possible through the Bishop’s Appeal, features prayer, a witness talk, eucharistic adoration, a priest reflection, reconciliation, music and benediction followed by fellowship and food in the parish hall.

“We have a young adult give a two-minute talk about their encounter with Christ. Why faith is important to them. How they got to that point. There is no wrong way to do it. It’s just their story and that’s beautiful,” said Lawson.

“I encourage the priests to tell their own stories. How did you encounter Christ? How did you get to this point? It tends to get very personal. It’s neat for young people to hear their stories as well. We don’t always get that chance.”

Encounter, which begins at 7 p.m. and closes at 9 p.m., includes 45 minutes of song. John LaRoche and Lisa Preissner have alternated coordinating the music.

“I try to pick different types of music,” said LaRoche, coordinator of faith formation, youth ministry, liturgy and music at Prince of Peace Parish in Green Bay. “Some is more traditional and we also do some contemporary stuff you hear on the radio. It’s fun. The people in my band love to play. It’s nice when someone tells you ‘that song really hit me.’”

LaRoche plays piano and/or guitar in the four or five-member group, depending on who is available. He joked that “someday we need to name the band.” Moments of silence are also incorporated into the evening.

“Life is so busy,” he said. “It’s important to allow for time spent in peace and prayer.”

Preissner, a worship leader from Appleton who has released a CD entitled “You Are,” had never met Lawson before calling him to see what she could contribute to young adult ministry.

“God is pretty amazing,” she said. “(Lawson) told me that he had been praying for a music group.

Part of an ongoing series about ministries that receive support for the Bishop's Appeal.
Part of an ongoing series about ministries that receive support from the Bishop’s Appeal.

“It’s a special evening being able to be in the presence of the Lord. A lot of the music helps you to give yourself to God.”

Preissner coordinates the music for her group, provides vocals and plays the acoustic guitar. Her band members have also felt God’s presence at Encounter, she said.

“Our drummer used to be in a rock band,” she said. “He told me that the Lord spoke to him and said, ‘This is the greatest honor’ playing here. It is a blessing.”

Encounter attracts 60 to 125 young adults. Lawson credits José Vera of St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Green Bay for spreading the message to the Hispanic Catholic community. Much of the networking is based on relationships, said Lawson.

“We rely on our participants to spread the word,” he said. “People connect with a person. They connect with a parish. They don’t connect with a diocese. I don’t mean that negatively. So much of this is based on relationships.”

Young adult ministry is relatively young in the Catholic Church, dating back to 1977, when the U.S. bishops first recognized a young adult ministry office in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“It’s an area where there is no infrastructure,” said Lawson. “Most parishes have somebody who does youth ministry, even if it’s a volunteer. Who does young adult ministry? They are the largest demographic and least represented in our churches.”

Young adult parish leadership training is being offered and he added that two parishes are hiring young adult ministers.

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