Amy Welborn is a columnist for Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic News Service and a regular contributer to the Living Faith quarterly devotional.
Sitting at the end of our little group, near the middle of the pew he sat, holding (I was surprised to see) a five-dollar bill in his hand, he waited.
The usher came down the aisle with the basket, moving it smoothly back and forth through the rows, heading our way.
He paused at our pew to allow my husband to put in our envelope.
And then moved right along.
My son sat there, the money still in his hand, looking in confusion after the briskly-moving usher who had ignored him and what he had to give.
Believe it or not, the next week, the exact same thing happened: the usher completely overlooked my teen-aged son, waiting to contribute to the church.
But this time, I intervened and simply laid a hand on the basket as it passed under my nose, giving David just enough time to slip his bills in.
I told him that next time, if he simply waved his donation wildly in the air, maybe the usher would notice him.
My husband made him laugh by joking, “Your money’s no good here.”
But the whole incident, repeated two weeks in a row, made me think.
How often does our Church do what those ushers did, but in an even broader sense: overlooking what teens have to give?
It’s good that over the past two or three years, World Youth Days have served as exciting reminders of the energy young people bring to the church, but still, a quick look around ordinary parish life finds that this reality only sinks so deep.
I’m not talking about programs for teens here. I’m talking about what teens can do for the Church in ways that go beyond corralling youth group members to pull weeds on Saturday mornings, as useful as that may be!
How many parishes encourage young people to contribute their time and energy to liturgical ministries?
Imagine the life that young, clear voices would bring to the proclamation of God’s Word. Listen to the renewed energy of the choir, youthful tones intermixing with those of experience, together offering praise to God.
So many teens absolutely love working with small children. Does your parish recruit young people to assist or even teach in religious education classes? When I was a Director of Religious Education, some of the best catechists I had were older teens, and when summertime rolled around, those kids practically ran our Vacation Church School.
And what about outreach? Sure, young people may be limited by difficulties with transportation, but how many parishes even think of inviting teens who might be interested in getting involved with outreach to homebound and elderly parishioners?
It’s clear that although the situation might be gradually improving, teens are still a vast, untapped resource in our church. It’s a situation that should concern us all, too, as we look around at our parish activities and see, as we do so often, nothing but gray hair, and we wonder who’s going to do the work of Christ when that generation is gone.
You just have to wonder. What wealth of gifts and talents are waiting willingly in the pews, only to be passed by without a second thought?