Reflection: New is now
By Gabriella Munoz Hawaii Catholic Herald
Graduation season is wrapping up, and many parishes find themselves in a phase of transition, especially regarding youth ministry. Seasoned leaders and faithful members are growing up and out of the program. Some are becoming increasingly busy. Some may be finally ready to step up. Sometimes, during times of change, we wonder what comes next, how we get there, and who will show up.
Youth ministry has always been something near and dear to my heart. In high school, it gave me a second family and a sense of purpose. Being involved with youth ministry — both as a participant and a facilitator — taught me how to be the kind of leader that I am today. That being said, it was difficult to leave the nest for college. I worried and wondered how the ministry would change: Who would come? Who would lead?
Over the years I’ve continued to see this pattern of uncertainty when it comes to transitioning between youth leaders. This is a problem many parishes deal with — how to keep kids coming as they grow up, and how to keep the program strong when the team changes — especially now as some parishes, like my home church of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Pearl City, move into “comprehensive youth ministry” while restoring the sacraments of initiation to their original order of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.
However, as a small group leader for the Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) for the past two years, I have no doubt that those stepping into new roles are prepared for the job.
The second annual Christian Leadership Institute for the Diocese of Honolulu took place June 19-23 at St. Stephen Diocesan Center in Kaneohe. The program is open to those of high school age throughout the islands.
This year CLI was staffed by a team of directors lead by Lisa Gomes, director of the diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry; Edwin Ambrosio, who helped facilitate CLI in LA and adapt it to Hawaii; Kathy Lee, from St. John Vianney Parish, Kailua; Laurie Munoz, from Our Lady of Good Counsel; and Taylor Mitchell, from St. John the Apostle and Evangelist Parish, Mililani. The five small group leaders were Malcolm Zara, Johanna Castillo, Karen Ululani, Nellani Tabada and myself.
CLI is a weeklong seminar for youth who were recommended by their parish leaders to learn and hone skills necessary for effective leadership. Participants engage in two to three workshops a day, with each workshop focusing on a different skill set. These skills are directly applied in mini-exercises within the workshop and during planning sessions at night.
The techniques and concepts taught throughout the week include public speaking, listening skills, planning processes, facilitation, negotiation, and of course how to infuse their Christian spirituality into their leadership styles.
As much technical information is absorbed during the week, I think the most impressive and important part about CLI is not something picked up in any one of the workshops. It’s not something that can be explained in a two-hour session; or written out on a whiteboard; or broken down in a diagram. It’s not something explicitly pointed out or practiced.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be learned in 11 workshops. Throughout the course of the week, one definitely sees the skills taught on Monday being confidently handled by Thursday. These youth not only memorize key concepts like SOLER (which stands for sit squarely, open posture, lean in, engage, and relax) but actually apply them.
But the most important and fascinating part is seeing the participants develop the skills that can’t be taught, the ones only they can discover for themselves.
In my small group I was blessed to be able to see the changes my youth were making in themselves. I was proud to see the quiet ones develop their public speaking skills, but I was more impressed with how they pushed themselves each day, each workshop, in order to earn that improvement. I was proud to see the youth who naturally flourished and led with confidence, but I was even more impressed with how they didn’t need me to tell them to encourage other members in their group to step up. I was proud to see how these five strangers were each so inventive and opinionated; but I was even more impressed in how they instinctively collaborated and supported each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
This is what separates the Christian Leadership Institute from other leadership training opportunities. The program’s emphasis on God, who gives the youth their individual talents, reminds them why they are called to lead and who they are called to serve.
The workshops teach these youth valuable tools to improve their leadership capabilities. Public speaking, comprehending the planning process, and learning how to run a meeting are all important things a leader in any capacity should be aware of and utilize. And in doing so, the program gives these youth a chance to hone the inherent skills they each possess.
So as a (prayerfully) soon-to-be college graduate, this may have been my last CLI — for awhile at least. And I am so thankful and blessed that I had the opportunity to see these youth in action.
They are called the “future” leaders of the diocese, but to that I have to disagree. While they may be the new generation, they aren’t just the future. New is now. They are already stepping up. And for those of us that are leaving, or those that are preparing to deal with a new transition season — don’t worry. They’re ready. The CLI class of 2017 will do great things.
Gabriella Munoz is a Georgetown University student on vacation back home on Oahu.