It was my first week at my first full-time parish / school youth ministry job. I was just settling into my office, clearing out some of the previous YM's stuff, changing the desktop background - you know... the important stuff. I would be lying if I said I was not overwhelmed. I was tasked with serving 2 parishes and 4 schools in 2 communities. However, my new YM zeal and excitement was an easy antidote to my beginner anxiety. Suddenly the secretary paged me and told me I had a call on line 2. I thought it was weird that someone would be calling me already, but I took the call.
"Hi Lance! My name is Louisa and I am a youth minister in Calgary. I just wanted to call and welcome you to the mission!" Oh My Gosh. This is exactly what I needed. She then said something that I didn't think was English. "I am a member of W.C.A.C.Y.M. [wik-ak-uhm]. It stands for the Western Canadian Association of Catholic Youth Ministers. It is a group of youth ministers, teachers, volunteers, and diocesan directors across Western Canada. We meet regularly, support one another, and they provide Professional Development for YMs".
Did I just win the lottery?! I instantly changed from feeling like a segregated youth minister out in the middle of nowhere, to feeling supported and a part of a big community. She invited me to their annual gathering at Star of the North Retreat Center in St. Albert, Alberta the following January. Given my extreme extroversion, I signed up immediately!
The gathering was an awesome peek into what WCACYM truly is. The weekend offered a retreat element, some professional development, as well as a very surprising professional element. They had a very professional meeting as well following Robert's Rules and everything. I was very impressed. This was a group of Youth Ministers and this meeting was something you'd see in a fancy board room somewhere.
This weekend instilled a desire in me to get involved with this organization and was the starting point for me discovering everything WCACYM represents.
One of the things that impressed me the most about WCACYM is its professionalism. Not only were the meetings very professional, as I mentioned above, they strive as an organization to change the image of Youth Ministry to a professional. There was always an underlying purpose of changing the way the Church views Youth Ministry. From encouraging Youth Ministers to dress professionally, encouraging adopting best practices and following guidelines, providing opportunities for Professional Development, offering a certificate program, and advocating for fair and just salaries for Youth Ministers, professionalism was always at the top of the list. As we all know, Youth Ministry is not about pop & chips or only getting butts in the seats. It is about leading youth to encounter Christ. WCACYM wants Youth Ministers to be viewed as professionals and it encourages Youth Ministers to act as such. This was very impressive.
Every WCACYM event I have been to is centered in Christ and provides spiritual formation. Many of the Youth Ministers I have met have had some sort of formation from either the seminary or being a part of a travelling or campus retreat team. Unfortunately, I had not had any of these experiences and WCACYM provided me with some. Through the certificate program which I will talk about later, I was able to figure out my personality type and what Catholic spirituality my personality gravitates towards. I found out I prefer a 50/50 mix of Franciscan and Augustinian spiritualities. I was BLESSED with being exposed to the beautiful traditions of the Byzantine Rite, and had my Catholic world-view expanded by experiencing many different ways to pray including The Way of the Cross, Praise & Worship, Eucharistic Adoration, Lectio Divina, Mass and Divine Liturgy, Prayer Ministry, and so much more. Being able to spend time in prayer and spiritual formation sessions lead and attended by lay people, priests, sisters, monks, and bishops, really communicated the universality of the Church. In addition to all this, WCACYM also offers a Fall Retreat for Youth Ministers so they can start their years off right.
Every summer, WCACYM offers courses to go towards the 3 year Canadian Certificate in Youth Ministry Studies (C.C.Y.M.S.). The certificate consists of 8 courses specially designed for those in ministry with youth in the parish, school, or community settings. It equips leaders with practical tools and techniques needed for creative and comprehensive youth ministry. The eight courses include Principles of Youth Ministry, Practices of Youth Ministry, Foundations of Ministry Leadership, Skills for Christian Leadership, Prayer and Worship, Pastoral Care, Justice & Service, and Evangelization & Catechesis. All of the facilitators are very qualified and are either clergy or lay people holding various Masters degrees in either Divinity or Theology. I pursued the certificate and achieved it! I was even chosen as the "valedictorian"! These were some of the most blessed times of my life.
Over the years, other locations and diocese have offered similar programming to their own YMs online or through smaller local gatherings, but what makes this program so special is the networking and collaboration opportunities.
Along with the Certificate Program, WCACYM also offers Professional Development opportunities for Youth Ministers. Over the years, facilitators from across Canada and the USA have been brought in to facilitate Professional Development for Catholic Youth Ministers. There are opportunities for this at least two times a year and I have taken full advantage of it. These opportunities have enriched the ministries I have served and have helped form the person I am today.
Being a member of WCACYM has not only taught me the importance of collaboration, but it has given me a group of people to collaborate with. Whether it is during the Summer Seminars collaborating on a year plan, individual lesson plan, event plan, or something outside of Summer Seminar like a video or blog post, WCACYM has been an incredible resource for me as a Youth Minister and now future educator. WCACYM also facilitates collaboration and sharing of resources, ideas, discussion of hot topics, and so much more. I have collaborated on ministry projects and ideas, YouTube videos, blog posts, and other personal projects with the people I have met in WCACYM. Above all, this organization has instilled in me the importance of collaboration.
The way WCACYM had the biggest impact on me was the community. There were so many times where I was able to talk to another Youth Minister about a challenge I was facing and was met with "I get it" or "I have been there" - "Here's what I did". When Youth Ministers come together, they are able to talk about the challenges they all face, not in a complaining or gossipy way, but with a sense of support and collegiality. Issues that every Youth Minister faces like how to address your parish council, how to approach things with my pastor, how to advocate for yourself, how to keep the secretary and the caretakers happy! ;). The WCACYM events, especially the Summer Seminar, gives Youth Ministers an opportunity to spend time with people in the trenches doing the same things they are, in other parts of the country. The support is amazing. As Thomas Merton puts it, no man is an island. No Youth Minister should be either.
That first phone call I mentioned at the beginning of this article was in 2009. That first event I went to was January 2010. It is now August 12, 2016 and I still talk to a lot of the people I met there. I owe some of my best friends to WCACYM! If you ever get a chance to go to a WCACYM event or a Summer Seminar for the certificate. Please take it! If money is an issue, there is a Scholarship program available. There are also other organizations (KofC, CWL, Parish, Diocese, etc) that are more than willing to support your pursuit of these great things.
I owe many things to the people I met in WCACYM. I am the man I am today because of my time I spent with this wonderful group. Now that I am entering into my Education career, I am hoping to get back involved with WCACYM as their PD is very valuable to educators as well.
WCACYM will always hold a special place in my heart.
Please consider getting involved. You'll be glad you did!
My name is Lance Rosen and #iamwcacym.