Joyful and Beleaguered: A Report on Coordinators of Youth Ministry in the Archdiocese of Detroit

By Michael McCallion, Janet Shay, Laura Piccone-Hanchon, Michael Chamberland, and Ida Johns

We interviewed over forty (44) coordinators of youth ministry (CsYM) in parishes of the Archdiocese of Detroit (AOD) in the winter/spring of 2014 (we use CsYM throughout this report because that is the official title used by the AOD).  The socio-demographic data on these CsYM is as follows: The majority are white (91%), female (73%), between the ages of 40-59 (68%), married (75%), have a master’s degree (34%), and located in the suburbs (82%).

Methodologically, our strategy of interviewing CsYM is broadly conceived within the realm of qualitative research — a goal of which is to give “voice” to those under study (e.g., Ragin 1994).  We believe these data represent the voices of CsYM about their views and perceptions of their ministry specifically within their parish and generally within the AOD.  Qualitative research such as this does not judge the accuracy or propriety of what is being said but, rather, strives to hear and fairly represent their voices.  In other words, this methodology allowed us (researchers) to be sensitive to emotional and other non-rational (not irrational) data exhibited during the interview, and what we picked-up on the emotional side of things was something of a paradox: on the one hand we were struck by the joy CsYM expressed about their ministry and, yet, on the other hand, how beleaguered most feltThat paradox may arise from the feeling that they are often treated like second-class citizens in the vineyard of ecclesial work.

Importantly, this composite image of youth ministers as joyful and beleaguered is situated within the context of youth ministry being named a top ministerial priority in the AOD since 1995.  Given this broader AOD context and that CsYM believe they have not received additional support, they feel their ministry is not taken seriously.  CsYM rightly believe that fewer resources are allocated to youth ministry than are allocated to most other ecclesial ministries (especially DRE and Music Ministers).  CsYM, like other service-oriented occupations, end up being “marginal” workers who feel insecure about their employment because it is either low-paying or part-time or both and normally does not include benefits.  This occupational precariousness has led in turn to moonlighting (taking second jobs) and some CsYM continually looking for better employmentHaving a “work force” of marginalized, undervalued workers perpetuates a weak institutional infrastructure of youth ministry within Catholic parishes and the AOD itself.

In a similar vein, several respondents discussed their ministry as a situation of what sociologists call “role strain.”  Role strain occurs when an individual feels strain in managing the competing obligations of their role.  In some of the situations mentioned in the interviews, role strain was felt in negotiating the pastor’s minimalist expectations for youth ministry with the coordinator’s own belief that more time and resources should be devoted to the ministry.  Others felt this strain because they incorporated lots of social activities in order to build relationships (a major reason for youths joining) and yet at the same time some felt like they were being judged as not leading a “Catholic enough” program (because of the social activities rather than primarily catechetical activities).  So role strain developed because of either the pastor’s, parents’, or peer’s expectations and what the coordinator was trying to accomplish in terms of relationship building.

Other interviewees noted the importance of the coordinator being a member of the parish staff because it establishes them as a parish staff/team member.  That is, it provides status enhancement of their role.  And yet several mentioned the fact that some pastors “stipend” their coordinator and therefore do not include them as members of the parish staff.  In one parish, for example, the coordinator received a minimal stipend, was not a member of the parish staff, and did not even know who the full-time Director of Music was for the parish.  Another mentioned an older coordinator receiving such a small stipend that he decided to support the youth ministry program by buying pizza with his stipend.  And in all of these cases, it goes without saying; there is no retirement plan or benefits for such employees.  Receiving a mere stipend and not being a member of the parish staff further exacerbates CsYM beleaguered, marginal status.

Even though beleaguered and marginal, most CsYM love their ministry because they love youth and building relationships with them for the purpose of growing their love of God and commitment to the Church.  Indeed, a relational emphasis mattered most for these interviewees – even more important than having a technological emphasis.  We know and understand that technology is increasingly important to youth as a means of socially connecting with others.  Many respondents mentioned the importance of communicating their topic on a big screen because doing so increased the likelihood of making the topic real and authoritative to them.  In addition, CsYM insisted on the importance of using several types of technologies to maintain and increase the interest of youth.  But, again, if youth are not making regular connections and building relations with CsYM and other adults, then the various technologies used are less effective, according to the respondents.  CsYM mentioned repeatedly that youth ministry is essentially relational, and beyond building relationships what is most important is having a consistent meeting time and space, with consistent leadership present, and engaging Christian service projects.

It seems to us virtually self-evident that this relationship-building cannot happen fully and effectively without well paid (full-time) and well formed (educated) CsYM.  If this does not happen more systematically within the institutional infrastructure of the AOD, then the AOD and its parishes, we believe, will continue to sustain a workforce of CsYM that are beleaguered.  Status degradation of CsYM will continue as long as low salaries, youth ministry budget cuts, and being treated like second-class citizens is the modus operandi.  Moonlighting and looking for sustainable work among CsYM, in other words, will not disappear and our Catholic youth will suffer the consequences.  Changing this ecclesial situation requires the Church’s leadership to act prophetically by making institutional infrastructural changes that will enhance the status of CsYM equal to that of DREs and parish musicians — especially in the eyes of pastors and bishops.  This, of course, is more than an issue of money.  It has more to do with ecclesial leaders changing their taken-for-granted cultural belief that youth ministry is second class to more pressing pastoral issues.  Nevertheless, channeling more monies toward youth ministry is necessary as a positive step toward changing this cultural and ecclesial attitude.  Indeed, it is why the Youth and Young Adult subcommittee of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council had as its number one goal and objective the following: for the Archbishop to find monies for the formation and placement of youth and young adult ministers in parishes (2011).  Catholic parishes need joyful, motivated, and totally committed CsYM who will build strong, positive, and faith-filled relationships with youth – an impossibility with a beleaguered CsYM ecclesial workforce.  Yet, even though beleaguered, CsYM still serve the best they can because of their faith and because of the joy they receive in ministering to youth.

Is There Really a Priest Shortage in the Archdiocese of Detroit? (AOD)


St. John Vianney- Patron Saint of Parish Priests

I think there is a common misconception in the Archdiocese of Detroit that there is a priest shortage!  When I compare the number of priests to the number of parishes in the Archdiocese, it seems clear to me that there is not a priest shortage.  If I am right, sociologists would call “the priest shortage” a mythic fact, myth in the sense of statistically not true.  Let me explain. Continue reading

The Social Dimension of the New Evangelization

socialI would like to thank Sarah Moran for her insightful blogs (3 of them) on “The Social Dimensions of Evangelization,” even though I am late in responding.  Stressing the social dimensions of Pope Francis’ thought in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is important and timely.  In stressing a social dimension Pope Francis is not diverging from the thought of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but, he is “emphasizing” something different than they.  And it is not just an emphasis on the poor that makes Francis different; it is his systematic treatment of the “social” dimension, particularly as it relates to the poor.  Paragraph 57 of his exhortation is shockingly “social” in my estimation in arguing that what you and I have (money) is already the poor’s, it is not like we are giving them something of ours:  “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood.  It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.” Continue reading

Thesis Seven: Practices


“Roundtable on the Sociology of Religion: Twenty-Three Theses on the Status of Religion in American Sociology—A Mellon Working-Group Reflection.”  2013.  Christian Smith, Brandon Vaidyanathan, Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Jose Casanova, Hilary Davidson, Elaine Howard Ecklund, John H. Evans, Philip S. Gorski, Mary Ellen Konieczny, Jason A. Springs, Jenny Trinitapoli, and Meredith Whitnah.  Journal of the American Academy of Religion, PP. 1-36.


The article above should be discussed by sociologists, especially sociologists of religion, and so I highlight one of the 23 theses with that discussion in mind.

Thesis seven states:  “disciplinary preoccupations and trends often include conceptual inadequacies and biases that impede the serious study of religion.” Continue reading

7 Insights for the NE from a Social Ritual Practices Perspective

If we reflect on the NE from a social ritual practices perspective, then I think professionals would start perceiving the 30% of Catholics who attend Mass more positively (not from a deficit model).

  • I think the recent book by Michael White and Tom Corcoran (White, Michael and Corcoran, Tom.  2013.  The Story of a Catholic Parish Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful Reaching the Lost Making Church Matter.  Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press) is a good example of professionals believing pew-dwellers are not good enough and operating out of a deficit model of Catholicism (especially in the first 80 or 90 pages).

If we reflect on the NE from a social ritual practices perspective, then I think professionals would start realizing EDUCATION is not the only answer to the issues facing the Church.

If we reflect on the NE from a social ritual practices perspective, then I think professionals would have an even deeper appreciation of the sacraments and our Catholic sacramentalizing processes.

If we reflect on the NE from a social ritual practices perspective, then I think professionals would promote every parish having LARGE KITCHENS in order for families to gather at the parish for not only coffee and donuts but spaghetti dinners, fish fries, etc. etc.

If I reflect on the NE from a social ritual practices perspective, then I think professionals would promote PARISH Christian Service Coordinators and Youth Ministers ministering together more so than they do now.  If I am going to get the teens in Redford Township to come back to church I need to say, “hey, Joe and Pete, I need you guys to help me build this home for this poor widow (or whatever the service project is) and then after the project I would catechize them about how we were doing the work of the Lord.  Understand, however, that it has to be some kind of lengthy or ongoing Christian service project, not simply setting up chairs or collecting clothes.  Consequently, every parish needs to have a CHRISTIAN SERVICE COORDINATOR and a YOUTH MINISTER and they must work closely together – from a social ritual practices perspective.

If I reflect on the NE from a social ritual practices perspective, then I would realize more fully how CATHOLIC my mother and father (and even some of my aunts and uncles) really were.

If we reflect on the NE from a social ritual practices perspective, not to denigrate or suggest we should not engage in educational activities concerning the NE (workshops, conferences, adult education sessions, etc.), then I think we would start thinking about DOINGS, ACTIVITIES, CHRISTIAN SERVICE PROJECTS that we could get former Catholics and youth involved in rather than predominantly inviting them to scripture studies or adult education sessions or NE workshops.  I have suggested, for example, to the Archbishop that the Archdiocese should have a World Youth Day at the diocesan level.  It would include catechesis, but catechesis would be the least powerful evangelization tool.  The processing together to some common area in the diocese would be the most powerful evangelization tool from a social ritual practices perspective.

How Does This Sociologist Think About the NE?

I believe the NE (New Evangelization) and “handing on the faith” today is not purely or even mostly a cognitive task or challenge.  It is not solely about our passing on formulaic content.  I think THE TASK IS A PROFOUNDLY SOCIOLOGICAL ONE.  Sociology has experienced a disciplinary turn away from examining predominantly cognitive, belief, and rational factors (as important as these areTO examining emotional, bodily, ritual factors (or mind to body; language to behaviors; rational to nonrational, ideas to practices; texts to performances; myths to rituals or in more liturgical terms lex orandi, lex credendi and the Catholic understanding of mystagogical catechesis).

new_evangelization Continue reading

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

Lex_orandi_lext_credendiLex orandi, lex credendi is usually associated with the fifth-century theologian Prosper of Aquitaine and it basically means “the law of worship determines the law of belief.”  It is actually the shortened form of the phrase legem credendi lex statuit supplicandi.  Many theologians have interpreted the phrase in causative terms and therefore argue that “the law of praying forms or causes the law of believing.”  So prayer before belief, worship before doctrine.  Continue reading

Durkheim, Weber and Religion

My last blog on Durkheim delved into the epistemological problems resulting from individualism.  Anne Rawls (whom I have been quoting in these blogs), interpreting Durkheim, said that an individualistic perspective on religion highlights the importance of beliefs over practices.  Indeed, Rawls argued the Durkheim believed that “ideas” are merely retrospective accounts of what took place in communal ritual practices.  More specifically, the categories of understanding (ideas) are the result of ritual practices not the other way around.  Rawls is not suggesting that ideas do not ever affect our practices, indeed, practices and ideas are often mutually reinforcing, but epistemologically considered practices came first then the categories of understanding.  Continue reading

Durkheim- part three

durkheim2At the end of my last blog I wrote that Durkheim believed that most epistemological problems resulted from individualism, a point I would like to develop further in relation to religion by referring, once again, to Anne Warfield Rawls’ book Epistemology and Practice: Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Cambridge, 2004).  Moreover, in doing so, it will be shown that Durkheim had great respect for archaic religions – a position many of his contemporaries did not hold. Continue reading

Durkheim (cont’d)


My last blog on Durkheim may have left some a little unclear as to the distinction Durkheim makes between his epistemology and his sociology of knowledge.  My hope is that the following might help clear up this distinction and, if it does not, that readers will be drawn to read Anne Warfield Rawls’ article on this topic (“Durkheim’s Epistemology: The Neglected Argument” 1996, AJS, 102[2]).  Nevertheless, Rawls believes that this distinction is a major point of confusion about Durkheim’s work.  As the abstract to her article states:  Continue reading