October 2016 Evangelization Exchange – Edens

Young Adult Evangelization & Ministry

By Fr. Bill Edens, CSP


To be a missionary among young adults in Portland, I joined them doing what they love to do: hanging out – drinking craft beers, singing in open microphone pubs, listening to homegrown Portland music, and dancing in live music venues. I would always wear my Roman collar so people would realize that the church is reaching out to them. Though not an expert dancer, I always go to the dance floor and let loose a few dance moves. People are amazed, and happy, to see this vintage white man enjoy himself by moving his body to the beat of the music. These moves just prime the pump, so I can learn the local dancing by observation and practice.The secret I have found is to try to dance without embarrassment. Learning to dance is like learning a new language or a new ministerial skill. You have to be willing to make mistakes. You get better by learning from others, and by practicing. Inevitably people would ask “are you a real priest?” or, laughing, would say “Will you hear my confession?” And often that would lead to a conversation about Jesus Christ.

So, what have I learned about young adults in Portland? They are largely unchurched. They may believe in Jesus and talk about Scripture and prayer, but they are wary about joining a religious group. They struggle with college debt, with finding a job, with finding a place to live, and with relationships. Some are seeking admittance to grad school. They are competent in the pop culture, and can talk endlessly about movies, video games, YouTube videos, the lives of actors, and they track how the church is perceived. They have so many opportunities through Social Networking that it becomes distracting.

I met one young lady, Sarah H, through Swing Dance. She is a graduate student in the counseling program at George Fox University. She asked me to come and meet her teacher and her fellow students, and be on a panel about spirituality in counseling. Being on the panel was a very successful opportunity for me to present the healing qualities of the Catholic faith and Paulist spirituality in an ecumenical setting.

Sarah struggles with depression. Her world contracts, she isolates and has trouble seeing her way. At other times she is vivacious and loves to get onto the dance floor. She and I talked about what Jesus would do in our day. We believe it likely that he would hang out with young adults.

I met a young man, Dave P., at the open mic at Eugenio’s pub. This was a regular stop for me every Wednesday night. Dave was a beginning guitarist and song-writer. He was tentative and fearful when I first met him. But, Eugenio’s is a very nurturing environment, and he received consistent positive feedback from the other musicians and patrons. Over a year’s time I saw him really grow in confidence. I followed in his footsteps, began singing at the open mic, with accompaniment from a great guitarist, Steve E. Then I took up the ukulele. Though I’m not very good at it, Dave and the rest of the Eugenio’s community have been very encouraging. I’ve had many deep and spiritual conversations with the young and older adults during my two years at Eugenio’s. People LOVED that I showed up in collar every time, as a visible member of the Catholic community.

Previous Essays in this series:

Part 1