While the world has been practicing social distancing over the past several months, students at St. Joan of Arc high school youth group have been growing closer than ever. This is partly due to the creativity and adaptability of youth minister Nancy Lovelock who has taken to social media and virtual meetings to keep the teens connected, but it is also thanks to the spirit of support and prayer and the deep friendships that are the hallmark of this small but mighty youth group.
“It’s a small community but a community focused on growing closer to God,” said Colleen, an upcoming high school junior who joined the group two years ago when she was looking to strengthen her faith. “My favorite thing about youth group is having other Catholic friends. Being able to be close with other Catholic teens has affected me so much. It has changed my life.”
Lovelock describes her idea of Courageously Living the Gospel as the ability to put faith into action and to be an authentic witness of the faith. But she says faithful friendships who hold each of us accountable can be even more valuable.
“The best part of youth group is meeting each week and getting to have that time with people who have the same religion and same beliefs as you. It’s the bond that you build with the people that are there,” said Kirestin, a rising high school senior. “I’ve never felt closer to a group of friends.”
Lovelock is very intentional about creating opportunities for the students to form spiritual friendships because she recognizes the importance of having support from peers when the students are practicing their faith in what can be an indifferent, or even hostile, environment. Over the past year they have joined with a nearby parish for Easter and Advent retreats, connecting the students with other local Catholic youth. During the summer, the teens participated in the Steubenville Youth Conference in the Diocese of Orlando, where Lovelock said, “It was mind-boggling for them to see so many other Catholic teens.”
Typically, the group meets each week for fellowship, prayer and to learn about the faith. They recently held a prayer-a-thon fundraiser in which parishioners made donations and gave prayer intentions that the students took to a special Adoration hour. In past, they have had movie nights, waffles and water guns, and other themed nights. For Lovelock, fun and the faith go hand in hand.
“Not only are you teaching them about their faith but they are also having fun and they are building relationships with God and with each other,” Lovelock explained.
Unfortunately, in mid-March, the weekly gatherings came to a screeching halt with stay-at-home orders and the suspension of Church activities. COVID-19 has challenged the Church and its ministries to adapt and find alternate ways of reaching out and maintaining a spiritual connection outside of the walls of the church building. St. Joan of Arc Youth Group was no exception. Within two-weeks of the shut-down, a weekly youth group Zoom meeting had been established that is still going strong into the summer.
“We meet on a weekly basis, share Scripture, pray together and finish with games and activities,” said Lovelock, who recalled a recent virtual scavenger hunt that had the teens racing across their houses to be the first to find certain items and present them to the screen.
“It’s been a blast to be able to stay close to everyone and know they are doing well,” said Colleen. “The Zoom meetings are a really great way to check in with each other.”
While it is too soon to say what the youth group may look like in the Fall, Lovelock plans to keep the Zoom meetings going as long as needed. Teens are currently signing up for the annual Good Samaritan Project, now a virtual event, where they will participate in online presentations and prayer and hopefully partake in some socially-distant service projects. While it may not be the Youth Group they are used to, the students are grateful they are able to be a part of such a tight-knight community focused on faith, friendship and fun.
“I find it so moving how the Church comes together and how in our Youth Yroup we are always there for each other,” said Kirestin. “It’s more than a youth group. It’s a family.”