Seriously Ridiculous

pic-029After a very busy late-November (Spirit Day and then the Centennial Celebration at GM Place a week later), I was looking forward to the first weekend in December, when I would attend 2 conferences back-to-back: the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry (NCCYM) in Cleveland and the Canadian Youth Workers Conference (CYWC) in Toronto.

So it was with great anticipation and excitement that I met Gerard at the airport at 4am on Thursday morning. The anticipation and excitement was more for my trip and not really for Gerard, though I was happy to see him too…haha. After checking in, we reminisced about some of our memorable trips together: Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Toronto, home to the now-famous MuchMusic appearance. 

After an uneventful flight to Salt Lake City, Utah (unless you count sleeping from take-off to landing eventful), we grabbed a quick bite and waited patiently for our 10am connecting flight to Cleveland. 10am quickly became 10:15am. Which then became 10:30am. Then 10:45am, 11am, 11:15am, 11:30am, and 11:45am leading the announcement we most feared: the flight had been cancelled!

The airline gave us each a lunch voucher for $7 and a new flight that would get us into Cleveland the next morning. There was a mad rush to the phones as travelers scrambled to make alternate arrangements. Luckily, Gerard was quick on the draw and was able to secure 2 of the last seats for us on a flight that went through Minneapolis to Cleveland. So we grabbed another bite (my Pizza Hut lunch cost $7.25 so I had to reluctantly shell out a quarter) and then boarded plane #2.

Thankfully the connection to our final flight was fine, and we finally landed in Cleveland at 9pm, a full 5 hours later than scheduled. After quick deliberation and debate, we decided on taking the subway into downtown, as it was much cheaper (ah yes…we are good stewards of the Archdiocese’s resources. As long as our stewardship doesn’t get us mugged!!!).

Finally, we were at Gerard’s hotel by 10pm and mine by 10:15pm. By then, the general session had ended and the exhibit hall was closed. So, remembering a generous invite from a certain awesome keynote speaker and good friend of mine, we made our way up to the suite of one Mr. Mike Patin, who was hosting a shindig for 50 of his closest friends. Even before we made it to the door, we were greeted by the always-hospitable Scott Miller, who welcomed us with this gem:

“They really gotta do something about border security.”

And with that, we said hello and he led us into the room, announcing “Canada is in the houuuuuuuuuussssssssssssssse!”

Mike’s wife Marlene served us with some delicious gumbo, and soon fellow Canadians Warren and Mary had joined us. In greeting me with a big hacksaw-like hug, Warren actually knocked my gumbo from my hand, sending soup and rice hurling to the floor. Thankfully it was easy to clean up and thankfully it was my 2nd helping.

Later that night, I met up with Dan and John, who were to be my roommates through Gene’s generosity. It was quite funny actually as we quickly deduced that there were 3 of us but only 2 beds. It was a fine display of Christian charity, as each of us took turns offering to either sleep on the side-chair or the floor. Each offer was genuine, but it would have been funny if someone answered: “Yeah good idea, you sleep on the floor and we’ll take the beds.” We went around in circles for about 10 minutes before John suggested that he stay with another friend. Turns out the beds were huge, and the guys were small (well at least those 2 guys are) so we would have been okay either way. As long as it wasn’t all 3 of us on one!

Friday was my only full day at the conference, started off with a spirited Mass celebrated by Msgr. Ray East. It set the tone for a great day; a day that I spent most of hanging out in the APeX Ministries/Joia Farmer booths selling t-shirts and CDs and convincing people that I wasn’t Brad or Gene (or Joia for that matter). Needless to say, people didn’t need much convincing.

We spent the evening at the historic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where spiritandsong.com hosted a benefit concert for the poor. It was a great night of music and nostalgia, and there was something cool about seeing and hearing Matt, Jesse and Steve among others belt out rock and roll tunes from the stage. My favourite section was the one dedicated to Michael Jackson. I got to see his original sequined glove, his Thriller jacket, and the blue military-style jacket he wore to the Grammys. Thankfully, they didn’t have pieces of his nose.

It was also neat to see all of the Elvis Presley paraphernalia. As I went through the displays dedicated to the King of Rock and Roll, I couldn’t help but think of Dad and just how much he would have enjoyed it. I also shared with friends that I was either going to be named “Clayton Sean” or “Elvis Presley.” Let’s just say I’m glad my mom won the argument. Or else I would have been All Shook Up. That was a good one…Don’t Be Cruel.

I got a couple of hours sleep and then made my way to the airport at 5am with Matt and the band to catch 7am flights for Toronto and CYWC. I went with the direct route, arriving in Toronto just after 8am, while they went the scenic route through Philly, arriving at lunch time. The Westin in Toronto was very busy, as both the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins were staying there for their Sunday NFL game.

The theme for CYWC was “Seriously Ridiculous,” an homage to our seriously ridiculous calling as youth workers and the seriously ridiculous grace that’s available to our lives and our ministries. Marko, the president of Youth Specialties wrote that “the truth that the Creator of the universe knows each of us and loves each of us – that’s serious stuff. Seriously amazing stuff. In fact, it’s so mind-blowing that it’s really the definition of ridiculous. Not ridiculous in a “that’s not true” sort of way, but ridiculous in a “this truth is cool beyond words” sort of way. Very cool. And true.

It was a busy day as I attended a general session and lunch for ministry leaders before returning to my room to prepare for my session the next morning. Then, Derek, Alisha and I went to Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral and then grabbed a quick bite in Eaton Centre. Derek and I thought we had lost Alisha as she wandered off without telling us, and wasn’t answering her phone! Thankfully, she showed up a few minutes later and all was good with the world. Not sure what was worse: Alisha taking off or us treating her like she was 5 years old!

Saturday night’s session featured Matt as the worship leader and he was awesome as always. It’s funny, although I have nothing to do with his success or ability, I’m always so proud to see him at non-Catholic events. I’m always rooting for him (not that he needs my support) and I’m really curious to see if my brothers and sisters from another Christian denominations react and engage. As usual, my worries were unfounded, as Matt engaged the participants beautifully, while Alisha, Derek and I beamed with pride…haha. After all, we Catholics gotta stick together (considering we accounted for a whole 1% of the registrants!)

After catching a bit of the late night entertainment, I put the finishing touches on my session. The alarm clock rang Sunday at 7am, and by 7:50am I was in my workshop room, preparing for the 8am session on “Surviving Youth Ministry.” To me surprise, there were quite a few people seated when I started at 8:05am, and there was a steady stream of people throughout the 75 minute session. I resisted the urge to start again every time someone new came in (as my opening was pretty good if I may say so myself…haha).

The conference ended with 2 more general sessions (sandwiching a workshop rotation in the middle). It was an amazing experience for me, and it gave me a greater appreciation for my brothers and sisters in Christ from other denominations. It’s nice to see so many different people involved, as we celebrate our commonalities as opposed to bringing forth our differences. Thanks Darian for inviting me to be involved and for trusting me!

After I helped clean up for a bit, Pat picked me up and drove me to his new place, where I saw Bernie and baby Natalie for the first time since September. Natalie made strange with me for a few minutes, but quickly settled down and allowed me to carry her and play with her. She must have sensed the “Daddy” in me. Either that or she thought I was going to give her money.

We had yummy Chinese food (despite Bernie’s fear that I would starve) and spent a wonderful evening catching up and watching the Canucks lose a heart-breaker to Colorado. Before going to bed, I warned them that I hadn’t had much sleep, so it might be a late start for me.

Sure enough, I awoke just after noon, and slightly embarrassed, I shared a spaghetti lunch with Bernie and Natalie. We made our way to the Hockey Hall of Fame, a place I hadn’t visited since 2002. We had a great time taking wrist shots, blocking slap shots, and sulking that there was barely any Canucks stuff to admire. We spent a lot of time in the TSN “Be an Announcer” booth as we had fun making our own recordings (see and hear mine here).  The other highlight was seeing the Stanley Cup, and of course, taking pictures with it. We ordered sushi for dinner and had a nice quiet night at home.

On Tuesday, I woke up a lot earlier (okay…it was 11:45am) and I made my way to the Archdiocese of Toronto. I had a great afternoon meeting and catching up with old friends before returning to Bernie’s place via subway and a somewhat-direct trek through Eaton Centre. We rammed through a quick dinner at Burger Hero before I caught my shuttle to the airport, only to find my flight had been delayed by 90 minutes. I didn’t care, as long as I was sleeping in my own bed that night!

What a blessed week. I was part of 2 awesome gatherings, among a combined 3,000 fellow believers and youth ministers. It was perfect start to the Advent season, as it gave me great hope and reminded me just how blessed I am.

Trips and conferences have a tendency to have that effect on me: I return home committed to be better in all areas of my life: as a husband, as a father, as a director, as a youth minister, as a friend, and as a servant of God.

I say it all the time: I have a lot of serious responsibilities, yet I don’t take myself too seriously.

But I do think it’s time to get a bit more serious: SERIOUSLY RIDICULOUS.

Anticipating Communion: Following a Hunch

We received an email at 10am on Monday morning advising us that Cardinal Marc Ouellet would be celebrating Mass in our building chapel at noon. What a blessing…to have the Primate of Canada celebrating Mass for archdiocesan staff less than 24 hours after the big Centennial Celebration at GM Place!

After exiting a meeting, I bolted down the steps and into chapel at 30 seconds past noon (according to my watch). Upon entering the chapel, I placed a host into the chalice (customary at our building Masses) and stood at the back, as all of the pews were full (I guess my watch is a lot slower than everyone else’s). I knew the tiny chapel would be crowded, and sure enough it was a who’s who of archdiocesan staff: Directors, Coordinators, Consultants, Superintendents, support staff, visitors, and a certain web-project-specialist Goddaughter of mine.


Youth ministry consultant extraordinaire Gerard was lucky to scoop the last seat: the old kitchen chair behind the organ (right beside where I was standing). He politely offered his seat to me once, but I politely declined recognizing that he is older than me…haha.

Just before offertory, I casually grabbed 3 more unconsecrated hosts and put them into the chalice without anyone noticing. As 2 of my co-workers took the chalice and cruets to His Eminence at the altar, I was confident in my reasoning: in the rush to get seats, a few people likely forgot to place a host in the chalice. Plus, the visitors may not have known to place a host in for themselves.

As we made our way to communion a few minutes later, Gerard and I were the last 2 people, by virtue of being nice guys and letting everyone else go first. Or more accurately, by virtue of being the 2 guys in the corner. Regardless, just as we began to make our way up the aisle, I turned to him causally and said “I put a few more hosts in the chalice.”

The look Gerard shot me was classic Gerard. For those of you that know him…it was the D-Lo. “Why’d you do that?” he asked quickly.

“Trust me” I replied.

So we approached the altar…the last 2 people to receive the body of Christ. Sure enough, just as Cardinal Ouellet gave communion to the person directly in front of me, he looked down to find no more Jesus. He politely gave me the “hold on a sec, don’t go anywhere” motion with his hands and I obliged as the sacristan rushed to find the key to the tabernacle. As I stood there, waiting patiently, I convinced myself that I would be fine receiving a blessing if they couldn’t find more consecrated hosts.

Alas, the tabernacle was opened, more Jesus was found, and Gerard and I finally received the Body of Christ.

As Gerard and I were leaving the chapel after Mass, I proudly proclaimed my communion anticipation, sharing just 4 simple words with him:

“I told you so.”

Child-Like Faith

I’ve written before about family prayer time at the end of the day. Often, with Gail tending to Kayla, it turns out to be the 3 Imoo boys as I try and settle them for bed. Depending on the day we just had, this can take anywhere between 5 minutes and 5 hours.

Last night had the potential to get ugly, as Jacob fell asleep at the 6:30pm Mass (at around 6:45pm) and miraculously woke up as I was carrying him to the van (just after 8pm). So instead of being asleep for the night, I counted it as a 90 minute nap. Thus, I had no idea what time he would actually fall asleep for good.

So there we were last night, doing our night time prayers. Sean went first this time, and offered up this gem:

“Thank you Lord for the wonderful day. Please bless Jacob and help him not to be such a goof, falling asleep during Your time in Your beautiful house of worship.”

I guess Jake didn’t appreciate being prayed for in this fashion, as he quickly interjected: “Stop it!”

Sean mis-heard Jake’s interruption and therefore the madness continued.

“And I pray for Jacob’s stomach (Sean had heard “stomach” instead of “stop it”) that it may grow bigger so he’s not underweight and so small.”

Honesty, I can’t recall the rest of Sean’s prayer as I was doing my best not to burst out into laughter. I do recall Jake doing a nice prayer offering up our upcoming trip to New York before I closed things off.

That’s why I love kids’ prayers. Children remind us that we can be child-like, not childish, in the way we pray. Praying is easier for children, as there is no embarrassment, no formulas, no clichés, or no religiously correct God words…they just pray whatever comes to their minds. Children tell God what they are genuinely thinking and they understand that God is listening, and that praying is very important.

My hope is that we all become more child-like in our faith, and that we aren’t afraid to offer up simple, spontaneous prayers when needed.

That way, I won’t always be the one saying grace because I’m the designated “church professional!”

Things You Don't Want to Hear

There are certain things you just don’t want to hear, especially when starting off a conversation. Now I’m not talking about the obvious ones, such as:

“I hope you’re sitting down.”

This usually indicates that you’re about to hear bad news, perhaps news about a sickness, accident, or in the worst cases, death.

“No.”

Depending on what you’re asking for, this can range from trivial (asking for another piece of cake) to tragic (asking someone to marry you).

“You’re fired.”

Self-explanatory.
What I’m talking about here are a few discussion starters, or more accurately, things someone might say to you when he (or she…but I’ll just stick to one pronoun for now on to make it easier to read) has something to say. For instance:

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”

I can’t recall one single instance where someone said this to me, and I DIDN’T take whatever was said the wrong way, or at least in a negative way. This type of statement puts the listener in a very uncomfortable situation, as you only get about 1 or 2 seconds to brace yourself for what’s coming. You just know that “somebody bout to get hurt real bad” when you hear this. I’d rather the speaker just say whatever he wants to say without the pre-amble. In other words, cut to the chase and let me have it!
Very similar to this is this gem:

“No offense but…”

You can truly just copy my paragraph above about “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” and paste it here. When you hear that, you know it’s going to be something you don’t want to hear. Your knees start to feel weak and you get a funny feeling in your stomach (or is that just me…haha). And again, I can’t recall one single time where I DIDN’T take offense to what was said. Otherwise, the speaker wouldn’t have started with those 3 words, right? I’d take less offense is he just said what he had to say without the set-up!
Then there’s this one:

“If you want my honest opinion…”

This is usually yet another set-up for a crushing blow. In volleyball terms, it’s the quick back-set to the middle blocker before getting six-packed off the top of your head. There are a couple of fundamental flaws with this statement. Firstly, of course I want an honest opinion: why on earth would I want a dishonest opinion? Secondly, if this statement is unsolicited, then technically I could answer “No, I don’t want or need your opinion” but that just makes me look really really bad. But this is assuming that I even get a chance to interject. Usually the speaker will just continue on, giving me no choice but to listen.
And finally, this one from my good friend Andrea:

“We need to talk.”

Speaking from personal experience, what this really means is: “You’re going to listen. And you’re probably not going to like what you’re going to hear.”

When I hear this, I know I’m in trouble, especially when the speaker is my lovely wife Gail. Inevitably and invariably, these conversations end off with me uttering 2 words that I’m certainly not to proud to proclaim:

“I’M SORRY!”

That's Why I'm in Youth Ministry

As I sat at Mass last night at St. Paul’s, I was overcome with joy and hope as I witnessed all of the young people singing and praising, all while donning their retreat t-shirts.  As I sat on the altar as one of the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, I looked to my left and saw Oggy in the music ministry.  And straight ahead of me was Father Justin Huang, the youngest priest in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, celebrating Mass at his home parish (after spending 2 years in Chilliwack).

Both Oggy and Father Justin played prominent roles in our Searching in the Spirit post-Confirmation event that we held back in August with the YMO.  There is no greater feeling in youth ministry than to see “former teens” making an impact and doing extraordinary things as “adults” in the church.  It’s both inspiring and humbling.

Oggy served on the 12-member Leadership Team charged with planning and executing the 5-day program for close to 100 grade 7s and their adult leaders.  Oggy teamed with Jeremy to present a wonderful, faith-filled day themed “We are Witnesses.”  As part of his testimony, Oggy shared that it was at a similar retreat with St. Paul’s back in 2000 where his life changed forever.  That experience served as a catalyst for his involvement in parish and now diocesan youth ministry.  In his testimony, Oggy mentioned the many leaders who have helped him and inspired him along his faith journey, including Gerard and me (it was funny because we were both sitting in the back of the room as Oggy was sharing…I hope he didn’t feel like he HAD to mention us…haha). 

I pulled Oggy aside on the last day of Searching, affirming him and encouraging him.  I told him that he is an outstanding young leader, and that he has the ability to draw people towards him with his talent, his humility, his good-looks and his obvious love for Jesus and the Church.  I was struck by some of the similarities between him and me as a 19 year-old (minus the good-looks…and maybe some humility), and I warned him against some of the things that I’ve found challenging over the years.  But most certainly, I told him that he was already way ahead of where I was 15 years ago and that the sky’s the limit for him with respect to his talent and the way he can make a positive impact on young people.  Oggy was receptive to this old man’s advice and we shared a laugh over what Oggy might be like 15 years from now.  In his words, “Hopefully a bit skinnier.”

Father Justin came up on Thursday night and celebrated the closing Mass with us on Friday.  In his awesome homily, he spoke about community and how important it is for young Catholics to worship God and grow into deeper relation with Christ, but not as a lone ranger.  He too mentioned Gerard and me, recalling how he used to go the youth ministry at St. Paul’s as a teen, and how Gerard and I were “younger” and “cooler” back then.  He cracked the participants up by stating:  “Well, they were younger…but I’m not sure about cooler.”

I remember Justin as a youth participant at St. Paul’s.  He was very keen, very smart, and wasn’t afraid to challenge us leaders (respectfully of course).  It was a good learning experience for me, as I was often racing to my catechism or bible after a good discussion with Justin.  As a community, we stayed in contact with him as he studied at the Abbey and then in New York, and we were thrilled when he was ordained in June 2006 at St. Paul’s.  Then, it was great news to hear that he’d be returning to St. Paul’s starting July 2008.  Needless to say, our parish community is very proud and excited.

I don’t mention Oggy and Father Justin just because they mentioned me during Searching in the Spirit.  Rather, it humbles me to see that I, along with many other great leaders, had a small part in their faith formation.  It could have been in sharing our testimonies, in performing a skit, or perhaps during a one-on-one conversation.  Regardless, they are both in strong leadership positions now, and young people in general are the ones who benefit.

There are countless other examples of former teens doing good things. My sister-in-law Julie Ann has served at many archdiocesan events, including emceeing Youth Day and being part of Spirit Day’s Stage Team. Krissy is a regular volunteer with the YMO and even worked for us as our administrative assistant for a year. Alvina, Pam, and Mike and many others are now professional teachers. Young people are making a difference in many other fields: medicine, business, engineering and others.

Youth ministry is about people, not programs. We need to be interested in the souls of young people, and not just their attendance. 

Sometimes, I get too bogged down in numbers:  how many people came to our last event or meeting???

Instead, I should ask myself:  how many souls are we touching?  How many lives are we changing?

For inspiration, I need not look further than Oggy and Father Justin. 

That’s why I’m in youth ministry.

 

 

Husband, Father, Youth Minister, Speaker: Lover of God, Family and the Canucks

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