“The youth should no longer be seen as a Church of tomorrow, but the Church of today.”
By Sara Francis
When you talk to Nolan Conrad, his passion and excitement for ministering to youth are evident. As St. Michael’s new youth minister, he’s full of ideas, wisdom, energy and experience.
“The youth should no longer be seen as a church of tomorrow, but the church of today — standing beside adults in importance before the Lord,” said the Nova Scotia native.
His passion for youth ministry started when he himself was searching for answers about faith as a student of psychology at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. It was during this time that he had a personal encounter with Christ. Following this, he went to Brazil on a mission trip with Catholic Christian Outreach — a Canadian university student movement. He then served for a year with Pure Witness in Saskatchewan and then back to his home diocese of Halifax, working in youth ministry for two years before accepting his current position at St. Michael’s.
Conrad talks about the phrase “intentional accompaniment” when describing how he hopes to reach, retain and raise up leaders with missionary hearts. He is trying to move away from the model of strictly one-off event ministry to a more relational ministry.
“Event-type ministry can provide an opportunity for conversion, but what happens afterward? We forget how Jesus actually was: he accompanied people in discipleship. His disciples weren’t ready to go out until after three years (of formation). Encounter, face-to-face encounter with Jesus by incorporating every part of their development: mental, social, intellectual, spiritual development.”
He’s basing his framework for youth ministry on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document You Give Them Something to Eat: A Resource and Guide for Pastoral Planning for Youth Ministry in Canada. This document can be accessed from the CCCB website.
Holistic human development — personal and spiritual — and forming missionary disciples are among the aims of youth ministry outlined in the document. So far, Conrad has hosted several events, including paint nights and pub-style trivia nights. Underlying these fun outreach events, he hopes to build intentional relationships.
“We had 20 kids at the beginning of June and just by incorporating ministry that addresses the needs of the whole person, and having consistency, we’ve raised in the numbers of our youth night to around 50 each week. I’m anticipating 100 kids coming by Christmas. The most interesting thing is kids are inviting their friends because they are experiencing something that’s wholesome for their lives,” said Conrad.
In combination with the fun events, Conrad has also started a faith-based Youth-Alpha program, which introduces participants to a relationship with Christ through basic catechesis.
He says a lack of manpower and resources are two roadblocks to successfully ministering to youth. But this year, that wouldn’t be a problem for the parish. St. Michael’s, four Catholic schools, and Clearwater Academy are partnering with National Evangeliation Team (NET Ministries) for this school year. NET is a group of young adult missionaries who serve as faith role models, putting on reatreats and programs. It combines event and accompaniment ministry.
“I’m just one guy. I can’t reach everyone on my own. But if we have eight youth ministers, we can encounter youth on the fringes,” said Conrad.
“We don’t want youth ministry to be a side ministry anymore. I hope St. Michael’s becomes a model for Calgary and the rest of Canada. We know this style of ministry works. We only have four paid youth ministers in the city. That investment is already paying off. We are hoping other parishes will see the success and other parishes will see the need and importance in the diocese,” said Conrad.