Youth minister uses pop music to reach kids

Would you ever think to use rap music in a Catholic youth meeting? Neither did more than a dozen people attending a workshop Jan. 12 – preceding the Hofinger Conference in the Archdiocese of New Orleans – until youth ministry trainer Anna Scally showed them how effective it could be.

     “What’s going to make them choose to be in your program, walk through your church doors, stick around and want to bring their friends?” she asked at the presentation, “Reach Your Teens … Guaranteed” held at St. Dominic Church in New Orleans.  She said youth are checking out what is being offered and the key to reach them is “helping them make sense of their life and show them where their faith comes in.”
    She said often adults don’t understand the peer-driven social culture of teens, and that’s the barrier in building the young church. It’s easy to overcome by getting educated on what they are listening to in music.
    “We need to translate the Gospel in a language that makes sense (to teens),” she said. “Music is how young people communicate.”
    Scally said most issues of the young could be found in a song. She has discovered 36 different styles of music that youth are into and has learned to incorporate all in her youth ministry, even those with offensive language and content. She said kids are listening to them so why not take what they identify with and use it to open a dialogue with youth. Some powerful messages about self-respect and handling situations in a Christian way can result.
    “Music tells the stories of their lives … better than they can articulate sometimes,” she said. “Music does not cause problems … bad decisions cause problems. One of the best things you can do this year is to help students make good decisions.”
    But, she cautioned youth ministers they have to create a safe environment and one of trust first, if they want youth to open up about their lives.
Youth are her life
    Scally, a former Catholic school teacher and disc jockey from Healdsburg, Calif., was just one presenter at the 30th annual Johannes Hofinger Catechetical Conference “Do This in Memory of Me,” which made its return to New Orleans this year after a year’s hiatus. She has keynoted the local World Youth Day three times, given presentations at countless youth conferences and the Hofinger Conference 16 consecutive years.
    Scally said she hadn’t initially planned to work in youth ministry. An offer to help a parish priest thrust her into that world, one she said she immediately enjoyed. Her quest, ever since, has been to “make it meaningful to young people.”
    She admits that not everything she’s tried worked, but she’s compiled creative and successful tools she uses on Cornerstone Media Inc. (www.cornerstonemedia.org), of which she is president. A multitude of free resources to help youth ministers including a monthly newsletter, reflections, suggestions of songs for prayer, positive songs for teen dances and activity ideas are on the site.
    One of the most popular tools is a “Top 10”-type list of the best and worst “value” songs with Christians values on her Web site with a summary of each song to help other youth ministers understand what kids are listening to.
    Scally told youth ministers from the archdiocese that only 15 percent of youth music pushes negative values, while 30 percent of the music youth listen to poses positive values.
    She encouraged youth ministers to use the positive in their ministries and “imagine the possibilities.” She gave them quick examples of how to merge youth and a variety of popular music in Stations of the Cross, at retreats and other events.
    Getting youth involved in the activities is key to success, she said, noting the success of inter-generational activities she’s held.
    For youth events, especially youth dances, she corrals young adults by having them select the songs within certain guidelines. She considers this helping them “Party properly.” She refuses to allow negative songs at dances, saying, “It is inappropriate for people of faith to dance to degrading songs. It is about total respect for them (youth). I tell them, ‘What does it say about you if all you can dance to is degrading songs?’”
    Gretchen Lowe, on the CYO board at St. Angela Merici parish in Metairie, gained insight into how teens listen to music.
    “I know music reaches kids, so it’s a way to reach them,” she said.
    The workshop gave attendee Gail Adams, St. Catherine of Siena CYO leader, ideas.
    “Being a church musician and music teacher, it was incredible to learn how to tie music that teens love with their faith,” Adams said. “Some of the stuff she did blew my mind. I am actually going to use this. … I use popular music when I teach music but never thought of it for youth ministry.”
    Scally said the goal of youth ministers should be to help deepen youths’ relationship with Christ. If they do that, they will want to know all they can about him
    “We are not whole unless they are present,” Scally said about youth.    
    Scally can be reached at ascally@aol.com or www.cornerstonemedia.org.
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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