Ansel Augustine knows how to connect with teens and young adults, and employs multiple platforms, as was evident June 24 when he conducted a webinar through Loyola University’s Institute for Ministry (LIM).
Through the live, hour-long seminar “Engaging the Next Generation of Ministry Leaders: Reaching our Youth and Young Adults,” Augustine explored questions and received responses from individuals from New Orleans, New York, Indiana, Maine and even as far away as Hawaii, about understanding, finding youth and engaging today’s youth.
He cautioned that today’s youth are not the same as those of a decade or generation before, so how we communicate the Catholic faith message to them has to change.
Augustine used a quote from St. John Paul II from World Youth Day in 1993 in Denver: “As Jesus walked with the disciples of Emmaus, so, too, the church must become traveling companions of youth (and young adults) on their journey of faith.”
“Our challenge is to figure out how to reach them and bring the Gospel to them and meet them where they are,” he said. Augustine asked for feedback from webinar participants about all the distractions – the “unknown gods” that faith competes with such as celebrities, social media, money, music, peers, egos, pro athletes, reality TV and video games.
“Just like (St.) Paul in Corinth, when he found out what their unknown gods were, he brought Jesus through them,” he said. The key is being a good minister. “If we’re not there, someone else will be.” He said we are called to be mountaintop people.
He said he chose to do the webinar – his second – to share the wisdom he’s gained with the younger generation so they, too, can carry on church ministry.
Young adult at heart
Augustine was appointed director of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 2013 and views his office as resource and a bridge builder between the black Catholic church and the archdiocese and the place where black Catholic tradition can be shared.
From his experience of working with youth for 14 years as a youth minister at St. Peter Claver Parish in New Orleans and an associate director and coordinator for Black Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the CYO Youth & Young Adult Ministry Office, he has a personal goal to promote youth and young adult leadership within black Catholic parishes and the archdiocese. He believes in paying it forward – to plant seeds and watch God harvest them in his time.
“I look at the emphasis of our young church and what Pope Francis wants us to do, and he wants us to be a church that goes to the periphery and goes to the people, who are sometime ignored by the church,” Augustine said. “They need to know they are children of God.”
He’s served as a board member for the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association and the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry. He also has a certificate in youth ministry from the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier where he has been a faculty member since 2006; and is working to complete a doctorate in ministry from the Graduate Theological Foundation, something he was encouraged to do by the late Holy Family Sister Eva Regina Martin and Edmundite Father Michael Jacques, who were his mentors.
“I’m here to be a servant of the community since the community took care of me for so long,” he said. “I want the young church to see if I can do it, so can they.”
From speaking nationwide at conventions targeted toward youth, he has gained a following. So much so that he was invited by Liturgy Training Publications to write a pocket-sized booklet containing Gospels and reflections for each Sunday and Holy Days from September 2014 through August 2015.
“I thought what would I want someone to get out of the readings, and I let the Holy Spirit take over,” he said. Augustine says the booklet helps teens develop a “habit of personal prayer.”
He and Redemptorist Father Maurice Nutt, new director of Xavier University’s Institute of Black Catholic Studies, also contributed to the forthcoming African American Catholic Youth Bible from the National Black Catholic Congress.
His turn to mentor
Augustine’s belief in youth leading our church is evident through the internship opportunities he’s afforded youth.
“They (young adults) need a way to prove themselves, to use the gifts that God gave them in a way they are comfortable with,” he said.
Current intern Bryan Cooper discovered the enormity and vibrancy of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and has seen Augustine’s efforts to better the local church by meeting black Catholic parish leaders and establishing the Sankofa Day of Reflection at Xavier University where he invited youth speakers.
“It’s interesting how Ansel incorporates the ideas of furthering youth within the Black Catholic experience,” Cooper said.
“Ansel brings fresh ideas and a lot of energy to this office,” said Teejay Nash, a former intern who’s now a Xavier University theology major. “it’s energy that’s needed in our community. Anything Ansel does always involves young people. That’s part of who he is.”
Ajani Gibson, studying theology at Catholic University, interned under Augustine at the CYO office.
“Ansel brings a different perspective of church,” Gibson said. “He brings a raw and overlooked perspective of the church – hearing people where they are in their experiences and journey in the church so this office could do what it does to serve the people.”
Augustine sees hope in today’s youth and tries to help them recognize that the church is relevant in their lives and they are loved, no matter what, as a child of God.
“If we don’t focus on future generations, who are we going to grow the church?,” Augustine surmised. “We have a saying in the black Catholic Church ‘We stand on the shoulder of our ancestors.’ It’s important to know where we came from, but the best homage we can pay to our ancestors is to do what they did and make a way. It is my duty to make a way for those who come after me. … They could be my replacement.“
Christine Bordelon can be reached at email@example.com.