For eleven years, I did young adult and campus ministry for the Catholic Church, first as a campus minister at UCSB, then as archdiocesan director for Galveston-Houston.
The foundational document of the US Catholic Church for young adult ministry is the 1996 pastoral plan, Sons and Daughters of the Light. It was a breath of fresh air as an institutional embrace of ministry with young adults.
A striking element is how it sees marriage preparation.
For many young adults, marriage can be a key moment for evangelization. The engagement period itself is “set within the context of a rich evangelization process.”35 The Church connects with more young adults here than at any other time outside of Sunday Mass. They bring with them their past experiences of the Church. Some come with positive memories of parish youth ministry programs or Catholic schools. Others have been involved with the university or college campus ministry, but have limited connections to the parish. For some, this may be their first step back into church life.
Young adults approach the Church to be married for a number of reasons, including parental pressure, the desire to have a church wedding, or to reunite themselves with the Church. Regardless of why they come, the Church and its ministers need to welcome them as Christ welcomes them, with understanding, love, and acceptance, challenging them with the gospel message, and giving them hope that a lifelong commitment is possible.
How does your church view marriage preparation? How does it view the wedding itself?
Some churches see weddings as a normal part of their ministry, and the wedding ceremony as another opportunity for worship. Other churches treat weddings as external events, where they are merely an agent renting a facility for income. The churches I pastored were always of the first category. Young adults are often at some distance from church. Their experience when they come to the church at a life event like a wedding will either be an experience of grace or of law, of welcoming or exclusion, of evangelism or estrangement.
Why should a member of your church pay $1500-$2000 or more for a worship service asking God’s blessing for their life together? Why should you charge another $250-$500 or more for your pastoral care of them? How is this not simony? And how does it not give the impression that the church and its clergy are about money?
Pastors–open your hearts, open your minds, and open your doors!