The famous Steubenville Youth Conference has done it again, and this time in Toronto. From many and varied sources, I have heard much praise, conversion stories, and hopes for next year. True to their reputation, the travelling conference really has provided an opportunity for many to meet Jesus, and many have. But the weekend is over, and now parishes will have to recover from their experiences. As they do so however, I have no doubt that many mistakes will be made, so please, hear me out and maybe we can avoid three big ones.
Don’t Take it Personally. Numbers drop after a weekend conference. It happens every time, and it is not indicative of some great spiritual or family crisis, or response to your leadership. It is also not a response to the Steubenville weekend event in which you and your parish just participated. People are genuinely tired, of the noise, of the lack of privacy and of the long days. They all need a break and so they take one, it’s as simple as that. Volunteers and the youth you brought with you will disappear for a bit, so expect and plan for it. Better still, take that break yourself. But don’t make the mistake of taking it personally and don’t start a campaign to recover the lost. Everyone is recharging from their very good but exhausting experience, and so should your parish.
Don’t Hold Them to It. Look, wonderful things happened at the Conference, many hearts were turned towards God in small and large ways, and many things were said by those you brought with you. I have no doubt that some have promised to quit addictions, and others have sworn their lives to Christ by becoming priests and religious, but please, don’t hold them to it. Encouraging a budding vocation, or providing the gentle reminder to those who sincerely want to change but need an accountability partner, that is one thing. But to behave like this person has just lied before everyone unless they run out and join this or that religious order is well, a little much. The Steubenville Conference is high energy, and emotion, and while both can be great conduits for God’s graces they do not provide the environment needed to make life altering decisions.
Don’t Try to Imitate It. Every event cannot be a Steubenville event, especially at your parish. You do not have the resources, the people, the energy and on and on. It should be obvious that Steubenville is providing something unique, and they have had much time and skill to make it that way. By all means, provide great talks for your teens, brush up on your guitar and get matching t-shirts with a slogan worth repeating, but don’t try to be Steubenville, because you are not. Instead, focus on one thing that your group experienced and loved about the conference, and see if you can do that.