Family Dinners for teens at an Ocean City parish

Family Dinners for teens at an Ocean City parish

Weekly “Family Dinners” at Saint Damien Parish, Ocean City, are an opportunity for teenagers to discuss both faith and the challenges of daily life.

For a group of teens in Ocean City, Family Dinners are the place to be — for a hearty meal, meaningful fellowship and a chance to discover where their Catholic faith meets their daily lives.

Katie Waldow, the director of youth and young adult ministry at Saint Damien Parish, launched the dinners for high school teens — who had been helping with the middle school program — to have a ministry of their own.

“I decided on calling it Family Dinner, I guess, because I wanted to evoke that relational ministry aspect, where we gathered together like family and we would eat and we would discuss things that went on in our day and all of that,” Waldow said. “I was trying to give them a better sense of community and family within the church and on a larger scale.”

Family Dinners are held every Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The evenings begin with grace and a meal — usually homecooked, but sometimes ordered — and casual conversation, Waldow said. Then Waldow invites the teens to discuss the highest and lowest moments of their day, and what she calls a “God moment” — an instance where they either saw God in their day, or felt that they did something Christ-like for another person.

Then the group either holds a Scripture study, using the resources from the Life Teen program, or the Lectio Divina model. Occasionally they will head out to the movies. And often, they devote the time to a game or a team-building activity, Waldow said.

Waldow says one of her most successful team-building activities was based on the four personality temperaments — teaching the teens that knowing their own temperament can help them lead “happier, holier lives” and learn where they’re called to serve the church.

In another activity, the teens each held candles as they had a candid discussion about their friends who deal with pressure to use drugs and alcohol.

“We ended up just having a really good discussion on how to approach that,” Waldow said. “[We spoke about] why people choose to go out and fill their lives with things like drugs and alcohol and why it’s important to fill our lives with God instead, and to have a strong foundation in making those decisions.”

Among the teens’ favorite discussion topics are relationships, social media, peer pressure and bullying, Waldow said. They also often have questions about the church’s teachings on various topics – and how to put the teachings into practical practice.

Discussions around the Family Dinner table have helped the teens to look at daily life situations through the eyes of faith — whether it’s how to approach conflicts with their siblings or fix broken friendships. The dinners have also given the youth a chance to explore the deep spiritual questions, such as why God allows suffering in the world.

“[The dinners are] just allowing them to see that God is in every part of their lives, from their accomplishments to their difficulties, you know, from their joy to their sorrow,” Waldow said.

And the youth have taken the messages home, applying them to every facet of their lives, she said.

“I’ve really just seen the teens transform completely, like in how they approach their friendships and how they approach their school and how they approach their home life,” Waldow said. “I just feel like these kinds of evenings with them [help] to just give them the tools to navigate all of those difficult parts of their lives; to not separate God and make it a separate thing that goes on their schedule, but to have [God] just fit into everything that they’re doing.”

She’s seen another kind of transformation as well — among some of the youth who went through the parish’s religious education classes and now attend her program.

“[I’m] just seeing them go from the kids that their parents were really making them go to the kids that really want to show up every week and are really excited to be there,” she said.

And the ministry works both ways. Watching her teens’ growth, and their dedication to the program, has helped Waldow to grow spiritually too, she said.

“It’s also very humbling to know that they are so overscheduled and they are taking an hour out of their week to go to Mass, and they are taking two hours out of their week to come to Family Dinner to feel either revitalized or connected to God or connected to others,” she said. “So it’s really been so beautiful to be encouraged by that and to see how the young church is just so vibrant and so compassionate and so really excited to live the truth of their faith.”

 

Amanda Woods is a writer from Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish in Brooklawn, New York.

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