In many of our congregations there exist the obvious opportunities for mentoring: baptism, confirmation, the incorporation of new ushers and altar guild members, and of course the newcomers’ class. In most of these instances, we take “mentoring” to mean an intensive, teaching-heavy, formalized way of being in relationship with another person or group of people.
But what if we redefined mentoring as something more subtle and organic, as an intentional way of being present to the world and our neighbors that takes into account our power to influence and our power to liberate.
In a sense, youth and young adults are constantly being mentored whether they like it or not. Forces outside their control are constantly barraging them with value-laden messages, images of the “good life,” and an infinite number of possible ways of being in the world.
Like mentors these cultural messages and experiences accompany them through the ups and downs of their lives, provide a sounding board against which they test their own values and behaviors, and both validate and admonish them for their choices. This cultural mentoring often happens without their even being conscious of it.
We might think then that our role as mentors is to simply provide a cultural alternative, one where young people test their values and behaviors against the images and stories of the Christian tradition. While this is part of what providing a mentoring culture might mean, it is not the whole of it.
As Christians we follow “the way.” We are people of intentionality and of process. Part of our work must be to call attention to the very fact that the cultural influences are present and the choices being made, to call the process of cultural mentoring out into the open. In order to do this we as communities of faith are called live in a way that invites those we seek to mentor to live with intentionality, to practice their agency with greater discernment.
This type of mentoring may be as simple as calling attention to the text of a hymn that presents an image of God that resonates with you, or of explaining why in your parish you choose to do Eucharistic Prayer A instead of D, and making space for the young person to voice their opinion. They may not agree, but you will have empowered them to figure out what they believe with greater intentionality, to have called their conscious attention to the bigger questions of faith and values.
How would creating this type of mentoring community change how we invite young people into our churches? How might it affect the importance we place on the catechism and on the various elements of the liturgy? And perhaps most importantly, how might preparing to be this kind of mentor provide an opportunity for deepening our own faith lives?