POMETTO: Opening doors for the young to relationship, community

January 12, 2021

Remember the movie “Up” from Disney/Pixar?

It’s the story of Mr. Frederickson, an elderly man who decides to escape his problems by making his house fly with hundreds of small helium balloons. It’s a story about the movement from isolation and loneliness into community and relationship. It’s a story that is worth revisiting in 2021.

The second character in “Up” is Russell, a young neighbor who is trying to obtain his “assisting the elderly” badge to become a senior wilderness explorer: “The wilderness must be explored! Caw, caw, rawr!”

When we meet Russell, he knocks on Mr. Frederickson’s door only to have the door quickly shut in his face. Fortunately for everyone, Russell keeps knocking and eventually sticks his foot in the door, which is when Mr. Frederickson finally opens the door to him.

I use this scene as an example when giving talks about young adult ministry. Many single young adults feel like Russell when they approach a parish. They come wanting to help and sometimes feel like the response is a door slammed in their faces.

I encourage the young adults to be like Russell and keep knocking until they find an open door. With some persistence, tenacity and a foot in the door, most parishes will eventually open to help them find a place to enter.

Does this sound like a strange analogy? Aren’t most church doors open to all on Sundays for Mass? The doors I’m speaking about are not the literal church doors. Instead, I’m referring to the doors that welcome people into community and relationship. A “door” could be getting your name on the list to become a lector or usher for Mass.

Another “door” could be starting to volunteer as a catechist or core team member. Another “door” could be participating in a Bible study or helping at the food pantry. These “doors” are the ways that single young adults can enter into the life of the parish to find community and relationship with others.

One of the reasons why Mr. Frederickson shuts the door on Russell in the beginning is that Russell’s suggestions of how to help are a little ridiculous. Russell asks Mr. Fredrickson if he can help him cross the street, his yard, his porch.

Of course, Mr. Frederickson doesn’t need help crossing those things. His response is very natural, “No, I’m doing fine.” Russell didn’t know what to ask because he was young. If Mr. Frederickson had been a wise and humble leader, he could have guided Russell to a place where he could “assist the elderly” in a meaningful way.

Like Russell, sometimes when single young adults come to a parish, they may not know exactly how to ask to help; how to find the right “door.” And like Mr. Frederickson, sometimes Church leaders do not take the time to help guide these young adults on their path.

When Russell is asking, “Can I help you cross the street?” what he is really asking is, “Can I get to know you and be known by you?” It takes a good long while in the story before Mr. Frederickson finally hears the real request that was being made in this moment.

When he hears that request, he very easily opens his heart to Russell. In the end, Russell’s life is made better by being in a relationship with Mr. Frederickson, and the same is true for Mr. Frederickson.

Just like these two characters, the lives of single young adults will be made better by finding relationship and community within our Catholic parishes. Our Catholic parishes will also be blessed and enriched by the presence of the young.

Let us strive in 2021 to find more ways to open these “doors” to the young Church. 

Angela Pometto serves as an associate director for the Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministry. (Photo by Papaioannou Kostas)