By Becky Aubut
OAK BLUFFS, Mass. — Though Angela Candreva just moved to Martha’s Vineyard a year ago to become the director of Edge and Life Teen at Good Shepherd Parish in Oak Bluffs, she brings a wealth of knowledge about the programs since she hails from the area of its inception.
“I moved from Arizona, where Edge and Life Teen is from,” said Candreva. “It’s really popular, and I went through it myself.”
Life Teen began as a parish-based youth ministry in Arizona in 1985 with a focus on the Mass and gathering teen-agers together to create a deeper relationship with the Church. The goal is for teen-agers to see the parish as their home and a place to feel supported and engaged with each other.
Starting at three years old, members of the Good Shepherd Parish can begin to participate in the parish’s Religious Education program. Up to sixth grade, students engage in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, run by its director Sue Pagliccia, which is a program rooted in the Bible, Liturgy of the Catholic Church and based on the self-teaching model of Dr. Maria Montessori.
Edge is Life Teen’s middle school ministry at Good Shepherd Parish. It’s a two-year program that meets weekly after Mass, and takes seventh- and eighth-graders and helps guide them through topics that middle-schoolers feel they have a difficult time relating to, especially as a Catholic.
“The room is structured differently every time,” said Candreva. “You’re sitting on the floor in a crowd; we ask them to come with an openness to their world and their life. The word I would use is ‘relational’ ministry. What we do is we come together, have an opening icebreaker activity that ties into the focus of the day, and then they have a seat, with a core member or minister giving a prepared talk.”
Each prepared talk works around a theme; for example, a recent theme from last year was “social justice” and the group broke up the Beatitudes and Corporal Works of Mercy.
The Corporal Work of Mercy of burying the dead was interesting because “when you’re in seventh grade, you may not be burying someone [you know],” said Candreva, “so we talked about supporting families who are grieving, and then they got up and shared their first experience with death, what that was like and what it felt like.”
After that, students are broken into small groups, led by a core member or youth minister, for more in-depth conversations: “It’s a time for them to reflect on what they talked about and apply it,” said Candreva, and then groups do an activity based on the discussions and theme of the day.
Junior core members of Edge are made up of students who are enrolled in the parish’s Life Teen program, while core members can still be high school students or slightly older. Seeing the older youth give back to students barely younger than themselves offers a unique support system at the parish, especially on the island.
“They know the culture and have gone to the same schools, had the same teachers,” said Candreva, “so whether there are homework struggles that are weighing them down, they can speak to where they’re at, and it becomes a safe place for them to talk and share their whole life.
“We pray for each other, and as a relational ministry, we really strive to get to know each other. That’s really helpful, especially at the middle school age; there’s three different middle schools on the island, so they are getting to know people from other schools — there’s only one high school option here — so they’ll go to school with them later. It brings a familiarity when they get to high school.
“What I love most about Edge and Life Teen is that, what I got out of it, I didn’t have to put my life on hold to come to Religious Education and learn another subject. I came and was able to express my struggles with school, my family and my job, and my friends, and talk and share that and get a Catholic response on how to help to live my faith in those situations.”
Not everyone learns well sitting and reading from a textbook, said Candreva: “Our faith is meant to be lived, not something we graduate from after a particular grade or Sacrament. By doing this kind of program as a middle-schooler, they are faced with so much that the world is going to start telling them, it’s not enough to tell them the principles of our faith. Books teach the principles of our faith, and that’s important, but when there’s not enough time to respond or question the environment being put in front of them — like their TV shows — they need an opportunity to be able come and ask about those things.”
Life Teen members can serve on Edge and that usually comes from a desire to want to give back to the parish community in that way; it’s not a requirement, said Candreva, but that’s not the only way older students are encouraged to participate in his or her parish.
“We ask them to be greeters at Mass, welcoming people into church and then afterwards handing out bulletins,” she said. “We also encourage them to become lectors or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and to get involved in the community as a whole — just to give back in any way they feel comfortable.”
During the year, there’s also Safe Environment night, Hot Button Issues night (with the focus on things like bullying and social media) and social nights; in the spring, Edge students go away for a weekend retreat, while Life Teen students do their retreat in the summer.
For this upcoming year, Edge students will be revisiting the Sacraments, exploring discipleships and being called to be an Apostle; Life Teen will be focused on what is called “the battle,” said Candreva. “It’s an acknowledgement that there is sin in the world, that we participate in it and we have a choice to make. We’re going talk about how the battle has already been won, that there’s a definite call to stand up and live our faith.”
Registrations have begun to roll in, and Candreva said she can’t wait to see her students: “I’m most excited about getting back and being together. We had a great year and to get back together in the same room, regroup, and see how everyone’s summer was.”
For those interested in reading additional resources on Life Teen and Edge — Life Teen also has a College Life program — go to www.LifeTeen.com.