SALT LAKE CITY — The diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry has a new director, Michael Edwards.
For him, journeying side by side with the Catholic youth in Utah is not something new.
“Most of his adult life Mr. Edwards has been dedicated to employment that has involved service to youth and young adults in his capacity as a teacher and coach,” said Monsignor Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general, who was part of the diocesan committee that interviewed the candidates for the position and selected Edwards.
As a member of the military for 27 years, Edwards “has acquired exceptional leadership and mentorship skills that will be integral for his position as a director of such ministry,” said Msgr. Bircumshaw, adding that Edwards, a Saint Mary (West Haven) parishioner, “has been heavily involved in youth ministry and catechesis, having taught Confirmation classes for eight years, RCIA/OCIA for three years, and most recently co-chairing the Blessed Carlo Acutis Apostolate with Father [Gustavo] Vidal at Saint Rose of Lima Parish.”
Edwards studied Spanish in high school and college, “but admits he is out of practice using it, and is committed to improving his Spanish language skills,” Msgr. Bircumshaw said.
Another advantage Edwards has is that he lives locally and “plans to serve in this capacity for some significant number of years,” Msgr. Bircumshaw said. “Most candidates we have hired from out of state have had a history of not enduring for very long in the position, for a variety of reasons – one of which is the adjustment to this ‘Utah’ culture.”
The director’s position for the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry has been vacant since the previous director returned to her hometown several years ago. For Edwards, “a couple of things that lined up at the right time” helped him decide to apply for the position.
First, as a member of the current diaconal formation class, he is required to have a social ministry, and he has worked with Fr. Vidal in the Blessed Carlo Acutis Ministry. After helping to organize some youth rallies for this ministry, he felt called to commit to ministering to young people, he said.
“This, combined with my over 28 years of high school teaching experience, it seemed like a natural fit,” he said. Then, learning that the director’s position had been vacant for four years, “it was like a light went off in my head and a flame grew in my heart for the desire to possibly fill this role and, with the grace of God, here I am.”
As director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Edwards expects to help cultivate existing youth programs as well as to help establish youth ministers in each parish, he said.
He also plans to “provide training for our youth ministers and to help get youth involved in their faith, love the Lord, understand the grace of the sacraments and build a youth community in which youth … from around the state know and understand each other while building connections and relationships that will hopefully last a lifetime,” he said.
“We need to cultivate the same types of relationships among our young adults, help them to understand their vocations – whether that be marriage, ordained life, and even single life – and to live it out as Christ would have us do,” he added.
His goals and expectations for his new position “are kind of rolled into one,” he said, which is “understanding and being guided by the expectations of Bishop (Oscar A.) Solis while fostering a vibrant, joyful youth and young adult community,”
Ministering to youth and young adults is important now more than ever, he said. “We really need to engage our younger Catholic communities within the diocese to get involved with and understanding our faith, grow closer to God, build a stronger community network, and boldly practice our faith,” he said.
Also, “from a more global perspective, the world is changing so fast, and it seems like it is becoming more and more secularized,” he said. “Social media has taken a grip on our young people; I have seen it firsthand over the years in my teaching job. We need to be able to communicate with them in a way that they are comfortable with while still maintaining and building our Catholic faith. … They are the future of the Church, and what better time than now to build better relationships and a stronger faith to guide our Church going forward?”
On a personal level, Edwards hopes that ministering to young people will help him live his faith, he said.
“My faith formation is giving greater insight into our Church, created so many great relationships, and is helping me know and believe that this is all through the grace of God,” he said. “I need to stay humble and remember that the ultimate goal is to bring people closer to Christ, help lead them on their path.”
Edwards and his wife, Rachel, have two children, Alejandro and Tiana. Their family time is often spent watching movies or playing board games. In his free time he likes to golf. He also is a member of the Flame Keepers, a Catholic men’s group.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, and I ask most of all for prayers for the youth and young adults of our diocese and prayers for me,” Edwards said.
Among the upcoming events he will be involved with are a Blessed Carlo Acutis mini-rally on Feb. 24 at St. George Parish and a larger rally scheduled for April 20 at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Orem. Information about these events will be published in this newspaper as it becomes available.