By Celine Klosterman
Growing up in Wyoming, Gene Monterastelli and Brad Farmer were blessed to have what Monterastelli calls an “awesome” youth ministry program, faith-filled role models and active, Catholic families.
“We wanted to give back what we had been given,” he said. So 14 years ago, he and Farmer formed the self-described “Christian vaudeville” duo APeX, who will minister at the Davenport Diocese’s high school youth rally Oct. 24.
At the event, the Catholics will blend comedy, storytelling, audience participation and personal testimony — along with a little juggling, a skill Farmer taught Monterastelli in high school.
“We didn’t set out to do a juggling ministry, but wondered how we could use what we had to share,” said Monterastelli, who studied computer science and religion at the Catholic University of America. In events such as youth rallies, juggling can build rapport, illustrate a point or simply help keep the attention of hundreds of teenagers.
“One of the things we’ve found with young people is they’re easy to work with as long as you don’t ask them to be something they’re not. It’s OK to ask them to listen quietly, but it’s not OK to expect them to listen quietly for 90 minutes. So we’ll do personal testimony for 15-20 minutes, and then do a juggling piece that’s a lot of fun.”
In the art, Monterastelli finds a metaphor for Christian life. Jugglers must pay attention to when the first beanbag or ball tossed reaches its highest point – or apex – to know when to throw the second item. If they focus on their hands, the beanbags fade out of sight. Similarly, if we focus on ourselves, we miss what else needs our attention. “But if you focus on the apex of Christ, everything will fall into place.”
Monterastelli and Farmer, a father of four and former youth minister, hope to help students apply that truth in their daily lives. “The idea is that you’re called to use the gifts you have in the small choices you make — in your relationships, at home, at school, with people you don’t know… It’s hard to say, ‘Go be an evangelist.’ It’s easier to say, ‘Reach out to the kid who everyone picks on in the lunchroom.’” Effective evangelization happens in such everyday encounters, Monterastelli said.
For inspiration in being a Christian witness, he draws on memories of his childhood parish’s youth ministry. “The thing we most try to pass on is the idea that young adults respond to authenticity.” U.S. teens know advertisers are constantly targeting them, and because of that, the students are quick to spot insincerity, Monterastelli said. Adults in his parish’s youth ministry weren’t necessarily “cool,” but were authentically themselves. “When teens see you’re not trying to sell them a line, they’re more likely to listen to you. Sometimes you have to say, ‘I don’t know the answer,’” or ‘This is hard for me, too.’”
Monterastelli hopes his lay vocation offers an authentic, accessible example. “We’re presenting this idea that we can be adults and be fun and have a strong faith life.”
Youth rally details
The Davenport Diocese’s 2010 high school youth rally, featuring the theme “Finish the Race: Be Exalted,” will take place at the Coralville Marriott Conference Center Oct. 24. Expect two keynote presentations from APeX, faith-related workshops, Mass with Bishop Martin Amos, music from Christian band 1 of 12, games, presentations of youth ministry awards, Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee skits, lunch and dinner. To sign up and for more information, contact your parish’s youth leader as soon as possible.