Q&A with Patrick "Pat" Clasby
Membership Type: Associate Member
Organization and Position: Director of Youth Ministry at St. Patrick Parish in the Diocese of San Diego
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve been privileged to work as a full-time paid youth minister for over 30 years. Yes, you can have a career in the field, and if you do, you’ll see the landscape change quite a bit. I’ve been a youth minister in Oregon, Idaho, and California. I’ve been in the Diocese of San Diego since 1996. I coordinate our Diocesan Summer Leadership Camp, have led camps and retreats, and have been a speaker at parishes and dioceses in the aforementioned states. I’ve also coordinated or co-coordinated, been a keynote speaker, and led workshops at many youth rallies over the years in both California and Oregon. I have been blessed to work with thousands of youth in my life, many of whom I still keep in touch with, seen get married, and been to the baptisms of their children. For ten years, I was a drummer in a praise and worship band that played in the Dioceses of Fresno, L.A., & San Diego at parishes, camps, rallies, etc. I still play with various musicians, which is a real gift in my life. I was part of the planning team for NCYC 2022 in Long Beach, which was a real treasure and a testament to the people on that team collaborating for the good of the many. My time in ministry wouldn’t be possible without a very patient wife (Kate) and a son who just rolls his eyes at me (Lucas), and I’m grateful for their love and support in my life.
How has being a member of NFCYM helped you and your ministry to young people?
Through NFCYM, I have met colleagues in ministry across the country. On the occasions when I’m able to get together with them, I have tried to take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions about what’s working and what isn’t working in the field of youth ministry and listen to their answers. Many of these people have become friends who I communicate with throughout the year. It’s a great support system. For the young people I work with, I’ve taken them to NCYC, where they’ve been inspired and grown in their faith, but they’ve also learned things that they then bring back to our youth ministry at the parish. Because of this, they reach more young people than I ever could on my own.
What is your relationship with NFCYM? What does accompaniment mean to you, and how has NFCYM accompanied you?
Accompaniment is a give-and-take type of thing. To me, accompaniment is walking together on a journey. On this journey, questions are asked, feelings and emotions are shared, and ideas are exchanged equally by all parties. A level of trust, friendship, and in the best version of accompaniment, love is experienced. We are empowered to be the best version of ourselves and allowed to fail at our attempts at this. In our failures, we’re loved and encouraged to get back up and keep going. Accompaniment is us being Christ for others and others being Christ for us. When truly experienced, a person feels seen.
In 1997 or ‘98, I went to a conference in San Francisco where they introduced the Renewing the Vision Document for Youth Ministry. That was probably my first introduction to NFCYM. Then in the early 2000s, I was able to attend an NFCYM Membership meeting in San Diego and go a couple of other times, once in Austin, TX, and once in L.A., Those experiences helped me to learn what NFCYM is and does. Somewhere in there, I was asked to become a founding member of the National Association of Catholic Youth Ministry Leaders, which is now defunct. Even though the organization didn’t survive as it was initially intended, the Federation made adjustments to try to incorporate many of the ideals of NACYML, and so NACYML lives on through things like EXCHANGE. It was during my time in NACYML that I met several wonderful people and learned to broaden my horizons as a youth minister as I listened and learned from others. Surprisingly to me, I also felt listened to during this time. These were fellow professional youth ministers working in the vineyard of the Lord. There are only so many of us that do this. Even today, I’m still trying to learn how to be a better youth minister, so walking this journey with these men and women, and having them walk with me, was really one of the best experiences of accompaniment that I had experienced up to that time in ministry. As we accompanied one another, we also truly collaborated on our projects, setting aside (for the most part) our egos and instead staying focused on the good of the group. I was blessed to have a similar experience from the late summer of 2021 through November of 2022 as part of the NCYC Long Beach 2022 planning team. Both of these experiences have informed me in multiple ways. They challenge and inspire me to be a better man, husband, father, brother, son, friend, disciple & youth minister. Additionally, ideas that were shared in those experiences have been able to be brought back and put into practice in my parish ministry as well as with the teams I lead for our Diocesan Camps.
Why ministry? Why do you do what you do?
My initial call in youth ministry started in high school and evolved in college. The death of several of my peers in high school who I didn’t believe understood Christ in their life was one of the first starting points. Getting involved in camps for middle school/jr. high youth, while I was in college, was another. Being involved in our Diocesan Leadership camps while I was in high school and then again in college was also a step on the journey. Ultimately, I think the experience I describe next capitalizes on why I continue to feel called to ministry to this day. The other day we had a youth outing to the beach with some of our teens. While there, I had an experience that I think encapsulates why I do youth ministry. We have a young man in our program; let’s call him Victor. Earlier this year, Victor’s girlfriend, one of our other youth leaders, got him involved in our youth ministry efforts. Super great young man Victor is. He was coming off of knee surgery, and he was happy to help out and be involved. He jumped in enthusiastically as a leader, and everyone liked him. I found him incredibly responsible. As I got to know Victor better, I would engage him in discussion. Through these discussions, I was kind of surprised at the number of times he would share that his parents weren’t home for the next few days and he didn’t know where they were or that he woke up to a note saying they flew to someplace else like Texas. It raised red flags for me, but there wasn’t anything I could do. Then in the spring, while he was still recovering from the knee surgery, unfortunately, the knee buckled on him again. This led to another surgery at the beginning of the summer, which meant he wouldn’t be able to attend our leadership camp, which he really wanted to do. I was bummed, and so was he. Still, he seemed to keep his head up. Through his rehab, Victor had just begun to walk again and put weight on the knee. It had been a few weeks since I had seen Victor and so it was great that he came to our beach day, and I got a chance to sit and talk with him. He was happy to be out as, with recovery, he’d had to stay home and rarely got out. Then he revealed the Doctor had just told him he had to stop putting weight on his knee for another six weeks, effectively the rest of summer. Basically, he had to be on crutches some more. In addition, his girlfriend had broken up with him, and his parents were divorcing. His Dad had just up and left and hadn’t let Victor know where he was. As we sat there and talked, Victor put up this front that everything was fine, but as I asked questions and let him answer, over time, one could tell that Victor was not fine. How could he be? My heart broke for him. I did let him know that he is loved, that Jesus loves him, that our youth ministry team loves him, and we’re here for him. Right now, that probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to Victor. I’m praying that, in time, it will. This story doesn’t have a happy ending . . . yet. We’re in the midst of the story, the midst of the journey. I pray for Victor every day. In the meantime, I check in with him almost every day and let him know he’s got someone to talk to, and that’s willing to listen. I believe Victor’s story illustrates the epitome of accompaniment. When someone asks why I am in youth ministry, why I do what I do – it’s because of all the Victor’s or Victoria’s out there. How could I not do youth ministry? There’s a need for these young people to know they’re loved and that Christ is real.
If you could share one thing with other ministers, parents, families, and clergy, that you have learned throughout your experience ministering what would it be? It could be a moment, antidote, or words of wisdom:
To Ministers: Listen. Then listen some more. It’s not about you. Be professional, always. Get an array of volunteers in their 20s all the way into their 80s. Communicate with your pastor and/or supervisor. Record your hours. Communicate with your volunteers. If you’re married, that’s your first Vocation!!! Practice what you preach! If you’re a young youth minister, find someone who’s been doing it a while – just because they’re old doesn’t mean they don’t have some good info to share. If you’re an older youth minister like me, talk to the 20-something youth ministers – they have great ideas on how to reach today’s young people.
To Parents & Families: We need your help. Don’t critique the ministry until you’ve become involved. Your words can uplift the youth minister, but they can also hurt. You are STILL the best example of Christ to your young people.
To Clergy: Listen to your youth ministers but also ask genuine, caring questions. Pay them a wage that they can live on with their family, especially if it’s a single parent doing the job. Invest in young people not just with money, though that is important, but with time and talent. The ministry of presence with young people is huge. Go on retreats with them and just be there. Be willing to be a little silly sometimes in front of the youth. Be real!
NFCYM members can ask me about…
Anything regarding: my experiences in ministry or how to balance ministry and family.
As NFCYM works to highlight the work of our Focus Areas, can you share how you have implemented them to help support your ministry? (Focus Areas: Essential Elements of Comprehensive Youth Ministry, Profession and Practice of a Youth Ministry Leader, Youth as Protagonists, Growth of Domestic Church)
I’m going to focus on two areas – Profession and Practice of a Youth Ministry Leader and Youth as Protagonists.
Re: Profession and Practice, you must be professional. Being a youth minister can be fun, and indeed at times, should be fun, but it can’t just be fun. I’ve had a lot of young people and parents say, “Wow! Your job is fun.” At times it is. But I always say to the new youth ministers that I come into contact with, don’t forget, there’s a lot of work that goes into all that fun. There’s a lot of planning, permission slips, phone calls, emails, texts, social media posts, communication w/parish staff, reserving rooms or sites, transportation, food, etc. It all matters. It needs to be done well, and you can’t fake it. People will know, and participation will suffer. Also, the fun aspect should be one of the vehicles (not the only) to draw young people to a deeper relationship with Christ. How we carry ourselves as youth minister’s is also important. It’s always been important, but with social media and sex abuse scandals, it’s never been more important. The rule I’ve tried to live by is, “How do you handle yourself when no one else is watching?” As youth minister’s we are representing the field of youth ministry, not to mention the privilege and joy of working with young people to draw them into a personal relationship with Christ. I have a lot of thoughts on this area, so if you’re interested, please contact me, and we can discuss it.
I’m a big believer in Youth as Protagonists. What does that mean? In the Renewing the Vision of Youth Ministry Document, it states that youth ministry is to, with, by, & for young people. Youth as protagonists is the with and by part of this statement. I’m a big believer in creating youth leadership teams. When I first started in youth ministry, I started at a small parish in a town that doesn’t appear on most maps in Eastern Oregon. My best-attended night was also the night that almost scared me out of doing youth ministry because I didn’t have a team behind me. I had been doing youth ministry at the parish for a couple of months, and the youth and I (I was 21 or 22 years old) were having a great time. They kept telling their friends about what we were doing, and each time we gathered, they would bring more of their friends till one night, there were 60 teens and me. To say I panicked would be a bit of an understatement. The night was a disaster, but it was also the night I realized how important it was to build a team of both youth and adults. To this day, I build core teams at whatever parish I’m working at. Currently, I have a team of 29 youth leaders at the parish I work at now. These youth go through leadership training and then meet with me on a monthly basis to plan activities. Here’s the catch, the activities need to be ideas that I support. Then they have to plan and implement the idea. We have adults on the team, and the youth may ask the adults for help (including me), but they run it. As for our catechetical/Confirmation sessions, most of these same youth double as what we call a Jr. Catechist or J-Cat for short. They assist Adult Catechists in leading a small group (8 – 10) of teens. The J-Cats are the secret sauce in making these sessions work. The adult Cats and J-Cats also plan with me and have specific roles on our weekend retreats. Everything from witness talks, being a praise and worship musician, creating and running prayers or skits, to helping plan Mass. The great thing about this is because of the model of these teen leaders; other teens who are participating in faith formation/Confirmation become more interested and want to become involved. This has been a short description of how we utilize youth as protagonists in our ministry efforts, but there’s more to it than what I’ve shared. For more info, please feel free to contact me to discuss.