A lot of people know me as the youth minister at Saint Rose of Lima parish. Even a year after I left that position. I tried not to talk about it publicly, so I guess that worked. Maybe that’s the prudent thing to do, but it wasn’t for prudence that I didn’t talk about it. I honestly feel like I don’t know what happened so I never really know what to tell people who ask about it. There’s a part of me that is certain that, if I had my way, I would still be working at my home parish. Of course, there’s a part of me that is certain that leaving was and is the best option for me. I never know which of these scenarios I prefer. I figure I should vent about it because I haven’t really had much of a chance to do so and because my adoring public still asks about it.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
I’ve been a member of Saint Rose of Lima parish for as long as I can remember. It was my childhood parish. I remember going to CCD in the old barracks building where the first families in the parish had worshipped. I had my dad’s funeral Mass there. I received my first communion and confirmation there. And since 2008 I’d worked there, first as a volunteer and later as staff. I began directing the choir for what would become our youth Mass. I began volunteering with the youth ministry as it was being established. I started teaching CCD. I did all of those things until September of last year when I left my position on staff. I finished out the year teaching CCD and I kept directing the choir until about three weeks ago.
I was hired in May of 2010 as the youth minister for the parish a few months after our first youth minister left. I was 19 years-old. It was probably a terrible idea to hire a 19 year-old to run a youth ministry at one of the largest parishes in the archdiocese, but I had a blast discovering what I loved to do: teaching. I like to think I got really good at it and, despite a few problems that followed me around at the parish (Parish politics. UGH.), I like to think I had a good reputation in certain circles of the archdiocese and the parish community. I think people saw me as “the philosophy guy.” We never spent a lot of time playing games or singing songs in my youth programs, but all of the students who stuck around learned a lot about the faith. Many of them are in college now and take philosophy classes to supplement their coursework. I love getting texts at the beginning of the semester telling me what my former students are studying and how well prepared they are for it. I love it. I didn’t play as many games with my students as other youth ministers, but I like to think I taught them well and that matters way more to me.
It’s not like one thing or one event took me out of the parish. In the spring of 2015 I was already beginning to realize that I had spent too much time in one spot. I felt like working at the parish was all the excuse I needed to put my life on hold. I decided I would leave when my pastor retired. (He retired July of 2016) I wasn’t making any money as youth minister. I accepted my pay at the parish when I was 19 and that pay was the same when I left. Imagine an amount of money that seems like an unreal amount when you are 19, but doesn’t do anything for you at age 25. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s in that ball park. By 2015 I was working five jobs on and off to make ends meet. I was stretched so thin that I wasn’t doing any of my jobs as well as I wanted. I decided that I would ask for a raise and leave for full time work elsewhere if I didn’t get it.
All of that was already decided by last September when my pastor had a meeting with me to let me know that our new parochial vicar wanted to take over the youth ministry. My stomach sank, but I knew that the parish is the ministry of the priest and I knew that I would not put myself ahead of the priest’s vision for his parish. I was offered half my pay to stay on as young adult director. I never considered taking the offer. Remember, I wasn’t making half of what I needed to get by as it was. Cutting THAT number in half was not an option. I took a week to think about it because my pastor asked me to. When we met again I told him I would quit. We set my last day as September 30.
Before that day came they had hired a new youth minister. I was embarrassed. I had already told everyone that the vicar was taking over. I had to explain dozens of times that I didn’t know why that had changed. For my final youth group meeting I was locked out of the parish hall, where we met for youth group, so I had to have my goodbye party in the parking lot. I had hoped to leave on a high note, but that didn’t happen. If I’m being honest (and I am), I’m still pretty bitter about that. I wish they had been honest with me about wanting me to leave and I wish I had been able to walk out with my head held high. Holding my head high was difficult to do while eating cold nachos in the dark with my kids.
Only one person made me feel missed. The music director for the parish came by my office as I was cleaning it out. She choked up as she said she was sorry to see me go. (I’m a sympathy crier, so I didn’t appreciate that.)
I turned in my keys and that was that.
After the End
After I left my position on staff I continued to teach my CCD class, because I was the only one who could do it, and I kept directing the youth choir because no one else was available to do it. Though I started training some of my teens to take over. Truth be told, I was very embarrassed. With some regularity I had to answer questions about why I wasn’t working at the parish. Contributing to the embarrassment was the fact that I legitimately didn’t know how to answer the questions. To this day I don’t understand the honest reason why I was replaced. I finished my year teaching CCD. I skipped the end of the year teacher’s appreciation dinner. I didn’t sign up to teach the following year.
Meanwhile I continued teaching music and driving (I’m an Uber/Lyft driver) for work. I wasn’t making a ton of money, but I was okay. Some personal, family stuff convinced me to abandon the job search for a few months. I still don’t know if that was the right call. In May I was hired at the University of the Incarnate Word and I’ve finally been able to start putting things together financially. I’m still looking for a long term gig.
Three weeks ago I showed up to choir practice and a new face was sitting behind the piano. He was the new music director for the parish. He had amps and a mixer laid out and a laptop next to him loaded with backing tracks. He said he was going to implement a new vision for the youth choir to make it more “hip, young, and modern.” If you wanted to devise a plan to make me vomit in my mouth inside a Church you couldn’t have written a better scenario for it. That turned out to be my last day as the choir director. I got an email the following Saturday saying he was taking over and that I could still participate if I wanted. I did not want to. There’s no place in the liturgy for the things he is doing. But even worse than being sacrilegious, it’s freaking cheesy. I don’t do cheesy. (Except for food. I totally do cheesy with food.)
Now I don’t consider myself a parishioner at Saint Rose. I don’t feel at home there. Too many people don’t like me. Everyone leaves their childhood parish. I think it’s time for me to do that. I attend the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays at Saint Pius X, but that’s not really a parish community for me. That’s just the location that offers the Mass. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I guess I’ll start parish shopping. Although finding a parish with a good liturgy in the Archdiocese of San Antonio is a daunting task. Wish me luck.
I don’t want to come off as bitter. I kept my mouth shut during the times when I was bitter. I’m good now. Mostly. Otherwise I wouldn’t have said anything. I was inspired to write this post solely to answer the questions I’m still getting about the whole situation. Sorry if this was boring for you. I promise not to do this ever again.*
I have a couple of interviews this week. Here’s to hoping.