Diocesan News

Initiative Supports Minister’s Vocation From Theatre to Teens’ Salvation

Youth minister Lauren Gentry was one of the panelists for the diocese’s 2019 Brooklyn Catholic Youth Day. Gentry serves as a role model for the youth at Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians in Woodside. (Photos Melissa Enaje)

In Lauren Gentry’s eyes, the stage she envisioned and prepared for was set. As a young college student from Nebraska majoring in theatre, she secured an internship at the theatre capital of the world – New York City. With the big city lights ahead of her, Gentry knew the Big Apple was calling her name. In the most divine way of peculiar circumstances, so was God.

Yet after college, instead of taking a lead role in a theatre production, God actually needed her skills and talents to take center stage as the main character in the youth ministry at a Queens parish.

This vocation meant that the young woman from the Midwest would have to trade in Broadway lights for Queens Blvd. as an amateur protagonist, a vessel, in which a divine love story between God and His passion for the young Church can co-exist.

The term amateur comes from the Latin root word meaning “to love” or to do something for the love of it rather than for profit. After three years in youth and young adult ministry at Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians in Woodside, one can’t help but ask the question about whether or not she misses theatre. Her response cast all the doubt away.

“No, because this job is fulfilling,” she said. “I am so sure. Youth are hungry for God whether they realize it or not. Hearts are more open than people think.”

Just like the namesake of the parish where divine providence would lead her to, Gentry’s fiat, like Mary herself, was saying yes to God’s calling, wherever and however it would play out. Having such a strong faith was the product of the youth minister’s Catholic upbringing in the Great Plains.

“Omaha is a very Catholic city,” she explained.

When she was a teen, Gentry was very involved in her parish. She said her “love for God was always there” and acting upon that love led her to saying yes as an altar server, a lector and youth ministry member herself.

But it wasn’t until she went to college where she found herself challenged by her faith. At a non-denominational college in Indiana, she was outside her comfortable Catholic environment. For the first time, she started asking the tough questions about her faith. It turned out, that was God’s way of pruning her for the role she was destined for: the youth leader at a mostly Spanish-speaking Queens parish.

Gentry traded the spotlight for sharing Christ’s light to teens who look up to her as a role model. Sitting in her office at the parish rectory, she confidently and gently expresses her devotion to the teens who confide in her when it comes to morality, sexuality, Church teaching and other angst that teens in 2019 face – for she knows it quite well.

“The teens are hurting, they have a huge load on their shoulders,” she said.

Yet instead of fixating on the problems, she encourages them to persevere. In a motherly kind of disposition, if she could take their problems away, she would. But like the Blessed Mother herself, her witness comes in the form of her tenderness with her teens. She doesn’t shy away from the hard questions but instead holds the Word of God as the pillar of truth that her teens can rely upon. For sophomore Dariana Camacho, it’s her saving grace.

“Everywhere you go there are going to be people who go against what you say and it is a challenge to just speak up about your faith especially at our age because you’re afraid of being judged,” Camacho said. “Lauren trained us to say the correct things but not only that, she teaches us to live up to our faith and to not be ashamed of it.”

For high school senior Janelli Nunez, she said she got more involved in youth ministry because Gentry helped her feel that she belonged there.

The youth from Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians attended the 2018 Steubenville conference, led by their minister Lauren Gentry, standing, fourth from left.

Ray of Sunshine

“If you’re having an off day, she’s the one person you want to talk to,” Nunez said. “She’s like the ray of sunshine in the Church. For me, she brought me closer to God. She wants to do that to every single youth in this church. I think it’s just so amazing how she’s just determined to bring everyone closer to God and she wants everyone to experience God’s grace.”

After one year of participating in the youth ministry, Nunez became a peer leader and helps in whatever capacity she can with the youth group. She said that she sees the fruits of Gentry’s work.

“I see so many more young people want to come to church,” Nunez said. “People who are in high school want to come to church and want to get involved and then it’s just crazy how big it got.”

Both the teens unanimously shared their appreciation for Gentry’s guidance as they each take on the role of representing the Catholic Church at their schools. Whether through weekly youth nights, bible study sessions or daily text messages from their “big sister Lauren” – the teens experience firsthand how faith in Jesus can take precedence when it’s nearly counter-cultural.

That’s because with their youth minister, they said they feel like they have a safe place to express their questions with a confidante who understands their worth. So when the questions about abortion or the clerical sex abuse topics come up in school, they teens said they’re prepared.

“I go to public school, so people are open-minded to a lot of things, but they’re also very closed-minded,” Nunez said. “I feel like they see me as a guide sometimes or they ask me questions like ‘the Church does this so what do you think about it.’ I know that Lauren has trained me to say the right and correct stuff to people.”

Power of the Holy Spirit

At the beginning of Holy Week at the Woodside parish, the standing-room only church is filled during the morning Spanish Mass on Palm Sunday.

After the final blessing, Gentry approaches the ambo, confidently and warmly smiles at the audience. Most of her ‘one-woman acts’ are unscripted, off the cusp, but nevertheless inviting and welcoming. There, she reminds the parishioners and parents to bring their youth to the upcoming events and partake in Holy Week together.

She doesn’t need to take a bow when she’s done. And even though she may not see the fruit of her labor, she prays she doesn’t.

That’s because she said it would lose focus on the power of the Holy Spirit working in the teens lives and it would take away from the strides her ministry has seen thus far. All is not lost.

 

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