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Dale Sieverding on Cultural Differences in Recruiting Youth

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles launched a summer camp to train young Catholics to lead in local liturgical ministries. They discovered that finding gifted youth requires different approaches in different cultures.

Dale Sieverding is director of music and liturgy at St. Monica Catholic Community in Santa Monica, California. He is vice chair of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Liturgical Commission and director of LAMP So-Cal—Liturgical Arts Ministry Project in Southern California. In this edited conversation, he talks about the best ways to recruit summer camp students from different cultural groups.

How would you describe LAMP So-Cal—Liturgical Arts Ministry Project in Southern California?

It’s a five-day residential summer camp for high school students. It’s for musicians and non-musicians interested in liturgical music, ministries and the arts. Most Catholic youth summer camps and institutes are more tightly focused on music. We want to mentor youth in all liturgical ministries and get them involved in their parishes and schools.

Why did you want to start this instead of send Catholic youth to existing camps and institutes elsewhere?

For years, students from my parish have gone to David Haas’ Music Ministry Alive summer camp in Minneapolis, Minnesota. But very few parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles have the wherewithal to fly kids to a summer music camp. Some parishes don’t even have money to pay for musicians, so they depend on volunteers. If we don’t start training kids in music and liturgy here, then who will strengthen the liturgical life of the parishes in the dioceses of Southern California?

And our cultural reality in Los Angeles is so different than in the Midwest. We’re very urban and like the United Nations. In our parish alone, there are 80 cultures.

What cultural groups were represented among your 2015 LAMP So-Cal campers and instructors?

Our team of leaders had people from Anglo, African American, Asian, Eurasian and Latino cultures, including someone who works in intercultural ministry for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Our students came from the dioceses in Los Angeles and Monterey, California. One girl came from a diocese in Iowa, because she was visiting her cousin here. We had African American, Anglo, Latino, Pacific Islander and Vietnamese campers.

How did LAMP So-Cal recruitment differ among cultural groups?

With most Anglo kids, they hear about the camp, think it sounds like fun and sign up. Rufino Zaragoza, a Franciscan brother who works with our local Vietnamese parishes, came to speak with our planning group. We got a big education from him. He explained that, to get Vietnamese students at LAMP So-Cal, we’d need to go through the priest pastor [parish priest]. Once the priest pastor is on board, he talks to elders in the community. They surface one or two kids to represent the entire community.

We also learned that even though digital social media—video, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—is a great way to reach some people, that’s not how everyone operates. We also needed print material for priest pastors and lay leaders to hand out.

What’s another example of changing your recruitment method to fit a culture?

We didn’t do anything special to recruit Latino kids, because that group is so large. But lots who participated came because their pastors sent them. One pastor who has mentored kids for the priesthood sent four students from his area. I spoke to an entire archdiocesan council, with representatives from 35 deaneries [geographic unit within a pastoral region of a diocese]. They took the camp info back to their monthly meetings.

Our archdiocese has an ethnic community council that represents almost two dozen cultural or language groups. I spoke at their monthly meeting, and, through that, got invited to speak to a council of African American lay people. They surfaced young people who would represent their community. We had six campers from St. Agatha in downtown LA. They don’t have a priest pastor, but they have a big youth choir. I can’t wait to bring some of them back next summer as mentors for new campers.

How did campers pay for the cost of attending LAMP So-Cal?

We suggested that a third of a camper’s cost would be paid by parents, a third by the parish and up to half by scholarships. A Filipino realtor helped me solicit donors among her network. Anyone could apply for a scholarship. We had 44 campers and awarded 19 partial or full scholarships.

In what ways did campers get the chance to learn about each other’s distinctive cultures or worship?

We encouraged kids to bring music with them. Some Hispanic girls brought “Lord, You Have Come to the Seashore,” a Spanish favorite for liturgy. They sang it in Spanish with a mariachi ensemble for our liturgical arts festival on the final evening of camp. It was cool for parents to see their young people embracing their culture. An African American music teacher on staff did gospel songs with kids.

Many Asian cultures, like Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese, have a way of remembering their ancestors similar to the Western practice of recognizing saints. I’d like to create that experience in a future camp.

Dale Sieverding says he learned from Rufino Zaragoza that each ethnic community functions differently in how young people should be invited to participate. Zaragoza is a Franciscan brother who contributed to the book Liturgy in a Culturally Diverse Community and is available to consult with multicultural parishes.