Barbecues and bonfires help Laurel churches attract young adults

New opportunities for young adults to hang out and have fun in good company are appearing in Laurel along with the fireflies and balmy nights of summer.

Two faith-based groups are reaching out to 18- to 35-year-olds who may eventually find their way into more traditional worship environments, by hosting events where young people can socialize outside of church.

Jana Doughty, a member of the Young Adults group at Bethany Community Church in West Laurel, said her church's open mic nights welcome young adults who have stopped attending or never experienced church.

"We invite our friends to these events because it allows them to see that they can have fun on church property without being forced to convert or being made to feel uncomfortable. We're just so glad they came," Doughty said.

Bethany's open mic nights are held the second Friday of the month at the Open Barn, a converted building adjacent to the church building on Riding Stable Road in West Laurel.

On the other side of Laurel, the Laurel Catholic Young Adults are gearing up for their Theology on Tap speaker series on love and relationships held at Sullivan's Steak House on Monday nights through Aug. 4.

Kathy Schmitt, director of evangelism at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in South Laurel, said Theology on Tap is a nationwide Catholic activity that began in Chicago almost 30 years ago but is just starting up in Laurel. The idea is to reach out to young people who are not attending church wherever they are, including restaurants, bars and pubs.

"If Jesus were alive, today," Schmitt said, "he would go where the people were."

She also said that for Catholics, drinking in moderation is perfectly OK; and that Theology on Taps are often held in neutral spaces to accommodate people who might not step foot in a church. Registration is not required and anyone is welcome to just show up, she said.

Last weekend, Bethany Community Church hosted an open mic night and barbecue at its Open Barn on Riding Stable Road. And across town on the following evening, the Laurel Catholic Young Adults gathered for their first barbecue at the Resurrection of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church on Brock Bridge Road.

Both events were free and drew enthusiastic young people from Laurel, Columbia, Clarksville, Baltimore, Beltsville and Fulton.

Close to a dozen young performers lined up to accompany the free burgers and hot dogs served inside the 1930s Sears mail-order barn adjacent to Bethany Community Church.

Folks between the ages of 18 and 30 were invited to bring their love of performance art to a good purpose — raising funds for the International Justice Mission, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting slavery and human trafficking — and to socialize with friends in the casual, coffeehouse style setting.

"We invited other church groups to bring their unchurched friends to experience an opportunity to join a loving community," said Doughty, who is the public relations contact for Open Barn.

According to Doughty, the young adults at Bethany Community Church are committed to the welfare of other young adults around the world, and she said she hopes the open mic nights will raise at least $1,000 for IJM.

If a $300 milestone is reached before the next open mic on Aug. 8, redheads Mark Evans and Ryan Potter from Bethany have promised to shave the sides of their heads in the style made famous by hip-hop artist Macklemore. If Doughty's wish for $1,000 is reached, they said they'll go bald.

With the support of the Barn's sound technician, Matt Hebert, of Laurel, vocalist Madison Sparks started the homegrown entertainment on acoustic guitar, followed by Evans and Potter, who spoke briefly abut IJM and performed stand-up comedy under their stage name, the Large Leprechauns.

Doughty, who has acted locally with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company and as an extra in the HBO TV series "VEEP," wrote and directed a fantasy skit to present as reader's theater in the third act.

Columbia resident Andrew Mastroianni narrated her adaptation of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," which was aptly enacted by Domenic Mezzanotte, Sparks, Doughty, Bryden McGhee, Mastroianni and Potter.

Then Evans, Potter, and Doughty (who is also a redhead) returned to the stage along with Hebert and Stephen Brouillette, of Columbia. Calling themselves the Redheads and Rednecks, the musical quintet performed "Man of Constant Sunburn" — a parody of "Man of Constant Sorrow" from the movie, "O Brother, Where Art Thou" — wearing yarn beards handcrafted by Evans just for fun.

Lastly, musicians Cameron McClurg and Brouillette performed the final act of the evening as a duo.

Ann McGhee is director of Community Life Ministries at Bethany and the wife of Bethany senior pastor the Rev. Kevin McGhee. She said the Open Barn opened as a venue last summer through an outpouring of love and elbow grease from a committee of about 20 of the church's young adult members.

Led by Erik Hoffman, the committee cleaned and renovated the barn and now runs the space, inviting local artists to share their talents on the Open Barn's stage.

"The open mic concept came from our young adults wanting to provide a safe place to reach out to other youth," McGhee said.

Evangelizing young adults

On July 12, members of the Laurel Catholic Young Adults enjoyed their first summer barbecue under the evening sky at Resurrection of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church near Maryland City.

Schmitt, of St. Nicholas Catholic Church, said that LCYA operates under the care of four parishes: St. Francis of Assisi and St. Nicholas Catholic Church from the Washington diocese; and Resurrection of our Lord Roman Catholic Church and St. Mary of the Mills from the Baltimore Diocese.

Schmitt, along with Shaun Gueverra, Pastoral Associate at Resurrection of Our Lord; and Paul Devine, Youth and Young Adult Minister at St. Mary of the Mills, began growing the LCYA ministry last year.

"We want to help young adults find avenues other than church attendance to connect to God," Schmitt explained.

She said the Catholic churches plan to split the costs of LCYA events.

Musician Mike Tenney teaches religion at St. Vincent Pallotti High School, and appears locally with his rock band, the Understudies. Tenney provided live music at the barbecue, performing vocals on acoustic guitar with Brian Wilson, of Laurel, accompanying on drums.

Wilson attended the barbecue with his wife and three children, and said he'd planned to bring his family before being asked to perform with Tenney.

"The music part is just an add on," Wilson said. "We play [together] at St. Mary of the Mills for the Youth Mass during the school year."

Laurel resident Nick Caputo teaches at Resurrection-St. Paul's School in Ellicott City. He said he was enjoying the ribs and relaxation, and that he'd been looking forward to meeting new friends.

The Rev. Mark Bialek, senior pastor at Resurrection Church, said LCYA is an important ministry that could spark the start of 50-year friendships like those he sees in his parish.

Singles, and married young people and their families appeared quite comfortable together as they broke bread sitting on the ground on blankets or played lawn games.

"It's nice to have an opportunity to gather Catholic young adults not only to pray, but in friendship, fraternity and support," Bialek said.

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