University Catholic Center
Max: What's the general profile of your liturgical ministers?
Brandon: I would say about 75% is students. The remaining 25% is the local worship community and staff from the university.
Max: How was the scheduling done prior to MSP and why did you seek out a scheduling program?
Brandon: Initially, different volunteers scheduled each Mass separately. There was no coordination between Masses and that led to problems. We didn't have the communication and the coordination we felt was needed with the campus ministry. In addition, we wanted to give our ministers more flexibility in what ministries and what times they served.
Max: How has MSP changed participating in ministry at your student center?
Brandon: Well, beyond having more ministers serving in liturgical positions, it has helped build those community links that get people involved and serving in other ministries. Because of that and just by virtue of working together, people get to meet more active Catholics. All of our student groups have actually increased participation. MSP is one very objective metric that accounts for having much more people involved in ministry. People start to serve as EM's or Lectors and then we start to see them pop up in other student groups. The liturgical ministries seem to be a gateway ministry for us.
Max: What would you say are the three greatest benefits of using MSP?
Brandon: First and foremost is the time value. It saves so much time by the swaps virtually taking care of themselves and people being able indicate when they can and cannot serve without having to go through a bunch of phone messages or people randomly coming up to you. The second is accuracy. From day one we hit "Commence Scheduling", hit print, and received virtually no complaints from anyone. And lastly, MSP provides modern day professionalism. MSP looks like - and it is - a first class method of communication, which is especially important working with college students who are very much into the internet and the use of technology. They know the program always works and they can update their schedules from home.
Max: Have the online features in MSP helped engage students in ministry?
Brandon: Yes. To give you an idea, we started with 75 or 80 ministers. Without growing our population much, we have about 230 now. Being able to interact with other ministers makes the scheduling process more youthful, fun and easy. Communication and team work have also increased. Moreover, we've been able to reduce the number of no shows because people can request subs, which makes the Masses run smoother and eliminates stress.
Max: What would you say is the most effective way you've found to engage students in the liturgical ministries?
Brandon: Part of it is letting them know that they're needed. Once they started serving, it was a snowball effect with other students wanting to help out. Part of it is making the ministry not an old persons' club. Make it seem like ministry is for them and give them a sense of ownership at Mass.
Max: What would you say is the biggest frustration students have when participating in the liturgical ministries?
Brandon: The biggest frustration is that it seemed to be too hard - too much work for what it was. If they have a huge test, they don't want to think of doing anything else. The ability to put control in their hands and say, "You'll get an email reminder. If you can't make it, request a swap and make sure it gets done," has made it easier. Now they have control of the process and can say when they can and can't serve.
Max: How did you get your ministers accustomed to going online to view and update their schedules?
Brandon: For the students, it was an easy transition. For the resident population, we did some transitional measures like placing copies of the schedule at the front desk and explaining the Web Terminal to certain people. Once people became more comfortable and saw the benefits of not having to call someone during business hours and play phone tag or remembering to pick up the schedules when they're at Mass on Sunday's, everyone signed up.
Max: Have you had any specific feedback from the ministers regarding the Web Terminal?
Brandon: I have received an enormous amount of feedback as far as how simple it is to serve now. Before the Mass Coordinators would be running around at the last minute trying to find subs. People would be pulled to the side to serve 30 seconds before Mass started and they were flustered trying to get through a reading. And now with the process being interactive, the amount of stress is reduced and people feel more comfortable serving. People are genuinely excited to invite people to help because they're excited about doing it.
Max: What advice would you give to other student centers that would like to get more students involved in ministry?
Brandon: I would say have a focus group meeting after Mass and invite them to have some pizza and get their feedback. Tell them that you'd like to see more people involved as EMs and Lectors or whatever. Ask them, "What's keeping you from volunteering?" Try not to make them feel guilty but let them know you're curious and want to make this appealing to them - to make God, and make service to God appealing. Ask them, "What are we not doing that would help you?"
Max: What do you see as the biggest obstacle in getting students to move from just attending to actually participating at Mass?
Brandon: At the University of Texas we have 900 different student organizations on campus. If we don't get students their freshmen year right when they step on campus, then many times they pile themselves up way too much with other student organizations. We make sure that we're on top of our game so that when folks walk in those first two weeks, we can get them integrated as quickly as they feel comfortable doing so. Also, it's about helping students realize that religion isn't just an obligation or a burden. It's about helping the "Sunday only" folks see that the more time you spend involved in ministry, the more you get out of it.
Max: What are the benefits of participating in ministry?
Brandon: I think especially at a secular university, where the education is mainly the facts, being involved in ministry provides an avenue for spirituality growth, maturity and social interaction that augment and balance their growth academically. Overall, it helps build stronger leadership skills. In the short term, it reduces stress and the sense of, "If I fail this test my life is over." Students who are well-rounded, integrated with their faith and with a community see the bigger picture and are better able to cope with the stresses of academic life - this is true no matter the religion. Ministry gives people an experience about them, about their person-hood and their experience with God.