Erica Gamerro is used to charting new territory. Whether it’s the challenge of pushing new distances on her bicycle or serving as the only Young Adult Minister in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, she enjoys both the challenges and the rewards.

Erica Gamerro, Director of Liturgy, Evangelization, and Young Adult Ministry at St. Bernard Parish in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

Erica has been serving the Church for 14 years in a number of roles and with increasing responsibilities. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology with a concentration in Pastoral Ministry from Seton Hill University and a Master’s Degree in Theology from Duquesne University.

Her career began in pastoral ministry at small parish in the Diocese of Greensburg, PA where she did a little bit of everything. Then, in 2005, she was hired at St. Bernard Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh as the Director of Young Adult Ministry. Currently, she is the Director of Liturgy, Evangelization, and Young Adult Ministry at the large parish.

“In Pittsburgh in 2005, young adult ministry consisted of diocesan events and a diocesan leadership team, but there was nothing really going on at the parish level,” she said.

Erica set about to engage young adults in her parish community. She started by studying Sons and Daughters of the Light, a pastoral plan for ministry with young adults, released by the USCCB in 1996, and then looked to other resources and larger cities that had already responded to the bishops by developing young adult programs.

Young Adult Ministry serves people ages 18-39 who are single and married.

She decided to focus St. Bernard’s young adult ministry on two key areas: spirituality/catechetical and fellowship.

“It was slow going at first because it was hard for people to understand what young adult ministry is and who it serves,” she said. “There were a lot of events with one or two people. But then I did a Theology on Tap program and young adults came out of the woodwork. Theology on Tap enabled me to reach a bigger audience, and through that event, people joined the smaller group. Our Wednesday night gatherings became very popular and helped to build community.”

Her valuable experience as the only full-time young adult minister in the diocese led to involvement on the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Young Adult Leadership Team. In the past few years, young adult ministry in the diocese has moved from an events-based ministry to a ministry that equips young adults to create opportunities for community and fellowship.

Over the years, Erica’s ministry has ebbed and flowed. Group sizes fluctuate and people come and go, especially because young adults are in a time of transition in their lives due to careers, relationships, education, and family.

Erica’s advice for those who want to serve young adults is to provide multiple options and to have stability. With young adults, she says, you just have to “go with it.”

“Young adults are very mobile and they like options,” she said. “But, when there are more options across the diocese, it can be harder to form community because people will go around picking and choosing what interests them.

“The key is, young adult ministry must absolutely have stability,” she said. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of staying consistent. If you just do a couple events and stop and then do a couple events and stop, it’s not going to work.”

And she says it’s perfectly okay to have smaller groups. “At St. Bernard our young adult group is a lot smaller right now than we’ve been in the past, but it’s making a difference if these young adults feel like they’ve found community with each other.”

“It’s not about having a young adult ministry; it’s about being a young adult-friendly parish, and every parish should be a young adult friendly.”

Many parishes may feel that they cannot offer young adult ministry because their parish is aging or is too small. But Erica said, “It’s not about having a young adult ministry; it’s about being a young adult-friendly parish, and every parish should be a young adult friendly.

“If people ask, ‘Why aren’t young adults coming to Mass?’ Ask, what are we providing for young adults? Do we welcome them at coming back moments such as marriage, baptism, requesting sponsor forms, and even funerals? Is the parish open to new volunteers, new ideas, and younger people on pastoral councils? Are we open to utilizing the gifts of young adults?”

Mentoring has been a huge theme when considering how to engage young adults in the Church of Pittsburgh. Young adults have expressed a desire to be invited to contribute their gifts to parish ministries and to be mentored by established leaders.

“Older adults in the parish need to encourage young adults to get involved and to use their talents and expertise,” Erica said. “When people say they are concerned about the Church of the future, well, people in their 20s and 30s, that’s the immediate future.”

The Church is eager to evangelize all people with the Good News and to help them live full Christian lives in relationship with Jesus. Many young adults are in search of Truth and desire to live meaningful lives. Ministry opportunities specifically geared to young adults can be a way to engage people in the faith and in the life of the Church.

In order to prayerfully enter into this important work, Erica says,“Church leaders and parishes must always present authentic truth but meet young adults where they are, being patient and walking the journey with them, and being open to all the spiritualities the Church has to offer.”

Like Erica’s cycling races, in young adult ministry there are ups and downs, but the results are well worth the effort. At St. Bernard and in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, young adult ministry continues to grow, and young adults are increasingly becoming engaged in the life of the Church.