Every day, Cory Smith witnesses the extraordinary value that youths and young adults provide to both the community and the world.
"If you go back in Scripture, whenever God wanted to get something done he used teenagers," noted Smith, who is youth minister at All Saints Parish in Corning. For example, he mentioned that the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Book of Daniel demonstrates God’s reliance on young people to emphasize his unconditional love.
According to Smith, the current generation of youths is more motivated and committed than ever to spreading God’s word, which is why he loves his current job.
Long before pursuing his youth-ministry passion at All Saints, Smith, 33, grew up as an only child in the Rochester area. For several years, Smith and his parents lived with his grandparents, who were active members of Pinnacle Lutheran Church in Henrietta. During this time, Smith began attending services with them and ultimately became passionate about Lutheran beliefs.
However, in 2007 Smith said he felt called to convert to Catholicism. In his individual process of re-examining his Lutheran beliefs and reading the Bible, he said he became certain of his choice and "everything just fell into place."
Smith said he became involved in youth ministry even before his conversion to Catholicism. Beginning in 1998 he worked as youth minister and/or assisted with the youth ministry at Risen Christ Lutheran Church and Church of the Assumption, both in Fairport, and CrossBridge Community Church at its previous location in East Rochester. Smith also has worked for the Rochester Area Youth for Christ youth program and the Perinton Recreation Department for the Lion’s Den Teen Center in Fairport.
He temporarily stopped working with youth ministry after being initiated into the Catholic Church, though.
"But I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit to get back into it," Smith said.
After visiting the Diocese of Rochester’s employment opportunities Web page, he discovered a posting for the position of full-time youth minister at All Saints Parish. After interviewing, Smith began working part time at All Saints in November 2009, in addition to maintaining his role as organist for Pinnacle Lutheran Church and St. John’s Lutheran Church in Hamlin during the busy holiday season. On Jan. 1, 2010, Smith officially became the full-time youth minister at All Saints.
"It’s been very interesting down here," he said. "We’ve got a great group of kids."
During his seven months at All Saints, he has implemented several of his initial objectives. In March, for example, he created a fourth theme of service for the youth-group gatherings — other themes have been catechetical, issues and social. So far, parish youths have participated in a variety of projects, including cleaning the church’s cemetery and creating care boxes for parish youths away at college.
Another major goal for Smith was to encourage leadership by the parish youths. The parish’s youth-ministry council, which is meant to help advise and support Smith, comprises both adults and youths. Currently five teenagers serve on the council, but Smith would like to see more youths obtain leadership positions.
"These kids want to see this ministry move forward again," Smith said. "They are very committed."
Smith also relies on the CORE team, a group of parish adults that works directly with the youths.
"As one person I can only reach so many kids, so their role is to be an extension of me, the youth minister," he explained.
This fall CORE team leaders will assist with Smith’s newest idea: making a presentation to all the youth-group members then dividing them into small groups for further discussion.
"This is a way that as the ministry grows … we can make sure that everyone’s needs are being met," he said.
Each discussion group will be led by one CORE team member, along with high-school youths who will hopefully serve as mentors for the middle-school youths, he noted.
Smith said that one of the most rewarding aspects of his job as a youth minister is when teens he works with realize the importance of God in their lives.
"When you see a kid with the lightbulb going off, and when they realize that God really does love them, that’s the best," he remarked.
In addition to actively working with youths, Smith might soon be pursuing another field: priesthood.
"Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to go into pastoral ministry," he said.
For two years he participated in the preseminary program at Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Mich., a private school associated with the Lutheran Church. After converting to Catholicism he began to seriously discern the priesthood.
"When I converted to the Catholic Church it seemed logical that since I had wanted to be a Lutheran minister, that I might also want to be a Catholic priest," Smith said.
He said he still is discerning the priesthood and has attended several vocational retreats as well as received advisement from Father Timothy Horan, director of the diocesan Office of Priesthood Vocation Awareness.