Archdiocese shines in the spotlight of NCYC stage
by Jessica Langdon
“We should be really proud of our Kansas City people,” said Molly Frank, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee.
Eight of the 82 “animators” of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis Nov. 17-19 were from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
An animator at the NCYC event in Kansas City, Mo., in 2009, Molly “jumped at the chance to do it again.”
And her sister Genevieve, after watching Molly in the live online streams of the 2009 event, knew this was something she wanted to do at her own first NCYC.
“You have a whole stadium full of people who are so excited to be there,” said Genevieve. “You have to be able to get them excited and make them feel welcome.”
Indeed, the animators are a critical part of the NCYC experience. On the central stage much of the time, the youngsters dance, sing, and lead the participants in learning the same.
But first and foremost they stand up in front of a stadium full of other teenagers and witness to their faith in Jesus Christ.
It’s not for everybody.
Lots of work, but worth it
Not only do the animators work for months to prepare for the event, but they vie for the privilege.
It starts with an application and an accompanying video.
“I actually played the violin for five minutes straight,” said Jacob Elder of Roeland Park’s St. Agnes Parish, of his audition video.
“I did a dance and a singing audition,” said Amanda Koch of Good Shepherd. “They emailed me back saying I’d made it.”
When all the animators gathered in Indianapolis for a few days this past summer, it was to meet each other, familiarize themselves with the music and learn their dance routines.
The day before the conference opened saw some intense hours of rehearsals for these teens. Tired and sore before the conference even opened, you wouldn’t hear them complain. The animators worked until the late-night hours and were up early to start all over again — and every single one said it was well worth it.
“It’s so much fun because everybody wants this to be amazing,” said Quinn Kernell, a member of St. Agnes.
‘We want to dance for joy’
Joel Steyer, of Good Shepherd Parish, wasn’t sure being onstage would be for him when he applied for the first time in 2009, but he gave it a try.
He made so many friends and enjoyed it so much he returned as an animator for the 2011 conference.
“I think it sends the message that we as the young church are excited about our faith,” he said. “We’re not content to just sit and stand and kneel and not really be an active part of the Mass. We’re sending the message that we want to be into the Mass. We want to dance for joy, sing, just kind of be moving with Mass.”
Wyatt Kernell, a member of St. Agnes, will long remember the feeling of “walking out and seeing so many people. . . . It’s just amazing. Everyone came from all over the whole country just to do a youth conference.”
Amanda enjoyed the fact that she and her fellow animators were able to get the teens up on their feet, singing and dancing along with them. She could make out friendly faces in the crowd, as she searched the sea of faces for members of her parish.
She’ll always treasure these memories, she said, especially after the months of anticipation.
“Last night when we all went out there, it was just, like, ‘This is happening. . . . I am actually doing this right now.’”
Witnessing to their faith
Danielle Reynoldson, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, knew the performance part of being an animator wasn’t necessarily a perfect match for her personality.
But witnessing to her faith definitely was. So when she learned this could offer an opportunity to do just that, she applied.
Danielle shared her story on stage, explaining that for a long time she didn’t know what to say during discussions at retreats of “life-changing God moments.” She thought she couldn’t identify a moment when God had spoken to her.
But that’s all changed now, she said.
“I realized my whole life is a story,” she told the teens during the Saturday morning session. “Since when has our God been a God of moments? He is a God of forever.”
Her purpose, she told the crowd, is to love and to show people how important their lives are.
‘Not a performance . . . a prayer’
Genevieve recognized the uniqueness of this moment in her life.
“Singing the ‘Circle of Life’ — having my sister sing it — and dancing, and then being able to sing ‘Hail, Holy Queen’ . . . I think it’s amazing,” she said.
And Molly found it a great way to see NCYC from another angle — to really understand all the work and attention to detail that go into it.
“It’s so much fun,” said Quinn. “I get to lead everybody in praising the Lord. I look out and see everybody doing all the actions that we’re doing, that we worked so hard on. It’s just amazing.”
Although many of the animators had theater and music backgrounds, the opportunity is not limited to those who have been singing and dancing for years. And the experience has led to friendships these animators might not have enjoyed otherwise. That’s only one of the reasons, however, that this year’s animators encouraged anyone who might be interested next time to apply.
“It’s a good way to use the gifts that God has given you to express your faith and to lead prayer,” said Molly.
“What’s emphasized,” she added, “is that it’s not a performance.
“It’s a prayer.”