Have you ever noticed your Catholic friends referring to YAM? In Catholic circles, that stands for “Young Adult Ministry.” That’s what I mean when I type YAM on this blog. If I don’t use caps, and simply write “yam,” then I’m referring to a tuberous root vegetable. It will be crucial, for the purpose of this discussion, to distinguish between these two very different concepts.
So then, you may ask, who are these “Young Adults” to whom YAM ministers? According to the community library district in which I was raised, a “Young Adult” is a person interested in reading things like The Hardy Boys, The Babysitters Club, or the various works of Beverly Cleary. I have found, however, that in the Diocese of San Diego, “Young Adult” commonly refers, on paper (literally, printed on parish bulletins), to a person between 18 – 39 years of age. This is not to say that persons between the ages of 18 – 39 may not also enjoy reading The Babysitters Club, but that is a separate matter that I will not have time to address here today.
The truth is that “Young Adult” is somewhat of a code word. It secretly translates to “singles.” It’s true. Now you know. Whenever you see a Catholic friend of yours like a “Young Adult” page, or get tagged in a YA event, please read that your friend is either looking for love, or he/she is in some capacity employed by the diocese.
Fact: For all practical purposes, YA = Singles.
So why not just call it a singles group? Why do we Catholics avoid using the word “singles” for promoting our singles groups and events? Well, the diplomatic explanation you’ll hear is that we want married people to feel welcome in these groups. If it was called a singles event, so the theory goes, then lonely married young people might feel excluded. That is a common explanation.
That explanation is a silly lie.
As if married couples are sitting in their homes, pining to join others in their 20’s and 30’s for a lively session of laser tag on a Friday night. C’mon! If you believe that, then you clearly don’t know anybody who’s young and married. You could have been the best man in their wedding, and now, getting an hour to meet for a beer requires the level of planning you’d reserve for a 2 week Patagonian backpacking expedition. These people aren’t looking to fill up time on their calendars. And let’s not even get started about married people with kids. Don’t even start. If those people can spare 15 minutes, then all they want in the world is a nap.
It is fair to say that no married person’s feelings will be hurt if they’re not expressly invited to YA events. They’ll show up if they want to, anyway. They don’t give damn anymore. They’re married!
What, then, is the real reason we don’t just call it a singles group? You might not like this answer, but here it is: when you advertise something as being for “Catholic Singles,” it is the surefire way to draw the most pathetic, desperate, spectacularly dysfunctional collection of awkward, snaggletooth, misfits out from the rocks beneath which they dwell. No decent, healthy, happy, Catholic human is going to set foot within a mile of something explicitly labeled as a “Catholic Singles” event, unless it is a one-time consequence of naivete, an act of pure mercy, or else if they are trying to sell something.
I’m not just being uncharitable; I have made a good point. Not to say that the broken, the weak, the vulnerable, etc., are unwelcome at Church events. They aren’t just welcome; they are cherished. They are precisely the ones we are to see Christ in. So the point isn’t at all to exclude the nerds. The point is that it’s very important to bring a much stronger showing of winners into these events, along with them. And besides, shouldn’t there be some hope that a Catholic singles group will eventually yield more Catholics? The trick is that the people who willingly attend events that are known to be specifically for “Catholic Singles” are likely to have, in aggregate, very little potential for favorable population replacement numbers, going forward. Don’t ask me to cite my sources; it’s more of an eyeball estimate.
Hence it is wise that we avoid the word “Singles” in Catholic ministry. It is a word that shall not be uttered. And so we have our secret code word for Singles: YA.
Thus concludes my discussion of the meaning of YAM. Stay tuned for my next article, “Why Give a Damn About YAM?”, in which I carefully, and with the same rigorous standards of rhetoric demonstrated above, examine whether or not YAM really matters, in the grand scheme of things.