By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
Jacob Coffman’s path to the Diocese of Dallas took a few twists and turns, including a trek to the far northwest to work for a certain bishop who he’d reunite with in Dallas. While the journey may have taken some time, Coffman now finds himself right where he needs to be.
A native of South Carolina, Coffman joined the diocesan Ministries Office in June as the associate director of content development for the Office of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministries. His role includes planning the diocesan office’s live events such as training sessions, the annual Dallas Catholic Youth Conference and 635.
“I do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work like securing locations and scheduling speakers, but it is also a lot more,” Coffman said. “I’m also always seeking innovative ways to offer training and meet the needs of our diocese’s ministry leaders as well as foster community between them. More and more often, I find that parish ministry leaders need that community and thrive on it.”
A cradle Catholic, Coffman admitted that while his family attended Mass most Sundays they were not truly connected to their parish community. His parents then separated when he was young, but when he reached high school, a youth minister made a big impact in both his life and his faith life.
“He just started inviting me to everything,” Coffman recalled. “That became kind of my community in high school. It was something I could lean on. They were there for me.”
After high school, Coffman attended Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, where he obtained a degree in elementary education.
“I student-taught third grade and really wanted to work with little ones,” he said. “They just have such an excitement about everything.”
Teaching, however, is not where his heart led him. Instead, after college, Coffman felt the call of the ministry once again. Though he did apply for a number of teaching jobs, he took a chance by sending applications to two youth ministry positions — one in North Carolina and the other in Juneau, Alaska.
“My roommate was from Alaska and I just thought it would be neat to work there,” Coffman said. “It just happened to turn out that the first person to call me was Juneau, Alaska.”
For three years, Coffman worked for the Diocese of Juneau, a mission diocese that at the time was being shepherded by Bishop Edward J. Burns, now of Dallas.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I worked for the diocese, but I also worked for two parishes. I had the ability to build ministry in Juneau, but I also got to fly to villages, smaller communities and different parishes to work with priests and volunteers.”
As a mission diocese, Coffman said there was a great need for ministry assistance.
“It challenged me to be creative to drum up new ideas on how we could do ministry and how ministry could be built up in that small diocese,” he explained. “It was a really phenomenal experience.”
Marriage led Coffman back to the East Coast, where he took a job at Belmont Abbey College before spending five years as a middle school and young adult minister at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Bluffton, S.C.
In his new role in Dallas, Coffman’s immediate focus is on two upcoming initiatives: DCYC and 635.
“The biggest one that we are always working on is DCYC because we continually want to see it grow,” he said. “We really want it to be a conference where all the youth from parishes across the diocese can come together and foster that community within our diocese.”
Coffman said the goal is not only to see DCYC grow, but in a way that makes it better.
“We want it to really be something that benefits our parishes and something they desire,” he said.
Coffman called the community aspect of DCYC itself essential.
“We are wanting to provide opportunities for these youth to encounter Christ that many parishes would not be able to do on that scale otherwise,” he explained. “We are also creating opportunities for the youth to foster community and develop relationships with like-minded individuals who share the love of the Lord.”
Coffman said the return of 635, which hasn’t been held since 2019 because of COVID, offers a way for the diocese to connect with Catholic and non-Catholic young adults. The event, traditionally held at the Granada in east Dallas, is what Coffman refers to as a “light, pre-evangelization” tool.
“It’s not meant to be a lot of catechesis, but more open so that any young adult can come and be introduced to the Catholic faith,” he explained, adding that the line-up includes bands that provide praise-and-worship music, guest speakers and opportunities for fellowship.
“It’s meant to give you a little taste of your faith, but also to plug these young adults back into their parishes,” Coffman said. “This event will help young adults connect to parish communities and get these parishes in touch with young people who are hungry for more.”
And for Coffman, making those connections happen is what it is all about.
“There is something about a young person learning about the faith or discovering the faith that is so intriguing and so memorable to me,” he said. “In youth ministry, my job is to be someone to give them an opportunity to encounter Jesus. I love the Lord, and being able to share that opportunity with them, too, speaks volumes to me.”