Open Thread: LOST? Twenty-Somethings and the ChurchPosted: January 27, 2011
Gen and I are heading up to NYC tomorrow for Fordham’s LOST? Conference on young adults in the Catholic Church. Right up our alley. Lots of great speakers on tap, so if you can’t be there yourself, check back here throughout the weekend for updates and reactions from us and others.
And use this post as an open thread on the impossibly wide topic of twenty-somethings and the Church. Any questions for conference attendees/heavy-hitters Peter Steinfels or Jim Martin, SJ (or others)? Post ‘em in the comments section and we’ll see what we can do!
UPDATE 1/29/11: Live, from New York, it’s Saturday morning at a Catholic conference. Will be here throughout the day with some highlights and questions, after the jump. Please hit the comments section to chip in!
UPDATE (10:00 pm): Back in South Jersey after a long, rich day in NYC. My battery gave way around 2:45, and the only outlets to speak of were way off on the side of the auditorium, so I was left in the dark the last few hours. The 3:00 pm session started with a video of young adult New Yorker Catholics (and lapsed Catholics and non-Catholics) being interviewed on the street about their faith and the church. A lot of the same things conference panelists had been talking about on behalf of twentysomethings all day long, but it was nice to hear it straight from the horses’ mouths. Panelists followed up the video by speaking about an incredibly wide range of issues (conversion, martyrdom, campus ministry, psychoanalysis, intro theology courses, etc…phew!).
The conference’s final session was a wrap-up “where do we go from here?” discussion. I loved the way the panel’s moderator, Jim Martin, phrased his final question. I might/will steal it down the road. He had one question, he said, that he wanted to ask three ways. First, in business language: What are some best practices we can take back with us to help improve our company? Next, in academic language: Based on the data and our experiences, what have we learned? And finally, in theological language: Where is the Holy Spirit leading us from here?
Gen and I will offer our two cents on that question and toss up some final thoughts later on. And be on the look-out for a video with some reflections from twentysomething conference attendees themselves! What a thought!
2:00 p.m. Session IV
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” Yearnings of the Spirit
Prayer, preaching, service, Scripture, liturgy, sacraments: what do twenty-somethings seek and where can it be found?
Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, Fordham University
Marilyn Santos, Director of Youth and Enculturation Ministries, Archdiocese of Atlanta
Tami Schmitz, Asst. Director of Spirituality, Campus Ministry University of Notre Dame
Joe Nuzzi, pastoral associate, St. Francis of Assisi parish, Manhattan
Meredith Fabian, young adult leadership team, Ascension parish, Manhattan, and international liaison, Covenant House
-Ms. Schmitz mentions the big three yearnings for twentysomethings: catechesis (learning more about the content of their faith), connection (quiet times for connection with God), community (a welcoming place to connect their life stories to the story of God’s ongoing revelation to us). “If you’re part of a faith community, you can’t be lost, because someone will come looking for you when you’re not there,” she says.
1:00 p.m. Session III
Frenemies? Popular Culture and Catholic Culture
The complex encounter between church and culture: How do twenty-somethings navigate the varied terrains of church culture and popular culture? How does the church engage the media-saturated, sensory-charged, and socially-networked lives of twenty-somethings?
Tom Beaudoin, Fordham University
Rachel Bundang, Religious Studies, Dir. of Social Justice Education, Marymount School
Bill McGarvey, former editor-in-chief, BustedHalo.com
Matthew Boudway, associate editor, Commonweal
Amanda Daloisio, New York Catholic Worker, Witness Against Torture Community
-Bill McGarvey flew through his ten minutes with a lot of great little bits. Here are a few: “Millennials can’t even bother with hostility because they don’t see religion as something relevant to their lives.”
Just because someone is a seeker doesn’t mean that they’re lost. Today, the parable of the 99 sheep is flipped on its head: one sheep is left in the church, and 99 are wandering around somewhere else. But the church is more concerned with the one they still have, and don’t really know what to do with the 99 running around in a geography without bounds.
Pop culture and social culture today are transparent, unfiltered, democratic, and collaborative. Church culture is none of these things.
Catholics have a poverty of imagination in thinking about culture in general. Bob Dylan, the Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead introduced Bill to truth for the first time even though he was a “trained Catholic.” He finds this Ignatian (see God in all things); I find it, more broadly, first and foremost sacramental. Our sacramental imagination as Catholics bursts through all the world, as God comes to us in pop music and in redwood trees and, yes, of course, in the Eucharist.
God’s first language is our experience, not religion.
OK, battery dying..will have to recharge after the session.
11:00 a.m. Session II
Sex and the City of God
Hooking up, casual sex, cohabitation, later marriages, and same-sex relationships are cultural realities for twenty-somethings. How does this affect young adults’ ties to Catholic communities, teaching, and values, and their own desires for lives of integrity and wholeness?
Robert Parmach, Fordham University
Donna Freitas, Assoc. Professor of Religion and Writer in Residence, Hofstra University
Colleen Carroll Campbell, Author, Columnist, TV & Radio Host
Patrick Landry, middle school teacher and graduate student, Northwestern
Paul Schutz, musician, liturgist, and graduate student Fordham
-Ms. Freitas says evangelical college students and Catholics are quite divergent in their approaches to sexuality. Evangelicals at Christian colleges are extremely adherent to their faith and moral codes; “it is the core of their identities.” This has a big impact on their lifestyles. There is a vibrant culture of chastity, and the “don’ts” are really meaningful. They don’t come across as “don’ts”: they are peer-supported and seen as goals, not laws. At all other colleges (Catholic, private non-religious, public), the hook-up culture is prevalent. Catholic youth learn and repeat: don’t do it; don’t use condoms; don’t be gay. “This is incredibly upsetting to them [us],” she says. She says Catholic youth are angry, frustrated and activists. Human dignity in the context of service/justice activities can apply to questions of sex and morals: Where was the human dignity at that party you were at Friday night? I like that connection between social ethics and personal, moral ethics, a connection that is often missed. Folks tend come down more strongly on one side or the other.
-Ms. Campbell says millennial Christians (“the new faithful”) are good at integrating sexual ethics, spiritual practices, and social justice concerns. “The reasons behind the rules of Catholic teaching” must be communicated to move from Freitas’ list of “don’ts” to something more meaningful.
9:45 am: Session I
On Your Own?
Student loans, job searches, finding friends and housing, the parish and social scene—a look at the economic, career, social, and religious challenges twenty-somethings face. What are the implications for religious communities?
Christine Firer Hinze, Fordham University
David Campbell, Assoc. Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame
Carmen Cervantes, Executive Director, Fe y Vida
Greg Eirich, sociologist, Columbia University; Jennifer Sawyer, Fordham University
-Ms. Cervantes quotes these stats: 1st generation Latino immigrants are 75% Catholic; 2nd generation is 62%; 3rd generation 50% (sobering numbers after the “Latinos will save the American Catholic church” chorus from last night’s forum). This mirrors the trends we saw from the early, mid-20th century when European, Catholic immigrants came over and largely stuck to their communities. As they assimilated, the proportion of practicing Catholics dipped. The situation with Latino migration seems a bit different, as it doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all; the consistent influx of newcomers and the ability to maintain Spanish as your primary language so easily in the USA might preserve the culture here in a way the European migration last century didn’t. But we’ll continue to face retention challenges as Latino immigrant families remain here for generations. Ms. Cervantes mentions the challenge to establish Spanish-speaking communities in what had been Anglo parishes and schools. “We are not here to save the church,” she says. “We are church, and we are struggling to be church…We are church, but we are not allowed to be church.”
-David Campbell is focusing on a “big reason people turn away from the church”: politics. Late 1980s and early 90s saw rapid acceleration in the percentage of people who classify themselves as “none” in affiliation surveys. Most “nones” believe in God, heaven, hell..just not comfortable with organized religion. Millennials are more pro-life and more pro-gay rights than their parents; they don’t see the world as left/right in the traditional way. Young Catholics are leery of partisan politics creeping into religion. No stats to back this up; I’m more of the school that people (especially my peers) aren’t really mad at religion anymore. It’s more of a “meh?” thing.
-Jennifer Sawyer, a 2009 grad from Fordham, speaks of the blessings and curses of being a millennial Catholic in NYC: plenty of stuff to do, not too many folks on board with the whole Catholic thing. People are confused when she wants to go to church on Holy Days. This sounds more in line with my “meh?” experience than Campbell’s insistence on the role of politics on our departure. People have difficulty being part of something that doesn’t really understand them, Jennifer says. Her comments had everything to do with the topic, but weren’t a response to anything offered by the first two speakers, because, well, they kinda went rogue with the prompt.
-Greg Eirich talks about the importance of big events like baptisms, Christmases, etc. to make second impressions on lapsed Catholics who are in church against their will.
-Cervantes says plenty of young adult Latino Catholics go to Mass, but that it’s a big challenge to find small faith communities with people of their own age. Weekly meetings “kill everything” she says, hilariously. Jives with my theory (first heard from Fr. John Cusick and Kate DeVries of the Archdiocese of Chicago) that event-based young adult ministry instead of group-based stuff lets transient, intimidated Catholics plug in to stuff more easily.
-Campbell emphasizes what Bob Putnam said last night: in order to stay viable, we need not only to figure out how to invite people back to the community, but how to invite people in to the community for the first time. How do we do both? And how are they different?
-Sawyer says that people she talks to about the church are upset about the church’s approach to issues of gender and sexuality. She says she wishes they could get to the core stuff and see the “immense beauty of the faith, the love, openness, and solidarity.”
-Eirich talks about what he hears from his lapsed Catholic friends. They tend to fall into one of two groups. One group has “macro” issues: concerned about THE CHURCH and big-picture political and media issues, and such issues cause a rupture. The second group has “micro” issues: they don’t have good experiences at Mass, and when they try it again, they have another bad experience that reminds them of something from earlier in their lives. Then they peace.