UPDATED: Millennials Speak Up at the LOST? Conference (Fordham 2011)

Gen and I G-chatted some final thoughts on the LOST? Conference. Check ‘em out after the jump. And please, please: contribute. It’s silly to think our voices are representative of an entire generation. So mix it up in the comments section, but go gently.

Gen: What are your takeaways from the conference this weekend?

Mike: Well, first, you should check out this analysis on “In All Things,” because it’s great. So just read that and pretend I wrote it. Ha.

Anyway, I take the extraordinarily high conference attendance as a sign of three things: 1) People are really, really interested in the “twenty-somethings question” and in the future of the church; 2) Nobody knows what’s going on with us; we’re strange birds, and; 3) Folks are nervous that the church of future generations is going to be teensy and therefore marginalized and irrelevant.

Gen: One of my takeaways came from Greg Eirich’s reflection on how his lapsed Catholic friends fell into two categories. The first category was made up of those who’ve experienced a rupture with the institutional Church, especially. If you ask them why they’ve fallen away, they often talk about the issues at the forefront of the American political consciousness.

The second group comprises those who’ve broken away at the micro-level; they don’t often go to church, but when they do, they’re willing to give it a shot. Any bad experience they have that reminds them of a previous experience of Church (if it’s boring, the music’s bad, nobody says hi, etc.) sends them out the door.

I’m sure very few lapsed Catholics fit neatly in either category, but I think both experiences are common.

Mike: I liked Colleen Caroll Campbell’s description of the “new faithful.” While I wouldn’t always (or even often) share a similar spirituality or points of emphasis with many of these peers, I do find millennials harder to peg than straight “liberal” or “conservative.” The way she described how folks in our generation integrate spirituality, sexual ethics and social justice concerns was right on. A lot of our friends are into Adoration, Theology of the Body, and the Catholic Worker movement. We’re not veterans of the culture wars or the transition after Vatican II. We don’t have battle wounds from those fights that would push us exclusively right or left.

Gen: Of those who remain committed, that “new faithful” description is accurate. But that’s still a small minority group among those millennials who were raised Catholic. I’m sure I was nodding in the crowd when Bill McGarvey said something like, “Millennials can’t even be bothered with hostility because they don’t see religion as relative to their lives.”

Mike: Yeah, I think of our generation as largely post-hostility.

Gen: It’s counterintuitive, because those who are hostile are usually the loudest. One of the biggest things I hear from young adults (and that I heard echoed this weekend by young adults and conference presenters) was that millennials often feel like the Catholic faith just doesn’t connect – it isn’t relevant. It isn’t worth thinking about.

Mike: There are definitely particular issues that can alienate or wound, but I think the vast majority of lapsed Catholics or never-Catholics alike just can’t be bothered to spend time on something as antiquated-seeming as organized religion.

I think a lot of my friends would respond to the thought of organized religion as they would to the idea of a corset: old-fashioned, constricting, irrelevant, but nothing to get angry about. Or even think about. Ever.

Gen: I would get angry if I had to wear a corset.

Mike:  I’m sure you would. But you know what I mean.

Gen: Moving on. While issues might not drive people away as much as apathy just keeps away, I really appreciated Carmen Cervantes’ comment about the tendency of the American Church echo chamber to become obsessed with issues. “Latinos don’t look at Catholicism in the way of issues,” she said. That called me out. While the issues are important, and do flow out from Church teaching, we need to spend more time at the core. I’m not trying to trivialize anyone’s issues with the church, but it does seem to me that as a church, we’ve given too much attention to what’s peripheral. And that’s driven people who care away.

Mike: Yeah, that’s true. I think in both our evangelization and re-evangelization, we have to put issues to the side, at least in the beginning. Start with the central stuff, the beautiful life that our faith provides at its best.

The idea that God became human to enter into relationship with us in a ridiculously intimate way. That God is love and when we encounter love in our lives, we meet God. That community is where we find ourselves as humans, not off on our own somewhere. That music and poetry and art and good beer can all reveal parts of God to us.

Gen: On the way back from the conference, we sat on the train with a young priest and deacon. The deacon asked us each what we would boil the most essential truth of our faith down to. We all said different things, but they were different faces of the same truth, expressed out of our own life experience. We need to do more of that. I’m not sure what it looks like, exactly, but it needs to happen.

Mike: I’m reminded of the Gospel parable about building houses on different foundations. Are we building on rock or sand?




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4 Comments on “UPDATED: Millennials Speak Up at the LOST? Conference (Fordham 2011)”

  1. KT (the sister) says:

    It’s funny that they say the twenty-somethings are lost because I know that they’re not the only ones. Us teenagers don’t exactly have it all figured out either. From my youth group experiences, I know that all these arguments between the generations are just the bickerings of adults that we don’t fully understand. I’d like to hear, once we’ve been taught about it, what teenagers have to say about the state of the Church.

  2. Isaac says:

    Speaking of issues, the discussion in the first chapter of John L. Allen’s book, The Future Church, may be helpful here. He writes about how our issues as American Catholics are so strikingly different from issues as South American or African Catholics. We’re more focused on internal debates whereas South American Catholics are more focused on what’s going on outside the walls of the church (yes, a broad generalization, but that’s the best I got).

    I think that can be extended to include generations too. Our issues for millennial Catholics are and will continue to be different from other generations of Catholics. I *think* our generation of Catholics are more outwardly focused, or at least not as focused on internal Church issues. But that might be falsely colored from knowing the people that I know.

    A great litmus test will be the change in the liturgy happening Advent of 2011. Of course, changes in how we worship are hugely important, but language used in worship may be the ultimate intra-Church issue. I’ll be keeping a mental inventory of the types and number of complaints from people in different generations. I suspect many millennial Catholics will be more okay with the changes while many others who lived through Vatican II will be more suspicious.

  3. Gen says:

    Isaac, thanks for your comment. It sounds like Carmen Cervantes and John Allen make similar points about the American Church.

    Here is a link to an interesting article in St. Anthony Messenger that supports your thought about millennials being more outwardly oriented. (I’m having trouble embedding it, so I just pasted it here: http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Oct2010/Feature1.asp#F2)

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