Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In and out of the pews

Rocco has a good post up about the results of the recent Pew study on religious behavior in America, and that the US Bishops, who are about to meet in Orlando for their summer meeting, will be spending a lot of time studying this report and the CARA report as well.

These reports should be studied and pondered, not just in chanceries -- but in parishes and seminaries as well.

The fact of the matter is, despite the great influx of Hispanics (where evangelization, discipleship, catechesis and retention are huge issues, especially with the second and third generations), the Catholic Church is losing the next generation. Big time.

In my own anecdotal experience working with young adults, all of whom were involved in the campus ministry I once worked at:

  • A group of friends, very involved in the campus ministry, who I was close to in grad school. Of these 8 or so, only 1 is still an active, practicing Catholic. This one also spent some time at Falwell's Liberty U., and when she came back to the Catholic Church, the experience of Liberty only served to ground her more in the Church, ironically.

  • Another active student now at a major law school. "I know the Church should be a part of my life. But ... Sunday rolls around ... and I just can't seem to make it. And the campus ministry here doesn't seem to have much for Law students."

  • A recent conversation.. "Well, I last went to Mass at ... oh shoot, I didn't even make it on Easter. I know dude. But you know what it is ... everything is so darn far away. And gas prices being what they are, it's a huge deterrent. Going to a parish where everyone is decades older, where there's no community. When I could get to the Cathedral that was awesome -- they have an active young adult group. But it's 25 miles away now."

  • A contretemps with a once faithful Catholic, who's marrying a non-Catholic. I can't go into details, but they decided not to marry in the Church. "When I called the church [a Cathedral somewhere in the South], they were like, 'Oh ok. We'll send you your deposit back, minus the administrative fee.' They didn't seem to mind that I wasn't getting married in the church. No questions asked, nothing. No attempt made to find out what happened. It's a god-d--- business is what it is. That's it."

  • A few years back, another student, who was leaving to go overseas on work for the Federal Government, had to move ahead his marriage date. His experience at the local parish almost made him leave the Church. "Envelope #? Where's that in the Bible? All they seemed to care about was making sure I gave them enough money!"

  • A recent experience with teens on retreat. All enthusiastic kids, from church-going families. Their level of catechesis? Abysmal. Depressingly so.
These are just a sampling of anecdotal stories. No they're not all depressing. There are several of conversion, of encounters with the Lord that lead to discipleship. [There's two stories I've been meaning to share for a while ... I'll do that later today or this week. They've got to do with discovering the gem that is the Catholic approach to human sexuality.]

And, as far as I'm concerned, that's where we focus. Or at least, that's where I think I'm being called to focus, as I continue my journey towards the priesthood: discipleship.

Great discussion on the Pew report at Inside Catholic.

Amy, with her insightful stuff.

Sherry Wadell's research at Intentional Disciples.


Fr. Andrew said...

While I don't fully agree with some of the ways ID express themselves, I do believe that discipleship is where it is at. Even a rotten priest who goes in and out of alcohol treatment yet befriends and invites families to deeper Ecclesial life will make a huge impact on them.

There still seems to me to be something missing from integrating these sociological studies into the life of the Church. I'm not sure what it is, but something doesn't seem to mesh. Not that Pew or CARA get things wrong but I fear they focus too much on the Church as sociological phenomenon and not enough on divine reality.

Blood sugar low after lunch, not sure if that made sense.

Gashwin said...

Thanks Fr. Andrew. Of course Pew and CARA only focus on the sociological aspect. They are doing sociological studies, and don't really suggest that they do anything else.

As you say, this doesn't exhaust the reality of the Church. Far from it. And if we -- all of us in the Church -- take the sociological data as the only reality, we would be, well, heretics! :)

Actually, I am not sure much integration of such studies has been done in the life of the Church. So more discusison might be a start ... in parishes and the like, not just the blogosphere! :)

On another note, Father, if you wouldn't mind emailing me with what your concerns or differences with the folks at ID are, I'd really appreciate it. It's not just an academic question for me -- I am in the process of getting trained as an ID presenter.

Thanks Father!

Heather said...

G - We should talk more about this. In grad school I got to choose a subject to create a poll about and then actually field it. For my "client" I chose the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the stuff I found out about when people leave the church (age wise) and why was pretty interesting (though not statistically significant since I was not able to make 1,000+ phone calls.

And just speaking anecdotally, although I'd agree most people in my age bracket have fallen away from practicing, most of my friends who are getting married are finding their way back to the church as a stable way of beginning their families and raising their children.

Could losing the faith be a symptom of the quarter-life crisis?

Gashwin said...

Hola Heather: yeah I remember you mentioning something about that project. Do you have a paper? It would be interesting to read.

The "they'll leave the Church when they leave home but come back when they get married/have kids" narrative has been around for a while. My understanding is that it is less and less true. They're not all coming back. Or so "they" say.

I do agree though: at some level, one has to have a "crisis" of sorts in one's spiritual life, that makes the faith one's own, in full freedom, rather than just an inherited practice. That is part of the on-going conversion and growth of any Christian.

[Aside: I hesitate to suggest that non-practising Catholics have "lost their faith," though we often talk about it that way. To me "loss of faith" suggests something a lot deeper than not going to Mass. I would hope that at some level that faith is still there, deep down, quiet, "inactivated" and could be called forth again.]

WordWench said...

I hate to see people leaving the Church but I can understand the sentiments 1) of those who feel things are treated more like a business or an assembly line. We've had the number of weddings at my home church decline because the parish has adopted a "wedding code" that so micromanages every aspect of the wedding Mass that it loses any sense of the couple at all. They even want to dictate how many flowers and what color. "Where is the sacred concern and caring for the couple?" somebody asked. Where, indeed?

2) I also sympathize with the young adult that found nothing for him at his area church. I'm a single career woman who attends one of the largest parishes in Columbia. There is not ONE thing in the parish, not ONE, even remotely geared to me or my experience. If I were a single senior citizen or a widow, that would be a different story. But nobody seems to care for people my age or with my experience unless I am dying to get married at the moment, which I'm not. I'm glad I'm inclined toward solitary and contemplative prayer anyway, and not a person that hungers for parish community, because if so, I would not feel welcome in the Catholic Church right now at all. I think the outreach to young adults especially is abysmal and only geared to make them feel inadequate if they're not in the process of being engaged and married. We're going to lose a whole segment of the Catholic population unless we realize that single folks 25-40 need some faith formation and support as well, and to be supported for who they are.