I began this study in fall 2002 among a large crowd gathered at a Southern California parish to discuss the formation of a local VOTF affiliate. Though initially conceived of as an exploratory field visit, I began feverishly taking notes once I realized the magnitude of what was transpiring in the stucco and stained glass meeting room adjacent to the main church. Seeing Catholics grabble visibly with the tension of faithfulness and anguish at revelations of abuse revealed an element of religion that was unfamiliar to me. It was a story that needed to be told, a window into a larger dynamic of a malleable and contested Catholic identity.
Unfolding from this moment was my three-year ethnography of an emergent Catholic movement that introduced countless candid illustrations of lived religion. Given the real-time development of VOTF during my study, I selected ethnography as the method best suited to capture the richness of movement activity and participants’ experiences. Participant observation, in-depth interviews, and discourse analysis provided a means by which I could construct a movement narrative and introduce a conceptual framework for what was happening during this meaningful moment in church history.
Participant observation led me to local, regional, and national VOTF events in settings throughout the country. I conducted two years of observation in Santa Barbara, California, followed by a year