Young Adults: Dialogue across the Divide
Moyer, Ginny, National Catholic Reporter
Over the past few years, my involvement in young adults' groups has blessed me with many things. I've gained good friends, a deeper prayer life and the confidence that I have a home in the Catholic church. Lately, though, it's been giving me something else entirely: an intimate knowledge of the ideological tensions in today's church.
My group is a parish-based community in San Francisco for Catholics in their 20s and 30s. When I first started attending in 2001, I was excited to find such an active community. Members gathered once a week for meetings arranged by committees within the group. Topics included "How to Discern," "Jesus and the Movies," "Kinds of Prayer." The meetings regularly drew 50 to 80 attendees.
It was exhilarating to see so many of my peers involved in their faith. The experience of living this faith, I discovered, was different for every person. Whatever the issue--women priests, birth control, liturgical styles--there were many different viewpoints represented within the community. But the overall tone of the group was that it was a safe place to ask questions. Hey, you have struggles with Catholicism? No problem! Pull up a chair!
Over the last four years, the character of the group has changed. There has been a growing influx of young adults who are vocal about protecting and promoting what they see as the truth of Catholicism. Many progressive-minded members are frustrated, feeling that the group has been hijacked by those with a black-and-white view of faith. Many of these new, self-identified conservatives, on the other hand, express frustration when progressive members make comments that seem to be attacking the church. During one meeting, which featured a PowerPoint slide listing several of the doctors of the church, a woman who was new to the group made the observation that only one name on the list was female. A woman sitting behind her immediately snapped, "Truth has no gender." The newcomer looked chastised.
This strident conservatism worries me, and not just because my own leanings are liberal. My fear is that it's scaring newcomers away. At the root of this fear lies my conviction about the purpose of young adult ministry: It has to be about creating a space where anyone can go on a spiritual journey. It has to be about providing a safe place to question, to disagree, to grow. After all, the 20s and 30s are when many lapsed Catholics start, tentatively, to reengage with their childhood faith. Young adult ministry needs to be a door through which these Catholics can enter back into the church. It has to be about welcoming those who have a million reasons not to be there.
It can't be about getting clunked over the head with the catechism. That's what much of my earlier Catholic experience was like, and that's precisely why I drifted away from the church in my college years and early 20s. It was only thanks to a welcoming group at Stanford University that I began to stick my big toe back into the water of my faith. …