Many people have negative things to say about young adults and their expressions of faith. More often than not, when anyone describes religion and the behaviours of persons in their 20s and 30s, the discussion centres on the rising number of young adults who are agnostic, atheist, or the absence of young adults in parish related events or at the celebration of Holy Mass.
On average in the western world, younger millennials are the smallest proportion of the parish congregations although representing 25–40 per cent of national populations.
North American data provided by Pew Research highlights a paradox. Data from the Religious Landscape Study shows that 87 per cent of millennial Catholics are very certain or fairly certain in their belief in God and 84 per cent say religion is either somewhat very or important to their lives. Simultaneously, only 26 per cent of those surveyed attended religious events (like Holy Mass) at least once per week.
In our Archdiocese, the Office of Youth Ministry conducted interviews with younger adults between 18–27 years during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many have not attended Holy Mass when it was possible or made time to view Holy Mass during the pandemic. Nevertheless, they strongly identify as Catholic and feel deeply connected to the Catholic community.
Prior to the pandemic this was also an issue for many young adults. “I have to choose between work or helping my family and church and sometimes I am just too tired for church. I don’t want to be that fella falling asleep at Mass every weekend.”
This comment was made by one 25-year-old man (security guard), during a conversation in 2019 with 29 other person in their 20s. There was consensus that the hardest part of being Catholic was their personal practice of faith.
The majority agreed, 76 per cent, that personal faith practice was an aspect of their lives where they received the least amount of instruction as children and teenagers, and 83 per cent admitted that they grew up in homes where even if they were active in parish life, family prayer was not practised and prayer was only encouraged during times of crisis or need.
This is not just a Catholic issue. Researchers from the Fuller Youth Institute, an evangelical research centre in the United States, have noted that during the teen years young Christians are encouraged to participate in externalised faith practices (youth groups, church and church event participation, charity/missionary exercises) but are not assisted in developing internalised faith practices.
Internalise faith practices are personal regimes of prayer not including other persons such as personal Bible study, contemplation, spiritual discernment, and silence.
Additionally, many millennials grew up in homes where internalised faith practices were not regularly demonstrated. This has led to what is perceived as a crisis in communal and individual religious expression; millennials that will identify with religious tradition but do not privately or publicly act in keeping with the normative tenants of faith.
There is no commitment to acts of faith, instead faith is lived after and around one’s “actual life”.
These observations informed the work of the Office of Youth Ministry as it pilots a programme for young adults 20–35 years. The Committed programme was launched in December 2020 and is ongoing.
The programme aims to
The main compound of the programme is a daily commitment to Lectio Divina style morning meditation and the Examen process as a part of night prayer. There are also monthly sessions to complement and support their commitment. Thus far, participants have completed Personality and Identity, Prayer, Emotional Intelligence, and Discernment. Upcoming sessions include Forgiveness and Healing, Human Sexuality, Personal Theology and Expression, Vocation, and Action and Advocacy. Monthly facilitators have included Mary Baptiste of Zion RC Community, Denzil Williams of Self Search, Sr Julie Marie Peters SSM, Judy Mc Sween and Fr Peter McIsaac SJ.
Twenty-four young adults are participating in the programme at this time. Some would like to share their experiences with you. In the upcoming months their testimonies will be published in the Catholic News.
This year the programme will be open for new participants in November 2021.
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