From Nuns to Nones

As I was scrolling through You Tube videos, looking for something to use at a Life Teen night, I came upon an interesting entry. Oprah was following several young women as they discerned a calling to join the Benedictine Sisters on an episode of her TV show. There were so many new sisters in their class that the order was expanding their convent. Most of these new sisters looked to be between 20-35 years old. Many were college educated. Oprah and her audience were fascinated with the “radical” lifestyle these women had chosen.

I, too, was impressed that so many young women were choosing this counter-cultural lifestyle; totally devoting their life to their faith. The sisters’ stories were inspiring. Sadly, these sisters are the minority; most young adults today are leaving the Church.

In their 2015 study, The Pew Research Center found that 79% of Catholics leave the Church before their mid-20s. Only 7% of those young adults who remain describe their faith as active; they go to mass weekly and usually pray on a daily basis. Catholic young adults of this generation are 4 times more likely to leave the Church than those of just a generation ago. Knowing how important faith has been in my own life, I find this to be a disturbing trend.

Why are young adults leaving? I didn’t have to go far to get an answer to this question. My 28 year old son who went to Catholic elementary and high schools no longer attends mass.

He says he still believes in God but doesn’t agree with some of the beliefs of the Church. He has gone to worship services at other denominations with some of his friends but has not found a church where he feels more at home. Like St. Monica, I continue to pray that he finds his way back.

The experience of many young adults mirror that of my son’s; they feel it makes no sense to stay in a place that is at odds with many of their beliefs and values. Slightly over a third of young adult Catholics who leave say they are done with religious affiliation. They are now referred to as “Nones” (ironically in contrast to the nuns discussed above). Many claim they are still looking for something “bigger and beyond themselves, perhaps even God” but apparently not in a church structure. A good number of this sample (46%) say that they would look for a different way to express their faith; one that better fits within their belief system. Finally, 14% decide that belief in God and any religion is unreconcilable with their rational view of the world

( “Going, Going, Gone.” A Study by St. Mary’s Press (2017), p.11).

This decision to leave the Church is also affected by other factors like the attitude and practices of family members who sometimes came across to them as hypocritical. Some young adults also felt resentment at being “pressured” to attend Church and no longer went when they could make this decision for themselves. Some interviewed felt church attendance has no effect on their ability to be “a good person.” Saddest to me, as a youth minister; several young adults felt the Church had nothing for them, and “no one cared that they left” (“Going, Going, Gone,” p.7-8).

It isn’t uncommon for adolescents and young adults to go through a period during which they rebel against the ideas and practices of their parents, but I can’t help but wonder if this trend indicate something more than this. Is there anything we can do to affect this trend? Is a permanent one? I would like to hear your thoughts as we discuss more about this next time.

In Christ, Pam

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