Finding A Spiritual Home
I am part of the millennia generation (ages 18-39) which requires a sense of purpose in life; we strive for accomplishment in everything. We want to feel we are significant as we look for a spiritual home. This can be a challenge because we young adults can be very “picky.” There are certain amenities that are important to us if we are going to commit to a particular parish. What we look for is acceptance, for the possibility of being nourished and for the opportunity to feel useful.
Because social media is such a large part of our everyday lives, we have a sense of being watched and judged for every move we make. The reverse is also true, we try to keep up appearances and edit our profiles in order to reveal only what we want the world to see. It is not about being perfect so much as being accepted for who we are. We need to know that we will be loved no matter our past, our present state or any future choices we are likely to make. As a result, we gravitate to a parish that teaches – and practices – acceptance of all, no matter who that might be. First impressions are critical. Every liturgy, every activity, every small group and ministry must manifest a welcoming, hospitable environment and attitude if young adults are going to feel, “this place has possibilities.” It can’t be faked or put on, it must be honest and real.
Once the initial contact is made and introductions exchanged, how is the parish going to get young adults to stay? Nourish them, give them something meaningful and challenging to think about, let them feel they might learn something new and interesting. This begins with the homily. Many of us come to church yearning to be fed with something solid, something real, something authentic. As we listen, we want inspiring explanations of the readings and concrete suggestions that we could work on. We seek guidance and direction for our busy go-go-go lives that we face when we step out of church. As a result, we don’t just hear the homilies, we listen intently and take in all that is being said. We search for those that are engaging, ignoring the boring or insulting ones. This is why homilies need to be well-prepared and thought-provoking. To this end, it helps to have a monthly homily reflection group of ordained and non-ordained, young and old, to reflect together and offer insights so the homilies are both spiritually nourishing and easy to apply.
The Church continually urges people to help the less fortunate, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, be peacemakers. This emphasis attracts young adults. Labeled as the “cause driven” generation, we want to make the world a better place. Many parishes do not seem to offer us much along these lines. As a result, we find a home in non-profit organizations where we feel we can make a difference. If parishes want to attract those in my age bracket they will have to provide a variety of opportunities where we can work on clear and challenging causes and projects; places where we can roll up our sleeves, get involved and see results.
Not Being Different
The over-all objective for young adults is to find a place where we belong. We want to fit in and not stand out as being the youngest person present. We look for diversity in all aspects of parish life, whether it be race, age, gender, status, background or experience. We want to relate to others and be accepted, to be useful and make a difference, to be inspired and grow through the homilies and ministries that are offered. Ask any young adult what they want and they will probably be more honest and transparent than you would expect. So, ask them!
Maria Gabriela Garcia, Debora Elkins, Tom Sweetser, SJ