Mary Donovan summed up what I’ve come to know as “the Church Search” trying to find a community that’s a good fit for one’s self. If find older people at times wondering why no young people are in their pews. Oftentimes, it’s because for younger people church has a different context.

Check out some of Mary’s thoughts:

I’ve been church shopping for more than three years now. I’m not much of a shopper so it’s getting tiring, but I’m not about to give up. I’m choosey: I want good music, a diverse and accepting community, a priest who consistently gives relevant and challenging homilies, and a church culture that embraces social justice. I’ve found churches that have some of the things on my list, but finding all of them in one place has proven to be a challenge.

Now full disclosure, I know Mary. She was one of the volunteers in our diocese’s Catholic Charities Volunteer Service Corps last year. I encouraged her to start writing for Busted Halo® and she attended a retreat I ran last year as well. She’s even come to my parish on occasion. And you can bet your last buck that I’ll be taking her to lunch to talk further about her search and what we’re not doing right in our parish (if anything).

But I love the things she points out as being elements of a church she really wants and I really appreciated the fact that she pointed out what keeps her from church:

– not having a ride
– not seeing young families
– student masses that only connect with campus life and leave us unchallenged

And when she hasn’t been able to go to a church–how does she stay engaged spiritually?

Volunteering, having meaningful conversations about spirituality, learning about different spiritual traditions, going on retreats, and sticking with my already established spiritual practices kept me connected to God even without a church to call home and on the weeks I didn’t attend church.

Sounds like she does much more than the average person who punches their mass clock each week and lumbers out unreflectively. And that should tell us all something.

Younger people want more out of their experience on Sunday. They want to be engaged, they want to understand, they want to be challenged to take that next step. They want time to think and consider in quiet contemplation and be moved and they want the rousing engaged community to go forth from that place renewed by the spirit together to create change in a sometimes and all too often broken world.

And that’s my job to try to create that. Most days I think we do a good job. But I know I get too easily disappointed by the lack of younger people in pews everywhere–here included—and we’re not doing all that bad from what we hear from the young people who are engaged here. I shudder to think what goes on elsewhere.

So thanks, Mary. Lunch or dinner is on me. Let’s keep the conversation going.

And anyone else…let’s chat.

0 thoughts on “One Young Adult’s Experience of Finding a Church…Can you Relate?”
  1. I can totally relate to Mary’s quest. After leaving college, where the Jesuits set a high standard for intelligent preaching and emphasis on social justice issues, I found it difficult to return to my regular large suburban church. The kind where the priest says, “We will now raise our voices in joyful exaltation”…in a complete monotone. I, too, “church-searched” for quite some time. I stumbled across some interesting places along the way. One priest used puppets in his homily each week – fun! Another refused to make eye-contact while administering Communion – not fun. Finally I came to the church that I still call home…one with all the elements that Mary is looking for. In fact, if she is anywhere near Mt. Vernon, NY, she should visit St. Mary’s 11:30 charismatic mass!! I think it’s a shame that those elements – good preaching, sense of community, lively music – should be so hard to find. It will take some inspired leadership to help the younger generation realize that they ARE the church, and need to get together to create these kind of worship communities in whatever ways they can.

  2. This is EXACTLY what I was looking for in a church. I worried that my standards were too high, but she completely affirmed that what I was looking for wasn’t too demanding. 🙂 Thanks. I did settle for a church that had 3 out of the 4. But I must confess, my eye is still wandering for that church that offers all 4.

  3. This is exactly where I’m at right now. I feel like a little lost sheep trying to find a “home” that has all those qualifications. After coming out of a sheltered environment with campus ministry, I find I have to continuously find activities to do on my own to keep me connected. Frankly, it’s getting tiring. I wish I could just have a “home-group” where I could find all of these qualities at my own local church and that the people were more outgoing and did more outreach.

  4. I fear that this approach makes it ‘all about us.’ After all, we shop to find something we like.
    As my pastor so clearly proclaimed Sunday, “Mass isn’t about us. It’s about God.”
    We are failing our young people by not boldly proclaiming the Gospel embodied in the Church.
    If they understood Christ and how his bride continues to love him, then nothing would keep them away from her doors.
    No amount of ‘good music’ and ‘entertaining preaching’ and ’emphasis on current events’ – while good in themselves – will ever convert hearts. We want hearts on fire for Christ…not butts in pews because we’ve succeeded in being their fave flavor of the week.

    1. Actually, mass is about God AND us. It is communal worship–which WE need and God does not. We also need to meet people where they are and not where we’d like them to be. That doesn’t mean we just accept them there but rather we move them into a more sacred space. I would also say that some places do the “performance” of worship very poorly–while having good intentions. Most people aren’t moved or allowed to be moved into sacred space. Even John Paul II said that a bad experience of liturgy can kill faith. I think we need to pay attention to these folks, or else we’ll lose them to place that do.

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