We've started to hold a series of listening sessions for different populations/groups within our parish. We've offered, technically, three- to two different groups so far; young adults and parents of young children (age 0-5). We offered wine and cheese for the YA gathering, and had a good turnout: 10 church-going young people, who had great things to say. We offered the P-O-Y-C session twice, at 10AM and 7PM. No parents showed up to either session, except for one staff member, a ringer.
So I have little to report about the POYC group, except guesses: I guess midday isn't going to attract parents (are there not a lot of stay-at-home parents in my parish?) and... maybe they don't have a lot to say to the Church, maybe they don't see the point, maybe they aren't looking for anything from the Church? I think we'll offer it again, just in case it was a PR thing, just in case there's someone who really wanted to come, but couldn't. But... we have recently been trying to drum up POYC to start a music class, and our leaders have really been struggling to get people to sign up with their young kids. Maybe we're seeing a lack of interest across the board for that group. I don't know... we'll keep plugging along.
(As a side note, while I waited for no one to come to the evening session, I read some of the book that I've been carrying around with me lately, Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. It's fascinating, gasp-inducing reading. I'll have to write about it in another post, so much to say so much to say... anyone interested in joining me in reading it? We can do a book group right here, check in after every chapter...)
The Young Adults were great- they had lots to say and some really brilliant insights. They talked about how challenging it is to stay Catholic in their lives, how critical their coworkers are about their involvement in church, their reticence to speak up about faith in public- and the questions that come their way every Ash Wednesday when they show up to work with ash on their foreheads. But they also talked about feeling a real willingness and need to go to Mass, that Mass anchors their weeks. They did not mention a sense of duty or obedience in attending Mass.
They said that their peers who have left have gone nowhere else. They described their peers not as being angry or even disillusioned with the Church, but just not feeling a need for it. I got the feeling that young adults see their faith in a very similar way to how I see physical fitness. As if, like the gym, they know the Church there and it's an optional and probably good way of life that they're not theoretically opposed to, might get into someday (but then again, they could always walk around my neighborhood, no commitment and no expectations...) they might admire people who do it... religiously... but are probably never going to be one of those people.
They pointed out that their peers might be attracted to being able to participate in short-term service opportunities. They mentioned that for a young adult who wants to try out living their faith, there's no entry-level volunteer activities available to them in the parish- most young adults who express an interest in volunteering are recruited to be Youth Ministry volunteers, and teaching faith may not be the first interest for someone in their 20's-30's.
Homily-wise, about 20% of our small sample expressed a want for hot-button issues to be addressed, with clear Catholic teaching. The rest of the group, though, stressed that they did NOT want to hear these things in homilies- they wanted to hear about how to live a life of love and faith.
We asked this group, who would have been pre-teens during the height of the sexual abuse scandal here, if their friends left because of that. They said their friends joked about it but were not distressed, back in the day... but that they remembered their parents being very upset.
We asked the group what they thought the Church should know about them, and they didn't have a clear answer- but when I asked them what they think the Church thinks of them now, they said "they think we're just like our parents, that they don't have to reach out to us because eventually, we'll just come back." Wow.