By Barb Arland-Fye
I participated recently in a conversation with other Catholic parents of young adults to share reflections and observations of our children’s life, faith and relationship with Jesus and the church. At the time, just two months ago, I expressed confidence that my sons, ages 31 and 24, will remain committed to the Catholic Church and regularly attend Mass. But something has changed, and I’m still trying to process it.
My older son, Colin, will always be a faithful Catholic because as a person with autism he embraces the church’s rituals, his relationship with God, and he detests change. But Patrick, the 24-year-old, experienced a personal crisis in December that is leading him to an evangelical, nondenominational church. His courtship with the other faith community began when Patrick was in high school. However, he never contemplated leaving the Catholic Church at that time. And he hasn’t made up his mind to leave, yet. He’s not part of the cohort that faith-based studies call the “nones” (unaffiliated with any church) and he’s not disaffected. But he is searching.
After his crisis, his Evangelical Christian friends reached out to him immediately, in person, and via text messages and social media posts. On Sunday morning, he accompanied friends (a married couple) to a nondenominational church in Davenport “that exists to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus Christ” (harvestdavenport.org).
“Today the pastor was wearing sneakers, khaki pants and a North Face vest and plaid shirt. So he really looked like somebody who was in the congregation. He wasn’t wearing robes and things like that. I think sometimes people are intimidated by that,” Patrick said.
He has also begun attending a Tuesday night small faith group that studies discipleship under the videotaped guidance of a nationally known Christian pastor, teacher and author. “It almost reminds me of class,” my son said. “The main point will be on the screen and then you write it down.”
Sunday services are filled with people at the nondenominational church. That gives Patrick a sense of vitality and of being part of a larger faith community. But he also feels drawn to a Catholic parish in our diocese for a variety of reasons and to Christ the King Chapel at St. Ambrose University, his alma mater. He said he feels God’s presence during Mass and during services at the nondenominational church.
In an “America” magazine article on why teens are leaving the Catholic Church, William Dinges observes that “contemporary Catholicism’s institutional boundaries [have] become more diffused and porous…” Catholic identity “has become less bounded by creed or doctrine…” He also opines that “varieties of Catholic identity have expanded, such that ‘Catholic’ now takes adjectives in an unprecedented way” (America, Aug. 28, 2018). I wonder if his observations explain my son’s courtship with another church.
“Obviously, I have a relationship with (God) because I still go to church,” Patrick told me. “I go because I like to go and I feel like it’s a part of my life. I’m not afraid to say that, and it’s nice to worship. It’s nice to be able to worship in a country that allows it…. Taking things for granted is what secular society does.”
At the service he attended Sunday morning, “The pastor had a good message; he said we need to strive to be more like Jesus. When you wake up every morning it’s not just about getting money … it’s about serving people.” The message that Patrick hears: “we love you and are happy to serve you.” “Sometimes,” my son told me, “I think, it would help if a priest would say, ‘Hey, I am praying for you.’”
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)