Reflecting on our experiences as members of faith communities is at the heart of the Rediscovering Sunday initiative and the Synod on Synodality. The timing of these two initiatives — one diocesan and one from Rome — coincides in natural and helpful ways.
We opened the Rediscovering Sunday survey for responses during the summer and sent survey results to leaders of individual parishes in early November. Bishop Thomas Zinkula celebrated the opening liturgy for the Synod on Synodality in mid-October and we published the diocesan Synod guidebook in mid-December. Now, many parishes have laid the groundwork for hosting listening sessions for the Synod.
Thematically, these initiatives build on each other. While Rediscovering Sunday was primarily an “in-house” survey of people’s experience of parish life, the Synod on Synodality invites everyone, Catholic or not, to participate and share their experience of the Church.
We received more than 5,000 Rediscovering Sunday survey responses from parishioners across the diocese, which is remarkable! Three major findings from the survey are worth highlighting as trends across the diocese. First, the importance of providing a welcoming environment in our faith communities is vital to parish life. Respondents consistently reported a positive experience of their parish if they felt welcome and if they felt like the belonged in the community.
Second, we found an age range drop-off among those who responded to the survey. Nearly 50% of all respondents were 65 years of age or older and fewer than 6% were younger than 35. The national trend has shown a disaffiliation among youth and young adults from religious practice. This national trend appears to be true in our diocese.
Third, respondents shared a desire to talk about their faith but said they often felt uncomfortable doing so. The survey found that 72% of respondents have a clear or moderate understanding of evangelization and its relevancy in day-to-day life. However, only 48% of respondents are comfortable sharing their faith with their family and only 47% of respondents are comfortable sharing their faith with their friends.
The survey findings point out many areas for growth. Individual parish reports sent to parish leadership in November can be a fruitful starting point for discerning how the Holy Spirit is asking us to grow in response to the concrete experiences of our faith communities. This brings us to the topic of the Synod.
The Synod is a very open-ended process focused on this key question: based on your personal experience, what fills your heart and what breaks your heart about the Catholic Church? The Synod calls for us to listen to Catholics and non-Catholics, so we anticipate that responses will be wide ranging. Hearing these comments is critical. We must be aware of how we can be Christ’s light in the world. Another question worth reflection is this: “if my parish disappeared tomorrow, would the surrounding community notice its absence?”
Our strategy for the Synod is two-fold: 1) leverage the already existing structures of the Church to coordinate listening sessions (e.g. parish council, Bible study group, etc.), and 2) invite all Catholics in the diocese to participate in the Synod through one-on-one conversations. In both settings, we ask people to explore the question of what breaks and fills their heart about their experience of the Church.
We invite all Catholics in the diocese to engage in one-on-one Synod conversations through the 58,000 Cups of Coffee Initiative. Here’s how the idea for the initiative formed: the annual diocesan Mass Count for 2021 was 19,399. This is just more than 60% of the 2019 Mass Count, pre-pandemic. No one is content with this reality, and everyone can do something about it. If we multiply the number of people currently in our pews by three (19,399 x 3), we get just more than 58,000.
The initiative takes the approach of one-on-one conversations with three different people. We ask everyone currently in our pews to have at least one synodal conversation with 1) someone already in our pews, 2) someone who used to be in our pews but hasn’t since the pandemic, and 3) someone who has never been a part of a faith community or stopped practicing long ago. We are excited for the potential of this initiative. A diocese from the UK recently reached out about using this idea! Learn more about the Synod, ask your pastor what your parish is doing for the Synod, and tell us about how your coffee conversations go at the Synod website here: www.davenportdiocese.org/synod-2023.