A group of people are sitting on the beach a couple of blocks from where a New Jersey parish in recent years built a breathtaking new church. Going to church at the shore, where everything feels better, is made even more pleasant for a lot of people by not having to drive to get there.
“Why aren’t more people going to church like when we were growing up,” wondered one beachgoer. He decided to answer his own question. “It’s because we don’t walk to church any longer.”
Simplistic? For sure. A natural part of demographics and suburban sprawl? Most certainly. But so many of us who grew up in cities and were schooled in our faith walked to church, typically only a few blocks from home. We didn’t need a ride. We didn’t need to go with anyone else. We just walked out the door and headed that way. How many kids can say that today?
As I returned from vacation, I learned that at least one Wilmington parish is trying to better understand why too many young people are not going to church.
St. Catherine of Siena is conducting a survey of the young people who were confirmed at its church in the last 15 years.
Citing national statistics that show a growing number of young people professing “no religious identification,” Father John Hynes told parishioners in his weekly bulletin message that this “disaffiliation” can happen most frequently between the ages of 13-25.
“While many of us are aware of our adult children’s aloofness from the Catholic church, few of us understand the reasons,” the pastor wrote. “It is a reality of our time which affects almost all religions, but the Catholic church above all. We see many of the generation behind us living ethical, worthy lives but doing so without religion, and we ask ‘Why?’”
This, too, is an extension of the beach conversation. Two of the people mulling this question face circumstances as described by Father Hynes. Between the two, they have seven adult children ranging in ages from 25-42. All were raised in a Catholic environment, attending Catholic schools, Mass on Sunday and plenty of family and faith activities. One or two of the seven still have some active connection to their faith.
It’s beyond time to try to find out why.
“The Gospel — our faith in Jesus and our commitment to his way of life through the church, community and sacraments — does not change,” Father Hynes said. “The human soul has infinite desires; these can only be fulfilled in God. Yet the language for the Gospel in today’s world needs new translation. So we reach out to grasp how we — as missionary disciples — can share God’s Good News today.”
Walking to church is probably not the solution but learning more about the problem gives us a better chance to fix it.
Joseph P. Owens is editor and general manager of The Dialog. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.