I am struck by the wonderment of Dr. Elizabeth Drescher at Santa Clara University, who has spent time listening deeply to the stories of young adults who are unaffiliated from religious institutions, and who challenges the church to think about its fundamental assumption that disaffiliation is a problem to be solved. Over three days last week in Baltimore, 65 Catholic thought leaders took up this question and many like it. We walked away from our gathering with altered assumptions and fundamentally reconsidered perspectives. Perhaps the thing that became more clear than anything else is the power of listening to the stories of those who have disaffiliated and considering the grace their stories offer us.
Several attendees used the word “transformative” to describe their experience in Baltimore. Deep listening—listening that is rooted in open-mindedness and open-heartedness, rooted in honesty, respect, honor, and a posture of grace—transforms. It has the power to transform us personally, individually; and the power to transform us institutionally, collectively.
We can talk about all kinds of strategies for engaging with those who are disaffiliated. We can envisage all kinds of programs, projects, initiatives, but there is really just one thing that holds the possibility of engagement that is transformative—deep listening!
Listen. Just listen.
With open mind; with open heart.
God dwells in the listening. God’s grace has not abandoned us.