Young adults who disaffiliate from the Catholic Church, or religion in general, typically might be described as thoughtful, caring, community-minded, and principled, vitally engaged in seeking personal and spiritual growth and building a better world. That’s my take-away from doing research and interviewing young adults as well as persons in ministry for these blog posts. Many of these same young adults are seeking life-giving alternatives to more traditional, institutional religious communities and practices. Some are even creating these alternatives.
In this post, I will briefly introduce three such alternative communities, as well as two publications borne out of our rapidly changing religious and secular landscape. (Within the publications, twenty more such communities are described.) Some communities are geographically local in nature, others regional or national, often with an online component.
Calling itself “an unlikely alliance across communities of spirit,” Nuns & Nones offers U.S. women religious and “spiritual but not religious” millennials (aka “Nones”) an opportunity to share community and service. Begun in December 2016, over the course of a year Nuns & Nones hosted gatherings in five cities that attracted sisters from more than 17 different religious communities and millennials representing 60 groups and organizations. Holding what the organization calls “catalytic conversations,” these gatherings led to the establishment of “ongoing local groups, a national learning network, and an imaginative action-research initiative on the future of sacred spaces.”
Today Nuns & Nones consists of an online presence, local groups that meet regularly in the original host locations of Kalamazoo, MI, Grand Rapids, MI, the Bay Area, Philadelphia, and St. Louis, plus a group formed this summer in Boston, and an openness to engage other religious communities and millennials interested in pursuing a desire for personal connection and community engagement.
Named for the 787 zip codes for Austin, TX, 787 Collective “gathers and resources” congregations from around Austin that are “seeking to engage with young adults through creative ventures that deepen love for God, self and others. The Collective exists to discover new and innovative methods for bridging Christian communities and young adults in ways that will transform both populations.”
With a decidedly artistic bent, the interdenominational group hosts “787 Studio” events that have included a book discussion, retreat, Sunday supper and liturgy, photography workshop, and theological conversation. The 787 Collective website states: “We believe many young adults are actively pursuing their spiritual yearnings for community and meaning through environmental action, social justice, creative expression, and other life-giving activities. We also believe they struggle with loneliness, alienation, anxiety and feeling lost.”
The 787 Collective provides these young adults a gathering space and congregational connections to share yearnings and struggles alike.
A ministry sponsored by the Sisters of Divine Providence of Kentucky, God Space says of itself: “We’re not a church, but some of us go to church. Some of us don’t. Some of us are religious, and some are spiritual but not religious. We are diverse followers of Jesus, seeking growth, unity, acceptance, and a deeper spirituality and faith. We are questioners and doubters, seekers and searchers. And we find God.”
The focus of God Space is small-group gatherings (“It is where we build community and explore our faith”), but special projects and events also are displayed on their website.
In a comment posted to the Catholic Research blog “Some Young Adults Seeking ‘Third Space’ for Faith,” God Space director Sister Leslie Keener, CDP, talked about God Space:
“I agree that plenty of Catholic YAs are ‘feeling excluded, judged, irrelevant, or isolated in their home church or parish,’ and in response my community and I and some gifted lay leaders are creating a sort of ‘third space’ in Cincinnati called God Space. Everyone is welcome, but many of us are Catholic or becoming Catholic or former Catholics, although there are other Christians too. We just started up, and we already have people connected with us. We are trying to create a space of welcome and a community of belonging, where, because people feel safe, they can really seek God and deepen their spirituality and connections with others. We have a community house where we meet for small group sharing and also spiritual direction and spirituality programs. We hope to offer more social and service things moving forward.”
These two publications are created in response to a changing religious and secular landscape, particularly as it pertains to millennials seeking community, connection, and often “personal spiritual growth and social transformation.” Both publications are the work of Harvard Divinity School student Angie Thurston and Ministry Innovation Fellow at Harvard Divinity Casper ter Kuile.
How We Gather gives an overview of ten case study organizations that have been created in response to yearning for community—and maybe God—among today’s millennials. Six themes characterize the organizations profiled: community, personal transformation, social transformation, purpose finding, creativity, and accountability.
something more offers “ten case studies of innovative communities from across faith traditions. All use practices and language that align them with a religious heritage, even when they have no formal connection to a denominational body. Most importantly, all cultivate a connection to that which forms the ground of our being. Here we call it: Something More.”
Jerry Ruff, Senior Editor and Writer
Saint Mary’s Press Research