Two pieces of information came to my attention this week that got me thinking. The first came as part of a report Father Joe Hart made when he, Father John Mulligan and I met for our customary Monday noon meeting.
In the update portion of our session, Joe gave a brief report on what has happened with the Catholic Courier since our paper went to its new format and coverage plan. What caught my attention was that a recent survey indicates that the average age of our readers has gone from 67 in 2003 to 49 since the change in 2004. The median age had dropped to 42.
I realize that such data needs interpretation, but I was pleased to receive the information. One of the reasons we went in our new direction was that earlier data indicated our younger readership numbers were quite thin. To know that we are moving in the right direction is most gratifying. We think it very important to do the best we can to communicate effectively with Catholic women and men in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
The second piece of information came from Shannon Loughlin, director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry for our diocese. Shannon very kindly sent me a report on a Young Adults in Ministry Forum held on last December 15. Participating in the convening were women and men 20 to 40 years of age and currently engaged in ministry. Lay and ordained ministers representing a wide span of particular ministries took part in the program. Among the purposes for the meeting were to find out: 1) what led them to their decision to engage in church ministry, 2) what are their greatest joys in ministry, 3) what have been their greatest struggles, 4) how being a young adult has influenced their ministry, 5) where they see themselves in five years, and 6) what they would like the bishop and leadership in the church to know about being a young adult in ministry.
Time and space do not allow for a full reporting of the conversation thus far. But I thought that you might be interested in the main line of their responses to questions 1‚Äì6 above:
1) A personal invitation from a mentor or friend was important in the lives of some. For others it was a particular experience that lit the spark, e.g., a pilgrimage, retreat or volunteer service. Present in some was a sense of a call from God deep in their hearts.
2) To many, ministry gives an overall sense of purpose in life — knowledge that one’s work has an impact on the lives of others. The joy that comes from sharing the good news with others, watching others grow, helping others discover God’s will in their lives, collaborating with creative and exciting people who are passionate about ministry mean a great deal.
3) Finances are a struggle, especially for those who are primary sources of income for the family. Other struggles include balancing family life and ministry, feeling overworked and unheard by others on staff who do not take them seriously or who are unwilling to try new things. Add to these the dearth of peers in the ministry or in the pews and the attendant difficulty of making contact with young adults who do not seem interested in the church.
4) On the positive side: Young adults in ministry felt that in a collaborative environment they bring an important perspective and much energy to the church. They seem approachable to and have good impact on younger members of the parish. On the negative side: They are not taken seriously by other staff members. Because of their high energy, they can be assigned too much work. We are more geared to dealing with “second career” ministers than with “first career” ministers. It’s tough to develop a social life that resembles that of their peers.
5) Lay ministers expressed hope for continuing ministry but are concerned that parishes will not be able to support them.
6) Young adults in ministry want leaders to know they are dedicated to the church and need to be taken seriously. They should be recruited, mentored and allowed to try new and different approaches to ministry. Their pay and benefits should be scaled and administered fairly in all of our parishes. Trained supervisors should be provided.
I was happy to note that the meeting I have been writing about was not the last one to be held. Having read about this one, I am going to try to wrangle an invitation from Shannon to sit in on one as soon as that’s possible.
Peace to all.