October 19, 2015
I’m your typical millennial. College educated and in-debt. Self-confident yet unsure if I can survive my day to day life. Technologically savvy and constantly connected to the world around me, I carry with me a sense of belonging to everything and nothing at the same time. The word “traditional” often makes me cringe. And, true to millennial form, I’m much less religious than the generations before me. I was raised without any real religious influence, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to church. Subsequently, I was raised to believe in God, and say a prayer in times of uncertainty. I’m part of that statistic that would check the box, “spiritual but not religious”… like I said, a millennial through and through.
The invitation to attend the Parish Catalyst cohort discussion panel initially confused me. Why do they want anything to do with me? I’m this way and you’re that way, remember? We aren’t supposed to interact. I feared I would walk into this room and feel judged, criticized and worst of all misunderstood. This of course was a stark contrast to the reality of my time spent there. I left feeling humbled and inspired by the effort these parishes were putting into learning how to accommodate and welcome millennials like me.
The prompt of the conversation began with the question, if you had a chance to talk to Pope Francis, what would you say? I was stumped and I’d been there all of five minutes. I had no “bones to pick” so to speak, with the Pope, and no groundbreaking questions. In all honesty the most I know about the Pope is that well, he’s the Pope. This embarrassed me. One of the most iconic figures in the world and I felt I had nothing of substance to say. I immediately started making assumptions of what everyone was thinking of me.
Herein lies my first “ah-ha” moment. This seemed like part of the problem and the solution, and perhaps one piece of the puzzle in getting millennials like me in the church. My lack of knowledge and misinformation about the Catholic Church and its members intimated me and pushed me away. Yet this very lack of understanding was what I deemed a sufficient enough reason for me to stay away from any part of it. Religion in mainstream media is often only discussed in the context of politics and hot-button issues, an “us vs. them” dichotomy that suggests an inherent unwillingness to compromise. I discovered this feed of information paints the wrong picture time and time again, and pushes a bigger gap between one another. As the discussion continued I learned that my fears of not being accepted or understood in that room were delusional. After all, the very reason I was invited was so that I could be heard and understood! What a concept.
The panel discussion allowed me to navigate through these newfound discoveries in a fashion that felt authentic and comfortable, open, honest and sensible. It took one positive interaction lasting just 60 minutes for me to form an entirely new opinion, throwing years of mainstream media out the window. What does it take to get millennials into the church? Be a friend first. Get to know someone for who they are, without the intention of wanting to change them or convert them. It took the respect and trust I’ve built with the Parish Catalyst team to feel safe and welcomed in an environment I normally wouldn’t have. It required a previous relationship, all religion aside, to take that step in having an open discussion. As a topic that is overwhelming and often circumvented, I for once allowed an opportunity that had potential to clear stigmas. Sharing a space with people I’ve long been trying to avoid and who I thought were trying to avoid me too.
Another “ah-ha” moment for me: Accepting the notion that these parishes want to hear from millennials not simply to change them, but to change with them. To see the willingness of these parish leaders to welcome positive change and conversation says more than any media stream ever can.
Creating these opportunities takes time. Breaking down barriers, setting aside pride and welcoming vulnerability isn’t just beneficial, it’s imperative. Simply being a friend is the first step. While I may not be the newest addition to the Catholic Church just yet, the discussion certainly allowed for a step forward and if nothing else an enlightening experience that replaced cynicism with warmth.
By: Veronica Galdamez