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Listening and Learning

September 9, 2015

At Church of the Presentation, we have been holding “listening dinners” with our Young Adults. This was one of our first steps in our parish’s action plan, and we have found them to be very successful (and fun!) on many levels.

First, we identified key young adults – single, married, married with children, etc. Then we invited them to the Rectory for a simple, casual meal – pasta, steak, salad and wine. Our very own pastor Fr. Bob cooked! What a great way to make them feel welcomed and comfortable…sitting in your Pastor’s home, having a glass of wine, while he cooks you dinner and talks with you about life, current world events, and the Church.

Many issues surfaced as we sat around the table…why people do not come to Mass regularly, finding a parish community after college, raising children in the faith and dealing with friends who do not go to church at all. We shared about past hurts, disappointments, and reasons people do not feel connected. Why they come or do not come is not so much about relevance as it is about authenticity, connection and community.

The main thing that I gleaned from the conversation is how “young adult” is a very wide term. We have single just-out-of-college young adults, young engaged couples, older singles (late 30’s), older married couples, and those with young children. They are at such various stages and have varied needs and wants. For example, did you know that couples with young children would prefer a Friday evening family dinner event from 6-8 so they can get their children home to bed? Or that young singles like to meet every Thursday night at the local pub for Trivia night? Who knew!

We obviously can’t meet all of their needs in one program, one meeting or one retreat. So we have to try to meet their needs through different avenues…Gathering at the local pub for “Theology on Tap” type events, early evening cooking events, events like a tailgate party to which they can invite their “unchurched” friends, service opportunities, or gatherings for couples that recently had babies baptized to connect them as a small Christian community.

An interesting thing I have noted about our young adults is that they want to serve. If I reach to ask for volunteers for our Teen Homeless Overnight retreat, they are here with me, feeding the Homeless in New York City with our teens, and sleeping in cardboard boxes on the lawn with all of us. They are the first to offer to go to Nicaragua for our mission trip with the teens. We even have 12 college students going on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic during winter break. And each year, a Team of about 45 young adults (and not so young adults) work for 3 months to plan and give our Antioch retreat weekend for our teens. They are outward-focused. They want to serve. They want to give. They want to share their faith. They want to build relationships. I think this says a great deal about this generation and how they see their role in the world.

These dinners have been fun and very eye-opening. Overall I think we heard that everyone has a need for an honest, authentic church home which offers a community that loves them and knows them by name. Don’t we all?

By: Catzel L. Bumpus, Pastoral Associate for Youth & Young Adult Ministry, Church of the Presentation, Upper Saddle River, NJ

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