Strategies to help build bridges between young adults and religious

Strategies to help build bridges between young adults and religious

By c, NRVC Convocation 2000 participants

During Convocation 2000, participants not only listened to the input of scholars and young religious, they also had an opportunity to brainstorm strategies that respond to the major areas of concern highlighted by the speakers. Speakers pointed to the following areas as concerns in the effort to build bridges between members of religious congregations and young adults: the need for increased visibility and presence of religious; the need to develop a “culture of discernment,” that is, an awareness and acceptance throughout the church of the need to discern life choices; total community involvement and responsibility for vocations; the need to consciously work toward connecting with young adults; and the need and desire to improve the quality of communal life.

Increased Visibility and Presence 

Communities revisit wearing some visible sign.

Visit parishes and schools formerly served (perhaps at their parish anniversary celebration) with a display and a small handout. Be creative!

Give the diocese Vocation Awareness Week lesson plans that are done by National Coalition for Church Vocations. Make these part of each school’s curriculum.

Ask bishops to allow religious to speak at Sunday Masses about religious life—especially on Consecrated Life Sunday.

Form parish vocation committees (life choice committees).

Keep Web sites updated and inviting. Include a tollfree number for people to respond. Gear the Web site to 20-to-39-year-olds.

Work more directly with religious education directors, book companies, and diocesan offices on how to present religious life throughout catechetical programs. Make presentation of religious life part of the curriculum.

Offer community open house opportunities throughout the year.

Form vocation advisory boards so congregations can broaden their ideas.

Have communities available for evenings of prayer (1 hour), sharing community and spiritual life.

Renew religious life vows publicly at parish Sunday Masses. This could be coupled with recognizing other life calls as well.

Wear your congregation’s symbol, such as rings or pins.

Create a way of inviting in each local community.

Offer career days for 7th, 8th and 9th graders. Prepare for questions such as, “How much do you earn?” “Am I good enough to be a nun?” and, “Do I need to always be praying or ‘holy.’”

Invite community members to make a commitment to hang out with young people 60 minutes (or some specified amount of time) a week or a month. Can be during Advent, Lent, etc.

Start a “Hang out at the mall” program. Offer storefront spiritual directors for young adults.

Monthly coffee house at convent.

Hang out at coffee shops or where young people are.

Eat lunch with staff members daily when we’re involved in a primarily lay-run ministry.

Initiate collaborative efforts in local areas—such as inter-community and diocesan efforts to be present to young adults, for example, starting a coffee house together.

Offer spiritual direction to youth and ministers. Maintain contact with campus ministers, parish youth ministers and the diocesan vocation program. Vocation directors facilitate information about community members qualified to do spiritual direction and get this information to campuses and parishes.

Gather a group of like-minded spiritual, multigenerational and enthusiastic members of the community (in order to establish a “critical mass” or “energy center”) that can be regularly present to young adults to help them form community.

  1. Do this by identifying a young adult ministry and getting involved in it.
  2. Contact young adults with whom you’ve already been involved.

Community can evaluate and prioritize how we use our time now. Appoint a full time vocation director and release her or him of other responsibilities. Key people can devote time on a vocation team.

Encourage communities to use the local media.

Give talks about religious life. Look for opportunities to speak on collaborative ministry with religious. Right now we seem often to be at odds with a church we love. Diocesan priests in a structured hierarchical church do not understand our way of life, and religious do not always reflect an understanding of diocesan priesthood.

Challenge diocesan directors to collaborate with religious vocation directors.

Have each house discern ways to connect with young adults. Members of vocation committees could provide some concrete ideas and suggestions on how to do this. Discuss our own stereotypes on who is best able to interact with young people.

Encourage leadership and membership to raise the questions about where and how we choose to minister so as to increase visibility and presence. Act accordingly.

Host open houses. Make available to NRVC members the strategies used in Milwaukee, Fort Wayne-South Bend, New Orleans and Toledo. Contact rectories, seminaries, religious houses in a local area, asking them to hold open houses on a specified date for a specified time (e.g. in New Orleans it was 1-4 p.m. on Oct. 22, 2000). Advertise the event (e.g., in New Orleans there were city bus ads for 3 months, and it was mentioned on local TV morning shows, in parish bulletins, flyers sent home from schools, etc.) Use some catchy phrase like, “Visit the church and tour your own city.” Response to open houses in Milwaukee and Fort Wayne/South Bend was tremendous.

Retreat for youth at local province or place of community. Community members do this work.

Pass on religious publications to lay people. This could be done in conjunction with, for example, the Serrans. Material could be placed in doctors’ offices, mechanic shops, libraries, barber/beauty shops, etc. to educate the public as to what religious are about. VISION magazine might be helpful.

Identify persons to pursue certification in spiritual direction who would then be available to young adults. Develop a resource list of spiritual directors.

Have local communities plan how to be welcoming.

If a community has a sister on a college campus as a student, find opportunities to connect (e.g. at a restaurant).

We reorganized the regions so Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Religious Formation Conference and NRVC regional groups would have the same regions, thereby uniting our forces.

Involve community members with spiritual direction skills to assist youth in vocational discernment.

Busy persons’ retreat has been a positive approach to visibility and accessibility.

When religious attend Mass, they can ask to be introduced and offer their services (spiritual direction, counseling, tutoring, etc.) if appropriate.

National level

Have NRVC continue to connect nationally with Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and the Bishops’ Conference.

  1. NRVC could collaborate with the above groups to sponsor a national campaign for increasing the visibility of religious.
  2. Invite bishops who belong to a religious community to our next Convocation.

Total community involvement in visibility. Create a new ethic/ambiance of religious life by developing new material for membership featuring:

  • simple statement from the conference
  • attractive format
  • short/readable

Develop a PIRL (Positive Image of Religious Life) committee as in Cleveland, Ohio to carry out plans to build our image, such as: choose a day to have religious/ priests give a talk in every parish about religious life at the Masses; alert the media about what religious are doing.

Have a conference with NRVC and National Communicators Network for Women Religious. Possibly coordinate both conferences to overlap. Maybe our next NRVC Convocation can be on “Imaging.”

Approach Oprah Winfrey and/or Rosie O’Donnell about doing a show on religious life. Perhaps invite Susan Sarandon and Whoopi Goldberg.

Nationally NRVC could combine with the National Communicators for Women Religious to promote quality media coverage. Collect information from dioceses that are already doing this—just collaborate— have someone to spearhead and pull this together nationally.

Encourage diocesan vocation offices to promote religious life as well as diocesan priesthood. Community leaders as well as vocation directors of religious communities need to be in dialogue with the diocesan vocation effort on a variety of levels.

Release an NRVC media statement of this conference and its findings nationally and locally, continentally and globally. This would be similar to Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Cost should not be an issue.

Connecting with Young Adults

 A brother’s community made a conscious effort to get in touch with young adults on the campus where they teach. They reconfigured a house to make it easy for young adults to come and visit. They offer regular pizza parties. The brothers buy ingredients; kids and brothers make the pizza together. They also invite young men to prayer times. Students are then comfortable and socially involved with brothers.

Get involved with the “Youth Reclaim Your Church” effort. Have Leadership Conference for Women Religious, NRVC, and Religious Formation Conference collaborate with Tom Beaudoin’s proposal “Youth Reclaim Your Church” and keep members informed concerning progress. Vocation ministers in regions or dioceses could get on board when this program is begun.

Locally hang out in bookstores, parishes, hang-out places, gardens—use imagination. Every congregation and community can locally organize.

Religious could participate in short-term volunteer ministry experiences where they are not in charge and therefore are vulnerable, e.g. Habitat for Humanity. Many colleges, high schools and other organizations already have volunteer opportunities we might avail ourselves of, and thus witness that we don’t always need to be the leaders.

Sponsor “Spirituality Days or Spirituality Events.” Target Audience: young adults. Agent: congregations in a certain locality can co-sponsor this. Timing: Possibly during Lent, Advent or Ash Wednesday.

Involve young adults in developing our media. Involve them in proofreading our publications to be sure they are written in language that is understood. Get young people to design vocation material and Web sites.

Organize gatherings that address spiritual hungers.

Initiate gatherings at the convent with committed young adults as core with supper, prayer, discussion; organize according to calendar of young adults.

Invite young adults to a progressive dinner at various religious houses.

Build on Tom Beaudoin’s proposal, “Young Adults, Claim Your Church.” We could:

  1. Talk with our own bishops and encourage the idea.
  2. Talk with colleges, campus ministers, diocesan offices, talk it up!
  3. Be there. Contact other communities.
  4. Aim to be inclusive rather than divisive.

Link with diocesan youth and young adult directors (This model is from Diocese of Charlotte.) Request a vocation minister to work fulltime in diocese to assist with and coordinate young adult ministry throughout the diocese. Goal would be to have religious community involvement in every young adult ministry event. Religious could serve as spiritual directors or mentors for parish young adult groups, campus ministry groups, faith forum through e-mail contact, etc.

Invite young adults to prayer and meals at local houses.

NRVC could take leadership in developing a retreat for young adults that is focused on developing discernment skills, using young people and religious on teams.

Use diocesan and secular media to reach both young people and their parents and grandparents. Help place brief bios or life stories of religious and diocesan priests. Use college newspapers to advertise for religious orders Encourage articles on our religious orders.

Attend gatherings of young adults in parishes, malls, classes, high schools, colleges, etc. Introduce yourself as a sister, brother, father. Get to know young people and allow them to get to know you. It’s important to get to know them and their interests. Be consistent in your presence with these young adults. Invite other members of the community to join you so that young adults see you as part of a community.

Free up a community member to be present to young people to represent the community.

Quality of Communal Life

Invite the total community to become informed of the critical issues of community life and how it affects our future. Watch a video of the “Integration and Reflection” period with Sister Mary Johnson and Tom Beaudoin from the NRVC Convocation 2000. Have an intergenerational conversation around issues of community (prayer, vows, communal living, etc.) perhaps in fish bowl fashion. From this community gathering, convene a group that expresses a commitment to a renewed type of community life which supports, enhances, and integrates the vowed life.

Develop intentional local communities of welcome or hospitality (to be done by regional or provincial groups of congregations).

Increase awareness within community of “faith sharing opportunities” both before entrance and after entrance.

Promote community discussion about intergenerational issues. Share statistical information on different generations. Get to know or hear the stories of ten other sisters from other generations than your own. Share the following areas:

  1. The challenges they face.
  2. Current issues and concerns.
  3. What they need to make their life more fulfilling.
  4. 4. Your vocation story.

How this sharing takes place is set by each congregation.

Using a discernment process, engage in “gap analysis” of the quality of community life (gap between what we have and what young adults desire of us). This would be done by each individual in each local grouping. From this analysis, each group will determine one or two measurable, definable steps or goals to bridge the gap. Evaluate after six months.

Have NRVC design processes to be used in communities to reflect on issues that relate to what young adults are seeking. These process could include ways to reflect on “trigger words” and why we respond as we do, ways to identify and deal with the “angry nun” image.

NRVC can support efforts to:

  • have multigenerational gatherings and talk over issues;
  • develop communications skills, confrontational skills, learn skills of conflict resolution;
  • design a forum to share our vowed lives, struggles, challenges.

Encourage religious leadership organizations to develop processes for discussing community life and intergenerational issues. Encourage these organizations to engage speakers like Sr. Mary Johnson and Tom Beaudoin.

Educate the entire community in skills for community living. Have facilitators guide this process. Promote honest communication, share our stories, faith and experience across generations on local community level.

Discuss community life. Questions might include: Do you feel this is a worthwhile choice? Reflect on your lifestyle in community or living alone. What does community mean? Do we want to continue or die off? The idea is to engage in self reflection on your community life experience and to do this individually and with the local community.

This would take place as a three-year plan. Year One would be individual and community reflection and information gathering. Leadership gathers information. Year Two would implement new “living plans/houses” for community. The key is to use volunteer members for the new communities (i.e. members who are willing to create or enhance these new communities). During Year Three we would actively invite other community members to participate. An atmosphere of real openness to potential candidates, including live-ins, would be encouraged in the new living plans/houses.

Caution: as communities are enhanced or created, be aware that the focus is renewed life for current members and not solely communities for potential candidates.

Create intentional community structures, including daily prayer that incorporates faith sharing, weekly “sacred night,” “house night,” “hanging out time.”

Use this conference’s content to encourage a conversion around “trigger issues” in order to create a critical mass for reinvigorated local communities. Establish “energy pockets”—new communities around the country that help welcome new members and assist with initial formation.

Develop a process to address intergenerational issues in community. First, initiate conversations within generations (pre-Vatican II, Vatican II, post Vatican II). Surface key issues, concerns, words we don’t feel comfortable talking about. Next, hold intergenerational conversations dealing with the key issues, concerns and words that surfaced. Rules for discussion include no cross talk during generational input, reverent listening.

Vocation directors who attended Convocation could be deliberate about sharing the content, tone and thrust of the Convocation with their leadership. Strategize together about how to move the Convocation agenda forward in their specific provinces.

Some FSC programs that address communal life concerns are CAP (Community Annual Program) setting goals and horariums for the coming year. In PEP (Personal Evaluation Program) a religious looks at his or her lifestyle, community participation, prayer life and ministry and then shares this at community meetings.

Hold conversations around alternatives in living together either initiated by leadership or grassroots. Establish a concrete plan of action in order for this to occur. Approve increased budgets. Address crossgenerational concerns. Discuss power issues, including race, sexuality, cultures. Physically move, if needed. Establish educational and psychological approach to implement skills needed for quality community life.

Discern together our effectiveness, affectiveness, accountability in living quality community life together.

  • Be present to the dynamics of group discussion.
  • Hold bi-monthly evaluation of community goals.
  • Initiate the use of a facilitator to deepen the quality of community faith sharing.
  • Take the negative feelings and translate them into positive attitudes that lead to action.
  • Invite our sisters to these meetings for the sake of the future.
  • Incorporate ritual into the process of healing.

A Culture of Discernment 

Many of the strategies listed under “Connecting with young adults,” such as retreats, spiritual direction, vocational involvement in youth ministry, etc., also promote a culture of discernment. For the sake of brevity, they are not repeated here.

Create a climate of discernment within congregations. We are lifelong discerners.

Begin a house of discernment. Such a house could be on a college campus and offer opportunities to learn discernment skills or processes. It could be sponsored by a men’s or women’s leadership conference. It would foster the culture of discernment. NRVC could help with step-by-step discernment helps in the manual (not just in articles).

Get those who collaborate in our ministries to take an active role in inviting young people to consider religious vocations—coaches, teachers, staffs, etc.

Connect with Serrans.

Total Community Involvement and Responsibility

Initiate inter-generational dialogues within congregations to create a “critical mass” of sisters who would assist with vocation ministry. Invite sisters from several generations to share their own experience of community living. We could ask NRVC to create a process that we could use.

Create a knowledge base and comfort level among religious by using available vocation resources (study guide for “Sons and Daughters of the Light”). Then invite 8-12 percent of members (target group) to active participation in vocation ministry.

Ask associates to be promoters for vocations.

Ask each house in the community to develop a list of ways to make contact with young adults. Share in writing with the vocation director the ways in which you connect with young adults. Do theological reflection/ evaluation around how we are connected with young adults and plans for continuing this connecting with young adults.

Sponsor leadership training for younger members of a congregation. This could also happen regionally and nationally. Collaborate with Leadership Conference of Women Religious in their existing program.

Motivate and give members the tools they need to promote a positive image and invite new members. Adapt the article from Winter or Spring NRVC “11 Ways to pop the question” (tips to community members on inviting young people to consider religious life). Show video of Sister Mary Johnson’s keynote address to the larger community to increase their understanding of young Catholics.

Identify key members of our local religious community and lay people (teachers, parish staff, high school counselors, campus ministers, coaches, etc.) to work closely with vocation directors. Thus it’s not just the responsibility of the vocation director.

We need to be specific in recommending to our local communities how they can help in vocation promotion. Most communities don’t know how to do it on their own, although they’re willing.

Ask laity:

  1. What qualities or characteristics are needed to be a priest and/or vowed religious?
  2. Who do you know that has those qualities?
  3. Could you write that person to consider the possibility?

Hold a day of prayer and reflection on vocations for members of the congregation.

Find out what specific resources are available for religious education classes, for parish vocation committees, for individual folks—and make those available. Serve as a vocation resource to one’s community and parish.

Call a meeting of members of your province who are interested and willing to get involved on some way in vocation promotion. At this meeting tell what is happening on the national level, the experience of your province vocation ministers, and give some data on the values and culture of young people today. Have meeting participants meet in small groups or area groups to strategize about what is possible now on a province level, local community level, and personal level.

Develop a plan to invite the congregation to participate in “Opening Our Hearts and Homes ” and “If You Were In My Shoes.”

  1. Invite individual commitment to vocation ministry.
  2. Offer ongoing educational component for community, for example, “Sons & Daughters of the Light.”
  3. Encourage each local community to articulate a “hospitality” plan, annually or regularly.
  4. Market to congregations as “our life” rather than “project.”
  5. Incorporate interested people in the process of marketing.
  6. Develop points of contact and programs to engage youth, e.g., volunteer corps. Give the community ownership.

Get leadership involved and committed to vocation ministry.

  1. Get prime time allotted at provincial and congregational meetings.
  2. Work on collaboration between vocation ministers, development and communication ministers, etc.
  3. Educate the membership about young adults using study guide “Sons & Daughters of the Light.”
  4. Through theological reflection on the vows, reawaken our passion for our life; realize the value and impact of religious life.
  5. Use “Opening our Hearts and Homes.”
  6. Work on choosing to be where young people are.

Ask senior sisters, brothers or priests to make simple gifts for all members of the congregation. This helps encourage intergenerational participation. The gift would be sent to members on their birthday with a note saying senior members made it and reminding them to pray for vocations. Gifts such as “mug rug” or leather handcraft could be easily

Ask each religious to serve as a mentor or spiritual director for a young person. Rationale: there are 20 million young people and they represent the future of the church.

 



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