Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

LOST? Twenty-Somethings and the Church



From Ann K., Fordham Senior:

As a twenty-something Catholic, I was interested in this conference because I myself am an inactive church attendee, and I figured, "Hey, maybe this will motivate me to start going to Church again." During the various panels, it was comforting to know that I wasn't the only 20-something feeling this way about the Church. I think the Church needs to change or be more open to change in order to appeal to more 20-somethings. That was one solution I heard throughout the conference: change through dialogue and communication. In any relationship, whether it be with a parent, a significant other, or a teacher, communication is essential, and the same applies here. The relationship between Church and 20-somethings has grown apart, and I think it takes both parties to empathize and step up in order to see progress. The Church has to realize that people and standards are constantly changing, while 20-somethings should take the time to learn about the Church's teachings and interpret what the Church is truly saying and not take everything at face value

From Christine McCarthy, Fordham Ph.D. Student in Theology and member of the Community of Sant’Egidio:


I found the overall experience of attending “LOST? Twenty-Somethings and the Church,” informative, yet more cathartic.  I learned much but my response comes down to the fact that even having had a public discussion on a generational and cultural rift in the church was good in itself.  The fact that it even happened is enriching and hopeful to the life of the church.

I offer the following observations and suggestions for future programming:

1. Panel discussions: Balance is a difficult thing to attain even when beginning to assess the relationship between 20-somethings and the American Catholic church.  I think the panel discussions represented a great first step in what I imagine or hope will be a journey (through CACS!) of the future of the Catholic Church in America. 

Whereas this conference drew on people and themes familiar to Fordham, I wonder what could future conferences bring beyond that, drawing us into discussion with new conversation partners perhaps familiar but yet to be engaged. This may involve some investigative research to uncover the life of the church yet unknown to a Jesuit Catholic university in New York City.  At the same time, it could also mean a deeper inquiry into the identity of Fordham as conference host (Jesuit Catholic tradition and New York as context), which did not really come up for examination during the conference, but was just presupposed. 

What I am suggesting would involve casting a wider net regarding the scope of the issues based on what was raised during the conference.  The goal would be a more evenhanded inquiry along the racial, geographic, socioeconomic, and gender lines that flesh out the American Catholic church.

 2. Future programming could focus attention on 20-somethings, asking (as an overarching question opposed to "Lost?"), "What do 20-somethings want to say to the Church?", "What keeps 20-somethings and the church together?", "What do 20-somethings need from the Church?", "Who are 20-somethings willing to be for the Church?"  It could also probe the question of where the young adult American Church stands in relationship to the church in Rome and around the world.

 An emphasis on 20-somethings (as panelists and audience) would be really interesting because what came up for me was the reality that 20-somethings don't feel their voices acknowledged in the Church, nor do older generations listen (although I think that was one of the fruits of the conference for that generation, the message that that older generations ought to listen more than discipline).

3. As opposed to a conference purely comprised of panel discussions, future gatherings might benefit from things like a shared liturgy (I remember thinking it strange not to have heard any prayer or blessing or invocation at all during the conference), an open mic session between 20-somethings and church leaders, or generally an extended open mic session or more 20-somethings or more (hierarchical) church leaders speaking.

4. Latent in the discussions was the notion of keeping people in the church.  Shouldn't the church's emphasis, and thus the emphasis of those who remain in the church, be more the "care of souls" and cura personalis rather than goading people into higher mass attendance?

5. I would remind/invite panelists to remember when preparing their remarks that they will be speaking to those about whom they are writing. ….  That first panel really set out the distance between some in the church quite well and I think the concluding Q&A session on Saturday was a good testament to how far the conversation had come since then.  There was a lot of generosity, candor, engagement and connection.

My comments are brief and I wish I could say more, but am lacking time.  I really, really enjoyed the conference and I thank and commend everyone that put it together.  As I said before, it was both cathartic and energizing.  Really the catharsis of something that I didn't realize I needed to be healed of because my experience of being silenced/ignored in the church was deeper than I acknowledged.  I see that more clearly, and I also see the concern and love of the church and older generations who don't want that for me/us either.  For that I am very grateful.

From: Rachel, A twenty-something (29) and a coordinator of young adult ministry:


I want to say “thank you” for an excellent conference!  I found it to be enriching, stimulating, and fascinating.  I am relatively new to the area of young adult ministry and have found helpful resources to be few and far between.  When you dig deep, you find that people and areas have been doing young adult ministry for over 20 years, and yet it still seems like such unchartered territory.  I sincerely hope consideration will be given to making this conference an annual event and possibly even making it longer.  There was just so much worth discussing and not nearly enough time to discuss it.

One thing about the conference that I found confusing or potentially disappointing was the distinction of “panelist” and “respondent.”  Because no formal reason was given for these classifications, it was up to audience interpretation to determine and assign a meaning to these two different groups.  To me it seemed that the educated and experienced adults were deemed the “panelists,” which won them 10 minutes (or more) of time to speak.  The twenty-somethings, who were seemingly valuable only for their demographic slot, were categorized as “respondents” and were given only 5 minutes of air time.  In a conference about twenty-somethings, this doesn’t make much sense.  Particularly because the respondents were not actually responding to what was said by the panelists.  They were obviously expected to prepare their remarks in advance (so as to stay within the pathetic offering of 5 minutes) which often did not respond to the comments of the panelists because the educated and experienced panelists strayed from the topic.  I am sure this is a criticism you have heard and will continue to hear quite often, but I would be remiss (especially as a twenty-something) if I did not express my disappointment at this, as well.  I would really be curious to know what the reasoning was behind this idea of “panelists” and “respondents” and the time allotted to each group.  It was very obvious that the majority of the time was spent by having 40-somethings talk about 20-somethings.  We got to hear lots of demographics and research; but they are only one part of the story.  If you want to know what’s going on with young adults, you have to ask them….and then listen!  Why spend so much time spouting out numbers and trends and blah, blah, blah when you have a great sampling of young adults right there in the room?

I just saw this on the LOST? Website:  “The speakers included James Davidson, Robert Putnam, Melissa Cidade, David Campbell, Carmen Cervantes, Donna Freitas, Colleen Carroll Campbell, Tom Beaudoin, Rachel Bundang, Bill McGarvey, Marilyn Santos, Tami Schmitz, James Martin, Robert Beloin; and twenty-somethings themselves.” . . . and twenty-somethings themselves??!!??  Are you kidding me?!?  They, too, gave their time and energy to this conference and you can’t even mention them by name??  Seriously?!  I was actually feeling very positive about providing commentary and feedback, but I have now been thrust into outrage.  Being reduced to an age range is half of the problem!  All the other folks get to be recognized by name and the 20-somethings—the whole REASON for the conference—are lumped into a category!  Nice!  Thanks so much for your consideration.  If space is the issue, couldn’t you have just said, “The speakers included a bunch of old people with lots of fancy degrees and some 20-somethings that we scrounged up.”  What is it that makes the “panelists” so much better that they get to be mentioned by name?  It’s this sort of treatment that is driving away young adults.  They are glossed-over and lumped together.  Young adults are not recognized as individuals.  They are not given credit for their intelligence or contributions.  Could someone please let us twenty-somethings know what milestone we have to reach or what achievements will move us out of the nameless, faceless grouping and put us back into the light of being individuals?

Something specific that disappointed me was the way in which the issue of same-sex relationships was not dealt with.  In my experience, this is causing huge wounds in the church among young adults and it really needs to be given a voice.  This is one of the major issues troubling young adult Catholics today and it was barely grazed over during the panel on “Sex and the City of God.”  The message was sent—as it always is—that the church would much rather deal with cohabitation, pre-marital sex, pregnancy out of wedlock, or divorce than deal with homosexuality.  By not addressing such a crucial and divisive topic, the sentiment was clear:  “Please, just don’t be gay!  We can handle all these other things.  But don’t be gay!”

The church’s position on gay relationships is doing real damage to the young adult community.  Many young adults see this as the church being intolerant and unloving.  And because of this many young adults are leaving the church.  Young adults that find themselves in loving, committed same-sex relationships often say, “But we’re good people!”  They can’t understand why their desire to love and be loved is met with such disapproval and even disgust by many.  These young gay men and women still want to be a part of the church but  often come to a point where they feel like they have to choose between the person they love (and that loves them back) or a church they love (but does not love them back).  What do you think the majority of those people will choose?

And regarding the panel of sociologists on Friday night, I found Bob Putnam to be most fascinating and interesting!  The concern that he showed, even as a non-Catholic, was captivating.  I think he made such a good point . . . if people are not going to mass, not taking part in the sacraments, not on board with the teachings of the Church, then are they really Catholic?  What does it take to be considered Catholic?  I think that’s a huge and very important question.  But I would dare say that if you’re not a part of the Catholic community and have no interest in being part of one, then you’re really not Catholic anymore.  And I hate to break it to James Davidson, but if a young adult says that he/she is not Catholic, then it’s really not your place to go back and say that he/she is!  If I don’t identify myself as Catholic, then I’m not Catholic.  Once again, why aren’t young adults being listened to??  If a young adult tells you “I’m not Catholic,” then that is exactly what he/she means!  There’s no room for interpretation.  Being Catholic is not an ethnicity or inalterable genetic characteristic.  It is a choice.  And if someone stops choosing to be Catholic, that doesn’t mean that they can never be Catholic in the future.  It does, though, mean that they aren’t Catholic right now!  And that may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s something very important that needs to be accepted.  Does it make people feel better to say there are all sorts of young adult Catholics out there, but they’re just not going to church?  Is that okay?  So does that mean everyone going to church can decide to stop going, but still call themselves Catholic?  Will that be alright?  I highly doubt it.  So why is it supposed to be comforting to say that there’s huge pockets of “Catholic” young adults out there that just aren’t doing any of the Catholic things?  It should not be any more acceptable for a twenty-something to skip out on doing all the Catholic things than it is for any of any other age range to skip out on those same things.  You are what you do!  If you don’t do Catholic things, then you aren’t Catholic! 

From David de la Fuente, a graduate student at Boston College:


1. At least two panelists decried "abysmal" liturgy. The liturgy ought to be celebrated reverently, with good songs, good preaching, and good community. To that end, there were not any comments identifying criteria for "good" liturgy. Is it high liturgy? It is a Charismatic mass? Is it the Mass of Paul VI without the new translation, or with it? I might be one of a few Millennials who wants something leaning towards high liturgy, and I don't mind the "new" translations. My criteria would be: the mass should be about Jesus. This might be overly simplistic, but I think it makes it possible for those who favor the “horizontal” dimension of the liturgy and those who favor its “vertical” dimension to come together and affirm that we’re at Mass for the same reason: to encounter Jesus.

2. Having talked about liturgy, community life is important. My friend Jen Sawyer talked about “church shopping,” searching for a parish where she can find roots and involvement and a community that welcomes her as a twenty-something. That she has not found one in the NYC area over the past two years ought to be troubling. At least one other panelist recounted horror stories of sorts, where a recent graduate joined a parish, asked his parish priest how he could get involved, and received this response: "I don't know."  For those Millennials who are very much devoted to Catholicism, are they even finding themselves welcome in the parishes?

3. Catechesis and evangelization: we need it. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? I don't know if I could identify whether catechesis or evangelization ought to come first, but efforts in both are lacking. I personally would decry abysmal Catholic education. I went to a Catholic high school, and 90% of my classmates started drifting away from the Church during high school because our liturgies were abysmal and our education in the faith was terrible. Here, it is particularly important to teach and evangelize in such a way that facilitates an encounter with God. For example, some in the Church see the Charismatic Renewal as a profound grace in the Church (especially among Millennials) because the movement testifies to the realness and nearness of God.

On Millennials and sex, Donna Freitas noted that those Millennial Catholics who are engaged in the hook-up culture are rather disappointed with it. She recounted how she would talk with students about the hook-up culture, and ask them, “Where do you see human dignity happening there?” Freitas suggests that twenty-somethings are indeed seeking spiritual fulfillment, and they can find helpful practices and principles in the Christian spiritual traditions. Colleen Carroll Campbell pointed out, one cannot forget about the "minority" of Millennial Catholics who are not all about hooking up, and are striving to live according to Church teaching. Here, it can be helpful to ask “Why?” Why are they drawn to things like the Theology of the Body? This group of “new faithful” (as Campbell puts it) presents a model of Millennial Catholics trying to live out their faith authentically.

I appreciated the distinction that when we talk about twenty-somethings who appear to be "lost," we ought to recognize that we are speaking primarily about Anglo twenty-somethings. Here, I would echo Mr. O'Loughlin's point that race and ethnicity remain a challenge to Euro-centric parishes. Millennial Latino Catholics (I am using twenty-something and Millennial interchangeably) have different concerns, and may be more committed to Catholicism in the first place as part of their cultural roots.

But where was the talk about the Filipinos? Fifteen years ago, my family's suburban parish had maybe 5 Filipino families. Now, the parish is overflowing with Filipinos and their kids. I am a Filipino-American who has seen a number of Filipino Catholic lay communities successfully engage twenty-somethings in ministry and in living out the faith-it looks something like pastoral juvenil. For these Filipino Catholics, they want to “serve the Lord.” This is surely not the vocabulary of people whom one can consider “lost.” They want to serve God, the Church, and the world. Nonetheless, it can be a struggle for some of these Filipinos to be involved in parish life. Integration is not easy.

Finally, I would like to say that I wish that there were more "twenty-somethings" who spoke. Not all of us are lost. As a good friend put it to me, “If you are asking the tough questions, are you really lost?” Her response gets at a comment that we discussed: “Do twenty-somethings even care?” Though many may not be in the Church, one cannot discount that we twenty-somethings ponder life’s big questions. And if, at the very least, we are asking these questions, I would be loathe to say that we’re “lost.” Not yet, at least. If the Millennial Generation is truly one seeking spiritual meaning, then it is only a matter of time (and a lot of hard work) before Millennials discover (or rediscover) the Church.

For those of us twenty-somethings who are committed to the Church, we are all over the political and theological spectrum. It would have been nice to hear more from twenty-somethings just to show that we too have different perspectives on what the Church is doing right and doing wrong.

Having said all of this, I as a twenty-something have a lot to ponder about what I have heard in the Conference.

Follow up: The largest concentrations of Filipinos are around Los Angeles, San Francisco, and all over the NY/NJ area. To ask what they (we) want is an interesting question... From the Filipinos I have gotten to know, they mainly want to 'serve the Lord' and love their families. For some, it means being good parents and praying frequently. For others (and especially for those involved in the Charismatic Renewal or other movements), they really want to serve God and the Church and the world.

Follow up: Re:Colleen Carroll Campbell’s ‘new faitthful’:  From my (perhaps limited as a twenty-something) experience, this 'minority' is indeed real, albeit small. I say the following knowing that it is contrived, but I have in mind not simply those young adults one may find at Ave Maria and Steubenville, but also those from Fordham and BC, from Harvard and Yale... and in the latter cases, the combination of values that such Millennials hold would be a sort of hybrid on the sociopolitical spectrum. I guess I'm just trying to say that this is one model of Millennial Catholics among many other models, and we as members of the Church ought to recognize all models that strive to live the Gospel authentically.

Follow up: Jeff stated that most of his friends who are still active have remained so because of retreats or youth groups unrelated to parishes. I would agree: I think things are really happening in the various movements that move beyond (or span a variety of) parishes. Catholic Underground, Charismatics, Neo-cats, Focolare, Communion and Liberation, the Catholic Worker, and in some cases, college campus ministry engage Millennials in profound ways. At Fordham (I graduated last May), we enjoyed great liturgies, great preaching, great retreats, and many communal meals. It makes me wonder if the future will involve less emphasis of identifying with geographic parishes, and more with these general movements.

From Kate W., Associate Director of a Catholic non-profit:


I have never felt so marginalized in my life.

Yesterday, I attended a conference on “Twenty-somethings and the Church.”  Reading over the information, I assumed it would be panels with wise wisdom on how to handle certain things in this stage of life, such as “student loans, job searches, finding friends and housing, the parish and social scene—a look at the economic, career, social, and religious challenges twenty-somethings face” as the schedule said. Instead, there was a strange anthropological, political, and social study of us ‘somethings’. No wise wisdom from generations before us, no conversation with those of us in our twenties. I expected to walk away with a better understanding of where we uniquely fit in the church. Yesterday’s message of where we fit – be seen, and not heard. Be invited, but not engaged.

The day started off fine. Walking along Columbus Ave, I saw a familiar face! My friend Elyse, who 8 years ago in college I ran a small faith sharing group. After catching up, I spoke with four other people I know from various stages of my life: college, current young adult group, a Sister whom I always run into at such events! I felt connected, reflecting that the last 2.5 years of my life, I’ve done some great things and found people, which was a nice reminder after feeling so disconnected in the past week.

The day wore on, and honestly, I’m shocked that I didn’t leave.  Something was holding me there, maybe the potential of talking to these friends I hadn’t seen in years, maybe the great lunch I had with my Sister friend, maybe that some things did positively resonate with me, or the hope that the day would be redeemed.

When a question was asked from the audience “Are 20somethings, really seeking anything?” I realized 1) that I feel incredibly patronized and 2) that this conference may not about me, it’s about the elusive, non-church going, group of my peers.

Yet, we, those of us who were present, were given a large task. Later in the day, one panelist ended her time by passionately calling to those ’20-somethings,’ which was about 1/3rd of the audience demographics. “It is this generation who has the job to change the church. It is their calling, others have failed, and you don’t have to.”  An elderly woman in front of me nodded and her friends agreed. I wanted to scream “NO! That is way too much responsibility! I, we, cannot be expected to pick up the pieces from future generations.” But, again, I wasn’t asked. I was just charged with a task I truly don’t believe is mine.

Another disappointment was that it was nearly 3pm, before the name “Jesus” was uttered, whom you could argue offers a great parallel. He found his calling at age 30, the ultimate Young Adult to learn from!

My ultimate frustration was feeling like I was talked about, broadly, by people who think they understand me because they have some experience with my peers, or with other generations of 20 somethings.  Somethings. What a demeaning term itself. Am I really an undetermined or unspecified thing? Am I only defined by my age? Can we use more inclusive language- like a generational term, or young adults, can we recognize our humanness?

My suggestions as to how these frustrations can be heard:

    * Define who it is you really want to attend and what the goal is.  Is it just a griping session for young adults, or just a learning session for other generations? Is a coming together to share wisdom, equally from older and younger generations? Who is supposed to be listening vs. speaking?
    * Change the format. The day was incredibly flat, every session the same style. Honestly, I was never so happy to see a powerpoint presentation. Bring in local, young musicians; have scripture readings; have time to break into small groups and reflect! There are so many models.
    * Do not refer to us as Twenty-Somethings. Young Adults, Generation Y, etc. is better.
    * Have much more Young Adult involvement. Why invite us, if you won’t talk to us? There were wonderful, young, caring people in the room, but we weren’t engaged at all. In addition, every session mentioned the need to dialogue with us, but it never happened. Utilize the conference to do just that.

One last piece cannot go unmentioned. At the Q&A session, an African-American woman took the microphone, loudly and boldly scolded the panel in general for not having enough representation from her community at this event. She stated how she was a lifelong member of the Church here in this City, and how terrible it was that we still separate.

Then the worst thing that could have happened did. She was ignored.

The next question was taken, and people nervously sat in their seats.  I noticed how uncomfortable and even scared I felt. But something was gravely wrong. I couldn’t let this be. If nothing else, this woman needed to know she was heard. We needed to recognize HER dignity and HER voice, even if we had no solutions. Even though this would be incredibly hard for me, I was resolved to do it.

After 10 minutes, a woman went and spoke to her. After a conversation, this woman stood up and took the mic and said “I’m sorry, but I need us to recognize the woman who spoke a few minutes ago. I don’t know how to solve the problem, but we need to say we heard you and we thank you for saying what you did.” AMEN.

We can’t be this church. We can’t be this Church that blatantly says one thing, and does another. We can’t be this Church that wants to help the 20somethings, but doesn’t listen to them. We can’t be the Church that talks to everyone but those who are in the situation. We can’t say the doors are open wide to all, but our ears are not.

I know this is strong. However, I have never felt so ignored or put down by a group who was apparently so ‘interested’ in me. I hope these words will be taken as constructive; to know what need truly is out there. I hope the Church that I love, and am so deeply a part of, hears this cry and continues to count themselves lucky for having us ’20-somethings’ in their community, no matter how elusive we may seem to you. I will not take on the whole crusade to change the Church in every way others think it needs, but I will demand that we be heard. If we are continued to be talked about but not talked with, we will remain “Lost” to you and to this Church.

From Justin S.:


Thank you. It was a good event on both days.

Learned a few things which may be helpful in a ministry.  More youth and young adults on panels or leading discussions in the sudience may have been better.  Fr. Beloin commented about the difference in monologue and dialogue.  If more YYA were allowed to share, I believe the event will be even more successful.  Video about 20 sometings, Malik Mohammed, and Meredith Fabian should be emphasized more and to me were the most helpful.  Prof. Lisa Catldo discussed something briefly which I believe may be a
contributing factor to the interconnection of today's you and young adults and that is the traumatic effect of 9/11 while they were children. their solution it seems is to unite the
youth generation, so something like that will never happen again.  FB and texting are ways they may continuously connect and stay connected with each other.

Seemingly, their link to one another is the Church and spiritual connection. Someone may want to review the edited video parts in their to find more answers.

Fr. Martin is awesome.

Fr. Salvatore, OFM Cap. in the audience is a good example of a member of the older generation having the ability to connect with younger generations. Also, there is an older Sister in the McNally auditorium who volunteers at Wards Island, she may be someone good to speak with as well.  What they both share in common is outreach and a genuine love for people.

Got to go, but, thank you for the presentation. I enjoyed parts of it.  The parts I didn't, well, I'll pray for more understanding.

Oh yes, the absence of a discussion about the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Peter Claver or the Jesuit idea of fraternity was missed.

From Rose M., Parish Council Member:
Just a note:  As was said, this conference was the work of the Spirit.  Not only did "Lost" call attention to the attendees, but also to the fantastic spectrum of panelists who are all professionals in their own fields.  This lecture made concrete what all of us in the church are saying; “Where are the twenty-somethings?”
The frightening part is that if "we" the church do not connect with them, we also stand the chance of losing their children etc.  They will not be able to transmit the faith, if their faith is not alive.  So...there is more at stake than meets the eye. 


One additional thought to share:  Re: the gay community.  As there are groups in the church that do work with the gay community, I wonder if what they are doing could be something that others could model.  This could be an answer to one concern raised at the conference of how to address the issues of intimacy etc.

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