Our parish (St. Clare’s in Berea, Kentucky) continues to be inspired by Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel” (JG). Our pastor has embraced its letter and spirit. So has the growing number of parishioners attending Sunday evening discussions of the document during Lent.
All of that is significant, because (as in the church as a whole) there is a lot of discontent among us. It’s like the pope says at the beginning of apostolic exhortation: there believers are described as often “resentful, angry and listless” (JG 2).
Those are the sentiments that surfaced during discussion of “The Joy of the Gospel” last Sunday evening.
The spark that caused them to rise came from an unexpected source, our pastor himself. At one point in the meeting, he said, “I have a question: Why is our church losing people?”
Our jaws dropped. A door had finally swung open to meaningful discussion.
Our pastor identified three causes for parish attrition: (1) parishioners have not felt invited to truly participate in parish life; (2) many have moved away from our town, and (3) we’re just not a welcoming enough community.
Parishioners around the table offered alternative analyses that probed a bit deeper. They said: (1) our community lacks effective leadership; (2) liturgies are boring, lifeless, and lacking the “joy” centralized in the pope’s exhortation; (3) homilies are disconnected from the world, our lives, and from the day’s burning issues. In general the church is out-of-touch.
In the midst of the conversation, someone said, “If we want to know why we’re losing people, we should ask our children. Most of us brought them up in the church the way we were supposed to. We took them to Mass every Sunday, sent them to catechism classes (and even taught some of them ourselves); we introduced them to the sacraments. And now virtually none of them go to church. We must be doing something wrong. We should ask them why they’ve left.”
So that’s what I’m doing here. I’m asking any young people who read this blog, why have you left the church. Just a sentence or two will do, though longer responses are welcome. I’m asking parents why they think their children no longer “practice” the faith.
In the meantime, here are a few of my own thoughts:
A Church in Crisis!
Our church has fallen into deep depression.
Even our pastor asks
“Where have all the children gone?
Why are the pews empty?”
His question admits that
We no longer appeal to young people.
We have lost touch with the world
And its problems
Of poverty, systemic dysfunction,
War, Michael Browns, misogyny, and abysmal income gaps.
A fearful church – the Ratzingers among us –
Defensively retreats to an imagined past
Where young people were “moral”
And still came to Mass
Where “reforms” meant rehabilitating words like
“Consubstantial,” “chalice,” and “under my roof.”
And where everyone cowered
In fear of the Lord
And of the Reverend “Father.”
Those days are gone
He’d have us address
The real problems of the world.
Globalism does not work.
It’s destroying the planet.
“War never again,” he repeats
And “Who am I to say?”
Does not pretend
To know best.
He looks to the wise
Young carpenter from Nazareth
Who loved the “lazy” poor
(And was one of them!)
Who loved the whores and drunkards,
The lepers, fags and pimps.
Who cursed the rich
And blessed the ragged.
“The Kingdom is yours!”
He promised them all.
Our globe needs that Spirit today
More than ever!
But few find it
In our churches
Where we should.
That’s why the pews