Talking with other faith formation ministers about young adults (defined by the bishops as ages 18–39), I often hear these comments: They are just not at our parish. I never see young adults. They never show up. As both a young adult myself and as a person who ministers to and with young adults, I could not disagree more with these comments. I know young adults are showing up in our parishes. The question is: Are we aware of the moments of return for young adults in the Catholic Church?
What do I mean by a “moment of return?” This is a moment when we, as faith formation leaders, are given a golden opportunity to be not only in front of young adults, but also to acknowledge their presence within our parishes, to listen to their stories, to invite them to participate, and to share information with them. In any given parish setting, there are multiple moments of return. Let me begin with the “Big Three”—marriage, Baptism preparation, and religious education for children of young adults.
I am aware of the varying opinions on young adults seeking to be married in the Catholic Church. Some priests and lay ministers are thrilled that young adults decide to get married in the Catholic Church at all. Others are annoyed that young adults want to get married in the Church even if the couple does not attend Mass on a regular basis. Whatever the opinion, the reality is that young adults are there in front of us seeking for many different reasons to experience the Sacrament of Matrimony. This is something to be celebrated and acknowledged! They could easily be standing in front of someone else. Young adults could choose to stay away from the Church on their special day, but many do not. This moment of return deserves the same respect we give those who enter RCIA or those who return after one of our evangelization activities, such as Catholics Come Home.
The same welcoming, celebratory attitude is needed also for parents bringing their babies to be baptized. As a mother of three young children, I remember vividly how important this sacrament was to me and my husband. But with our experiences at baptismal preparation, we were disappointed at how routine and mundane the preparation classes felt. As we surveyed the room, we saw many couples we had not seen before. Instead of recognizing and acknowledging the moment of return for so many in the room, the leaders quickly rattled off the rules, the expectations, and the requirements to have a child baptized. What a missed opportunity! Parents are bringing their “new life” to celebrate with a community through the Sacrament of Baptism, which epitomizes new life. Do we, as faith formation leaders, remember the awesomeness of this moment of return?
Not only are parents, who are overwhelmingly in the young adult range, bringing their children for Baptism within our Church, they are also bringing their children to our religious education and sacramental preparation programs. While I know the reality that some parents’ involvement in their faith does not exist beyond dropping their children off, they are still showing up at our parishes and engaging with their faith. Do we acknowledge this weekly or monthly moment of return by the many parents committed to passing on their faith to their children?
I beg all of us, as faith formation leaders, to embrace, to celebrate, and to acknowledge the ways young adults are showing up at our parishes. Once we acknowledge that young adults are there, we can look at ways to reach out to them during key moments of return to the Catholic Church.