August 23, 2013

Being welcomed, staying connected

Young married couples build community in their parishes

Hoping to build a faith community and a social connection among their peers, young adult members at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield got together twice a month this summer to pray the rosary in front of a shrine of the Blessed Mother near the parish church. Vincent Fuller, left, Katherine Seibert, Scott Seibert, Renee Odum and Shane Odum pray the rosary on the evening of Aug. 7. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Hoping to build a faith community and a social connection among their peers, young adult members at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield got together twice a month this summer to pray the rosary in front of a shrine of the Blessed Mother near the parish church. Vincent Fuller, left, Katherine Seibert, Scott Seibert, Renee Odum and Shane Odum pray the rosary on the evening of Aug. 7. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

(Editor’s note: This story is the fourth in a continuing series about the challenges that young adult Catholics face, and the contributions they make to the archdiocese and the broader Church. See the first installment, the second installment and the third installment.)

By John Shaughnessy

GREENFIELD—As the father of an 18-month-old daughter, Scott Seibert has great hopes for her future and her faith.

“I want her to join the convent,” Seibert says with a laugh, showing the protective nature that most dads of daughters share.

“In all seriousness, though, I pray every night that she grows spiritually and physically healthy. I want her to grow up desiring God and desiring his will. I want her to grow up experiencing his love through KC and me, and I want her to grow up to be a beacon of God’s light and love to others.”

Scott and his wife, Katherine “KC” Seibert, also had great hopes for becoming active members of a Catholic parish after they were married in the Church four years ago.

“When we went to various parishes to find a community, there wasn’t a lot of outreach or programming for people our age,” recalls Scott, 27. “[At one parish,] we filled out a sheet about all the ways we wanted to get involved, and no one contacted us.”

It was the kind of situation that might have led the young married Catholic couple to wonder if they were welcome in the Church. Yet instead of quietly slipping away, the Seiberts pursued an approach that is becoming a trend in some Catholic parishes across the archdiocese.

(Related: Visit the website for information about events, programs and service opportunities for young adult Catholics in the archdiocese.)

Being welcomed, staying connected

Figuring that “parishes have a million things to do and people are so busy,” the Seiberts took the initiative to start their own outreach and their own programs for young adult Catholics at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield.

“I e-mailed Deacon Wayne Davis at the parish about wanting to get more involved,” Scott says. “I started teaching RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.] Then he introduced us to Chris and Mary Meek. They felt like we did, so we formed a small group. We felt we had to do something to make young adults feel welcome.

“Young adults are a nomadic group. We want to create a presence for them in the parish, and to let the parish know that young adults are committed to the Church.”

The Seiberts started game nights at their home, playing Catch Phrase and Apples to Apples. They added movie nights, serving pizza, too. This summer, they have met twice a month to pray the rosary, followed by a get-together for fun and conversation at a frozen yogurt shop. Each time, they kept inviting someone new. The group has grown to 15 people.

Besides providing a social connection, the group also established a faith bond.

“Father Robert Barron [of ‘Word on Fire’ fame] talks about how a simple phone call could make a difference in someone’s faith,” Scott says. “That if you missed Mass one week, someone would call and say, ‘I missed you.’ That’s what we do in our group. When we don’t see someone at Mass, we’ll call to say, ‘Hey, we missed you.’ It really makes a difference. It all goes back to relationships.”

It also ties into one of the challenges that the Church faces in the 21st century.

A challenge of faith

Sherry Weddell discusses that challenge in her 2012 book, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus.

Part of her book focuses on statistics regarding Mass attendance by young adult Catholics—statistics taken from the 2007 survey “Marriage in the Catholic Church” by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Among Catholics in the age group from 26 to 46, the survey noted that 13 percent attend weekly Sunday Mass. In the age group from 18 to 25, 10 percent attend weekly Sunday Mass.

The statistics led Weddell to conclude: “We can no longer depend upon rites of passage or cultural, peer or familial pressure to bring the majority back. … In the 21st century, we have to foster intentional Catholicism rather than cultural Catholicism.”

John Aikin has seen the need for that intentional approach as one of the leaders of Richmond’s young adult Catholic group for the parishes of Holy Family, St. Andrew and St. Mary.

“Young adult outreach in the Richmond Catholic Community is a very important and necessary ministry for the growth and unification of our parishes,” says Aikin, 27, a member of Holy Family Parish. “The 20-40 age group is a very critical one. We see people at this stage in life falling away from the Church more than any other stage in life.

“Historically, we have focused a great deal on welcoming those older generations back to the Church and helping them heal. However, a strong focus on preventing that exit from the Church is greatly needed. We intend to do so by focusing on the core reasons people leave the Church: lack of a sense of community, lack of a sense of faith support, and lack of a proper knowledge of the Church’s teachings.”

Discussing the faith in an open manner

Hoping to address those three areas, the young adult group in the Richmond Catholic Community has tried different approaches, including Theology on Tap events that take place in a relaxed atmosphere such as a restaurant or bar. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin spoke at one of the get-togethers this summer.

“It’s a wonderful way to join in fellowship with young adults who do not necessarily know each other, build relationships with new and old friends, discuss our faith in a very open manner, and grow as a small community,” Aikin says. “It’s really important for us as young adults to build that connection.

“We’ve seen new family friendships form, strained marriages begin to heal, and deeper understandings of the faith develop in those who attend.”

Groups for young Catholic men and young Catholic women have also been established.

“Currently, our young men’s group consists of primarily fathers with young children,” Aikin notes. “The group gets together every other Monday night at a local coffee shop. The group discusses the struggles and joys of parenting, how to be better husbands and fathers, and how to lead their families in faith. We end the nights with a round of prayers.”

Creating homes where Christ comes first

Such efforts in the Richmond Catholic Community, St. Michael Parish in Greenfield and other parishes across the archdiocese are still in their infancy. Many challenges await, but the commitment is strong.

“I don’t know what I would do without the Catholic faith,” says KC Seibert, who is 28 and expecting the couple’s second child in December. “It gives me meaning. It’s how I live every day. It’s how I do what I do, and think what I think.”

She’s seen the impact of sharing that faith with other young adult Catholics.

“Young adults are trying to find a place, and establish their life and their faith,” KC says. “Young adults are vitally important to the Church. They help the life of the parish by rejuvenating the parish. I think the Church needs to provide more opportunities for young adults to get involved. I think every parish should have a young adult group.”

Aikin remembers his faith life before he and his wife, Shannon, became involved in a young adult Catholic group.

“I would go to Mass with my family and see five or six other families at the exact stage of life that I’m in, and have no clue who they were, but I knew there was such a possibility for connecting on so many levels,” he says. “Odds are those same struggles and joys my family may be experiencing, their family could be experiencing as well.

“We had no outlet for sharing and discussing those ups and downs with other members of the Church who we can relate to. Now, we’re starting to see a tighter community, and a more knowledgeable one.”

As those relationships continue to grow, so does the faith of the Aikin family, says Shannon. She and John have a 3-year-old daughter, a 2-year-old son and a child due in September.

“It’s a very powerful feeling to know that there are women in the same position as I am, struggling with similar things while trying to achieve the same goals in their efforts with raising a family and sustaining their marriage,” says Shannon, who is 28.

“My children are getting the chance to play with children who will be going to school together, praying together and celebrating Mass together. Meanwhile, I’m seeing the beauty of their parents’ love for each other and for their faith. As a family, it’s a wonderful example of the community we are blessed to experience as Catholics. All families need that kind of support. Catholics can do it, and we can do it well.” †

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