Beliefnet News

Beliefnet News

Catholics Try to Lure Lapsed Sheep Back into the Fold

MADISON, N.J. (RNS) A small bucket filled with bottles of cold beer sat on the floor, down the hall from the chapel, as about a dozen young adults lounged around on comfortable couches.
They weren’t there to pray or preach — just to enjoy one another’s company at St. Paul Inside the Walls: the Catholic Center for Evangelization at a former high school. The Rev. Geno Sylva doesn’t know if his guests will return to the Madison campus for a more religious experience.
But he has faith.
As the center’s director, it’s Sylva’s job to find new ways to accomplish an old mission — attracting back some of the one in 10 Americans who are former Catholics, many of whom are disillusioned or disassociated with their religion.
Stemming the exodus, Sylva believes, will require reaching out in ways that might seem unorthodox.
And so St. Paul Inside the Walls has implemented programs to attract a broad constituency. The name refers to Sylva’s aim to bring people inside the walls of the church.
“What we’re doing is offering outreach to those who practice the Catholic faith, to those who have left the Catholic faith and to those of no faith tradition at all,” Sylva said. “What we’ve done is we’ve spent a lot of time studying society and culture so we could invite people to come to know God in ways that would resonate with them.”
For young adults, that might be pub night, which takes place every Tuesday.
Sudan Martin, a 30-year-old graphic designer from Brooklyn, works on St. Paul’s website but Catholicism wasn’t a big part of his youth. He recently attended his first St. Paul event.
“This is a completely different experience for me,” Martin said. “I’ll definitely be coming back.”
That’s what Sylva wants to hear.
He compared St. Paul Inside the Walls with a halfway house, but instead of reintroducing people to a community, Sylva is reintroducing them to Catholicism, and instead of finding people a job, he shepherds them to a parish.
The setting is inviting. St. Paul Inside the Walls recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation, and its 40-acre campus boasts stunning sculptures and peaceful prayer gardens.
Paterson Bishop Arthur Serratelli said bringing people in — creating disciples — is a central tenet of the faith, but changing times have spurred the new approaches.
“The mission is the same as given to the apostles, but the way that we live out the mission changes to meet the needs of our day,” Serratelli said.
There are similar efforts far beyond New Jersey — Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley launched a “Catholics Come Home” initiative for Lent, and parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington will be open every Wednesday to hear confessions as part of the Advent-and-Lent “The Light is On For You” campaign.
Church experts are putting a special emphasis on young Catholics — in some cases trying to keep them in the church before they decide to leave. Two-thirds of Catholic “millenials” — those born after 1980 — leave the church before they turn 23.
“The make-or-break period is adolescence,” said the Rev. Dave Farnum, the director of vocations for the Paulist order, at a recent discussion in Grand Rapids, Mich.
According to a 2009 report from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, two in three ex-Catholics say they left because they stopped believing in the church’s teachings; 58 percent disagree with its position on abortion and homosexuality; and 48 percent left because they do not support the church’s ban on contraception.
“It’s hard to say why they leave because it depends on where they’re headed,” said Farnum.
St. Paul hosts a Catholic Q&A on Tuesday nights where about two dozen adults can pepper a priest with religious questions. Upstairs, musicians can work on their Christian/alternative pop-rock music, which they play at local bars or concerts as a way to bring people closer to the faith.
“Music is very universal but it is also very personal,” said one musician, Derek Gazal. “In that way, it is a lot like God.”
Elsewhere in the building, women meet in a group called Rachel’s Vineyard to discuss their feelings about the abortions they have had — all part of the tapestry that Sylva and Serratelli attempt to weave in hopes of bringing people back who feel abandoned or uninspired.
“I had this idea long before I became a bishop to reach out to people whose professional lives have gone beyond what their religious training taught them, and to let them see how much the church can offer them,” Serratelli said. “St. Paul Inside the Walls begins a great adventure … to move beyond what parishes can do.”
- Dan Goldberg, Religion News Service
(Dan Goldberg writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. Paul R. Kopenkoskey of The Grand Rapids Press contributed to this story)

  • pagansister

    Offer the kids beer and they will come! Return to the church? maybe, but for free beer–worth the trip for that. (for some anyhow)

  • Henrietta22

    Well youth may go for beer, the thing is will they come back without the beer?

  • nnmns

    Come for the beer, stay for the drug?
    Let’s hope a lot of those people have grown up some and are no longer sheep. It was sheep who allowed the molesting and the molesting-protecting.

Previous Posts

Hispanics turning evangelical, Jews secular
Worship service attendance is up in New York City, but down among young adult Jews, according to recent studies. On the other hand, fewer Spanish-speaking teens are attending Catholic mass, but more are showing up at Evangelical churches. [caption id="attachment_12343" align="alignleft" width="48

posted 3:10:30pm Nov. 05, 2013 | read full post »

Billy Graham: I know where I'm going
“Daddy thinks the Lord will allow him to live to 95,” said Franklin Graham recently. It was not a prophecy but a hope, Franklin explained, that he would live to see the beginning of a Christian re

posted 10:02:01am Oct. 24, 2013 | read full post »

Are All These Christians' Complaints of Persecution Just So Much Empty Whining?
The headlines are alarming: “Catholic-Owned Company Wins Religious Freedom Court Decision,” “Death Toll Rises to 65 in Boko Haram Attack on Students,” “Little Sisters Catholic Charity Victimized By Obamacare,” “Christians Sought Out, Murdered in the Kenyan Mall Massacre,” “Judicial

posted 2:41:26am Oct. 07, 2013 | read full post »

How can Christians defend themselves against today's random violence?
So, a crazed gunman opens fire and you’re caught in the middle. How can you survive? Heroes come in all sorts of packages. And they wield all sorts of defensive weapons. Such as guns and Jesus. Sometimes both at the same time. [caption id="attachment_12246" align="alignleft" width="480"] Ant

posted 2:53:48pm Sep. 27, 2013 | read full post »

Does Sunday Morning Church Really Need All This Glitter, Showmanship and Gimmickry?
What’s wrong with church today? Are we in danger of turning worship into a flashy concert? Of watering down the message so nobody is offended? Of forgetting the simplicity of the Gospel? I grew up with a preacher’s kid. He was a fake following in the footsteps of his flimflamming father who d

posted 11:26:20am Sep. 20, 2013 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.