by Fr. Michael Driscoll
Recently a friend suggested that I read an article in The American Conservative (January 14) titled “Why Millennials Long for Liturgy: Is the High Church the Christianity of the Future?” by Gracey Olmstead. I was anxious to read it to see if it would shed some light on the millennial generation with whom I spend a lot of time in the class room.
The author makes the claim that America’s youth are leaving churches in droves. Citing the 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, it seems that one in four young adults choose “unaffiliated” when asked about their religion and 55 percent of those unaffiliated youth once had a religious identification when they were younger.
But to my great surprise, the author claims that many young people, rather than abandoning Christianity, are joining more traditional, liturgical denominations – notably the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox denominations due to the attraction to the liturgy. The author claims, “This trend is deeper than denominational waffling: it’s a search for meaning that goes to the heart of our postmodern age.”
I read the article with great interest but I remained unconvinced. I had to agree with one of the online comments that “an article positing a ‘trend’ should cite some statistical evidence, not just three anecdotes.” This was my initial reaction as well. One of the anecdotes is drawn from a blog CreedCodeCult.com. I quickly discovered that the blogger Jason Stellman, a recent convert to Catholicism, has all the verve and naïveté that you might expect. His blog conversation seems to be a three-way argument with a certain Kevin and a DeMaria in which the tone is extremely polemical and at times quite uncivil. I hoped that we had moved beyond the insult hurling as a result of the Reformation, but it is clear that an ecumenical spirit does not live on this blog.
At the Catholic Academy of Liturgy meeting a few weeks ago in Orlando, Fl, we had Mary Gautier from CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) as our keynote speaker. She presented huge amount of data from the newly released study that looked at the rich demography of the Catholic Church in the United States. This study was conducted for the Committee of Cultural Diversity in the Church for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and CARA utilized county-level U.S. Census data for 2010 to estimate the total population sizes for racial and ethnic groups within ecclesial boundaries. Catholic parishes serving these particular racial and ethnic groups were then identified using a variety of methods and were mapped to the population centers for these groups. A part of CARA’s study is generational, including the Millennials. Two indicators that she found alarming is the sharp decrease in baptism and marriage, which would seem to contradict the article in The American Conservative. See the CARA website. You can download the full report here.
So that’s my initial reaction to the article. I was basically nonplussed by it. If you are going to discuss trends, I am a sucker for data!
Fr. Michael Driscoll is professor of liturgy at Notre Dame University. He is currently on sabbatical and a fellow of the Collegeville Institute.