Shortly after Easter, I was driving and listening to a Chicago news radio station. The program “Report on Religion” came on and, as usual, my ears perked up.
The report was focused on increasing religious disaffiliation in the U.S. and the ongoing decrease in regular attendance at worship services and/or other forms of religious observance. This particular report revolved around Generation Z, and in particular how a portion of their disconnect from religious practice was related to their perception of churches by and large not caring about and/or being involved in social issues.
“ ‘The State of Religion and Young People 2021,’ found young people believe they care more about things like LGBTQ rights, immigration rights, reproductive rights, income inequality, and environmental causes than religious or faith communities do.” (It should be noted that the report surveyed young people across diverse faith traditions.)
Overall, members of Generation Z (those born in or after 1997), still largely self-identify as “religious” and/or “spiritual,” even as the markers of what has long been considered religious practice—attendance at worship services and personal/domestic prayer—continues to dwindle.
“Faith unbundled” is how the religious/spiritual habits of younger people are beginning to be described. According to the report, faith unbundled “describes the way young people increasingly form their faith by combining elements of religious and non-religious sources rather than forming it from a single institution or tradition.” Practices such as engaging with art or regular yoga sessions are considered religious/spiritual practices by Generation Z.
(The report I listened to was single-focus, on Gen Z and religious behavior; it drew upon a larger study, covering more diverse areas, including some specifically Roman Catholic items.)
Listening to the report got me to wondering how those of us who work in liturgy—perhaps the most tightly-bundled of all Christian activities—can be informed helpfully by this, so that we can respond in practical and enriching ways. As laudable as an interest in social activism may be, can we automatically assume that making a deep ritual connection to the Christ event will work in the long run? How does the overlap between a practice like centering prayer and one such as yoga get integrated into our rites? For all the effort (and money) being expended in the U.S. on the upcoming Eucharistic year, will it really bear fruit both inside and outside of sanctuary walls once it is over?
Whenever I encounter these kinds of reports, I confess that I grow in my understanding of that fearful group huddled together in Jerusalem prior to Pentecost. My hunch is that I (a “boomer”) am not alone in this feeling.
Perhaps this Pentecost is a time to really be open to a future-facing Spirit, one who might unbundle and then re-bundle our faith in new and different ways. It might be time for a real bundling of the word “Creator” with Veni and Spiritus.