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The church gets hip

NCR Staff

Gen-Xers are hot. Like the Baby Boomers before them, the Xers have hit those critical young adult years where their spending patterns and consumer preferences form the Holy Grail of marketing research. Everybody wants to know what makes this generation tick and then cater to it. The siren song of cash registers lures them on.

It’s no surprise, for example, that one of the early hits of the new prime-time television season is likely to be Fox’s “That ’70s Show,” marking the definitive coming-of-age of the Xer crowd: Their childhood is now the stuff of vapid TV nostalgia. The ubiquitous ’70s “Happy Face,” now the show’s signature image, will take its place alongside the Boomer’s peace sign as a generational icon.

The religious scene is no different. The questions of the hour seem to be, “What do Xers want?” and “How can we give it to them in church?” Wade Clark Roof’s A Generation of Seekers (about the Boomers) sparked a publishing frenzy; today, it seems anyone who can combine “Generation X” and “spirituality” in a book title is automatically entitled to a contract, a lecture tour and the cover of Spin magazine.

Much of this is crass commercialism, of course, including the religious sort. But some of it is also genuine pastoral concern. The questions are real: How can the Word of God reach a generation so disillusioned with authority, so cynical about the establishment -- any establishment -- and so inundated with competing cultural messages? How do you sell a generation on community whose own experience of that concept, whether in family, school or even church, has too often been disappointing?

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the answers seem fairly simple. How do you gather people in? Invite them. How do you keep them involved? Involve them.

That, at least, appears to be the early line emerging from parishes where young adults flock in large numbers. In this special parish ministries issue, we hear some of those stories. Tim Unsworth introduces us to Old St. Patrick’s in Chicago, perhaps the nerve center for young adult ministry in that archdiocese. Tim Johnston gives us an insider’s perspective on St. Monica’s parish in Santa Monica, Calif., another mecca for the Gen-X crowd.

Both places bustle with energetic liturgies, dozens of ministries and coffeehouse-style opportunities to gather that allow friendships to emerge. Arthur Jones looks at some of the work being done in “singles ministry” around the country, another way of appealing to young adult Catholics.

Tom Beaudoin, an adroit observer of the Gen-X spirituality scene, reviews a new book on how this generation’s seekers might find God by looking past “religion,” at least as it’s been conventionally understood. The book offers helpful suggestions for anyone looking to minister to this maddeningly elusive demographic cohort.

We also offer two provocative pieces on ministries most parishes either struggle with or have never thought about. Beth Dotson reports on a parish-based evangelization effort, while Sandy Carruba examines the efforts of parishes in areas with migrant laborers to embrace these seasonal visitors and to welcome them in the community.

May all who minister in these difficult days find reasons to wear (genuine!) smiley faces of their own.

National Catholic Reporter, September 25, 1998