FORT WAYNE — Being single at an age when many contemporaries are marrying and even starting families can make maintaining a fulfilling social life difficult. Add to that the faith component and some young adults find it a very real challenge to develop and sustain relationships that meet their social and spiritual needs.
One grassroots group of twenty-something Catholics on the southwest side of Fort Wayne, led by Molly Slocum, has formed to meet that challenge. Slocum, the director of religious education at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, says, though her ministry of overseeing the weekly faith formation of 550 students in kindergarten through eighth grades and supporting the 100 volunteer catechists there keeps her busy, being single in Fort Wayne is complicated.
“In general, it’s difficult to be single here because it’s very family oriented. Most you meet are married. … As a Catholic you add another layer in finding someone who has the same faith,” she says. “The young adults are transient — they move to the big cities. There’s not a well established young adult presence here.”
Slocum, a Bishop Luers graduate who earned an early childhood education degree from Xavier University has taught in Alaska as well as in the Southwest Allen County public schools before teaching first and second grades at St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth School. When she was asked to step up as director of the religion program in early 2013, she recognized, “This is where God wants me to be.”
It was the consensus of the staff at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish recently that the young adult presence was essential to the life of their faith community. So it was agreed that Slocum would facilitate an ARISE group for young adults. ARISE Together in Christ is a three-year, parish-centered process of spiritual renewal and evangelization for all ages.
“We started in the fall ARISE season with eight to 10 people,” Slocum relates. “We developed good relationships. We even went sledding together and out to coffee,” she adds.
In spring the group, who now has a Facebook presence, opted for a weekly Lenten Bible study and much to Slocum’s delight the group doubled in size to 20-25 members with the help of a little recruiting from the original members. For more structured events in the fall, Slocum says the group will meet at different times and come together for Mass.
As the group continues to gel and their faith is challenged to grow, the social climate is expanding as well. “In between the fall and spring sessions we do social things,” says Slocum, who explained how the group recently experienced curling, the sport of sliding stones on a sheet of ice. Slocum hopes to establish a core group soon that will guide the young adult group as it expands.
The members attend other faith events in the diocese such as Theology on Tap, a monthly speaker and conversation series for young adults, and Slocum reports a service component is developing within the group with volunteer service trips to St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen and the hope of establishing a game night at Saint Anne Home and Retirement Community.
Another founding member of the young adult group, 27-year-old Sean Clerget, is new to Fort Wayne and found it important to step up and join in. “There are certainly challenges for unmarried Catholic young adults in their 20s and 30s. Many parishes don’t really know how to relate to this segment of the population and that is not necessarily the fault of the parishes. We are a diverse group, often focused on careers, and many of us move frequently. Ultimately unmarried Catholic adults have to take initiative themselves and have to work hard to build communities and sustain friendships,” he says.
But he notes there is a positive side to being a single Catholic as well. “Not having the family responsibilities of a married person or of a parent, young adults sometimes have the ability to be more involved in their parishes. One of the great things about this time in life is the opportunity to volunteer and hopefully have an impact on others while growing in your own faith at the same time,” he relates.
Though Slocum feels there is still a misconception among young adults about the truth of the Catholic Church, she has great hope for the future of the young adult presence in the diocese. “I hope it continues to grow. We’ll take small steps to establish a continuous presence. … We’re letting the Spirit guide us and taking it as it comes,” she says, adding, “It’s important to have a faith community. … We can reach out to the community and do works of mercy. We can truly be Christ’s presence in the world. We’ve always been called to that. … It helps to have a group to do these things with,” she says.
Slocum feels the Church and the diocese are both working slowly to improve the sense of community for Catholic young adults. “Lots of young adults are looking for a place for community — to feel welcome. Pope Francis is doing a nice job. The Church is giving the message that we can be that home,” she concludes.
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