We look around our neighborhoods on Sunday mornings and see few signs of church-going. Then we read the reports about all the “nones,” those with no religious preference. The Atlantic reports that nearly a third of American young adults don’t identify with any religious denomination, and youth ministers worry about statistics showing attrition in religious practice after age 13.
There are counter-signs to these trends, however. I was privileged to witness some on a recent Saturday on our mid-state back roads. I joined members of Father Wil Mwape’s multi-mission parish for a morning of recollection. A group of 40 women, late teens to late 70s in age, gathered at St. Theresa Church in Springfield to reflect on the theme “Growing Deeper in Prayer.”
The group considered everything from litanies to “lectio divina” and the Seven Sorrows rosary to St. Ignatius Loyola’s way of meditation. As the women interjected their own testimonies, it was obvious that these ladies, who made exquisite soups and pimento cheese sandwiches, were very much immersed in eucharistic devotion, the Bible, and the great spiritual traditions of the Church. They talked about the Divine Office and their own daily regimens of prayer. Spiritual maturity is alive and well in the churches of Allendale, Barnwell, and Springfield that fan out from Holy Trinity in Orangeburg.
After lunch, I headed toward the Buck Ridge Plantation in Neeses, where 80 students and eight campus ministers from 10 campuses around the state were gathered for their annual campus ministry retreat. From their post-lunch break through a formal presentation and a session of faith-sharing to the closing Mass with the bishop, I was moved and impressed. I had barely arrived when I was invited to join a group gathering on one of the decks to pray the rosary.
Afterwards, I met two young women who wanted to discuss religious life and share their own faith journeys. Another is preparing to join the Salesian sisters. A young man spoke of how music raises his mind and heart to God and how he hopes to become a Franciscan friar.
During the extended afternoon meeting a number of students gave witness, telling stories of faith and grace. They attested that the Lord has offered them invitations and, in some cases, thrown a rescue rope. There were moments when they articulated points of doctrine with considerable sophistication. They interpreted Scripture soundly. They exhibited familiarity with the lives of saints, traditional devotions, and various strains of Catholic spirituality.
I had to remind myself that we have no Catholic college or university in this state. It is obvious that these young people have received solid catechesis somewhere, and have sought it.
Moments like this particular Saturday give me hope that, despite statistics, we are in good hands. We have among us what the people of Israel understood as the anawim, the faithful remnant. Jesus spoke of a saving leaven. I’ve met some of them in Springfield and Neeses. They will rise and surely bring many souls along with them.
Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, is the Secretary for Education and Faith Formation at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.