Nearly one-third of Millennials are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, one Catholic parish just outside of Washington is defying the trend, with a growing young-adult community at a church that has only been in existence for 15 years.
What has caused the young-adult community at St. Veronica Catholic Church in Chantilly, Va., to grow by leaps and bounds for four years? Is it the regular Bible studies, movie outings and other regular events that keep people involved?
Recently, St. Veronica’s had its twice-annual contra/swing dance event, which about 135 people attended. Notably, about 15 Anglicans came — the group reached out to a local young-adult group, and their members attended.
The Register spoke with St. Veronica’s volunteer young-adult coordinator Michael Filamor about why his church has seen success despite the cultural challenges facing the transient Washington Catholic community.
How long has St. Veronica’s had a young-adult group, and how long have you been involved in it?
It was started in 2006 by Father Marcus Pollard, seven years after he founded the parish. I have been involved since the end of 2009.
How did you get involved, and why?
I lived near the parish and was looking for a community nearby to belong to. I checked out the group after being invited.
How has the group grown, changed and developed since you came on?
When I first joined, the group met once a week but had very few social events. Growing and sustaining membership was an issue. In the summer of 2010, two of the most active members stepped up to fill a sudden leadership void, and they asked me to join their team. We put our past experiences to work, particularly my youth ministry and campus-ministry experience. We functioned as volunteer co-leaders, but in time, I became the de facto coordinator.
Despite our group being down to five consistent members, we recognized an opportunity, since there was a dearth in young-adult activities in our part of the diocese, despite a sizeable young-adult Catholic population. We never set out with a particular program or technique in mind, but stumbled upon a formula for success.
Our model of young-adult ministry can be summed up as creative, consistent programming within a welcoming community. It can be described by the four Cs:
Consistency: [We have] weekly meetings and social events almost every weekend and dedicated leaders.
Communication: [We have] weekly emails to members and advertising in social media, parish bulletins and the diocese.
Caring: Be very welcoming. (We are most well-known for this.) Personal outreach to friends [is key], and follow up with new people.
Creativity: The studies and the events must be out-of-the-box, relevant and intriguing.
As a result, in four short years, by God’s grace, we are blessed to have become one of the biggest and most active parish young-adult groups in the Diocese of Arlington. We are grateful as well to our pastor, Father Edward Hathaway, and for the Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Young Adult Ministry for all their support through the years.
What are some of the dynamics in the group?
St. Veronica Young Adults is for those in their 20s and 30s, for singles and married alike. Non-parishioners are welcome. Our mission is to foster growth in faith in Jesus Christ through the Roman Catholic Church and to commit to spread his message of salvation.
We have social events almost every weekend. But our staple is a weekly meeting on Wednesdays for an hour and a half. Our meetings consist of a book or Bible study and prayer (with fellowship at Applebee’s afterwards). We are privileged to have adoration, confession and Mass in the parish before our meetings. It really is a perfect setup for a faith family. We now have an average of more than 20 attendees for our meetings and smaller events.
Our biggest events of the year are the biannual Contra & Swing Dance Night and annual BBQ Extravaganza, which draw hundreds of young adults from all over the D.C. area. For example, we just celebrated the fifth anniversary of the BBQ Extravaganza. Whereas we had 70 attendees the first year, more than 250 from as far north as Baltimore and as far south as Williamsburg [Va.] came. People who travel far say such events don’t happen in their parishes or regions. We have become a regional group.
What do you think is the greatest benefit of the group to area Catholics?
Two years into our leadership, we naturally stopped calling our group a “group” and started calling it a “community.” A community of faith is a family you belong to. We have not just become friends, but true brothers and sisters in Christ for life. When asked why they joined, almost everyone says, “I was looking for a community to belong to, and St. Veronica was very welcoming.” They finally found a home in the Church.
How do you work within the limitation of young Americans tending to be less religious?
We show we care and invite people to experience community at a fun level at first, with our social events, while making them aware of our studies and the Mass and Holy Hour with confession before our meetings. Whether nominal or religious, I’ve seen people become stronger in their faith and become very active in our community.
How have the relationship-building efforts of St. Veronica’s empowered the individual faith relationships of young-adult Catholics?
We never lose sight of our main mission: to learn and live out Jesus Christ’s message of salvation. We help each other fall in love with him and his Church and get to heaven. Thus, we emphasize faith learning, the sacraments and prayer, especially at our studies and in the context of community. We encourage our members as they grow stronger in their faith to share it, evangelize others and invite their friends to St. Veronica.
Dustin Siggins writes from Washington.