By C. DANIELS-DUBOSE, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 21, 2018
ATLANTA—A Facebook post alerted Michael Brown to the Theology on Tap event May 23 at a brewery in Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood. Although the event started in two hours, Brown knew he had to be there.
“To see such a young Catholic crowd in Atlanta getting together—you don’t really see that in the Catholic Church,” said Brown, 33 and a member of All Saints Church, Dunwoody. “That’s what Christianity is all about, being in communion with the body of Christ—not just on Sundays.”
It was the idea of “Unity in the Community” that drove AJ Alix, 27, active at both Holy Spirit Church and the Cathedral of Christ the King, to begin brainstorming to organize the event. Theology on Tap had long been a staple of the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Young Adult Ministry, but changes in leadership and priorities forced the regular meetings to be put on hold.
Alix’s plan was simple: Ask six of the largest young adult ministries in the metro Atlanta area if they would co-host the event—they all agreed; find a location—Eventide Brewing donated their space; and find a speaker—Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III immediately accepted the invite. Lastly, promote the event on Facebook where it received nearly 100 RSVPs.
I wanted to see young adult Catholics “start forming friendships across different groups and come together,” Alix said. “I wanted other young adults to come and know there’s this big young adult community that they can be involved with, and it’s growing and it’s vibrant.”
Article after article has been written about the lack of young adult participation in the Catholic Church. A recent report by St. Mary’s Press Catholic Research Group and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA) surveyed more than 200 young Catholics who no longer identified with their religion. Of that sample, 74 percent said they stopped identifying with Catholicism between the ages of 10 and 20.
“The society we live in—it’s not cool to go to church,” said Arrington Fields, 21, and a parishioner at St. Peter Chanel Church in Roswell. “There aren’t a whole bunch of people doing it, so most of us who do do it are left out.”
But on this balmy Wednesday evening, Fields was joined by more than 100 young adults. They sipped on hops, ate Cuban sandwiches and bowls from Zun Zun and listened intently to Bishop Shlesinger’s #NedTalk—whether crowded in the brewery or relaxing outside where speakers piped the bishop’s words into the evening air.
“Young people today are looking for something alternative to what society offers them,” Bishop Shlesinger said prior to taking the stage. “They are looking for faith. They need to believe in something other than themselves.”
He encouraged the crowd to believe in God’s love, give God thanks for their blessings, ask for grace and stop being controlled by fear. When asked what he liked about Atlanta, he responded, “It’s a great city because it’s filled with young people and growing like crazy. Everybody is building. There’s a sense of a future. Something is happening.”
Something is happening inside the church too. Monica Mendez Morello can feel it. A member of the Cathedral’s 20s and 30s club, Mendez Morello, 33, sees the young adult population, and even programming for them, starting to grow.
“The more churches … have more events that are social, you start to bring more people back to the fold,” said Mendez Morello, who attended the event with her husband. “Catholic churches are finally catching on—you have to meet people where they are and engage them.”