On November 18th a group of young adults gathered in DC to talk about Eve Tushnet’s book, Gay and Catholic at a discussion hosted by Fare Forward. The focus wasn’t on the morality of queer sexual relationships, but on the opportunities our churches and communities offer parishioners (gay and straight) to offer deep, sacrificial love outside the “default” paths of marriage and monasteries/ordination. The discussion explored alternative ways to offer love and service (whether through vowed friendship, intentional communities, moving in with family, or choice of work).
Below is the the reflection we wrote on this discussion. Due to many circumstances beyond anyone’s control, it was not able to be published on Fare Foreward’s website. We offer it here for our readers, and we also offer our thanks to Fare Forward for giving us the opportunity to write this piece.
The two of us have grown accustomed to feeling alone in our own discernment processes, but gathering with over twenty young adults to discuss Gay and Catholic helped us realize just how many people yearn for more concrete vocational guidance from their Christian traditions. Despite the title, Tushnet’s work casts a wide net; all of us gathered sought common ground on the question, “What is vocation in the first place?”
Throughout the discussion, we noticed the focus shifting to questions of loving others well: vocations are not discrete, mutually exclusionary pathways. Husbands, wives, and monks have vocations that extend beyond marriage and monkhood.
Tushnet has discussed some strategies for how one can discern vocation by cultivating the practice of “doing the next right thing.” Being fully present in the moment can enable God to show you something different. We enjoyed trading stories about places we’ve experienced some sense of direction while simultaneously hoping for more supportive forms of community. For example, one participant shared how at his university, fourteen Christians from radically different faith traditions gathered to pray together regularly. We also spent a considerable amount of time discussing how we can borrow from various vocations to help us give shape to our specific vocations.
Taking inventories of different needs, we began to think about how we could become more active in making Christian communities just that much better for people seeking spiritual support. Saying Compline together seemed like a natural first step. As we left the gathering, the two of us found ourselves wondering what the right next thing will be to make our own spiritual community that much stronger. Throughout our late twenties and early thirties, we have heard a lot of people bemoaning the fact that young adults often leave the church only to come back when they are ready to baptize their children. Yet as we consider our own experiences in and our observations of other people our age discerning vocations, we note that many young adults desire guidance, help, and support in the church, but cannot find vibrant Christian communities willing or knowledgeable of how to do so.
Churches often put a band-aid on the problem by hosting an occasional meet-and-greet for single adults while simultaneously behaving as if meeting that “special someone” is the normative solution for a person’s vocational confusion. But in the discussion, Tushnet’s book struck a chord with people wanting more from life than the daily grind of thriving professionally. Direction matters. One participant joked, “So many people wind up as investment bankers because at least then they are told what to do next.” Repeatedly throughout the discussion, we wondered how the Church might minister more effectively if it would become normative for Christians to seek spiritual guidance at all times rather than exclusively in times of great need.
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