From time to time His Grace, Bishop Thomas, currently administering the Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest sends Priests interesting articles and bits of information. This one is particularly good and needed.
WASHINGTON BUREAU: Terry Mattingly’s religion column for 12/07/11.
At first, there didn’t seem to be much an 80-something grandmother
could do to help her church’s college freshmen wrestle with the trials
and temptations of their first weeks away at college.
After all, she knew very little about Facebook, YouTube, online
homework, smartphones or texting, let alone “sexting.”
She did, however, know how to write letters. So that is what she did,
writing personal letters to each student to let them know that she was
praying for them, wishing them the best as they searched for a college
church and looking forward to seeing them at Thanksgiving and
According to church members, the “students sought her out and rushed
to give her hugs and to say, ‘Thank you,’ whenever they came home,”
said Kara E. Powell, who teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary in
Pasadena, Calif., and directs the Fuller Youth Institute.
However, another church member later stressed that the researcher had
not heard the whole story. “Instead of writing one letter and that was
that, she had actually written a letter to each of the students every
week,” said Powell.
This was one of the most striking stories that the seminary professor
heard while doing follow-up work for the Youth Institute’s six-year
College Transition Project, which followed 500 Christian young people
as they jumped from high school to college.
The goal was to find strategies for parents and religious leaders who
wanted to help teens develop a personal faith that would “stick” when
tested. The research was released earlier this year in a book entitled
“Sticky Faith: Everyday ideas to build lasting faith in your kids,”
written by Powell and another Fuller colleague, Chap Clark.
The letter-writing grandmother, said Powell, was an example of one
major lesson discovered during this process. After years of
“segregating” teens off into their own niche, age-specific worship
services and programs, there is evidence that young believers also
profit from intergenerational contacts, conversations and mentoring
projects with senior adults. Young people are also more likely to
retain their faith if they helped teach the faith to the very young.
Right up front, the researchers admitted that the young people in
this study had higher than average grade-point averages, were more
likely to have been raised in unbroken homes and had grown up in
churches large enough to employ youth ministers. That was the point.
Nevertheless, some of the results were sobering.
* When studies are combined, it appears that 40 to 50 percent of
“churched” young people will abandon their faith — at least during
the college years.
* Only one in seven young people in the Fuller study felt they were
ready for the personal, moral challenges of college.
* Events in the first two weeks establish patterns for many college
careers, especially those linked to alcohol, sex and involvement in
The finding that will inspire, or trouble, many parents, according to
Powell and Clark, is that the faith practiced by most young people is
rooted in the beliefs, values and choices that they see practiced in
their own homes. If young people see their parents praying, it’s more
likely that they will pray. If they hear their parents weaving faith
into the joys and trials of daily life, it’s more likely that this
behavior will “stick.”
It’s one thing to talk to children, said Powell. It’s something else
to find ways to truly communicate — two-way communication — with the
young about faith, doubt, temptation and forgiveness. Breakthroughs
can take place while discussing everything from homework to movies,
from a parent’s confessions about mistakes in the past to a child’s
hints about his or her hopes for the future.
“We are not saying that it will help if you lecture to your children
about faith,” she said. Instead, the goal is for “every parent to be a
student of what their children love and, whether its sports or movies
or who knows what, to be able to engage their children on that topic.
You have to ask, ‘What is my child passionate about?’ You also have to
be honest and let your children know what you’re passionate about.
“Then you have to ask how you can bring faith into those
conversations so that you can share your faith journeys. There is no
way to force this. If it isn’t happening naturally, the kids are going
to know it.”
Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) directs the Washington Journalism
Center at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.