Choos­ing your re­li­gion

Sur­vey fol­lows trend in Chris­tians be­com­ing non-de­nom­i­na­tional

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Michelle Kim

Dar­ryl Moore’s spir­i­tual search be­gan over 30 years ago while grow­ing up in Con­necti­cut.

As a child, she ac­tively at­tended an Epis­co­palian church with her par­ents but stopped when she grew older and her par­ents went less fre­quently. She felt some­thing was lack­ing from the ex­pe­ri­ence. As a teen, she heard her cousin talk about her re­la­tion­ship with Christ.

“The way she spoke made me re­al­ize she was in love,” said Moore. “And here I was in love with my boyfriend, and I didn’t feel the way she felt.”

Moore, now 55, an­swered an al­ter call invi- tation at a Bap­tist church at the age of 21. The call struck a chord that res­onated within her and she at­tended that church for the next 20 years. She even­tu­ally left, look­ing for a deeper con­nec­tion, and joined the Church of God, rev­el­ing in the rel­a­tive free­dom. But again, she re­al­ized there was still some­thing miss­ing and felt lost and up in the air.

“You might say I was a church hop­per for a while,” she said.

About that time, her hus­band, a lapsed Catholic, be­gan at­tend­ing church again at St. Pius X in Cony­ers.

“I waited for him to get over be­ing Catholic, and thank­fully that did not hap­pen,” she said with a laugh.

Moore be­gan at­tend­ing Mass with her hus- band and even signed up for the Rite of Chris­tian In­quiry for Adults class.

“I said, ‘I’ll go to th­ese classes, but I’m not go­ing to be a Catholic,’” she said. “It was a lot of the sacra­ments I didn’t un­der­stand. I would leave class some Sun­days and go home and cry and yell at my hus­band. ‘I can’t be­lieve this. It’s too hard.’”

Grad­u­ally, the ob­sta­cles dis­ap­peared for Moore, and she was ac­cepted into the church two years ago. “The long­ing was there, and I knew I had fi­nally found my house,” she said.

To­day, the So­cial Cir­cle res­i­dent is now part of the team that leads the RCIA pro­gram at St. Pius X. Her adult daugh­ters, who had been raised Bap­tist, were some­what con­fused by their mother’s con­ver­sion. She sat down with her eldest daugh­ter to ex­plain her con­ver­sion, and af­ter a three-hour talk, her daugh­ter de­cided to con­vert as well.

Though Moore’s jour­ney may seem round­about, her story is typ­i­cal of many Amer­i­cans, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey by the Pew Fo­rum on Re­li­gion and Pub­lic Life re­leased last week. It turns out the Amer­i­can re­li­gious land­scape is quite dy­namic and var­ied, with more than a quar­ter of Amer­i­cans chang­ing their re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion as they grow to adult­hood.

The sur­vey, which had a sam­ple size of more than 35,000, found that 28 per­cent of Amer­i­can adults are now af­fil­i­ated with dif­fer­ent reli­gions, or no re­li­gion at all, than the ones they were raised with as chil­dren. That num­ber rises to 44 per­cent if switches be­tween Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tions are in­cluded.

Protes­tants made up the big­gest por­tion of Amer­i­can re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion, at 51.3 per­cent, with Catholics as the next big­gest group at 23.9 per­cent fol­lowed by the un­af­fil­i­ated at 16.1 per­cent.

In Ge­or­gia, 70 per­cent of those sur­veyed were Protes­tant, 12 per­cent Catholic and 13 per­cent un­af­fil­i­ated. Evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants and his­tor­i­cally black Protes­tants had strong rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Ge­or­gia, mak­ing up about 38 per­cent and 16 per­cent re­spec­tively of those sur­veyed in the state, com­pared to 26 per­cent and 7 per­cent na­tion wide.

The big­gest group to gain na­tion­ally was those who con­sid­ered them­selves un­af­fil­i­ated to any re­li­gion. Only 7.3 per­cent of the adults sur­veyed had been raised un­af­fil­i­ated but about 16 per­cent now con­sid­ered them­selves athe­ist, ag­nos­tic or noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar when in came to re­li­gion.

An­other group to gain mem­bers was peo­ple who con­sid­ered them­selves a non­de­nom­i­na­tional Protes­tant, which had only 1.5 per­cent raised as such but 4.5 per­cent that iden­ti­fied that way as an adult.

Groups that had a net loss of mem­bers in­clude Catholics, where about one-third of those sur­veyed were raised Catholic but less than a quar­ter of adults con­sid­ered them­selves Catholic, Bap­tists, which had about 21 per­cent raised Bap­tist but 17.2 per­cent Bap­tist as adults, and Methodists, which had about two per­cent of adults fewer than the 8.3 per­cent who were raised Methodist.

In the New­ton County area, the re­sults seemed to re­flect in the ex­pe­ri­ences of some lo­cal re­li­gious lead­ers and res­i­dents.

“I think more peo­ple are look­ing for peace inside and not just look­ing for a kind of spe­cific de­nom­i­na­tion,” said the Rev. John What­ley of First United Methodist Church in Cov­ing­ton. “I think they’re look­ing for God and their re­la­tion­ship with God.”

He said the United Methodist Church had been los­ing mem­bers, al­though FUMC was grow­ing and was work­ing on dif­fer­ent ways of reach­ing peo­ple through changes such as mu­sic and ser­vice styles and dif­fer­ent out­reach ef­forts.

“Our core mes­sage has not changed,” he said. “Our mes­sage is that ev­ery­one is im­por­tant to God.”

Fa­ther John Kier­nan at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Cony­ers said there had been in­creas­ing changeover in the num­ber of peo­ple leav­ing and join­ing the Catholic Church.

“Peo­ple are, in one sense, shop­ping around,” he said.

He said St. Pius was grow­ing by about 100 fam­i­lies a year and that an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple who were Catholic were also mov­ing to the area from other parts of the U.S. and from out­side the coun­try.

“I think some peo­ple get dis­il­lu­sioned with the church,” said Gary Thompson, as­sis­tant pas­tor at Eastridge Com­mu­nity Church, a non-de­nom­i­na­tional church which he said was made up of many for­mer Bap­tists and Methodists.

“ I think they can’t find what they’re look­ing for,” said Thompson of the num­bers of Amer­i­cans who changed af­fil­i­a­tion or had no re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion.

“ Peo­ple want to be­lieve reli­gions are all the same. It doesn’t mat­ter what you be­lieve. That’s the post-mod­ern way,” he said. “ That’s caus­ing peo­ple to search from one thing to the next.”

Hoyt Oliver, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of re­li­gion at Ox­ford Col­lege, who spent a life­time study­ing many reli­gions, re­fuses to put him­self into any par­tic­u­lar box.

“I’m familiar with a dozen or more reli­gions and en­joy the hell out of ’em,” said Oliver, an or­dained Methodist min­is­ter and for­mer mis­sion­ary who prac­tices Bud­dhist med­i­ta­tion and has an in­ter­est in the in­ter­sec­tion of science and re­li­gion.

“ I think re­li­gion should make one joy­ous and com­pas­sion­ate and it should not di­vide us into an ‘us’ and ‘them,’” he said. “I think if you’re up­tight about your re­li­gion, it isn’t faith; it’s an ad­dic­tion.”

The sur­vey also found about a quar­ter of adults aged 18 to 29 were not af­fil­i­ated with any par­tic­u­lar re­li­gion, sug­gest­ing young adult­hood to be a time of re­li­gious and spir­i­tual ques­tion­ing.

For Dan Walden, di­rec­tor of the youth and chil­dren’s min­istries at First Pres­by­te­rian Church of Cov­ing­ton, young adult­hood was when he left be­hind the faith tra­di­tion he had been raised with, the Catholic Church. He said it wasn’t un­til he had a fam­ily him­self that he and his wife joined First Pres­by­te­rian.

“I think I was look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent,” he said. “I sup­pose what I was look­ing for was my own faith.”

But, he makes clear his choice had more to do with be­ing pulled to his even­tual church fam­ily than be­ing pushed away.

Moore feels her search be­gan be­cause of an in­nate de­sire to know God.

“ Be­cause that de­sire is there, peo­ple are al­ways seek­ing to fill that hole. So they start a search. Some peo­ple fill it with things that aren’t good for them. Other peo­ple seek a spir­i­tual di­rec­tion.”

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Lift­ing the name: Bethabara Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church mem­ber Priscilla El­lis raises her hands in praise dur­ing the group prayer at Sharp Sta­dium Satur­day af­ter­noon to con­clude the multi- church “ On the roads with Je­sus” lit­ter pickup.

Sym­bol of a faith: Many young peo­ple con­tinue to search for the right faith to fit their needs, be it Chris­tian or some­thing else.

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