In April of 2017, a group of Dominican Sisters and Millennials met for the first time at Dominican Center at Marywood in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This began what has become an almost regular every other Sunday night gathering. Nationally, these gatherings are named Nuns & Nones but this local one will go by Sisters & Seekers since all of us are both sisters and seekers. A “none” is a young person who when asked their religious affiliation will check NONE. Most were raised Christian, a few have no religious background.
Millennial Katie Gordon approached me in late 2016 about the possibility of starting such a group locally. I knew Katie as the program director for activities sponsored by the Kaufman Interfaith Institute and as someone I had interviewed on TV at the Grand Rapids Community Center. Katie had also authored an MLive article on the rise of religiously unaffiliated Millennial nones. Together, we invited over 40 Sisters and Millennials to the first gathering with an open invitation for them to invite others. About 20 responded. Typically, between 10-20 participants gather each Sunday evening. Many are now regulars but all meetings are open to newcomers.
For the first year, Katie and I facilitated the meetings. After Katie left to enter Harvard Divinity, another millennial, Ellie Hutchinson, took over Katie’s facilitator role. I handle room arrangements. Together we solicit topics for discussion. Conversation guidelines have been established. Near the end of the first year, we prepared evaluative questions. A few responses are shared here:
What draws you here? Why do you show up?
Intergenerational desire to get to know each other
A unique space (welcoming, quiet, reflective)
Intersection of faith and justice
Conversations that matter
Purpose of our meetings?
Build community and relationships
Learn and grow (especially in spirituality and faith)
Accompany each other
Nuns & Nones Movement Welcomes Millennials to Share
Because Grand Rapids was one the first groups to form after a gathering on the East Coast in the autumn of 2016, hence having the most experience, Ellie and I have been blessed to be invited to two larger gatherings of Nuns & Nones. The first was in Kalamazoo at the Transformations Center (SSJ Spirituality Center) in June of 2017 and the second in April, 2018 at the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo. The first had Sisters and Millennials from MI, IN and IL in attendance including Sr. Justine Kane. The latter one consisted of 27 participants from both coasts and Middle America. Katie Gordon has been part of both, in addition to many similar gatherings around the country.
These Millennials are seekers. They have many questions and concerns. They find pat answers to existential questions unsatisfactory. They want to explore life’s meaning and have it ok to have doubts. Loneliness and lack of meaningful community are big issues for them. Spirituality is attractive and inviting to them. They are extremely altruistic and wanting to make a difference. Among the ideas explored at the Fetzer gathering were intergenerational living and commonly shared work spaces.
Maureen Geary OP, prioress of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters, joined the April meeting in Kalamazoo and along with two others in congregational leadership discussed the reality of needing to find other uses for our facilities and how these younger voices may contribute to the planning that is going on across the country in religious communities. Speaking about the day, Sr. Maureen commented, “We are all pilgrims on the journey; it is good to have new companions for the adventure. Fresh insight and eagerness to be about the good works of religious congregations, built on relationship, can lead to new ideas.”
Meal times were usually at least an hour and half in length because the interchange between Sisters and Millennials at each table are so open, honest, and meaningful. In both the local and larger gatherings, the level of trust and sharing has been unexpected and wonderful. The women religious are open to learning the world in which this generation exists with challenges and opportunities way beyond anything most of them experienced at their age. The Millennials are open to and seeking wisdom from the lived experience of the Sisters with living community and being committed to service. They are interested and perhaps fascinated at how women religious remain committed to institutions that don’t always recognize their gifts and presence. One Millennial shared that she has noticed Millennials tend to give up or move on when disappointed when organizations don’t meet their hopes. Whereas, she observed the Sisters remain engaged for longer periods of time to question, propose and try to effect change.
Nuns & Nones is a very young movement but one that holds lots of promise as Sisters are concerned with their legacy and Millennials are looking for guides to navigate this uncertain world. Together they have much to share with each other and learn from each other.
What learnings, what untapped mutual resources might be discovered, and set free, to serve the unmet needs in the world, through an alliance of these two inspired and inspiring communities?-- Nuns & Nones