The Catholic Church has a particular challenge in reaching young adults in their 20s and 30s. Most of them haven't yet found reasons to return to Church for marriages and baptisms. They are off on their own, exploring and untethered.
It turns out that some of these young adults who are still figuring out their place in the world are feeling some emptiness in their lives and are searching for a moral compass for the complex world they live in.
Father Matthew Worthen, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Florida, set out to find young Catholics with "a deep longing to belong to the Body of Christ," he said.
His church is located near several military facilities - including the Naval Air Station and Eglin Air Force Base - teeming with young adults, many of whom are transient and without a spiritual home.
Last year he hired Molly Kane as the first coordinator of his parish's young adult ministry program. Kane is a graduate of Florida State University, a product of the campus ministry there, and a beneficiary of Catholic Extension's Young Adult Leadership Initiative. With the help of Catholic Extension, she has completed her graduate education in theology in exchange for committing to serve the Church both during her studies and upon graduation.
Father Worthen told Kane not to worry about the numbers of young adults, but to just focus on building relationships.
Kane immediately agreed.
"Jesus was the first to show us relational ministry;" she said. ''His call to the apostles was so personal; and He has that call for each of us."
One by one, she found young Catholics. She organized a Young Professionals Group that meets on Thursday nights, at different homes, to socialize and to discuss an assigned book
Will Murray, a naval flight student, said that he had felt a spiritual void. "I was looking for people with similar values who also wanted to live virtuously," he said. "This group is perfect. Molly is energetic, committed and picks good topics to discuss."
Another participant, Rebecca Koenig, a personal trainer who also recently moved to Florida, agrees, "Molly understands what's trending in our age group and the social pressures. "
Since joining the group, Koenig also looks forward to attending Mass each week, because she has a chance to see her new friends. "I have hope for the future of the Catholic Church because it is investing in people like Molly."
According to Kane, the key for the success of her ministry lies in one-on-one communication, social media and the opportunity to go deeper and to have meaningful and substantive discussions about the Catholic faith.
Kane wants to make sure that young adults do not fall away from the Church during these "gap years." Through her groups, one-on-one meetings and social media outreach, she keeps them all connected. "The young Church is alive and well," she said. "We are on a relevant, empowering, part of our journey."