Almost every adult I’ve ever worked with in the Church can tell of a time they stepped away from the Church. Often, it was in their 20s and they were living lives they knew weren’t “church-friendly,” but weren’t quite ready to change their ways. Some left (understandably so) because they were angry or disillusioned with the Church. Some left because they wanted to explore other options, and some just lost their will to get up on Sunday mornings. But with these people, the people with those stories- they came back. Many of them (us) came back as stronger and more committed Catholics.
As ministers, we need to begin to understand that stepping out is often a valuable leg of the journey of being Catholic. Stepping out gives us perspective on what we have been doing, what we are being asked to believe. Stepping out gives the Holy Spirit space to invite us back, to help us notice what we are missing, and to decide whether or not to accept that invitation.
The Amish understand this concept and use their “Rumspringa” as a formalized way to recognize stepping out as a possible avenue of growth. Most adolescent Amish eventually return to their communities, ready for full membership. But it can seem risky to acknowledge the healthy aspects of stepping “out” from the faith. What if they step away and never come back?
We must be a Church that is ready to welcome people back from their “rumspringa.” A welcoming and resource-filled website can be a window through which the dis-connected can peek back in without feeling intimidated or judged. Using words like “welcome” or even “welcome back” is vital. Hosting programs such as “Awakening Faith” and other casual gatherings for seekers and questioners is fruitful for the returner and the Church. Lent is a key time for welcoming-back. Hospitality and resources focused on this day will give returners a soft place to land. Let our message be “wherever you’ve been, we’re so glad you’re back.”