Millennial Catholics: Meet Tanner Sheffield, 23

Tanner Sheffield is youth minister at St. John the Baptist Parish in Chico.

My experience with the church has been great. When I was 13 years old, my dad passed away and the youth group was there for me. It helped me get through the depression and the hurt. Any time you go through a tragedy, the immediate human reaction is to run in one of two directions: to God or away from him. You can either blame him for all the bad things or you can trust in his love. I thank God every day for giving me the faith and patience to trust in his plan. He put youth ministry in my life to be there for me and get me through the hard times.

When I moved back to Chico for college, the first thing I did was join the youth group core team and start to give back to the program that gave me so much. There is no better place to find a wholesome community to keep you on the straight and narrow.

The church is centered on Jesus and Jesus doesn’t change. The truth is the truth – today, yesterday and tomorrow. The thing that changes is the world. The world will change it how it relates to the truth, how it presents it and how it accepts it.

I feel some Catholics have gotten into a state of “lukewarmness” – the just go through the motions at Mass and not much else. They believe that is enough to consider themselves a practicing Catholic. No one taught them who Jesus is or what he did for them, and they never grow in relationship with him.

“There are a lot of young people who know there is more to the truth. They’re looking for something deeper – a more intimate experience of the truth, of God’s love, of relationship with Jesus. That’s just one of the revolutions coming in the church – a renewed vigor and fire for the faith and love for God.

Some see the church as hypocrites – not walking the walk. But it does depend on where you look. Some will look for meaning elsewhere. But if Catholics offer true, genuine witness, young adults will see the truth rather than hypocrisy.

Building communities for young adults will help engage them. Where there is community, there is a place for every voice and every purpose. Where there is community, there is a sense of belonging and ownership and people begin to care and to build upon the good things that are there.

Young people want to talk about gay marriage, why women cannot be priests and other issues. It’s hard to come to terms with the Catholic views on these subjects when you don’t know the whole truth. For many, the only voice that is heard is a false narrative of hate judgement. As good Catholics, we can’t avoid these issues. We need to be a voice which proclaims the church’s message of love and understanding. We need to better educate ourselves on the Theology of the Body and God’s plan for humanity. We need to better understand what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

It’s important because every single person is a unique, unrepeatable and beloved son or daughter of God, and needs to be loved as such. Minister to the gathered. Once we do, they can gather the scattered. Will they come back? With God all things are possible. But it’s got to start with you and me.

How easy it may be to defer to labels and blanket definitions to understand people. The complexity of the human mind warrants a summed-up assessment of generational groupings, doesn’t it? Not so fast. Danger lurks in this approach for the simple fact, that it may prompt a dismissing attitude at the least, and close-minded denial at worst.

Catholic Herald magazine talked with “millennials” -- young adults born between 1980 and 2000 – about their Catholic faith. The Pew Research Center goes further and refers to “younger” and “older” millennials. Birth year aside, all represent the promise of the Catholic Church, deserving of time, attention and intentional listening. Here they share what’s on their minds; candidly, wistfully and bluntly. Cradle Catholics and converts, their faith stories, experiences and longings paint a vivid picture of the body of Christ – emerging adults in love with their faith, in love with Christ and each on an authentic journey to heaven.

Catholic Herald Issue