By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

The early church practices of disciples living in community and forming other disciples is the model the Society of St. John will implement to meet the needs of today’s young Catholics, according to West Giffin, associate director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. The society, which will provide an opportunity for deep faith formation and intentional community for high school juniors and seniors in the diocese, will be launched this fall.  

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Giffin pointed out that with the growing number of young people disaffiliating themselves from the Catholic Church, those affiliated with the church need community to retain their Catholic identity and evangelize the culture.  

Citing research studies by the Pew Research Center, as well as St. Mary’s Press Catholic Research Group, Giffin noted that 31.7 percent of U.S. young adults claim to have been raised Catholic. Of that percentage, more than 40 percent claim to no longer identify themselves as Catholic. This compares to only 2 percent that claim to have converted to Catholicism in their lifetime. This means that 12.9 percent of young Americans are former Catholics, Giffin said.  

The median ages at which young adults become disaffiliated is 13-years-old, the studies indicate. The top reason (60 percent) these people said they are no longer Catholic is because they question or have questions about church teachings that aren’t being answered.  

“They (the disaffiliated) are embracing a culture separate from our church community and culture which I would say is growing less tolerant of religious communities,” said Giffin.  

He added, “What we’re seeing in this disaffiliation is that it is really hurting someone’s ability to stand tall and be proud to be Catholic.”  

The St. John Society’s mission is “to provide an authentic sense of community in the absence of community in our current culture,” Giffin emphasized.  

The namesake of the newly formed society is St. John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, who is symbolized by an eagle.  

“He was the youngest of the all the disciples,” said Giffin. “He walked with Jesus in a close knit-community for three years. He was there the day Jesus gave it all on the cross for us. He was right by the side of Jesus, and right next to and comforting the Blessed Mother. He was there through Christ’s passion and death on the cross.  

“And he eventually went out into the community and out into the culture. After three years in close community proximity with other disciples in Christ he brought Christ’s identity to the world.” 

The St. John Society’s mission will be carried out through small peer-ministry groups facilitated by adult mentors.  

“The society is an exercise in faith lived through the reality and beauty of the church and through a community of peers all striving to live that life well,” Giffin said.  

The groups will have the opportunity to develop a rule of life and charism for which they will be held accountable throughout the year, enter into intentional prayer and service to other groups and dive into faith formation.  

Giffin said that members of the small communities will not only be responsible for holding each other accountable but lifting each other up through prayer and encouragement during times of trials and hardships.  

“For a community to work we have to support one another and we don’t want any one of our fellow brothers or sisters to be left without support,” said Giffin.  

Through the friendships and faith connections made in the small groups, the young Catholics will be encouraged to start their own communities and make disciples of others in their college, friendships, workplace and “life.” 

“They can carry it with them wherever they go,” Giffin said.  

The society will start on a small scale, and during the next few months Giffin and other adult Catholic leaders will obtain feedback from the “pilot communities.”  

The goal of the St. John Society is to increase on a larger scale and develop multiple small communities in the spring of 2020, according to Giffin.  

People who are interested in serving as adult mentors can contact Giffin at wgiffin@diobr.org.