It seems that American youth are redefining what it means to be spiritual, and researchers are interested in discovering what this means for our society.

MU graduate student Anthony James is researching the distinction youth make between spirituality and religion. His initial findings show that youth “define spirituality in terms of positive behaviors, feelings and relationships.”

Although the assumption is that many people are ‘spiritual,’ spirituality is not something that is easy to articulate and define,” James said. “People have a hard time separating spirituality from religion, but the differences are important to understanding behavior and development.

James is most interested in learning how spirituality affects positive youth development in adolescents.  He examined youth responses to the question “What does it mean to be a spiritual young person?”

His findings show that youth defined their spiritual behavior as having these characteristics:

  • purpose
  • the bond of connections, including those to a higher power (typically God), people and nature.
  • a foundation of well-being, including joy and fulfillment, energy and peace
  • conviction
  • self-confidence
  • an impetus for virtue; for example, having motivation to do the right thing and tell the truth.

Although there are few studies about spirituality and religion among youth, Notre Dame scholar Christian Smith has written a book about the role religion plays in the lives of “emerging adults. Sociologists define “emerging adults” as those making the transition from adolescence to adulthood  — roughly those between ages 18 and 29.

Smith’s research has found:

  • Only 15 percent of emerging adults have a strong personal faith and practice it regularly.
  • About 30 percent are engaged inconsistently or loosely affiliated with a religious tradition.
  • One in four is indifferent toward religion, while 15 percent are open to spiritual or religious matters but haven’t made a personal commitment.
  • The final 15 percent have little or no connection to religion, or hold negative attitudes toward it.

Emerging adults tend to look at church as sort of an elementary school for morals, Smith concludes. Once you’ve got the basics of right and wrong, you eventually “graduate,” perhaps returning when it’s time for your own children to learn elementary morality.

This is a stark contrast to the idea of faith as a permanent, transcendent anchor of meaning amid crashing waves of change. Rather than the source of purpose they seek, these young people see a mere shadow of an important historical role of religious congregations: providing community and support for individuals and families from womb to tomb.

How do you define spirituality as distinct from religion? How can houses of worship help provide support for individuals throughout the stages of their lives? How can parents, adults and counselors help emerging adults find and develop their faith?

Here’s a couple updated news tidbits you might remember from earlier posts:

Seven Columbia faith groups are participating in an interfaith service at the Mid-Mo Pride Fest on Sunday. Missourian neighborhood reporter Megan Stroup wrote a story at a sister blog. The service was one we mentioned a week or so ago in a story about Dick Blount, who has been helping get the service organized.

Another of our sister sites, MyMissourian.com, posted a story about the Islamic school in Columbia. The story is written by the school’s principal and talks about the school’s history and mission.

Tribune columnist T.J. Greaney had an update about how the faith community is uniting to support the family of drowning victim Jean Marie Vianey Mugabo-Kenda.

Wissel Joseph of Haiti, a deacon in the church, said that when he heard of the drowning he despaired, wondering what good could come of something so senseless. But the kindness of the church and the community at large has helped him see a greater meaning.

“God is using his death to show us the spirit, to bring people together,” Joseph said. “Breaking the barriers of languages, nations, religion, denomination. The way people have come together gives us a taste of how it’s going to be in heaven and how we’re supposed to be as Christians.”

And a follow-up to a story we first reported on last fall when former Kanakuk Kamps leader Peter Newman was charged on several counts of sexual abuse. Many Columbia families have ties to the Christian camp and knew Newman. Earlier this week, Newman was sentenced to two life-terms in prison for sexually molesting children at the camp near Branson.

A few stories from the weekend caught my attention and I thought I’d share them with you, and it’s odd that both are Catholic news from St. Louis. I’ll try to diversify for my next posting.

The first was about “the largest Scout Mass in U.S. history” held this weekend in St. Louis. Knowing that there was a Scouting event in Forest Park and that many Scout troops are sponsored by churches or parishes, this fact makes sense. But, I was intrigued nonetheless. It isn’t everyday that the archbishop leads Mass for a group of Boy Scouts, after all.

Archbishop Robert Carlson

Archbishop Robert Carlson celebrates Mass with Boy Scouts in St. Louis on Sunday.

You see, St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson is himself a former Scout. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was “a few merit badges short of Eagle Scout,” but has remained active in Scouting his entire adult life — as waterfront director at Scout camps in college and as a member of Scouting boards of directors.

He also said the Archdiocese of St. Louis is the only Catholic diocese in the country with a separate department for Scouting.

A second story in the Post caught my eye because of its possible connections to Columbia. It seems that some nuns in Richmond Heights are leaving their convent for retirement communities elsewhere because the convent is no longer practical for such a small number of them.

In Columbia, the Benedictine Sisters are closing their monastery off West Broadway because it is not practical to keep it running with so few sisters remaining there. Former Missourian reporter Zack Aldrich did a profile of several Columbia nuns last year and spoke with some sisters at the monastery about their daily life. (Note: a link will be provided later; the site isn’t allowing searches right now.)

Our Lady of Peace Monastery in Columbia

A view of Our Lady of Peace Monastery in Columbia

Dwindling numbers of nuns entering the monastery make it impractical to keep the site open; it is expected to close sometime this summer.

Missourian neighborhood reporters hope to bring you more news about the monastery and the future of the sisters there in the coming days and weeks. Keep checking back for updates, and tell us what you think.

Dick Blount

Dick Blount, retired Methodist minister

If you’ve been around Columbia for much time, it’s likely that you’ve heard about Dick Blount and his work at Missouri United Methodist Church and the larger faith community.

Blount is a former Methodist minister who works to promote social justice and the idea of “open door” policy for churches. He’s been instrumental in the work of the Open Door Ministry at MUMC.

“I love the church, and I believe in the church. But I wanted to take the church’s teaching of love into the streets where Jesus’ friends live.”

And he’s doing just that by helping to plan an interfaith service during the Mid-Missouri Pridefest celebration on June 13. The service will be at 2 p.m. at Peace Park.

For a longer profile of Blount, read a profile on our sister site, Missourian Neighborhood News and a 2009 story on ColumbiaMissourian.com, published after Blount drew the ire of Westboro Baptist Church for his support of Columbia’s domestic partnership registry.

Do you know people who are making a difference in their faith community? Let us know and we’ll consider them for a future feature post. E-mail faith editor Laura Johnston at johnstonlc@missouri.edu.

Were you out of town for the Memorial Day holiday weekend and missed your regular worship service? Here’s a sampling of sermons from Columbia congregations for the weekend of May 29-30. You can hear what you might have missed or listen to a sermon from a pastor at a neighboring congregation. This list is far from exhaustive but several church sites hadn’t uploaded new sermons for the week.

Community United Methodist Church: Lessons for the Journey: Remembering our parents by the Rev. Kevin Shelton.

Karis Community Church has a podcast page so you can always get your sermons while on the go. Listen here. The sermon last weekend was “Work redefined” by Aarik Danielsen.

Woodcrest Chapel’s weekend sermons were part of the “Signature Series” and start with the topic of love.

Broadway Christian Church: There isn’t an audio file online for “The Centurion’s Slave,” but you can read the sermon from Pastor Tim Carson. Broadway Christian Church plans a sermon for Sunday titled “The Widow of Nain,” based on Luke 7:11-17.

Christian Chapel has a podcast page, but the last sermon uploaded is from May 24. We’ll keep checking back for updates.

A quick roundup of stories from news reports this week:

Friends remember Jean Marie Vianey Mugabo-Kenda

Friends gathered to memorialize Jean Marie Vianey Mugabo-Kenda at his home on Wednesday.

Immigrant and faith communities mourn a loss:

Jean Marie Vianey Mugabo-Kenda’s life was defined by his faith; after he drowned, faith is how his friends and family remembered him. Mugabo-Kenda, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo died Monday in Columbia. Funeral services will be Friday at  the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 1100 College Park Drive.

Columbians speak out about Israeli blockade on Gaza:

Two events on Wednesday allowed Columbia residents to express dismay over recent events that lead to nine deaths and furthered criticism of the Israeli blockade in Gaza. As the Missourian reported:

Members of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri gathered along Providence Road with banners and signs and the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, met Wednesday morning at Daniel Boone Regional Library, and 11 community members of different cultural and religious backgrounds discussed their perspectives on the raid and living conditions in Gaza.

Saleem Alhabash, a founder of the Palestine Israel Peace Association, said it is important for people to understand there are many perspectives.

For more on the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation event, read the Tribune’s story.

Tell us what you think. What role should local faith communities play in these international event?

Click for a roundup of more national and international  religion news.

One story that caught my eye was from The New York Times. It talked about how abortion opponents are working to advance their cause at a state level. Knowing that faith-based groups and lobbying efforts by Missouri Right to Life have spurred legislation here, I thought it might be of interest to readers. Missouri is cited as an example in the story.

Here’s a story that’s been getting a lot of buzz at stltoday.com: A St. Charles preacher with no tongue speaks wisdom.

Check back tomorrow: Missed a weekend sermon, we’ll compile a roundup and look ahead for this weekend’s worship schedules.

As the school year winds to a close, parents often are looking for ways of keeping their children busy. Some will choose summer camps or summer school programs, and many will seek out activities and lessons at local houses of worship.

Here’s a roundup of postings, most of which are available at our sister site, Missourian Neighborhood News. This list isn’t all-inclusive but does give you a starting place if you’re looking for ways to get involved in one of Columbia’s faith communities.

Game night at Christian Chapel: This event begins tonight and continues through the summer.

Youth camp at the Crossing, June 7-10. This is for school-age children up to fifth grade.

Vacation Bible School at Evangelical Free Church June 14-18.

Fairview Road United Methodist Church is hosting a “neighborhood on the go” series June 10, 17 and 24 at the church. The event includes information about bike and pedestrian safety. The church will host Vacation Bible School Aug. 1-2 and 4-6.

Senior high youth from Missouri United Methodist Church will take a mission trip to Belize June 11-18. The church is planning its Vacation Bible School for 9 a.m. to noon, the week of June 19-23.

Area United Methodist churches will gather for a picnic June 26 at Rock Quarry Park.

Vacation Bible School starts June 28 at Faith Baptist Church.

If you’ve got an event to announce, please contact the Missourian’s faith editor Laura Johnston at johnstonlc@missouri.edu.

In the past week, media outlets in mid-Missouri reported on developments in the case against a former Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing minors while serving at a Boonville church.

Gerald Howard has asked for a changed of venue in the case, which is being prosecuted in Cooper County. He has been charged with eight felony counts including sodomy and kidnapping. And, he’s seeking a private attorney.

Read the story produced by KRCG or read more from the Boonville Daily News.

For background on the case, check out some past articles from the Columbia Missourian:

April 29: Former priest indicted on sodomy charges

Aug. 30, 2009: No new abuse allegations received, diocese says

Aug. 25, 2009: Father of abuse victim speaks, urges transparency by Catholic Church

Aug. 14, 2009: Jefferson City Diocese settles priest abuse case

Sunday marked a farewell for the Rev. Bill Haney and members of the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Columbia. After 21 years as minister for the church, Haney retired.

The Rev. Bill Haney of Columbia

The Rev. Bill Haney retired Sunday as minister at Columbia's Unitarian Universalist Church.

As the Columbia Missourian reported Sunday:

Haney also worked to bring young adults into his church. He said it’s important that when young people, such as college students, are seeking their identity, they have an environment to explore, free from guilt or pressure about joining a different religion.

Stephanie Doorman said Haney inspired her to go into the ministry. She said Haney, who allows church members to give guest sermons, was a great listener and source of joy for the church community.

Haney will serve at a Unitarian Church near Tucson, Ariz., for two years and then move nearer to his son in Oklahoma City.

The Rev. Dr. Suzanne Spencer, currently serving in Danbury, Conn., will be the interim minister for the Columbia congregation.

The Faith in Focus blog, authored by students at the Columbia Missourian, is taking a bit of a summer break. We’ll be posting less frequently during June and July, hoping to get back up to speed during August.

Here’s a few news highlights from the past week:

New Catholic school

Columbia’s Catholic community gathered in near 90-degree heat Sunday for a groundbreaking on a new high school. The school has been nine years in the making, and will cost an estimated $16 million to build. It should be open to students for fall 2011.

New worship location

The Jehovah’s Witnesses South Congregation could soon have a new building for its services.

The group won approval from Columbia’s Planning & Zoning Commission last week to build a Kingdom Hall on Old Plank Road, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune report. The Tribune quoted Scott Thomas as saying the south location gives the group an alternative location to its Kingdom Hall on Smiley Lane.

“We try and cover the entire area of Columbia,” Thomas said. “We hoped to put one on the south side to make it more inviting for residents to attend meetings.”

The congregation expects about 75 people to attend services at the outset. Residents surrounding the land in question expressed some concerns with the plan, including potential damage to the tree line surrounding the property.

Donations abound

The Greek organization Pi Beta Phi made a significant donation to Love INC this weekend, helping fill the group’s building with furniture, according to a story in the Tribune. Love INC helps fill the gaps for people in need by offering financial assistance programs, household goods and employment assistance. It’s only been in Columbia for a few years but Love INC has been actively working to help churches partner to serve their community. Last fall, the group began in earnest its Love Seat ministry to help people in need of furniture.

The Greek organization donated all the furniture from its 27 rooms, which are being remodeled with new furniture. The donations will quickly be put to use, Love INC volunteers say.

Expect to read more about the work of Love INC in an upcoming blog post.