Tuesday, December 3, 2013

BIG’s Blog: The Vanishing Nuns??

Did you see the article on about “The Vanishing Nuns: 100-year tradition ends with convent’s closing” that ran last weekend?

Fox News reported that, according to the Camden Courier Times of Camden, New Jersey, the Monastery of the Dominican Nuns of the Perpetual Rosary, who lived a cloistered life and committed to pray the rosary in shifts 24 hours a day, is this month closing down.

Imagine that . . . over 100 years, praying 24 hours a day, and now shuttered.


Well, the real point of the Fox News article about these Camden, New Jersey Dominicans is really about the decline in the number of religious women in the United States from a high of 180,000 in 1965 to 56,000 in 2012. And they report the average age for U.S. nuns is 74 years old.

I work with a lot of faith-based organizations, including a significant number of women’s religious communities, and this story doesn’t paint the whole picture I am seeing.

Yes, I do work with women’s religious communities where the average age is probably 74. I know there are a lot of communities where 74 is probably the average age, but these “older” communities fall into two distinct categories, and a third category I want to tell you about as well.

The first category is women’s religious communities that may have an average chronological age approaching 74, but they are vital and have a “youngish” attitude and mindset about their future. In other words, they are not shying away from the future. But, truth be told, before they got a glimpse of the Internet world, they wondered what their future would be. Now their attitude is distinctly changed. They “get it” that they must be online since that is where people 50 and younger are. They get it!

This attitudinal mindset is also a dividing line, because there are other women’s religious communities that also have an average age approaching 74 that do not have a “youngish” mindset. They fear change and the Internet represents change. They live with the view that their best days are in their past. And, yes, they are dying.

But what about the third category?

Most of the women’s religious communities that we work with connect to our message and end up signing up for our online learning program to learn how to engage the world online. They understand that learning about being online is way more than fundraising. Most of these communities have an average age closer to 40 and, yes, these communities are in the United States. Some are even younger. We don’t have to convince these communities that the Internet is not to be feared or that it is their future. They are young enough to see it is THEIR PRESENT.

But not being afraid to engage through the Internet is not the same as KNOWING HOW TO ENGAGE the world through the Internet. That is what we and others can teach them.

But here is the real puzzler for me. When the Pope is tweeting and begging Catholic bishops and religious organizations to go online and engage the world . . . what is the hold up?

Permission AND Encouragement are given. All it takes is “the will to do it,” because learning is the easy part.

So, a question. Would the monastery of Dominicans in Camden, New Jersey have closed if they had an intentional online presence?

Too bad we’ll never know.

Whether your organization is a Catholic religious community or some other faith-based organization, what can you learn from the news out of Camden, New Jersey this week?  

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